Stone Garden, review

So before we start, this is about the Japanese only version of the game, technically named ??? or Karesansui, and called Stone Garden on Board Game Geek. This is not the American game Zen Garden and/or Karesansui from Eagle-Gryphon. All clear on this point? Ok.

Stone Garden midway. Player boards on outskirts, rock store in middle, cheat sheet between
Stone Garden midway. Player boards on outskirts, rock store in middle, translation cheat sheet between

Got to play this thanks to Tomo who ordered it from Japan for our work lunchtime plays (thank you Tomo). The game is conceptually a strange Carcassonne with more player interaction, more complicated scoring, and amazing quality pieces. Each turn you pick up a tile, decide whether you’ll play it (possibly having it stolen), gift it, store it, or discard it. Gifting earns you virtue, discarding loses it, and stealing loses even more. You then can move your assistant (the little pawn), have him buy and place a stone, or have him meditate to gain virtue.

The first level of complexity lies in the virtue management and the associated risk balancing. You might hold off on placing a critical tile until your opponents don’t have enough virtue to steal it, but then you give up your only storage spot, possibly wasting a great tile later. Buying stones moves your virtue to zero, which means that for one turn you can’t discard. Drawing a terrible tile then can mess up a whole arrangement.

The second level complexity of the game lies in the scoring and choosing between going slower for maximum points, or rushing with sub-optimal tiles, but hopefully finishing first and forcing your opponents into suboptimal gardens (the game speeds up once the first garden is finished). You get positive points for pleasing patterns of sand and moss, negative points for unmatched edges, big bonus points for your hidden objective, and then you get to the rock rules. Various rock patterns count for points, while other rocks simply score points by being present in the right place.

What’s nice is the game is genuinely rooted in the art of stone garden design, so you do learn a tiny bit from gameplay. You won’t be an expert by any means, but you’ll learn why certain rocks are placed where they are, and what they are symbolically meant to signify (famous islands, ships, etc).

Stone Garden box
Stone Garden box. Each rock in a custom spot.

What made the game a such a word of mouth hit is the quality of the pieces though. Cause of how good the rocks look, while working on your fake stone garden you genuinely create what looks like a really pretty little stone garden. There’s a genuinely joy in seeing everything come together as the game runs, which then leads to people tweeting photos of their gardens, and the game then spreads from there.

Like this: a game winning garden in the making (3 more stones coming)
Like this: a nice, though game losing garden (poor stone placement). Symmetry in middle row though.

The high quality also leads to a scarcity: the publisher simply can’t make the games very fast, so the game is difficult to find most places. And even once acquired you still probably need to get a good translation sheet for the rules, gardeners, and scoring patterns.

Having said that, I definitely think it’s worth it. The gameplay is genuinely interesting, and the components are just incredible. I genuinely hope it manages to come to the US without loss of quality because it’s a fantastic and unique take on euro-gaming, with a beautiful theme on top.

Tsuro mini-review and strategy tips

Tsuro strategy tips? Surely you’re joking. Nope, not at all. First though, a mini review.

Tsuro. Green wins

The players have 3 tiles in hand and have to place one in front of their stone. This makes a path. If you connect to a different path, you have to travel along it. If you crash into someone, you both are eliminated, if you go off the board, you are eliminated. It plays in about 5 minutes, is pretty fun and easy to teach people, and you already know all this. Cool? Cool.

So here we go, Tsuro Strategy Tips, or “how to win against your family on that one day a year where you all hang out together”.

3 basic ideas, all of which amount to “maximize your options, minimize others’ options”:

  1. Play bad tiles as early as possible
  2. Stay in the center
  3. Force opponents to the outside

Play bad tiles as early as possible

First, let’s explain what makes a tile good or bad since a lot of people treat them equally. Each tile has 4 sides, meaning it can be played 4 ways for your stone. Each of the paths on the tile links your stone to one of 7 possible result spots. The quality of the tile is how varied the different locations it points to are. A good tile has 4 unique directions it can end up sending you to, one for each side. A bad tile has the same result 4 times. 2s are poor, 3s are ok.

Think about it, you always want options. If you end up in a situation where going straight will kill you, and the only tile you have is one where every side sends you forward, you lose. On the other hand one where 1 U-turns, 1 turns left, 1 turns right, and 1 goes forward could save you here.

So rule 1: play your bad tiles as soon as you can, save your good tiles for when you need them to survive.

Stay in the center

Again, we’re talking about maximizing your options. If you’re heading towards the empty center, all your exits are safe. If your in the corner, at least 4 of your exits are automatically death. So rule here is simple: stay towards the center.

Force opponents to the outside

Since you can’t force opponents to play good tiles directly, your only aggressive action (other than just sending people directly off the map) is to minimize their choices. Whenever possible, always steer your opponents towards edges, or corners (corners preferred). Even if they survive, they will have to use better tiles to get back, getting you a bit of advantage.


So there you go. Some simple tips to get you a tiny bit of an edge in Tsuro. Now go out there and crush your little cousin.

Takenoko Chibis review

We played the Chibis expansion of Takenoko with Erin and Mikey last night. While the stars are obviously Ms Panda and the cubs, the real unspoken game changer is the statue tiles that make much larger bamboo forests possible.

Takenoko Chibis, with the new taller bamboo forests
Takenoko Chibis, with the new taller bamboo forests

See the absurd swath of 4-tall green and blue? That’s expansion growth. When the gardener steps on the statues, all irrigated hexes of that color grow by 1. You can grow 7+ tiles in a single turn. No panda can eat that. The second pond also makes irrigation chains less crucial, if it gets placed in a good place, which makes the least appealing part of the game even less so.

Game is still just as random as before, and still fun.

The Hatchery

Final playlists of my Neuroshima Hex fan army, The Hatchery. New mechanics, new powers, lots of complex combos, giant angry mutant sparrows.

The Hatchery
The Hatchery

Averages 50% against the standard armies as I play them, so hopefully this will work out.

Neuroshima Hex Mini Puzzle

A mini puzzle from an over-lunch game of Neuroshima Hex. Yellow is at 15, Green 11. This is the last turn so there will be a final battle after. Can Yellow tie, or win?

A Neuroshima Hex puzzle: last turn, can yellow tie or win?
A Neuroshima Hex puzzle: last turn, can yellow tie or win?

Pretty sure tie is simple, but there is no way to win.

Neuroshima Hex review

Finally got to test run the Mephisto army, against New York.

Mephisto v New York
Mephisto v New York

I ‘get’ Mephisto, much more than I ‘got’ Dancer, but it’s a very hard army to use, and very reliant on good draw order. Similar in concept to a cross between Neo-Jungle and Dancer, except without the rampant power growth of the former, and the very high mobility of the latter.

Neuroshima Hex

portal’s neuroshima hex at work. this game ended in a low scoring (17, 15, 14) win by james as New York

neuroshima hex
neuroshima hex

i went 20-0 as Hegemony vs New York bit later though, heh


z-man’s ginkgopolis at tabletop commons


good game, though you really have to mentally click over to how scoring is based on districts, not anything else that you might think it’s based on

Neuroshima Hex

playing with our now aging 2.0 version

neuroshima hex
neuroshima hex

this game really shows why portal is my top designer out there right now. extremely skewed armies that somehow balance perfectly in the end