- For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
- For 2 to 4 players
- Approximately 45 minutes to complete
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Visuospatial Skills
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- To be a good gardener, one must be well-organized
- Gamer Geek mixed!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
The Gardens of Babylon are considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. They are also believed, by some scholars and historians, to be a myth. Regardless, the garden’s location and existence brings to mind exotic plants, intoxicating smells from vibrant flowers, and cool shade among babbling water fountains. In this game, you will be tasked to tend to these gardens and gather the flowers, but do so wisely. A flower picked is a flower earned, but not all flowers are created equal.
Babylon Gardens, designed by Gustavo Bazerque and published via the Game Crafter, is comprised of 120 Nectar winks (in 4 different colors, 30 winks per color), 54 Water gems, 1 Central Well tile, 24 Single Flower tiles (in 4 different colors, 6 tiles per color), 32 Multiple Flower tiles (in 4 different colors, 8 tiles per color), and 4 double-sided scoreboards (1 per player). The winks are made of solid plastic and the “gems” are small transparent glass beads that are flat on one side, ensuring they do not roll away. The scoreboards and tiles are as thick and as durable as your standard playing card. The artwork by Luz Lazzaro compliments the game’s abstract game play nicely, providing visual context and light thematic elements. The end result is a game that looks more like an artistic piece that should be hanging on a wall rather than being hovered over on your gaming table.
The Sun Rises on the Garden
To set up the game, randomly give 1 scoreboard to each player. Each scoreboard is double-sided and slightly different in how it can be used to earn players additional points. None of the scoreboards provide a player an advantage. What side the player selects to use is a personal choice, but it will impact their game play and choices going forward. Have each player place the side they will be using face-up in front of them. Place any remaining scoreboards not used back in the game box.
Second, find the Central Well tile and place it face-up in the middle of the playing area.
Third, separate the Single Flower and the Multiple Flower tiles, forming 2 stacks. Shuffle each stack separately and place them face-down to one side of the game playing area. These are the Flower tile draw decks for the duration of the game. Leave room for a face-up discard pile for each draw deck.
Fourth, place the winks and the gems into separate piles to one side of the game playing area. These are the gem and wink pools for the duration of the game. Winks will taken and removed, but the gems will be taken and placed back in the pool during the game. I suggest you put the winks and the gems into two small bowls or cups. This allows for easier game play and keeps your playing area organized.
Fifth, create the garden. Several suggested set up patterns are provided in the game’s rule book, including a pattern for first-time players. Regardless of what pattern is selected or if a custom pattern is used, a number of Single and Multiple Flower tiles are drawn and placed so they are surrounding the Central Well tile. All tiles are connected to at least 1 other adjacent tile. Diagonal placement is not allowed. Any tiles not used remain in their respective draw deck.
That’s it for game set up. Determine who will go first and begin.
A Stroll Through the Garden
Babylon Gardens is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. On a player’s turn, they will complete 2 phases. Each phase is summarized here.
Phase 1: Irrigate the Garden
Starting from the Central Well tile, the player will place 1 Water gem on an open flower print found on a Flower tile. Each Flower tile will have 1 to 5 flower prints. The first Water gem placed can be on any adjacent Flower tile to the Central Well tile. From there, a small number of rules apply that dictate how the player can continue to irrigate the garden by placing Water gems.
- Water gems are never placed on the Central Well tile
- The player must place at minimum 1 Water gem on their turn
- Each Flower tile can only be used once per turn by the player
- Only Flower tiles adjacent (not diagonal) to the last Flower tile with a placed Water gem can be used
In other words, players are building a path the water is taking through the garden, watering various Flower tiles.
Phase 2: Harvesting the Flowers
After watering the garden, it’s time to pick those pretty flowers. Starting from the Central Water tile, the player MUST inspect each Flower tile in the same order in which they placed the Water gems. Depending on the number of Water gems placed during the first phase, this might be a bit difficult. In which case, all players should lend a hand.
If the Flower tile has an equal number of Water gems as flower prints, the tile is considered “filled” and can be harvested. The following steps are then completed.
- The player removes the Water gems, returning them to the Water gem pool.
- The player then removes the Flower tile and places it in the proper discard pile.
- The color on the discarded Flower card corresponds to 1 of 4 different colored Nectar winks. The matching colored wink is taken from the Nectar wink pool and placed on the first open circle on the player’s scoreboard. Start with the circle on the outermost arm of the spiral and then move inward towards the spiral’s center. Only 1 Nectar wink is collected per Flower tile, regardless of the number of filled flower prints.
- Finally, the player draws 1 Flower card that matches the Flower tile type (Single or Multiple) removed, placing it face-up in the garden in the available tile space. If the draw deck is exhausted, shuffle the discard pile and place it face-down to create a new draw deck.
The above steps are completed for each filled tile. After the player is satisfied that the garden has been thoroughly inspected, their turn ends. The next player in turn order sequence now goes starting with phase 1 noted above.
The Sun Sets on the Garden
The game ends as soon as any player fills their scoreboard (25 Nectar winks in total). All players now calculate their score.
Step 1: Fill Points
Each player earns 1 point per Nectar wink on their scoreboard. The maximum number of fill points is 25.
Step 2: Color Points
Each player’s scoreboard has 8 colored circles. If the player was able to collect and place a Nectar wink that matches the circle color, they earn an additional 5 points for that Nectar wink. This is in addition to the 1 point the wink already earned during the fill point count.
Step 3: Line Points
Each player’s scoreboard also has 8 lines. If the player was able to place Nectar winks of the same color so they all fall on the same line from the outside of the spiral to the inside of the spiral, they earn an additional 5 points per Nectar wink for a total of 15 points. If the player is able to create a line of 5 identical colored Nectar winks, they earn 10 points per wink. The center wink can be used to score multiple lines.
The player then adds their fill, color, and line points together, resulting in their final score. The player with the most points wins the game.
Team play is possible if 4 players are available. Teammates will sit opposite of each other and will attempt to build on their teammate’s Water gems, as well as set up the garden for their teammate to harvest. Points are shared between the two players at the end of the game. The team with the most points wins the game.
To learn more about Babylon Gardens, visit the game’s web page on the Game Crafter.
The Child Geeks had no issue understanding how the game was played, but were not quick to adopt the strategies and tactics required to score big points. When they did, their points improved, but not their game play. Most Child Geeks either attempted to collect as many Nectar winks as possible on each of their turns or took a great deal of time to collect specific Nectar winks. The younger Child Geeks always fell into either of these camps, with the older Child Geeks finding a good “middle path” between the two. In all cases, none of the Child Geeks voiced any negative opinions about the game. According to one Child Geek, “This game looks really easy, but it’s not. But it’s not really hard, either. You just have to think about what you are doing.” Another Child Geek said, “I like how you have to make a path and build up some Flower tiles and not others. It’s like a maze.” The only aspect of the game that the Child Geeks didn’t care for was the downtime between turns, as they were always anxious to get back into the garden and to collect more winks. When all the games were over, the Child Geeks enthusiastically voted to approve Babylon Gardens.
The Parent Geeks were both impressed with the game’s ease of play and its ever-changing garden. According to on Parent Geek, “Just when you think you have a good path to collect the winks, a single tile changes and you have to completely rethink your turn. I have yet to be bored.” Only a few of the Parent Geeks found the game’s looks to be sub-par, with the majority finding the game’s quality and presentation to be adequate. All of the Parent Geeks were a bit frustrated with their scoreboards, however. According to one Parent Geek, “It is vital that the winks remains in the position and the order in which they are placed. As soon as you bump your scoreboard, you might as well excuse yourself from the game.” This was only an issue a few times during the game playing sessions, but it’s worth mentioning: don’t bump the scoreboards. This perceived issues was resolved by simply moving the scoreboards out of harm’s way and making sure the Child Geeks understood that a bumped scoreboard was a one way ticket to being ejected from the game. When all the scoreboard issues were resolved and points counted, Babylon Gardens scored big with the Parent Geeks, resulting in full approval.
The Gamer Geeks liked many aspects of the game and an equal number of dislikes, as well. Focusing on the positive, the Gamer Geeks liked the abstract game play, the strategy and tactics of matching Water gems and Nectar winks to the scoreboard, and how the game playing area was always changing. On the other hand, the Gamer Geeks did not care for the game’s pacing, finding the resolution of Flower tiles to be longer than necessary. The Gamer Geeks also found the game play a bit repetitive at times. According to one Gamer Geek, “I think the game play is solid until you play it for about 20 minutes. Then you realize you are doing the same thing every time, with the only changes being the tiles. It no longer feels fresh to me. Just different shades of the same game play over and over again.” When it came time to vote, a number of the Gamer Geeks quickly gave their approval, finding Babylon Gardens to be an interesting and challenging abstract game. A great number were hesitant. As one Gamer Geek put it, “I like the game, I really do, but I just don’t feel like the game is tight enough to warrant my vote for approval.” Which is to say that all the Gamer Geeks thought the game would be enjoyed by Gamer Geeks, but not necessary a game that a gaming elitist would seek out. The end result was a mixed vote of approval.
What I like about this game is its deceptive simplicity. Every person who first plays this game assumes the best course of action is to collect Nectar winks as quickly as possible so as to skunk opponents. This, however, is a surefire way to lose the game. Babylon Gardens is about careful planning, setting up, and good timing. Each Nectar wink collected is worth points, but when you collect them means the difference between a few points and a lot of points. This was not lost on the Gamer Geeks and all of our other players quickly learned this lesson, as well.
My biggest complaint about the game is its fiddliness. The second phase of the game feels like it takes too long to resolve each Flower tile, pull off Water gems, collect Nectar winks, and then draw a new Flower tile. I mention it only because the rest of the game runs smoothly and quickly. While by no means intrusive or harmful to the game play as a whole, the game’s momentum takes a noticeable downturn resulting in downtime. For Parent and Gamer Geeks, this wasn’t an issue. For the Child Geeks, it was. Games can take up to an hour or a bit longer, especially if players are working really hard to earn line and color points. Downtime with Child Geeks usually results in shenanigans. Do expect some bored looks from younger players. We reduced the downtime by having 1 player assist during the second phase. Two hands make things go a bit faster, but not enough to reduce my concern.
Overall, I am very pleased with Babylon Gardens. It’s easy to teach and easy to play. The random garden patterns keep the game play interesting and you must continually reevaluate your strategy. A player is never without options, but nor are they flooded with possibilities. Having a good idea of what you want to accomplish makes decisions easier, but not to a point where they are obvious. Selecting and making paths through the garden is both a tactical exercise and a great introduction to strategic planning, with just the right amount of offensive maneuverability to steal a Nectar wink from an opponent. The only limitation is the number of Nectar winks the player can collect, which governs the end of the game and forces a player to carefully consider the value of every Nectar wink collected.
Do play Babylon Gardens when the opportunity presents itself. While you will be thematically walking through the ancient garden, this game is by no means a proverbial walk in the park. It will challenge you, make you think, and maybe even make you suffer a bit under the crushing weight of hindsight. At no time do I believe it will leave you disappointed.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.