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Game Preview: How Does Your Garden Grow?, or Cursing Raccoons While Praying for Carrots

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: How Does Your Garden Grow?
Yesterday I previewed Rüdiger Dorn's Vegas Dice Game, one of nearly two dozen games that will appear exclusively at Target when that U.S. retail chain refreshes its game section at the end of July 2017. Today I'm looking at a far more typical mainstream release, one aimed at the youngest of players and one that exemplifies the constant challenge of getting people to enjoy playing games.

How Does Your Garden Grow? is from designer Gina Manola and U.S. publisher Mudpuppy, which previously had produced only public domain titles such as dominoes, bingo, and chess. This design features all the tropes that one might expect of a game aimed at four-year-olds: bright colors, call-outs to educational benefits ("Color Matching", "Strategy"), and an oddly-shaped box complete with a handle. As for the gameplay, here's an overview:

In How Does Your Garden Grow?, players want to tend to their garden, avoid pests that will eat their crops, and plant one of each of the six fruits and vegetables in the game. Whoever does this first wins.

To start the game, each player draws six seeds from the seed pouch at random and places them on front of the six slots on their 3D game board. On a turn, a player draws and reveals the top card. If it's a fruit or veggie and they have the matching colored seed, they can place this card in their game board in the slot next to the seed. If they lack this colored seed, they can swap one of their seeds with a seed drawn at random from the bag; if this now matches the card, they can plant it; otherwise they must discard the card.

Players might also draw a "Pick it!" card that allows them to steal a card from another player's garden, a "Pest" card that eats one card in your garden, or a "Helper" card that allows you to draw two cards, after which you play both.

Players continue taking turns until one of them has all six fruits and veggies in their garden, winning the game instantly.
From gallery of W Eric Martin

All that seems straightforward enough, but the rules don't reveal that one important detail — needing all six fruits and veggies to win — until the final line when previously the object of the game was stated as follows: "[P]lant 6 fruits/veggies in your garden row. The first player to complete his/her garden is the winner!" The rules aren't long, but even in this game for kids I played twice (with a four-year-old and eight-year-old) before re-reading the rules and discovering that one detail I had missed earlier. Even in a game for children with almost no rules, the rules were initially unclear because the winning condition was stated two different ways. Sigh.

In our first games, we played until someone placed six cards in their garden, then called it. The four-year-old had fun with each revelation of his cards (and with winning the first game), while the eight-year-old was filled only with sighs. (A two-year-old observing the game had fun stealing seeds from the bag and playing with them on the remaining game board.)

Once I discovered the correct rules, I coerced the eight-year-old into playing again in order to check whether that color restriction would bog down play. What if you drew two tomatoes to match the two red seeds on your board? Would you then need to cycle through cards until you finally drew a pest so that you could discard one of them, then keep cycling until you drew the missing color? In two games, neither of us had this issue as drawing new seeds from the bag is optional, and both of us drew until we had all six colors, then stopped drawing and just let the deck do its thing.

As you can tell from the description, there's not much to the game itself. You shuffle the deck, then (for the most part) things happen without you having a say in anything. The extra complication of needing a rainbow of produce might cause games to go longer than they would if you needed only to fill your board, and you'll need to judge the patience of your young audience to see whether the complication is worth the trouble. As a designer of kids' games recently told me, sometimes you don't worry about the rules, but just put the components on the table and see what happens...

From gallery of W Eric Martin
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