Topiary (Brandon Kempf)
Disclaimer: this review is from plays with a copy of Topiary provided by Renegade Games. Box cover used with permissions by Renegade Games and Board Game Geek
Danny Devine-Designer, Illustrator, Graphic Design
Renegade Games and Fever Games- Publishers
If you have ever in your life dreamed of being a competitive topiary garden viewer, Topiary is indeed the game for you.
In Topiary, 2-4 players are vying for positions around a 5x5 grid to try to see the most sculpted trees and shrubs. The game starts with a 5x5 grid of tiles face down, with only the middle tile flipped for all to see, and each player will start with a hand of three tiles that are theirs to view. There is a drafting variant for picking these tiles, but for the most part, you'll just play by dealing out three and getting into the game. The tiles are in 8 differently designed topiary styles, like a dinosaur or a swan or a polyhedron as example, and each of those styles will have 5 tiles, numbered from 1 to 5 representing the size of them. Depending on the number of players in the game, each player will get a set number of visitor meeples and you are ready to start playing Topiary.
On a player's turn they are going to do two things, well normally, two things.
- Place a visitor- You place one of your visitors along the outside edge of the garden in any unoccupied position so that it has a sight line down a row, column, or diagonal of topiary structures. If there is another visitor there, you cannot place yours in that position. You are doing this because ultimately at the end of the game, each visitor is going to score based on how many topiaries that they can see.
- Rearrange a Sculpture- You may, but are not required to at this point, pick one face down tile in your sight line and look at it and add it to your hand. You may then take one tile from your hand, including the one just picked up, and place it face up in the space that you just emptied.
Players will alternate doing this until they run out of visitors and then the scoring will commence.
Scoring in the game is done on a visitor by visitor basis, one at a time. You take a look at the visitor and each visitor will score points equal to the face value of all sculptures in that visitor's sight line that are visible to that visitor. So smaller numbered topiaries need to be closer to the visitor while bigger ones further away. A larger sculpture blocks a smaller sculpture or of any sculpture that is even with it. There are also type bonuses that a visitor can gain by viewing multiple topiaries of the same type in the same sight line. After all the visitors are scored, players will reveal the tiles they have left in their hands and if one of their visitors can see a topiary of the same kind, only larger than the one in hand, they gain points equal to the face value of the tile in hand.
Highest score wins!
It's all very simple, 40 tiles in the box, 32 visitor meeples and a score board with scoring markers in different colors, that's what is in this beautiful box, oh and the rules, can't forget the rules. But in that small box with minimal components, you get a lot of game and a lot of fun.
Instantly folks are going to see that this can be a very confrontational game in that a topiary tile is part of 8 different viewing lines, if my math is correct, and it rarely is. This is going to cause all sorts of different ways to screw up sight lines for opposing players, and if you don't enjoy that, well, you still may here because this plays in about 15-20 minutes, tops. Some of the frustration you will have will be from those tiles in hand. If you did the math, I told you there are 40 tiles in the box and you only create a 5x5 grid, so that means that at 4 players, 3 tiles won't be used, so certain tiles may not be able to score, but you won't know that until you get to that point, plus, not every tile is going to be revealed during the game. But that's a minor thing in my book. Most of the time from tiles in hand you aren't going to be scoring a lot of points, but it sometimes can be enough to move up a position in a fairly close game.
Fantastic, simple design here from Danny Devine. This is another one of those games that makes you think, "why the heck didn't someone already come up with this". It does remind me a bit of a simpler Arboretum, one of my favorites from a couple years ago. Simple design, fun interactive game play and a lot of game for such a small box. But where Arboretum can sometimes take 45 minutes or so, Topiary can be played almost 3 times in that same amount of time.
The components that are here are fantastic, and of all things, Renegade Games took the time to make the visitors more inclusive, not just one shape and different colors, they created new shapes for them, one in a wheel chair even. It's a simple choice to make that should be noticed and emulated by more companies.
Currently sitting at #6 on my Top 25 of 2017, I don't see Topiary moving down any time soon.