Samurai Gardener is a game by Hisashi Hayashi, published by Osprey Games. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players take on the role of gardener for a feudal lord during the time of the Samurai. Players will be trying to build the most impressive garden to bring honour to their lord and themself. The player that is able to arrange the best garden will be declared the winner.
To begin, the board is placed in the middle of the play area. Each player chooses a colored score marker and places it at the 0 position. Players are given a set of feature cards which are placed face up in front of them. The garden cards are shuffled together. One card is drawn and placed face up in front of each player. The remaining deck is placed face down near the board. The player that shuffled the cards is the starting player. Play now begins.
The game is played over several rounds. Each round the starting player will draw one card from the deck per player and place it face up in the middle of the play area. Players will then place their hands palms down on their lap. The starting player then calls out, “Ei, Ei!” The remaining players will then shout, “Oh!” and try to place their hand on the card they want as quickly as possible. The first player to place their hand on a card receives that card. If a card has already been taken, the player must quickly choose another one to place their hand on. Once all players have a card, they must then place it into their garden following a set of guidelines. Those guidelines are as follows. First, garden cards must be played vertically and must be placed beside or partially over a card already in the player’s garden. If it is placed beside a previous card, at least one square on the card must be adjacent to a square on a previously placed card. If it is overlapping, then at least one square must be on top of another square on a previously placed card. When placing an overlapping card, the player is not allowed to place it so that it covers any part of a row or column of 3 or more squares of the same type. Once the card has been placed, the player is able to score points if they were able to create a new row of 3 or more squares of the same type. Every time that a player scores a row, they must flip the matching feature card face down. However, the player is only able to score a row if their matching feature card is face up. Feature cards will only flip face up once all four of them have been turned face down. This happens immediately after the last one is flipped face down. Once players have scored their points, moving their score marker on the board, the next player in turn order becomes the starting player for the round. A new round then begins.
The game continues until one of two things happens. If a player scores over 25 points, the game ends and that player is the winner. If there aren’t enough cards in the deck left to start a new round, the game ends. In this case, the player with the most points is the winner.
This game has some fairly nice looking pieces to it. There’s a nice thick score board that is really sturdy and has a nice linen finish to it. Unfortunately there’s not any art or picture on the board. It’s just a bunch of numbers in rows. It looks nice but could have used a little flair to it. The scoring markers are colorful plastic cubes that are larger than the normal wooden cubes in most euro games. These actually bring a nice splash of color to an otherwise fairly bland board. Finally, there are the cards. These include the 4 scoring aid cards that are nice references to have. Each card has a smooth finish which makes them a little difficult to shuffle and separate from each other as they have a tendency to cling together. I would really have preferred a nice linen finish to make them easier to shuffle and separate. There are 2 types of cards, feature cards and garden cards. The feature cards have nice big pictures of the different features that they represent. The art is pretty representative of what each feature is. The garden cards have 6 squares on them with various configurations of the 4 different features. Sometimes these images will be a little more elaborate than the picture on the feature cards. Such as a path that has a dog on it, or a tatami with a mat. These look pretty nice. I will say that I’m not completely sold on the design, but it’s not bad either. Overall I think that the components get the job done, but could have really used a bit more thought to make them really note worthy. As it is, they’re good.
7 out of 10
The rulebook for this game is rather nice. It has plenty of pictures and examples throughout. Each step of the game is explained in very good detail, usually with plenty of pictures and examples to help the player understand the concept. The book isn’t very thick so it doesn’t take much time to read through and nothing is difficult to understand either. The book has a small section with some optional rules for playing with younger players which I was very happy about. Overall I think the book looks good and it covers everything in plenty of detail. There’s nothing here to dislike.
8 out of 10
This game is an interesting mix of several things. For one, the dexterity aspect of grabbing a card or slapping your hand down on a card reminds me of the snatch and grab part of games like Kitty Paw or Loonacy. I’m not a fan of dexterity games and so this rush for the card that you want isn’t fun for me. Playing with my daughter, I usually have to be a little lenient on how quickly I grab a card or she gets upset that I picked the one she wanted. Not that I’m going to always let her grab any card she wants, but I will slow my grab sometimes to let her get a bit of a one up on old Dad. The second part is the tile laying, or in this case card laying. This also makes me think of Kitty Paw, as well as Carcassonne and Kingdomino. Once again, I’m not a fan of most tile laying games. However I don’t really mind that aspect in this game. It does make you think a bit more ahead as you try to figure out which tile you want to get to add to your tableau. It’s not as annoying as I found most tile laying games. For me, it fits more in line with Kingdomino, a game that I actually like playing. My daughter liked building up her garden with the different features, much like Kingdomino. So for her, she liked it too. This isn’t a game that everyone will enjoy. By all rights, it doesn’t feature mechanics and elements of gameplay that I normally would enjoy. However, I don’t mind this game. It’s actually not bad. It’s not my favorite, but it’s one that I won’t mind playing again. Fans of tile laying games like Carcassonne or Kingdomino should like this one. For those players, I would recommend this game. For everyone else I’d say give it a try, you might like it.
7 out of 10
Samurai Gardener is a light weight tile laying game. It’s not a very long game. Most game sessions last around 15-20 minutes. The components are all ok but could have used a little more thought. The cards look nice but would have been better with a linen finish. The scoring markers are really nice and look quite cool, but the board is lacking a bit. The game itself is a mix of dexterity and tile laying, both of which I’m not normally a fan of. That said, the game isn’t bad, even for me. I do find the tile laying aspect of the game to be rather good and is something that I don’t mind playing. It’s a good family game and is one that everyone can play with relative ease. It’s not a difficult game so even the kids can enjoy it. Fans of tile laying games like Kingdomino or Carcassonne should like this one. I would recommend this for those players, but would suggest everyone else to give it a try. It won’t be for everyone but I found it to be worth playing again. You never know, it might just be a hidden gem for you.
7 out of 10
For more information about this and other great games, please check out Osprey Games at their site.