The Hanging Gardens is a rather unique little game in which players seek to construct and re-construct complex arrangements of four different types of garden components. Creating new gardens gives players the opportunity
The components are simple. A deck of building cards, a set of victory point tiles which must be collected in sets, five little wooden temples for each of the players, a somewhat vestigial board that mostly just holds stacks of cards and tiles and an exceedingly twee little cardboard flower that marks the start player. I'll note one of the most frustrating component issues in the Rio Grande english version where the word "motif" is rendered throughout the rules as "motive".
The starting card of each player is a card like any of the building cards but with all six spaces blank. Each player starts with one of these in front of them which form the basis for their gardens. The point tiles are shuffled and stacked face-down and then six are laid out face-up on six spaces of the game board
Each 'turn' of the game involves player taking one of the four face-up building cards (taking two in a 2p game, or one of 3 for the 3-player version). Players have to place this card into their garden following simple placement rules. Each building card has a 2 x 3 grid with up to four of the spaces having one of four different building types. The remainder of the spaces are blank, like the starting building space.
The two placement rules allow the any spaces to be overlapped with existing cards on the table, but only blank spaces can be built directly onto the table as foundations. Thus the first card a player places will have to have all its non-empty spaces overlapping the first blank starting card. Any temples can also not be overbuilt.
This requirement for blank foundation space to be laid first can make building cards with only 1 or 2 filled spaces valuable, particularly in the early game where all the players are frantically trying to expand their gardens.
If a player places a card which is part of a 3 or greater space continuous group that doesn't already have a temple on it, they can place a temple on the group and collect one of the victory point tiles.
Tiles come in a several set types as well as 5 different unique person tiles. Tiles are worth points depending on how many of them have been collected. For example, of the illustrated tiger tile, a single tile is worth 4, a set of two is 9, three are 9 + 4 and so forth. Some of the tiles become much more valuable, the gate tiles are worth 0 individually but 25 in a set of four!
In addition, there are unique person tiles such as the lion tamer or the gardener who have a low value (typically 3) if collected alone but become worth much more (10 or more) if the player also has at least one complete set of the matching tiles. In a move no doubt antithetical to some players, the points tiles are kept face down (although they are not perfectly trackable).
The game board always has six face up point tiles. A size 3 group permits one tile from the first column to be take, size 4, one from the first two columns, and size 5 any tile on the board. A group of size 6 or more (though more is a waste!) permits the player to secretly take a face down tile and then take any face up tile in addition. Gaps in tiles are immediately replaced.
Each player only has 5 temples. Once all 5 have been placed, a new temple placement must remove a temple from any of their smallest remaining groups-with-temples. This means that choosing how to break up existing groups is important when you're trying to move temples out of the way.
Once all the building cards have been distributed and and placed on the gardens, the game ends and the players count up their tiles. The player with the most points in completed sets and character tiles wins!
It's worth keeping in mind that in a typical game, only 3/4 or so of the points tiles are going to become available. This can make collecting some of the rarer sets difficult or impossible. Further, it can be deeply frustrating to have a needed tile come up in the 5-point column when all you have available is easy 3 and 4 plays. It's critical that players be flexible enough to take easy plays when they become available and pick up high-scoring tiles regardless of whether they have the matching cards.
There's a lot of defensive play too. Players who ignore their tiles their opponent is chasing are likely to win. Similarly, they shouldn't hesitate in getting critical tiles. Similarly, sometimes taking a slightly suboptimal play can prevent your opponent getting an easy size-6 group.
It is interesting to consider the effort required to build the foundations of your garden out too far. In particular, most foundation extending moves don't earn any point tiles so keeping your garden small and regularly built-over can be a successful strategy since you can cycle quickly through the 3-point tiles.
Two different approaches to getting point tiles are trying to build up large groups sometimes forgoing point tiles for smaller groups while you build them up. This can be effective, especially with the double tile pick-ups but temple placement has to be done carefully so that the large groups can be easily split up and built over. The other option is trying to generate many small tiles on a relatively small garden and aim to build over existing groups as much as possible. This can work well but again temple placement is critical to avoid blocking new card laying.
This is a fairly simple and lightweight game with easy to explain rules that actually has some nice depth in planning and spatial visualisation when it comes to choosing the building cards to place. While the point tiles come from a tried-and-true Euro formula, the building card placement mechanism is the genuinely fun part of the game and is nice and fresh. I'd highly recommend this as a 2-player game.