Episode 333 - Vadoran Gardens
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2019
Designers: Frank West
Publisher: The City of Games
2 -4 players | 20-40 min | ages 8+ | 10 min to learn | MSRP $20
You are an Acolyte in the Vadoran Gardens. You have trained for many years and now you are ready to assume the mantle of High Priestess.
Over a series of 10 rounds, you will build unique pathways of grass, water, and soil, all while minding your final lessons. The more interesting features you connect and lost items you return, the more points you’ll score.
Vadoran Gardens is a competitive card drafting puzzle game. It starts out simple, but quickly demands a serious level of thought. Each seemingly small decision has many consequences.
For this reason, Vadoran Gardens offers players a deeper path beyond most gateway games. Its surprising challenges make it a delight to play. Read on to discover why we think it is most worthy of our Spiel of Approval.
Written review continues after the break.
You are a Vadoran Acolyte and must prove yourself ready to replace the High Priestess of the Vadoran Gardens. Over a series of 10 rounds, you will create unique pathways of grass, water, and soil, all while minding the Final Lessons. The more interesting features you connect, and Lost Items you return, the more points you’ll score.
A game of Vadoran Gardens features 80 Pathway cards, which you will use to build your garden. There are 23 Lesson cards, which dictate how you must build. There are 3 sets of 6 different Achievement cards, which offer additional scoring challenges. Each player has a set of 4 player markers in their color. Also, 5 Lost Items in each of three types await your discovery.
Each pathway card is a 3-by-3 grid made out of some mix of four terrain types. Featured in these terrains are specific illustrated Tasks: animals to feed, plants to tend, and ancient relics to clean. Also, each pathway card will reflect the Lesson Cards to which they belong.
To start the game, each player is dealt a hand of three random Pathway cards. Two rows of Pathway cards are dealt to the middle of the table. Next to these rows, a random Lesson card is placed. Eight more Lesson cards are set aside to form the Lesson deck for the game.
Three Achievement cards are dealt out, one of each color. These are goals everyone is working towards. Complete one first and claim the higher scoring value listed on the card.
Each game round follows these steps. Players will claim and collect Pathway cards to add to their hand. Then each player must add one card from their hand to their garden, bearing in mind the restrictions of the round’s Lesson card. The goal is to connect areas of water, soil, and grass, while avoiding sand.
The start player claims a Pathway card by placing one of his or her tokens on a card in the top (active) row. Each other player also claims a card by placing a token. Leaving the tokens where they are, all players now collect their cards, and add them to their hands.
Now, each player must play one card from their hand to their garden. This card may not be rotated! But the card must conform to the Lesson card next to this round’s row. So, if the Lesson Card shows a Blue symbol (Wisdom), only cards with a Blue symbol may be played this round. Any other Pathway cards remain in your hand, awaiting further opportunities for play.
Players now check to see if the card placed in the garden contains a lost item. If so, take the appropriate token and place it before you. Now, you just need to place a card with a scoring icon that matches the item to earn a five point reward.
Players then check to see if they’ve fulfilled any of the Achievement cards. If you have, use one of your other tokens to mark your achievement on the appropriate card.
Finally, players will each lay claim to a card from the inactive row of Pathway cards by placing a player token on a card (bear in mind the Lesson restrictions for the next turn). The order in which you lay claim to a card is determined by where your token is in relation to the Lesson. The player token farthest to the left chooses first.
The inactive row now fills back up, including any Pathway cards which weren’t chosen. Then a new Lesson for the inactive row is revealed, and players are ready to place their next Pathway Card.
To summarize, a player turn consists of:
Collect a Pathway card from the active row, based on the position of your player token
Play a Pathway Card to your garden and collect any Lost Items.
Check for any Achievements earned.
Claim a Pathway Card by placing your token in the inactive row
After the first round, two positioning rules come into play when building your garden.
Each Pathway card you play must overlap some part of the right column of the previous Pathway Card.
The total height of any player’s Pathway Cards may never exceed 5 rows.
In essence, players are attempting to connect narrow paths of similar terrain, bounded by the restrictions of Lesson, height, and the need to overlap cards. Replacing the High Priestess will be no easy task!
After 10 rounds, the game ends, and players score their Gardens.
Players earn points for three things:
Returning Lost Items
Focusing on Tasks
Achievements score based on their difficulty and your proficiency in fulfilling them. Being first to accomplish one may yield as much as 14 points.
Lost Items always score 5 points. But you must have both the item, and its matching score space visible in your garden.
Any connected area of grass, soil, or water will score if they have at least 3 Tasks in the area. Count the total number of squares in the area and score one point for each square. If you’ve managed to include a stone ‘7’ tablet into one of your scoring areas, add seven points to its value.
Player with the most points wins, and becomes High Priestess of the Vadoran Gardens in the City of Kings.
What Sets This Game Apart
Lesson cards and Acheivement cards make Vadoran Gardens stand out.
The Lesson cards add a sense of constriction, of agony, to the game. You may already hold the perfect card to add next to your garden. But if it doesn’t match the Lesson, you can’t play it now. Can you hold out, hoping for the perfect opportunity? But who knows if, or when, that Lesson will come? It is an agonizing decision - deciding how long to hold out before being forced to break up a beautiful scoring pathway.
Some Lessons appear easy. They’ll allow you to place any card in your garden, but with a diabolical twist. The two Focus Lessons (Vertical and Horizontal) demand that a player place two cards on a turn, entirely overlapping either the bottom, or the right side of another card. These twists can totally upset your well-laid plans. And the New Perspective Lesson will require a Pathway Card to be added upside down. Just watch as everyone at the table inverts their entire hand, trying to figure how to see the world anew.
The Achievement Cards add another layer of consideration and strategy. They all play off of your need to focus on Tasks to score areas. They offer rewards like points for repeating the same task a number of times in a single area. Others want you to have multiple different tasks. The points offered are considerable but the demands are not easily met.
For those versed in the world of modern board games, Vadoran Gardens allows us to set off on a familiar path into the hobby. Along the way, we hear echoes of draft-and-place games like Kingdomino. We catch glimpses of Splendor in the race to claim Accomplishments. And Sagrada comes to mind as we puzzle out how to fit together the disparate pieces into our garden to create scoring patterns. These gateway games are wonderful at opening doors to the wider world of fun.
But Vadoran Gardens offers us a glimpse of grander vistas. The game starts out simple, but the Lessons quickly demand a serious level of thought. Care must be taken with each card you claim because both a card’s playability and its impact on turn order matter. Each seemingly small and simple decision has many consequences.
For this reason, Vadoran Gardens offers players a deeper path beyond most gateway games.
It remains very approachable but asks its players to make difficult decisions and challenges them to keep pace.
The charming art in Vadoran Gardens captures this idea of simplicity married to suprising depth very well. The artwork calls players into a world of child-like whimsy and play. But underneath lurks the reality of scrapping to compete for an important job: Head Gardener. You’ll have to drop your idle thoughts and dig deep to prove your worth.
Vadoran Gardens surprises and delights both the mind and the eye. No wonder all its paths lead to our Spiel of Approval.
Written by: Doug Richardson