Tang Garden is set in the first golden age of China, and your goal is to build a beautiful garden. You’ll be landscaping, adding scenery, and creating a beautiful world, one tile at a time. Tang Garden is a fairly standard tile-placement and set collection game with a few minor twists along the way.
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 40-60 Minutes
- Designer: Francesco Testini, Pierluca Zizzi
- Artist: Matthew Mizak
- Publisher: ThunderGryph Games
How to Play Tang Garden
- Choose a garden tile from 1 of the 4 stacks and place it into the garden using a straightforward set of terrain-matching adjacency placement rules.
- Draw a number of cards from the decoration deck, choose, and place a decoration into the garden. Keep the card in your player area for set-scoring at the end of the game.
You will strategically utilize your placements of garden tiles and decorations in order to gain money (victory points), gain the privilege to place landscape tiles, and to increase your expertise in the 3 types of garden tiles; rock, water, and greenery.
In addition to the one of the mandatory actions, you will have the ability to take any or all of the optional actions once per turn as well:
- Use your character’s skill (if applicable).
- Place your character out into the garden and influence a new character.
- Use a lantern token which grants you a powerful one-time special ability. (Did I say one-time? You can actually cash in collected landscape tokens to refresh a used lantern token and use it again).
The game continues until 1 of the 4 stacks of garden tiles is depleted or until there are 3 or fewer landscape tokens on the board (about those: these would have been distributed onto the garden board during setup and collected by players throughout the game each time they place a garden tile onto a square containing a landscape token).
At the end of the game players get points based off the amount of coins they have, the sets of decoration cards they have collected, and based off the location and orientation of each of their characters on the board. The winner is the player with the most total points.
The characters are the particularly clever bit here and their placement feels much more meaningful than, for example, a meeple in Carcassonne, a classic tile-placement game and also featured in our list of route planning board games. Each character loves seeing decorations of course, but in addition they have a special scoring condition based off what landscape or garden tiles are within their line of site. But more on this later.
My Tang Garden Experience
I played Tang Garden a total of 6 times. Four times at 2 players and twice solo. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, getting a 3 or 4 player game together was not possible at this time. Here is a breakdown of my games and which “flavor” I played:
Playthrough 1: Base game
Playthrough 2: Base game + Apricot Tree promotion + both promotional characters, the Wayfarer and the Herbalist.
Playthrough 3: The Pear Garden scenario: Base game + Apricot Tree promotion + both promotional characters, the Wayfarer and the Herbalist, + decorations, tiles, landscapes & characters from the Golden Age expansion. This scenario adds a marketplace of purchasable garden tiles and a larger display of characters to provide more options.
Playthrough 4: The Renovation scenario: Base game + Apricot Tree promotion + decorations, tiles, landscapes & characters from the Golden Age expansion. This scenario has a vastly different setup than the base game. Also, when you influence a character, you can choose any unused character to influence (instead of just one of the ones on display) and each player places ALL their characters at the end of the game instead of throughout the game. Obviously, we can’t have noblemen and noblewomen wandering through the garden while it’s being renovated!
Playthrough 5: Solo base game
Play through 6: Solo base game
Tang Garden Golden Age Expansion Review
Please note: The Golden Age expansion is not yet available in retail, but the publisher has stated that it will be available in retail at some point in the near future.
The promotional materials (available for pre-order at Thundergryph’s website) are nice additions and I honestly think I would add them into pretty much every game we play. The same can be said for the additional tiles, landscapes, decorations, and characters from the Golden Age expansion.
Of my playthroughs, my favorite way to play was with the Pear Garden scenario. The tile market adds so much more control and alleviates one of my negative points that I mention later in this review. I would include the tile market in 100% of the games I play moving forward, even the ones where I am teaching it to new players.
I also quite enjoyed the Renovation scenario because it made the tile placement more interesting. The garden is basically built outside/in and we found that our finished garden ended up being much more beautiful than in previous games/scenarios.
Also, placing the characters at the end is an interesting twist on the base game because it requires much more forethought about character placement and a constant consideration of where your opponent will likely want to place their characters. I wouldn’t play this scenario all the time, but it is a nice change of pace.
Tang Garden Review Scores
If you’re curious how we come up with our grades and scores, you can learn more about that by reading our board game review guidelines.
Artwork & Graphic Design: 8/10
- Graphic design and iconography is clear and easy to learn.
- Cover artwork is fantastic.
- The panorama landscape artwork is absolutely gorgeous. It is captivating and full of nuance.
- Character art feels uninspired, undetailed and at times, unauthentic to the era and culture. Some characters appear as if they are Europeans cosplaying as ancient Chinese nobles.
Complexity & Teachability: 9/10
- The game is quite easy to teach, especially for players who are familiar with some of the basic mechanics (tile-placement, set-collection, etc.)
- The game is simple enough that it can be taught to and understood by newer players with only a small amount of overhead. And yet, there are enough decisions, variants, and customization to make it worthwhile for a hobby gamer as well.
- There are some minor questions that you will likely need to check and clarify during your learning game, but the designer and publisher are excellent about responding to inquiries via bgg and twitter.
- The tile-placement mechanic is familiar, but feels different enough thanks to having multiple tiles to choose from, character skills to activate, and decoration placement actions.
- As mentioned in the Overview, the characters offer a unique twist on tile-placement because your goals are not necessarily to make large areas of a specific terrain, but rather have lots of decorations, specific tile types, and landscapes within a character’s line of sight.
- There is a very natural built-in catch-up mechanism that usually works really well. The characters give you a solid chunk of your point total and this all comes at the end of the game. If you are smart about the characters you chose and their placements, a game you’re losing most of the way can easily swing into your favor.
- There are times where you will feel stuck and you’ll be forced to do an action that you really don’t want to do. This is where including the tile market helps a lot.
- Most of the character skills and set-collection aspects are simply very small variations on themselves, which feels a bit uninspired. This is alleviated by the expansion characters and the additional decorations which feel much more fresh and innovative. They also don’t complicate the game much at all so I am a little unsure why these weren’t included in the base game, especially since they were produced simultaneously.
- More on that, the base game seems like a pared-back version of the game. I like the idea of having the ability to plug additional stuff in at my own leisure, but as an example, the market mechanic from the Golden Age’s Pear Garden Scenario, simply makes the game, well, better.
Game Length: 7/10
- The game plays in a satisfying hour and it’s cadence is well-timed so that the game winds down and you are scrambling to eke out a few more points during the stretch run.
- Turns are usually quick and straightforward.
- There is some proneness to analysis paralysis if you play with someone who typically suffers from it. Despite it being a relatively simple set of choices, adding it all together provides plenty of permutations to sift through to optimize your turn. A slow player can definitely bog the game down a bit and for a game of this weight and style anything over the hour mark can feel like it’s overstayed its welcome.
- Wooden components and metal coins (from the Kickstarter) are a respectable quality and while not necessary, do add just an extra layer of tactility to the game. Similar to the promotional items, these coins can also be pre-ordered directly from Thundergryph’s website.
- The cardboard slot-fit is impeccable, in particular the notches on the side of the board are tremendously well-designed. The landscape pieces don’t get damaged and they remain fastened upright so you can admire them in all their beauty.
- The box is both wider AND taller than a standard square box and while the expansion boxes are slightly smaller and thinner, they are mostly just full of air. Combining the expansions into the unreasonably large base box would require removing the GameTrayz insert which is somewhat essential.
- The plastic components (of my copy) are almost completely devoid of details. I would say with exception to the pavilions, the plastic components (minis and bridges) actually detract from the beauty of the game on the table.
- The cardboard and wooden components (of my copy) have minor mis-alignments and defects. The punchboards, although thick, must be punched with proper force and precision from the flat side of the punchboard, otherwise you may experience gentle tears on the edges of the printed tiles.
Replayability & Scalability: 7/10
- It has a typical range of 1-4 players for a tile-placement game and it seems like it would work well at all counts, albeit at some better than others (I think a 3 player game would be the sweet spot here).
- The game is highly replayable because there is a large quantity of characters, special abilities, and strategies. This is especially true if you have the expansion(s) which offer a number of new components and scenarios to play, plus detailed instructions on how to create your own scenarios.
- The game can be surprisingly cut throat at 2 players. There is a fair amount of forcing each other into a sub-optimal move. Even worse, you can get stuck in a loop where one player does action A, the second player optimally must do action B. This could continue indefinitely until a player caves and breaks the loop, usually out of feeling guilty for the other player.
- The solo mode leaves a lot to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine puzzle, but it definitely feels tacked on and I think each solo game will play out more or less the same.
- The layout of the rulebook is excellent, there are plenty of pictures and examples and it does a great job preparing you for your first game as teacher. You can access and preview this directly from ThunderGryph’s website.
Setup & Teardown: 5/10
- There are quite a few different components and a bit of fiddliness to the setup. You get used to it after a play or two, but you’ll definitely want to set aside an extra 30+ minutes to comfortably account for setup & teardown during your first game, which seems a bit excessive for a game of this style.
- The theme is well implemented and at times, it really captures the essence of building a beautiful garden, especially if the players at the table buy into it and put an emphasis on the garden’s beauty rather than optimizing their points.
- Building a garden in China… That is not a very original theme. In fact, as someone who has spent quite a bit of time traveling and living throughout Asia, I am completely exhausted of games that utilize traditional Asian themes, especially games like this that don’t feature a single person from that culture working directly on the project (from what I can tell).
Vision & Execution: 6/10
- I think the vision here, despite the games generic theming and mostly recycled mechanisms, is quite ambitious. Building up a 3-dimensional garden with these beautiful landscape tiles that slot perpendicular into the game board. It took some bold chances from a production standpoint and they paid off to provide one of the most photogenic games ever made.
- The game seems to be unsure of its own identity. It has a hodge-podge of minor mechanics beyond the main two and they over-complicate a game that is definitely meant to be a family game. It has a ton of luxurious components, and yet, it is a type of game that has little practical use for most of them, or at the very least, more cost efficient substitutes could have been used to keep the price down, make the game more financially accessible, and provide nearly the same experience. The overall sense that I get is that the game was designed to make as much money as possible during the Kickstarter but still be a retail hit with the accessible theme and beauty. It sort of wanted to please everyone, and in turn, may have left some opportunity on the table. It is both a sprawling Kickstarter and a mass-market game and, I think, if it focused itself and fallen securely into only one of those two camps, it had a chance to make a very big impact on the industry.
Final Thoughts of this Tang Garden Review
Tang Garden has provided my wife and I some quality time throughout our playthroughs. After each game we finished, we wanted to play it again and explore it further, not just for the purpose of this review, but because the game was legitimately enjoyable. That is a hugely positive statement in and of itself.
Looking at it more critically, I have found that the game falls into a very crowded category of “This is a good game, but not a great game.” I personally think it missed the mark on greatness because of a few reasons; including some minor production issues, an overused theme, and a bit of an identity crisis.
Despite the game falling flat of greatness for me, I will be keeping it in my collection for a while longer. I definitely want to explore the scenarios from the Golden Age expansion further, as well as those provided in the Kickstarter Exclusive Ghost Stories expansion. Also, I look forward to creating my own scenarios for the game using the instructions provided.
As far as recommending the game to others, I hesitate to give it a definitive recommendation, but for those of you who like tile-laying games and are looking for a solid family-weight game to add to your collection, I can whole-heatedly recommend Tang Garden for its beauty, accessibility, and replayability.
Disclaimer: This copy of Tang Garden was generously provided by ThunderGryph Games. This is an unpaid review and the thoughts provided are completely my own.