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Subject: The Constant Gardener (of Io) rss

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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
France
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(from Valencia, Spain)
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My latest game: Big*Bang, a simple abstract about the first minutes of the Universe
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My best-rated game: Tetrarchia, about the tetrarchy that saved Rome
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DISCLAIMER ninja

I have published a few games with nestorgames, but that's all my relationship with them. I did buy this game, as well as some other nestorgames, and I don't like them all, mainly because I generally don't like abstracts! However, I had already enjoyed Gardens of Mars (GoM), the 'ancestor' of this game (see my review), and I was curious about how the game had improved or changed in this new setting (GoI). From the rulebook:

Our beloved Martians from Gardens of Mars have traveled to Jupiter's moon Io. They’ve also improved their gardening techniques to avoid stepping on the flowers as they move around the garden. Now they toss rapid-growth seeds from the outside of the garden instead. Help your little Martian gardener plant flowers to create the grandest, most beautiful garden on Io.

If you want to know my verdict, keep reading! Even if I will make references to GoM, no previous knowledge of that game is needed.

COMPONENTS meeple

I knew already the components, since they are very similar to those of GoM: the same great looking acrylic martians (or should I say 'ioians'?), the same 6x10 plastic colored discs (though purple has replaced gray), 3 black plastic cones (the ioian trees), 5 black discs (special action tokens), the mouse-pad board... and no dice!


As GoM, great-quality wearproof components that lead to a light and compact game (the norm at nestorgames). You get a lot of playing hours ahead for a moderate price.

The few component differences with respect to GoM make the game better. There was no strict need of a second martian for each player as in GoM (player and score token), but it has been included to put in front of you so that everyone knows who is who, a nice touch. The trees could have been black discs, but the cones enhance the 3d aspect of the game. The martians are no longer on top of discs (see below), which some found too small in GoM for that, so the gameplay is even more smooth. And finally, I find the graphics of the board a step better than GoM, with a 'bright' reflection effect on the flying saucer side that makes you check twice if the board material is really a mouse pad!

RULES cool

The game, as GoM, uses a principle exploited in Ingenious, the players place pieces ('flowers') and score points depending on the size of the group they added the flower to, so there is a motivation to add them better later than sooner. The principle is better implemented here, since with respect to Ingenious it only depends on the size, not the directions of the group, and with respect to GoM the grid is square, not hexagonal, so the scoring potential is easier to grasp.

The main difference with respect to GoM, and the main original ingredient as a game, is that martians don't put their feet (or whatever they have) on Io: they play from the score track that surrounds the moon! In Mars there was some chaos through the dice, that you had to manage in order to move. In Io, there is no randomness, but on your next turn you will be limited by the number of points that you get this turn! I had not met this mechanic before, but it adds a very interesting twist to the game. You may want to score less in order to build up a better option ahead.


And another scoring twist adds depth (in a very simple way): you move as many empty spaces as points you earned (in Mars you jumped over a martian if you finished your turn on him). Therefore, you may want to score more points when you have several martians ahead, even if this places you in a worse position for the next turn... This is another norm in nestrogames, simple rules that lead to interesting choices.

HOW DOES IT PLAY surprise

The rules are simple but there are a number of twists that make the gameplay interesting. The theme is very thin, but as in GoM it was a fact that we didn't say "I move my token to throw a red disc", we did say "I move my martian to throw a red flower". Indeed not even "my martian", we ended up with nicknames for each of them! The martians alone take this game a step from a pure abstract towards a eurogame. Even we called the cones 'trees'!


The first twist is that there are special actions that can be chosen once in the game. I don't like special powers in general, mostly because they are often fiddly and rely on text-heavy cards that are thus language dependent. Here, they are very simple, the actions are represented on the board by a straightforward symbol, and you just take the black disc on top if you use one, that you leave in front of you to display that you already did.

Second, if you plant the last flower of a given color you have an extra turn, so sometimes you may want to plant a flower that doesn't give many points (because of the board configuration) but that allows you to play again.

Third, if you complete a lap (pass in front of the flying saucer), you take a flower from the board to your reserve, ideally one that may give you a lot of points later. And this can be combined with the previous bonus, so you may plant a last flower, complete a lap, take a flower, and plant it again!

This game has no randomness, so you can in principle calculate each move to see how many points you'll earn, where you land, which options you leave to the next player... But as in GoM, the game is light and you (at least we) end up trying to just guess all these things, not over-analyze them, so the pace is fast. After a first learning game in which you discover the mechanic, you should see what you have to do or avoid. The 30-45 min playing time quoted corresponds well to our experience, though our games were more 30 min (maybe we play too 'light'!).

A final comment on the score track. Being a square 10-spaces wide provides a very clear grasp of your points, since counting in tens is straightforward. And being light-dark-light following the same pattern as the board makes the diagonal lines along which you may throw flowers very clear too.

FINAL WORD thumbsup

When I learnt about this new 'martian' game, I wondered "should I buy a slightly different game?", and if so, "should I keep the old one?". I think the differences are worthy of buying GoI even if you own GoM. And in fact, if you own GoM and you like it, you should like GoI too, since the differences take it in an interesting direction. So my answers were yes to both questions!

With younger players maybe GoM is the better choice, due to the chaos introduced by the dice. But GoI has two ingredients that make it not completely symmetrical: some discs are randomly removed at start, and the trees change the setup every game (there are even special actions that let you move them). Both games have in common that they can be played in a more focused or more casual way, depending on your mood, and are definitely easy to explain and play out-of-the-case.

Finally, I've heard rumors of a new martian expedition, but only Néstor knows where they're going...


PS/ There was a recent KS campaign for a new edition of GoM that was going to replace the nestorgames one, but it was postponed. This edition included some ingredients from GoI, like obstacles (rocks instead of trees, Mars is too dry!) and special powers. But the good news is that in the meantime you can still get GoM from nestorgames in their very compact edition! And if you own both, you may add the trees of Io to Mars...
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Néstor Romeral Andrés
Spain
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Thank you, Miguel!

One clarification regarding this:

Quote:
may plant a last flower, complete a lap, take a flower, and plant it again


You cannot take a flower from the garden if all the flowers of that colour have been planted (i.e. the colour is 'closed').

Quote:
you may add the trees of Io to Mars


This


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Edwin Nealley

Ardmore
Pennsylvania
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I really enjoyed Gardens of Mars as well, and I am just getting acquainted with Gardens of Io- both are fun little abstracts.

Have to a love a NestorGame!
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