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THE HANGING GARDENS

reviewed by Herb Levy

Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $34.95

   The Great Wonders of the Ancient World have served as elements in many games and, once again, a game design draws upon one of these wonders. This time, the theme hanginggardensboxcenters on the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, as players compete as landscape architects to construct the most beautiful (and most point generating) gardens for the pleasure of the King.

   The Hanging Gardens is the creation of Din Li and is his first design. The game comes with a gameboard, 64 building cards, 49 points tiles, 20 wooden temples, a start player token and a small rules booklet.

Each player begins with five temples in his chosen color and a “starter” (blank) building card for constructing gardens. (If less than four players, the unused starter cards are removed from the game.) Remaining building cards are shuffled and placed face down on the board. The 49 points tiles are mixed and placed in two approximately equal stacks on the board, six of them drawn and placed face up on the three pairs of spaces (marked by three, four and five small squares). The start player (chosen in any fashion) draws building cards equal to the number of players to begin the first round.

On a turn, a player must choose one of the exposed building cards and place it legally within his garden. Each card is a two by three grid with some of the spaces showing symbols representing a terrace, park, arcade or fountain. The rules for placement are straightforward:

  1. Each symbol on a card MUST be placed so it is supported by another space (either a blank space OR any symbol). It can NOT be placed so that the card touches the table.
  2. A BLANK space on a card can be placed ANYWHERE, even placed so that it extends onto the table.

The goal in placing your cards is to try to connect the same symbol, horizontally and/or vertically (NOT diagonally) to create groupings of at least three symbols or more. Once a group is created, the player MAY place one of his temples on any of the spaces of the group to claim a reward – and that’s where those points tiles come in.

When placing a temple on a three symbol group, a player may claim ONE of the face up tiles in the three square section. A four symbol group will allow that player to claim ONE tile from either the three OR four square section. A five symbol group allows the player to choose from ALL of the face up tiles on the board. Placing a temple on a group of six or more symbols allows the player to not only choose ANY of the face up tiles but also rewards that player with a bonus. He is allowed to draw a tile from one of the face down stacks as well. All collected tiles are placed, face down, in the player’s play area.

Tiles are the source – and the only source – of Victory Points in the game and  come in two basic varieties: series tiles and person tiles.

Series tiles are worth a varying amount of points depending on how many tiles in the series you own. There are seven types of series tiles, all displaying the number of tiles of that particular series in the game as well as the values for each individual tile and set. You don’t need ALL of a series to score for a set. For example, four Queen tiles are in the game. One Queen tile is worth 2 Victory Points but two of them make a set worth 15! There are six Garden tiles in the game; one of these is worth 2 points, two of them 8 points and a set of three translates to 16 VPs.hanginggardenspcs

Person tiles add to series values. There are only five person tiles, one for five different series. Having a Person tile matching at least ONE of your series tiles adds 3 points to your total. But having a SET of the matching tiles adds 10 or more points to your score. The one exception to the rule is the guard tile that links with the blue (gate) series. The guard scores three points for EVERY gate tile in a player’s holdings.

Once the last building card is drawn and placed, the game is over, all players’ tiles revealed and points tallied. The player with the highest total wins! (If tied, the player with the most tiles earns the victory.)

The Hanging Gardens presents decisions to be made that are very different from the typical game.  Adding symbols to an already scored group will not help. Once scored, that specific group cannot score again. (The same symbol CAN score but NOT the same group.) Instead, you need to work on a second group and, generally, it is to your advantage to break up a big group you have created, separating symbols from the temple in the group, in order to set up a future score.

Temple placement is both necessary and frustrating. You can’t pick up those valuable scoring tiles without a temple but once a temple is placed, you are stuck with it (at least, for a while). It can ONLY be moved once ALL of a player’s temples have been placed and then, ONLY if the player is claiming another group and if that particular temple is currently on the SMALLEST existing group. What this means is that you will all too often find yourself unable to place a key card because a temple is in the way! Some planning is possible in this but the geometric composition of the cards (e.g. a mirror image of the positioning you really need) will often not cooperate. Garden construction does test your spatial ability so that aspect of the game may not be to everyone’s taste.

It is perfectly legal to wait before placing a temple on a group to either grab a needed tile in one of the higher tile groups or construct a big enough garden to get that extra tile from the top of a stack. But it is questionable as to whether the extra turns needed to build a bigger garden are worth foregoing picking up a tile for a few turns when you could build smaller gardens and pick up several “three garden” tiles instead. As tiles are victory points, this is an important consideration. The memory aspect of the game (collected tiles remain face down) is a matter of taste. We’ve played the game with OPEN tiles and found the game to play quickly and, perhaps more importantly, to be more forgiving, especially to blunders or miscues due to “gaming amnesia”.

The Hanging Gardens is a charming and elegant design. It is also quite original, particularly in the construction of gardens. As the game is easy to explain and pretty to look out, it is suitable for entry level players. Another advantage is that is plays equally well with two, three or four players, giving the game a great deal of flexibility in gaming settings. An excellent first design. – – – – – Herb Levy


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