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Garden Guests

With attractive art from Kristena Derrick, Garden Guests is a reworking by Stephen Glenn of his design for Lumis: Der Pfad Des Feuers, which was published by Kosmos in 2015. In this interation from Van Ryder Games, the floral garden theme adds to the game's visual appeal but it is really only a thin thematic veneer on an essentially abstract game where players are placing their markers out racing the others to be the first to complete a continuous line that connects from one edge of the hexagonal board to its opposite edge. The eponymous guests are insects building paths to traverse a garden.

Garden Guests is a game for 2-3 players, or up to six players if you're playing with teams. If you're playing as a team game, you're playing with strictly limited communication but you can use your turn to pass to your partner the cards you think they need. Players have hands of flower cards that correspond to the different flowers on the board and you'll be trying to collect appropriate combinations and sets of flowers to determine the placement of your markers.

On your turn you can draw cards, you can play cards to build a colony on certain hexes, or you can play cards to connect colonies or your existing paths. If you're playing with more than three players (ie: as a team game) you can also as an action pass cards to your teammate. There's an area control element because until you have built a path that connects your colony, an opponent can take it over by playing the corresponding cards to place out more markers than you.

As in other connect-up games - for example, Indigo (Ravensburger) and Quoridor (Gigamic) - players will eventually find they are blocking and being blocked by others. It can certainly be worth contesting the placement of colonies in the middle of the board as an alternative to going around them, which would mean taking a longer route... If a player has been cut off so they have no possible way of creating a continuous connection from one side of the board to the other, they are eliminated. That means one player/team can expect to be knocked out in a a game with three players/teams; in a two-player or two-team game, being completely cut off will mean the other player has won.

Garden Guests is easy to play. The only aspect that some players found fiddly in our plays at Board's Eye View was the arrangement for flipping number cards to alternate how many flower cards you draw into your hand. Players have a 1/4 and a 2/3 card and they almost invariably just use and flip the 2/3 card so they alternately draw 2 or 3 cards. We found in practice that the 1/4 card served only as a way of mitigating any first player advantage: the last player starts off with the 1/4 card with its 4 side up, so that player can draw four cards before resorting in subsequent turns to the more usual 2/3 flip. Other than on this first turn, we found the 1/4 card was almost never used.

Even tho' the theme is entirely decorative, Van Ryder Games have done a very good job with the presentation of Garden Guests, both with the attractive art and the tactile plastic markers and tokens. Often in games the markers that players place out conceal important board information so we were especially pleased to see the inclusion of tokens that show the flower that would otherwise be covered up by players' colonisation markers. The use of these tokens also ensures there's a clear visual distinction between colony hexes that can still be taken over from those that are inviolable because they have been used to connect to another colony.

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