In the world of board games – particularly those with a certain European flair – there is seemingly no theme more rich, more explored, more involved, more epic than… farming. It’s true. Enter a hobby store anywhere and you’ll find more vegetables – albeit tiny wooden ones – than at your local supermarket. This does not mean, however, that there cannot and, indeed, should not be more rich and engaging games that allow players to get their inner gardener involved. With that said, let me introduce all of you dear readers to Garden Dice, a game about vegetables, vermin and my favorite vexing vice – dice.
I first encountered Garden Dice when I met the designer, Doug Bass, in November at MACE, a local gaming convention. Doug had contacted me previously and asked if I’d be interested in trying out a game he hoped to launch on Kickstarter. Never being one to turn down a game, even one with dice, I sat down with Doug and my buddy Shawn to play what I thought would be a leisurely and friendly stroll through the garden. What I soon found out was that Garden Dice was not to be the light skirmisher I once thought, but an engaging, deeply tactical and often cutthroat competition that just happened to include carrots and eggplants.
The overall goal of Garden Dice is to be the player who must successfully buys seeds, plants them, waters them (or positions them so that other players do all the watering work), grows them into veggies, protects those veggies from rampaging vermin and then harvests them for victory points. Players accomplish all these tasks by rolling four dice each turn; these dice can be used in various combinations, and in any order, to best perform actions needed to compete in the communal garden. For instance, each seed (and vegetable) has a number value. A single die can be used to buy any seed from the supply with a point value equal or less than the value of the die used. Once players have purchased seeds, those seeds can be planted using two dice that form a coordinate, locating the specific plot of toiled land in the 6 X 6 garden grid.
Water that eggplant and the artichoke and tomatoes will grow, as well!
Once seeds are planted, players may water a seed with a single die that has a value equal to or higher than the seed tile. Adjacent seed tiles – even those of opponents – may also be watered in the process, so the real trick is to water the least amount of your opponents’ seeds while strategically positioning your seeds and waiting just long enough to get your opponents to do all the watering.
Players also have to watch out for the aforementioned vermin. A special bird tile may be placed in the garden by a player on their turn by using the die coordinates, similar to planting seeds. Once on the board, that player can use a single die (and multiple single dice during a turn) to move the bird around, marching him in a straight line up to the amount of squares equal to the value on the die. If the bird encounters a seed tile, he gobbles it up! The player may also choose to discard a die of equal or greater value than the gobbled seed and take it for his own. Devious. The bird tile may also be flipped over to the rabbit side at any time by discarding a six. The rabbit works just like the bird except he gobbles up veggies instead of seeds – a potent and groan-producing power.
It would seem as though the vermin might overpower the game, but there are some checks and balanced built in. First off, at the beginning of the game, each player receives 8 ownership markers which are placed on planted veggies and special tiles (such as the bird/rabbit tile) when they are placed on the board. Whenever a bird or rabbit nabs a seed or plant, that player must place one of their ownership markers on the bird/rabbit. With a limited supply of markers, players soon have to decide whether it’s worth dwindling their supply in order to be aggressive. Vermin can also be removed by any player on their turn – even the controlling player – by using two dice that match the current location of the critter, plus one additional die that shows a 6. It’s not expressly stated in the rules, but we liked to think of this as the farmer taking good aim with his shotgun.
There is also one more special tile that can hinder the bird or provide help with the dice – the sundial/scarecrow tile. When it is first placed on the board, the sundial side is face-up. While the sundial is present, the owning player may modify dice used for coordinates by adding or subtracting a pip from one or both dice. Obviously, this is extremely handy. On the flip side of the sundial (which can be flipped with a die showing six) is the scarecrow. This helpful fellow keeps the bird from gobbling up all of that player’s surrounding seeds. The player also receives a three-point bonus for all veggie tiles harvested next to a scarecrow.
I see what you’re up to, Mr. Bird.
As most of you dear readers can see, there’s a lot more going on in Garden Dice than just harvesting colorful veggies. Add all of the above aspects, throw set collection end-game scoring into the mix, and you have a recipe for a pretty deep vegetable soup of gaming goodness.
Overall, I’ve been very pleased with all my plays of Garden Dice. I have found that the varying play styles and strategies balance each other out well; in one game I focused much more on quickly planting and harvesting cheap- and medium-value veggies and came in a close second, and in another I channeled my inner vermin and went rampaging through the garden like a miniature Godzilla. I won that particular game, but it came down to a tiebreaker – it was that close. As a matter of fact, the exacting balance of the game is one of the only small drawbacks; each game has been super close, and players have been able, with smart play and careful planning, to get the veggies they needed despite the pesky critter tiles. One other slight drawback of which some players may want to be mindful: the unpredictability of the dice make the game a very tactical affair, so some players suffering from analysis paralysis will definitely lengthen gameplay.
Even with the drawbacks I mentioned, I would recommend Garden Dice as a nice complement to any gamer’s collection, especially if you enjoy games that use dice in fun and unusual ways. The art and graphic design by Josh Cappel is whimsical and superb, as always. And the production quality of the final product promises to be top-notch; I definitely know because Doug has been asking for my input and feedback for months! I would also recommend backing Garden Dice on Kickstarter because Doug is one of the nicest guys I’ve met in quite awhile. I know that alone can’t sell games, but if it could, Garden Dice would certainly be well over-funded by now.
So head to Kickstarter now and grab your copy of Garden Dice… before the rabbits do!