Topiary - Over the Hedges and into the Garden

Unboxing Topiary
Topiary comes with:
  • 40 garden tiles
  • 32 visitor meeples
  • a scoreboard
  • Scoring markers
When you first open the box to Topiary, it doesn't seem that impressive. A basic cardboard insert with some tiles to be punched, a cardboard scoreboard, and a bag full of meeples; however, when you explore further you will find a game with quite a bit of thought into its components. The artwork for the topiaries are the same but larger for each set, the artwork is still fantastic producing a great table presence. The meeples while being different colours are also shaped differently, with standard meeples for one colour, jumping jack meeples for another, and wheelchair meeples for a different set. That being said, I would have loved to have got an extra meeple for scoring instead of the scoring markers but I assume that was done in case players gain more than 50 points to be able to flip the marker to represent the higher scoring.

Topiary is a quick and easy game, that allows players unique gameplay while attempting to create a beautiful garden. The game is played over a series of turns where players place a visitor meeple and then choose to pick up a topiary tile, replacing that tile with a faceup tile from their hand (including the one they just picked up) in order to score points. Scoring is based on the number of Topiary tiles that each placed visitor can see. For example, if a number 5 tile is closest to the visitor it will not be able to see any of the other shrubberies and will score limited points. Points are also gained based on set collection - if you have multiple of the same type of shrubbery in your visitors view then you will gain extra points. Players also gain points based on the tiles left your hand at the end of the game.

Topiary offers a very unique use of commonly used board game mechanics bring to the table a game that is very much it's own. With mechanics similar to that of Carcassonne with tile laying and scoring but adding in worker placement and set collection in an interesting way that makes players not only think about what they are playing but also what they are keeping in their hands.

At the Table
While the theme and artwork in this game may lead you to believe that it is a quiet docile game of tile placement, this is not the case. Once the first few visitors are placed the game really picks up. With limited meeple placement, it can be hard to find the right spot for the next visitor and you will likely end up placing shrubberies that block the view of other visitors, upsetting those around you. This can lead to some very upset players but some fun player interaction.

Food For Thought 
For me, I was drawn to Topiary's amazing artwork. The box looked stunning, minimalistic, and playful - I loved the T-Rex topiary. That is what sold me on the game. Similar to the box, the game has an amazing presence. With grass on one side of the tiles, and topiary masterpieces on the other side. Despite being a competitive game, I really enjoyed the look of the final game and what all the players worked together to build - even if Cody did place a size 5 Swan in the middle of my visitor's row...

While I loved the artwork, and I thought that the game had some seriously unique gameplay, I did find myself wanting more from the game. I found it hard to keep track of scoring, I could see how an individual row/column/diagonal would score but no idea how I was doing overall. I also found it hard to be too strategic about my tile placement due to the limited access to a row (column/diagonal). It was nearly impossible to build up an older row without sacrificing the new row, especially later in the game. While this was obviously what the designer was going for, I found it was counterproductive to creating a game that was more strategy than luck drive and left me feeling like I was never effectively using my turn. 

Final Thoughts 
Topiary offers players a unique theme with familiar mechanics used in a unique way to create interesting gameplay. We loved the artwork and the table presence but were constantly struggling with the strategy/gameplay. While I enjoy games where strategic sacrifice can be used to win, I found that the entire game was constantly sacrificing one row for another which seemed more like a compromise than a strategy. If you enjoy this type of strategy, beautiful artwork, and tile placement, Topiary may be the game for you. 

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