Publisher: Tinkerbot Games
Player Count: 1-4 Players
Solo mode: Yes
Game Length: 60 Minutes
After being closed for nearly 300 years, Creepstone Manor was temporarily opened to the public. Fortunately the ghostly residents were able to successfully scare off the residents without too much trouble… whew! With the house secure, it’s time for these ghosts to turn their attention to the estate grounds—specifically the gardens. Due to their transparent state, it only makes sense for these ghosts to employ a team of local ghouls and goblins to help with the planting and raking.
Part Bidding game, part deck management and part abstract game, Hauticulture has you building on tiles, upgrading your hand of ghouls and arranging your garden tiles effectively and efficiently in your garden to earn the most points. Played over 3 rounds, players will draft garden tiles through a card bidding process with the goal of achieving patterns and earning points. You’ll even have the opportunity to recruit monsters with special skills to boost your hand and prospects. Build the most aesthetically pleasing garden to please the head ghost and earn the title of head haunticulturalist.
ON YOUR TURN
Each player begins the game with a standard set of individually numbered cards featuring skeletons, ghouls and zombies to help you out.
Played over 3 rounds, each round consists of 2 separate phases. During the first phase players will be bidding on tiles featuring garden amenities. Each unique garden tile corresponds to a different pattern scoring goal within your garden. For example, certain tiles may need to be planted on a diagonal line, while others need to be planted in bunches.
Using their hand of cards, players will play onto a grid surrounded by horizontal and vertical tile opportunities. This grid-shaped bidding system gives players the opportunity to earn available tiles. When the grid has been filled, players with the most collective card values played in each individual row or column choses 1 of the 2 corresponding tiles while the runner up chooses the remaining one. Each row and column is resolved until all the tiles have been selected.
Throughout the game, gardening ghosts will dig up treasure. Players can use this treasure to hire unique helpers, adding them to their hand and using them in the bidding process. Similar to your starting hand, these upgraded cards may have a higher card value or offer additional benefits when played.
The second phase has players simultaneously playing tiles on their personal garden board. Certain tile types and scoring goals will likely conflict and it’ll be up to you to choose the best course of action.
After 3 rounds, the player with the highest score is the winner.
ARTWORK & COMPONENTS
The artwork features a variety of silly monsters, like a fish out of water, pulled into this foreign world of gardening. They all hilariously look out of their element, yet are still willing to give it the old college try. While a little dark, the illustrations are solid and definitely embrace the theme and fun behind it. The tiles are a little small, but it’s never felt that big of a hindrance. I am reviewing the prototype and I know the publisher has plans for some overlays and other upgrades. There is a fun assortment of upgradable cards featuring werewolves, vampires and various other Halloween-themed monstrosities.
PROS & CONS
➕ I’m a fan of this crazy theme. Only in a board game will you find ghosts seeking the help of the undead to manage the gardens surrounding their haunted house. BONUS!
➕I like the marriage between the 2 different phase mechanics. It builds an interesting synergy that keeps things interesting and fun. This is great for both bidding fans and abstract fans.
➕ The fairly simple rules and humorous theme make this great for families.
➕ The unique market of upgradable cards provide many different strategic opportunities helping to keep the game fresh.
➕ While it doesn’t play fast at 60 minutes, it doesn’t necessarily overstay its welcome and seems to move pretty quickly when players understand their objectives.
➕ There are multiple scoring objectives for each garden tile giving you plenty of game play options.
➖ I would prefer the garden boards and tiles to be larger.
➖ While not a deal breaker, setting up and refreshing the play area between rounds is a little tedious.
WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THIS GAME?
Players who enjoy pattern building are going to appreciate the added bidding mechanic that brings a fun diversity to the rounds. It’s like 2 games in one – each with the same goal in mind. It also doesn’t hurt if you love Halloween-themed games.
BEST THING ABOUT THIS GAME?
The best thing is planning your garden. Each tile features fun, thematic garden items that bring the game’s unique theme to life. With so many different scoring options, you’ll get to choose which ones you want to pursue and how you want to implement them into your garden. You can literally create your own, unique ghostly garden.
I have a soft spot for games with absurd themes. It doesn’t always mean they’re good games, but there is something that draws me in from the moment I catch wind of the characters and story. I think it takes me back to my younger years when I digested a steady stream of B-grade movies filled with creatures and plenty of low brow humor. Haunticulture certainly fits that modus operandi.
Haunticulture presents itself almost like 2 separate games. One, a simple, yet cutthroat bidding & drafting game and the other an abstract, simultaneous tile placement endeavor. This creature with 2 heads proves to be stronger together than its individual parts as the pairing of these two mechanics produce a more engaging, creative experience.
No matter the time of year, it seems like there is a certain clique of gamers always looking for the next Halloween-themed game to add to their collection. Here comes Hauticulture to slide right into that space. It ticks nearly every notch on the Halloween belt with its all-star roster of werewolves, zombies, ghosts, vampires and more. You’ve got a haunted house, dangerous vegetation and moody surroundings. Fans of this genre aren’t going to have a problem here.
The question remains: Does Hauticulture make the most of its spooky setting and characters by actually creating a fun gaming experience?
I really think it does and here’s why:
I’m a fan of bidding games and I really enjoyed the grid-based bidding phase as you wrestle with your opponents to gather the most desirable garden tokens. You have to carefully manage your hand of cards to play the right values in the right places at the right time. It’s not rocket science, but bidding games get me because I have the opportunity to actually play my opponents (vs competing against the game). No matter what, each game is going to be a unique experience.
Hauticulture does a nice job of adding additional game-ified pieces by allowing you to upgrade your creature cards through the market. Each unique card in the market provides new ways to strategize, target your scoring objectives and create pain for your opponents. Additionally, purchasing these upgraded cards sends you to the back of the bidding line forcing you to potentially delay a critical bidding turn.
The second part of the game brings an abstract, garden-planting/organizing element to the game. I’m an art director in real life and my mind just works when it comes to efficiently processing shapes and patterns. The second phase of Haunticulture has you taking the tiles you drafted during the bidding phase and arranging them to meet a variety of scoring goals. Each unique tile has its own scoring goals and it’s up to you to not only decide what to pursue, but to drop them into your garden efficiently and with enough future planning and flexibility to accommodate the next round’s tiles. I love maximizing a limited amount of space. In a sense, it’s controlled chaos and I thrive there.
While neither of these puzzles will necessarily blow your mind, the pairing really feels good to me. It’s combining 2 fantastic gaming areas that are dear to me into 1 box and it just works.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s hard to be objective about Haunticulture. There’s a chance it’s not as tight as it should be or it doesn’t play as quickly as some would like. But it’s easy to overlook when the pairing of the theme and mechanics feels like it was made specifically for me. On top of that, the execution is solid. The production isn’t over the top and the play isn’t unnecessarily complex. All that to say is I think Hauticulture is a lot of fun. It’s super accessible and works well as a family-style game. There is plenty of variety in the card abilities and pattern objectives to keep your plays fresh. If you’re in the market for a fun and silly Halloween-style game, you should definitely check out Haunticulture.