Topiary Review: A Game About Plants that a Brown Thumb Can Win

This Topiary Review digs into a game that has recently burst into my repertoire of Gateway Games. Not only enjoy playing this game about created hedges, but I also love teaching to friends and family. Maybe it’s a game you should consider adding to your collection…

This Topiary review contains affiliate links. Let me assure you that all thoughts and opinions about the Topiary and Renegade games are my own and are not influenced by any past, current, or future relationship with the designer of the game, publisher of the game, or Dax Shepard. In this context, only two of those three make sense. Anyway, you can Read my full disclosure policy here.

You and 3 friends have stumbled upon the outside walls of what appears to be an ancient Renaissance garden… and except for the decaying walls the actual living garden appears to be impeccably maintained. From a quick glance you can see a myriad of shapes and sizes of carefully sculpted hedges.

As you and your friends stroll casually around the walls you suddenly find yourselves in a bit of a competition trying to see who can identify the most shapes… for some reason without actually entering the garden.

“There’s a T-Rex… and I see a whale off in the distance!” shouts David as he cranes his neck and peers down a row of decorative flora.

“I can see a T-Rex AND an Elephant.” Mark says as he jumps up in the air to get a better line of sight.

Spencer runs to the corner: “Well, from here I can see 3 swans… AND something spiraling up behind them! What about you Joe?”

You say nothing… as you stare blankly at a huge D20 shaped tree… completely blocking anything else from your field view.

Full table after play. Topiary Review

What is Topiary?

Well, if you’re interested in the history of plant carving, you can check out this cool Wikipedia article that has a plethora of information on the topic.

If, however, you are here to find out a little bit more about the GAME of Topiary, as I expect you are, then let me give you a brief overview:

(I don’t normally do a rules explanation, but this game is pretty simple so I’m going to break with that tradition and give you a pretty detailed overview.)

Like so many games, the goal of Topiary is to get the most points. To score those points, players take turns placing one of their meeples, called visitors, around the outside of the garden which is made up of a 5×5 grid of tiles. When the player places their visitor, they face it down a row, column or diagonal row through the garden.

At the end of the game, players score points based on the Topiaries that each of their visitors can see from each vantage point. Each Topiary has a number from 1-5 and each visitor can see the first Topiary in the line. However, after that first topiary the visitor can only see plant sculptures behind it that are at least 1 number larger – continuing in that pattern until the end of the row.

Topiary Review - Tile Setup

What adds an element of strategy to the game is that all but the center garden tile are upside down when the game begins. Each time a player adds a visitor to the outside of the garden, they remove a tile that is in the row that the visitor is looking down, examine it, and either place that tile face up in the space they pulled it from, or replace it face up with one of three tiles they have in their hand, keeping the tile they just picked up.

The game ends when all visitors have been placed, and then the scores are totaled.

There are 2 bonus scoring elements that you will consider as well. If a visitor “sees” 2 or more Topiaries that are the same style, (2 T-Rexes for example) that visitor scores 1 bonus point for each tile of that style that they see.  For the second bonus, every player will have 3 tiles in their hand at the end of the game. They will get the points listed on those if any of their visitors sees a larger topiary of that style somewhere in the garden.

Topiary Review Beauty Shot

Topiary Game Specs:

Price Range: $25-30 You can buy it HERE.

Players: 2-4

Style: Tile placement with a little bit of “Take That” thrown in.

Estimated Game time: 20-40 Minutes

Geek Level: Gateway / Light – But surprisingly challenging

Topiary Box - gotta have that in a topiary review

 

What I Liked About Topiary

  • Easy to Teach: I don’t know if it came through in my rules explanation above or not but you can teach this game to new players in 5 minutes or less. As a quick example, I played this game on New Years Eve with some friends. After we played our first game, a new player joined. I don’t know how many games I have where someone will willingly sit through a second rules explanation of a game they just learned, but everyone who played the first game stayed for the second, even though they had to hear me explain it again.
  • Surprising Depth: When my only actions on a turn are “Place a visitor” and “Take and replace a tile” I really didn’t have high expectations. But those expectations were shattered as this game proved to be a lot more challenging than I originally thought.
  • Box Art: This may sound silly – but I wanted to play this game the second I saw the box. I mean… it’s a green T-Rex! Who doesn’t want to pick that up and figure out what’s inside?!
  • Speed of play: I don’t have a ton of games in my collection that have a good “challenge to time” ratio. I believe this one falls into that category well – taking usually less than 30 minutes to play but making me work for each and every victory point.
  • Components: Renegade games did a great job with the components of this game. Each players meeples are not only a different color, but they are also unique in shape! The tiles are also thick and durable.

Crowded Tile - Topiary Review

What I Did Not Like About Topiary

  • “Fiddly” End of Game Scoring: I really questioned whether to put this here, or to add a category of “What YOU may not like about Topiary.” I say that because generally, pulling out a score pad at the end of a game (Like in 7 Wondersisn’t something that bothers me. And to be fair – there isn’t a score pad in this game but a scoring track. However, just like a score pad you don’t use it until the very end of the game.But here is what makes Topiary’s end game scoring a little fiddly. If you aren’t careful, it can be easy to miss a score, or count something twice accidentally. To avoid this I simply score it in the following way:  Score tiles in hand, then score each visitor (including any style bonuses) and then remove it from play. As long as you do that you can have the scoring done in a jiffy.

Full end of game board. Topiary Review.

What I Really Think of Topiary (My Official Topiary Review)

I HAVE A NEW GATEWAY GAME!

I probably play more gateway games than your average gamer. I’d estimate that about half of my game nights are with friends who wouldn’t consider themselves to be gamers, we often stay on the lighter side and I’m often the teacher. Because of this I’m super excited to have a new game in the collection that can be set up and taught so quickly!

I don’t believe that I have mentioned this before but I actively cull my collection. As I write this I have about 60 games and I have self imposed a limit of 100. I’m hoping to not reach 100 for several years by actively removing games that don’t get played or I don’t enjoy. Why do I say all this? Because I am very, VERY confident that Topiary will not be leaving my collection any time in the near, or not so near future.

Topiary Review - Low angle perspective of play

More About Topiary from Around the Web

Topiary Review - Cool Meeples around the tiles

Just One More Thing:

I’m a complete brown thumb when it comes to actual plants. Seriously… it’s true. I killed a cactus. You know… those plants that only need to be watered like once a year… that survive WITHOUT HUMAN INTERACTION… IN THE DESERT!?? Yeah… I killed it.

So from now on I’m no longer calling myself a brown thumb. Instead I shall be referred to as a plant assassin!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this Topiary review are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. That aside, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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1 thought on “Topiary Review: A Game About Plants that a Brown Thumb Can Win

  1. Looks interesting. I might have to try it. I’ve noticed Renegade Game Studios has been putting out a lot of good games recently. A week ago I tried out Explorers of the North Sea from them and really enjoyed it.

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