In New Kingdom: Gardeners, players are followers of the Divine Creator, referred to as the Master Gardener. The 2-4 players are Gardeners, faithful to the Divine Plan, competing to be the player who has the most fruit when the Master Gardener returns to build a New Kingdom (ie: when the Master Gardener card is drawn, towards the bottom of the draw deck).
New Kingdom: Gardeners then is a card game that also functions as a Christian allegory. In its allegorical form, it can be used as a teaching tool; with cards delivering a moral message just as C S Lewis wrote the children's book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a Christian allegory. But just as you don't have to be a Christian to enjoy the Narnia books, so too Jack Dunbar's New Kingdom: Gardeners stands on its own feet as an intriguing card game.
Players are creating their own individual tableaus made up of Gardeners and plants. You each take two doves, used as action markers, and you can place a dove on your Gardener card to take one of four actions. Gardeners also each have their own unique special ability. The Appoint action lets you place out another worker to assist your Gardener. You can't normally place more than one dove on your Gardener so workers give you another place to take an action, and some offer different actions to those available to your Gardener. The Plant action lets you play cards to the seed row in your garden; the seeds will yield fruit - which function as both currency and victory points. You'll draw a single card at the end of your turn but Pray lets you draw two cards as an action. If you draw a Thorn card (corresponding to the Seven Deadly Sins) you must play it immediately to your seed row. Finally, Prune lets you discard a Thorn card, paying the cost in fruit and/or the value in fruit shown in cards discarded from your hand or garden tableau.
The game benefits from the charming artwork of Melissa Murakami. It is easy to play and certainly very playable as a family game that you can expect to take around 45 minutes - tho' probably longer on a first play when you're still getting used to the various actions and effects of the different worker cards.
What makes New Kingdom: Gardeners particularly interesting are the choices available for interacting with other players. When you place cards in the seed row of your tableau, they go in the space immediately adjacent to your Gardener, shifting other cards along the row. When a card is bumped off the row, it moves to the seed row of the player to the right. By the midpoint of the game, when it's likely that all the players have full seed rows, you can expect this to give rise to a cascade effect where all the players end up bumping a card to their neighbour. You can of course use this effect as a 'take that' action but that rather undermines the moral message of the game. Indeed, despite being competitive, Jack Dunbar's design rewards 'altruism'. Several cards can be played to another player's garden as well as your own. Usually such a play will aid a neighbour tho' you can expect some benefit too. In another example, you can use the Prune action to remove a Thorn card from another player's garden. That certainly helps them but your charity doesn't go unrewarded: for Thorn cards you remove from another player's garden, you benefit in bonus fruit in end-game scoring. Most of our plays at Board's Eye View have been close-run games, so 'altruism' has often proved to be the deciding factor.
Publishers New Kingdom Gaming are bringing New Kingdom: Gardeners to Kickstarter on 25 April. Click here to find out more.