While perusing the shelves of my local game store, Topiary was a game that jumped off the shelf at me. This was mainly due to the white box and beautiful cover art in the centre, which appeared to be some sort of garden dinosaur! The back of the box was just as beautiful, featuring a garden elephant and tiles with all sorts of weird and wonderful sculptures on them.
This was a game I must know more about…
An introduction to Topiary
In Topiary, designed by Danny Devine, you are visiting a beautiful garden and want to see as many sculptures as possible (the rules even include a note on topiary art, which gives a nice little background to the game). The sculptures range in size from one to five, and are in the form of swans, dinosaurs, elephants, whales or different-shaped trees.
You want to see the smallest sculptures first, so your view of them is not blocked by the larger ones, and it is a bonus if you can see more than one of the same type in your line of sight!
How to Play
Topiary is one of those wonderful games where set-up is quick and simple, and the rules can be explained in a matter of minutes. Each player chooses a set of visitors in one of four colours and the sculpture tiles are laid face-down in a 5x5 grid, forming the garden. Only the tile in the centre needs to be face-up. Players are then dealt three sculpture tiles each.
On a turn, a player must first of all position one of their visitors around the outside garden. This will be next to a horizontal, vertical or diagonal row of tiles, in an empty spot (no two visitors can be in the same spot).
Next, the player may pick up one of the face-down tiles in the newly-placed visitor’s line of sight, add it to their hand, and then place either the same tile or one from their hand back in the same position face-up. Play continues until every player has placed all of their visitors around the garden.
How to Score
There are three ways to score points at the end of the game. First, for each visitor, the player scores the points on the tiles in their line of sight if the sculptures are visible. For a sculpture to be visible, it must not be blocked by sculptures of the same or a bigger size. Therefore, the smaller sculptures must always be closest to the visitors.
Second, the player scores an additional one point for each sculpture that is of the same type in each visitor’s line of sight. Note it must be visible in order to count! Third, for each tile still in the player’s hand at the end of the game, they score the points on the tile if one of their visitors can see a larger sculpture of the same type.
The player with the most points is the winner of Topiary! That is it, and it really is that simple!
The Good Things
The main thing that jumps out at me with Topiary is the artwork – it is absolutely beautiful! I also love the theme of the game (what is not to love about garden sculptures in the form of dinosaurs?) The components for Topiary are also lovely. The tiles feel a good quality, and each set of meeples is a slightly different shape, which is a nice touch. Although, unless you look closely, only the green meeples are instantly distinguishable, as they are wheelchair-users. The game itself is easy to pick up and quick to play – a two-player game only took about 10-15 minutes from set-up to final scoring.
However, even though Topiary is a simple game in terms of rules and what players can do on their turns, it does give you plenty to think about! Trying to position each visitor so they have a nice run of sculptures in their sight line is not easy, especially when other players are putting their largest sculptures in front of your visitors, blocking their view! That is the other great thing about this game – you can really annoy your opponents when you put your number five elephant in front of their number four whale!
One final thing to note is the rules also include a drafting variant, which gives the players a little more control over their hand of three starting tiles.
The Bad Things
One thing I would say is that the scoring is fiddly. The score track and markers do help, but checking the line of sight for each visitor can get a little confusing, especially when checking for visible sculptures and then visible sculptures of the same type. I found it easiest to pick one visitor, tot up the points for visible sculptures and the same type bonuses in one go, and then work my around the garden and each individual visitor. The final scoring for tiles in hand is then straightforward.
My only other slight grumble is the cost of the game, which is in the £30.00 region. The beautiful artwork and good-quality components do justify the price, but to my mind it just seems a little steep for what many may consider to be a ‘filler’ game (albeit a lovely one!).
Final Thoughts on Topiary
Topiary is simple to learn and quick to play, but there is enough going on to make you think carefully about each turn. By the end of the game, you certainly care about your visitors and their lines of sight – they must see that amazing dinosaur sculpture, after all! I also cannot stress enough just how beautiful this game is!