Horticulture Master (2018) Review
Horticulture Master is a game I discovered by pure chance during Essen 2018. It must be said that the visual does not leave me indifferent. And the game was quickly sold out at the show.
Horticulture is the art of cultivating gardens, growing vegetables, but also everything related to shrubs and plants. It is therefore no surprise that you will be brought to develop your garden plot a way similar to Cottage Garden. You’ll also find the mechanism borrow from Tetris, with tiles of different sizes and shapes. But Horticulture Master pushes the concept further.
The game comes from Taiwan through the publisher MOZI Game. It's a pretty productive little publisher. Its designer Lin Yen-Kuang delivers his first published game. I am, however, quite surprised at the fact that there is no mention of the name of the illustrator (or at least in English). This is a shame because, for once, this is what attracts immediately in the game..
The game puts you in the shoes of a gardener. You’ll have a small piece of land and you will have to arrange it as efficiently as possible. To do this, you can collect cards to exchange for these tiles that are filled with flowers to plant (like cabbages).
In addition to the individual board, there is a central board with all the tiles you can buy and animal markers associated with them. You will also find the area dedicated to collecting the cards for gardening. This area is going to be the heart of the game. To be able to recover tiles to layout on your plot of land, you will have to discard cards with the matching symbols. The cards have some very nice illustrations as well as one or more symbols used in the game (slightly larger icons would have been a good idea).
Each player must choose between two main actions: collecting a tool or elements cards, and planting flowers by acquiring garden tiles.
To collect cards, a player must have a hand of less than five cards. If they already have five, they will not be able to pick up any cards. By choosing this action, a player still has the choice between five other possibilities. They must take one of them. This action phase is played with the Source zone located on the central board.
Once equipped with element cards, you can embark on the decoration and put your green fingers on. By discarding the resources indicated on the garden tile, you can acquire it. Once in your possession, you can add it to your garden. While respecting the rules of laying of tiles, you will arrange your garden as best as you can. Some tiles will give you a capacity, others only serve to plug the holes. If you are the first to take a tile type, you will also earn the associated animal marker directly. This marker pays a victory point at the end of the game.
If your piece of land is too quickly filled when you want to plant a larger tile, it is possible. You pay the cost of the new tile and choose its location. The old tiles are then removed and especially you regain the resources spent. As a result, they can help you pay for your new construction. But they are not discarded. You return them and place them next to your individual board. Of course, if one of them gives you an ability, it is lost. These tiles are not completely lost, they will bring you a point at the end of the game, per tile. This action can sometimes be very useful. But it must be used wisely so as not to waste too much time.
Finally, we go to the traditional reset phase. The seasons advance and the main board fills up again. The cards move downwards according to the green arrows and you fill the spaces in numeric order from the draw deck. It is at this moment that the incidents will happen. Holes below a winter card are not filled and the winter card stays in its place. When it comes to summer fires, it's a little different. On the board, everything always moves down (unless it is at the end of the track) and carries with it the element card. Fire consumes everything. Thus, if the players do not sacrifice themselves to take them, the main board area can quickly become limited.
The end of the game is triggered when three types of garden tiles are exhausted or a plot of land is full. This player takes the Horticulture Master pawn (it's a cat) which will earn them three points at the end of the game. Everyone has a final turn before the counting of points.
Horticulture Master is a game apart. In the vein of Cottage Garden or Bärenpark, the use of Tetris tiles works well. But here, this mechanism is coupled with card management making the game more strategic and less linear. This is a very pleasant surprise. The tools occupy an important place in the game and to own one necessarily favors you against the players who don’t. They become very interesting to seek and equip it. In addition, unlike many cards, once purchased, they no longer count in to you hand limit.
The rules are quite clear and the whole is quite coherent. However, you’ll quickly forget the theme in favor of a desire to fill your allocated area as quickly and efficiently as possible. As Westerners, the relationship between garden areas and animals is sometimes strange, but eventually it fits well.
Although I still find it strange not to have mentioned the illustrator, the work done is really superb. The cute animals quickly find their place in the middle of all these colors and lush vegetation.
This is a tile placement puzzle game to which a hand management has been added. This is not the most difficult hand management to master but it adds a non-undeniable interest and works pretty well with the appearance of tiles. The larger the garden tiles, the more points they will earn you. But there are limited places. So, the choice will soon arise. Especially since some tile placement restrictions are not going to make life easier for you as an apprentice gardener. The idea of adding the animals is rather interesting because it forces you to go to look for any type of tiles to pick up some points.
Finally Horticulture Master is a set of small game elements that, once merged work very well together. Far from renewing the genre, I find it more enjoyable to play and having a bigger challenge than its direct competitors. It is a shame that the game has not been brought into the spotlight.
I’ve played mainly two players, even if the game is far from being at its optimal configuration. Playable upto five, I recommend it all the same for three to four if the players are fast. At five, the game becomes a little too long for the pleasure it provides.
Unfortunately, as is often the case in this type of game, the interaction is very weak. It might have been thought that the card system has more influence on it, but ultimately no. There is no real blockage. When a player plays to advance the deck faster, the other players may find themselves stranded after replacing the newly drawn cards. Even indirect, the interaction is less. It will be especially at the level of the limitation of the garden tiles or the first one which collects an animal or finally the one who will collect the card first. But it's more related to what you want to do on your board than to really try to annoy the other. So, sometimes it feels like playing in your own corner. This is especially true at four or five, the choice of cards changing significantly between two rounds.
Of course this is not perfect. It can be blamed, during some parts, of slowdowns. In which linked events minimise the cards available and no one sacrifices themselves to take them. One can also question the interest of the action "to reset a whole line" which often arranges the cards better more the neighbor. It is usually used as a last resort in the hope of finding the card we absolutely need. Otherwise, the action does not seem so interesting. But the game has a certain charm.
2018 saw a lot of play based on Tetris placement. Horticulture Master pulls away from these games and presents itself as one of the most interesting games on this system while remaining accessible to all. Simple, refreshing, this family game will captivate you with its flowery graphics and overflow of colors. Even if you do not speak English (because an English version exists), the game is based on simple icons to understand. The rule is quite short and relatively simple. A game that deserves to be found even if it has less advertising than many other games where publishers have more resources.
Technical Score 8/10
The material of the game are of rather good quality. The illustrations are very beautiful but sometimes a little too prominent. Some icons would profit from being more prominent or detached from the art. The animals are cute and replace simple victory point tokens. It gives a 3D side, not necessarily essential but does not interfere. There is no thermoforming but enough baggies.
My BGG Score 7/10
(Good - usually willing to play)
This is not the game of the century but it easily stands out from the games in its category. A mix of hand management and tile laying, Horticulture Master voluntarily chooses to limit its difficulty to remain accessible to families or novice players. A nice game, easy to explain and get out. Even if there is a lack of interaction and a certain lack of dynamism which is a bit detrimental in the long run.
Combined Score 7.5 / 10
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