With April showers behind us, May is a great time to play a game that celebrates planting flowers. I’m talking about master designer Uwe Rosenberg’s easy-to-learn board game Cottage Garden (age 8 and older, one to four players, 45 minutes). While most American games seem to focus on combat and shady business practices, games by this European designer center around agriculture. At first this may not sound like the most inviting theme, but games of this ilk are filled with both strategy and fun.
In Cottage Garden, players compete to make the best gardens by planting in their two separate flower beds made up of a 5-by-5 grid. On your turn, you move the gardener token one step around the central market grid and select a flower piece from the row where the gardener stands. Each of the flower tiles come in different tetris-style shapes that must be arranged on one of your two flower beds. Placing these puzzle-shaped tiles requires clever decisions about which flowers to select from the market, as tiles cannot be moved once planted. Be prepared to get flexible with your plans, as another player might snatch up the flower tile you want.
After one of your flower beds is entirely planted, you score according to how many flower pots and planting bells are visible. Then you discard the bed and draw a new, empty garden board. Play lasts until the gardener has travelled around the market board five times.
Although Cottage Garden is not a war game, the puzzle-based decisions players face require strategic consideration. Be warned: the scoring system is a bit tricky, but the game is easy to grasp overall. Trying to figure out the most efficient way to fit your tetris-shaped pieces into your flower bed is an ongoing challenge that is a ton of fun for people who love solving visual puzzles.
A Few Other Garden-Themed Games
Players new to agriculturally-themed games may be surprised to discover how many garden-based games exist. Here are a few titles:
After trying Cottage Garden, consider trying the roll-and-write game Harvest Dice (age 8 and older, two to four players, 20 minutes). Players roll dice showing tomatoes, lettuce and carrots. Then players select dice to either plant or feed the piglets.
For a much more intense experience, try Uwe Rosenberg’s classic farming game Agricola (age 12 and older, one to five players, 30 to 150 minutes). In Agricola, you run a farm, plant crops, build fences, gather stones, construct barns, improve structures, breed cattle and even have children. There are a ton of options available to players, and you can develop your farm using various strategies every time you play. Released in 2007, this game has won numerous awards and stands as the pinnacle of garden gaming excellence. The rules can be a bit overwhelming to a first-time player, but the internet offers a number of excellent how-to-play video tutorials if you find the idea of reading eight pages of rules intimidating.
A few other great titles to investigate include: Caverna: The Cave Farmers (play the roles of dwarven farmers), Viticulture (run a vineyard), La Granja (control small farms on the island of Mallorca), Scoville (hot pepper farming!), Takenoko (bamboo farming with a panda), Fields of Green (farm owners expanding their holdings) and Harvest (small, but meaty farming).
Now that spring has arrived, celebrate the planting season by working for a few hours in your own garden, then head inside to play whatever garden game sounds most interesting to you.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the co-author of “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy West, available now. You can send him your questions about tabletop games at firstname.lastname@example.org.