Design by Francesco Testini, Pierluca Zizzi | Published by ThunderGryph Games & Lucky Duck Games
1-4 Players | 40-60 min
In Tang Garden you’re serving as an engineer called upon to build a garden during the first golden age of the classic “Chinese garden” during the Tang dynasty. You’ll use a variety of elements and material to grow and decorate while different characters visit during the construction. The game takes place over a series of turns that ends when there are certain game tokens or garden tiles are completely depleted. The player with the most coins at the end of the game is the winner.
To begin players receive a starting character and player board to chart your garden progress. Players take turns performing a mandatory action and three possible optional actions. These actions consist of: Build the Garden or Place a Decoration (mandatory) and Influence a Character, Use a Lantern or Refresh a Lantern (optional).
When building a garden, players chose from one of 4 stacks representing different terrain types. Players then proceed to place the tiles on the board grid gaining coins based on how it interacts with the surrounding tiles. Placing tiles on certain spaces gain that player a landscape tile which allows them to insert scenic, 3-D tiles around the edges of the board. These landscape tiles each contain specific iconography allowing for additional scoring later in the game.
Use the place a decoration action allows you to choose from the decoration deck giving you access to a variety of architecture and nature decorations that can be placed throughout the garden including birds, fish, flowers, bridges, pavilions and trees. Decorations provide both one-time bonuses and when played in sets, multiplied coin payouts at the end of the game.
Another optional action in the game allows you to influence a character. Tang Garden features a number of unique characters each with unique benefits and scoring possibilities. Most characters allow for a turn bonus when certain specifications are met such as placing certain types of terrain or decoration. Each player can only keep one active character. When a player obtains an additional character they must choose to keep one active and place the other on the board. Each character has an end game bonus providing additional coins when certain criteria is met. Some characters may prefer to see one type of terrain while others like to look at certain landscape tiles. Some characters can be negatively affected by certain types of terrain or other characters (drama!), so be careful where you play them. There is an option that allows you to move or change the direction of your character as well by using a lantern token.
Each player has 4 lantern types on their player board. These lanterns allow you to build additional garden tiles on your turn, play multiple decoration cards, move your characters around the board or select the character of your choice from the character deck.
In the end, players count coins earned from laying tile, building and collecting decorations as well as achieving character end goals.
Tang Garden is a ridiculously beautiful game. The landscape tiles, characters, pavilions and playing cards are all beautifully designed and top notch quality. The game is all about production quality.
Unfortunately, for me the game is a bit style over substance. While beautiful to look at, the game play seems overly casual and disconnected at times. The game is intended to be peaceful and relaxing, but I found it often dragging. The different mechanics (card drafting, tile placement and set collection) never really seemed to unify as a whole. While it was fun to develop the garden and see the cinematic set pieces all come together, I never felt any engagement in the strategy. Often I intentionally held off ending the game just to build out the garden even if it meant I’d be setting myself for end game failure.
One of the primary downfalls of the game is in the iconography. There are so many different icons to learn and they’re really difficult and small to read in certain places on cards and board tiles. Reading the icons became a huge challenge and many scoring opportunities were missed solely because the icons weren’t obvious.
I really wanted this game to work. It IS amazing to look at. The production here takes the gaming industry to a new level in my opinion. But, at the end of the day for me, it’s a disjointed collection of mechanics that don’t really work together. That and it’s a bit too casual for my tastes. It also requires a decent amount of setup – which doesn’t get me excited for a game that is built for gateway gamers.
Tang Garden was a bit of a mis-fire for me, but I can see this being a huge hit with certain game playing demographics. The visual appeal combined with the calming, casual flow of the game and a true variety of game mechanics could be your idea of heaven. The game certainly looks very heavenly. You can’t argue with the pedigree as the team at Thundergryph Games as well as Lucky Duck are some of the best in the business and have produced games that I truly love.