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Review: Veggie Garden

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Veggie Garden Box

I’ll admit to having a black thumb. I can’t even get houseplants to grow. I’m far better suited to virtual gardening where I can’t really kill anything. Enter Veggie Garden, a board game that has you working in a large community garden while dealing with pesky bunnies, groundhogs, and other gardeners who want to mess up your perfect garden to advance their own plans. Hmm. Now that I think of it, maybe a cactus would be easier. 

How It Plays

Veggie Garden is a game about growing, well, a vegetable garden. Duh. The idea here, though, is that this is a community garden and while you’re trying to make it flourish for everyone, you want to have the richest personal harvest.

To begin the game, veggie cards are laid out randomly on the central board’s grid. There are six types of veggies in the game, but only five are used in any game. You can randomly choose which one to leave out, or go with group consensus. The one not chosen is put back in the box along with all of its associated cards.

The twelve fence posts are also placed randomly in their respective spots along the outer edge of the board. You place them face down and then flip them over prior to beginning play. Cards that end up next to these posts earn the number of points shown on the fence post at the end of the game.

There is a plot of land in the center of the board which does not touch any of the fence posts. This is known as the Compost Area and cards that end up here are worth nothing at the end of the game. (Unless you need them to feed your compost worms, but that’s another story.)

The cards not placed on the board are placed in a pile next to the board and become the Veggie Deck. The top four cards are laid out next to the board (this is the Harvest area) and each player draws two cards off the deck into their hands. You’re ready to play!

The game is played over six turns. On a turn, a player takes one card from the face up harvest cards and then takes the action associated with that vegetable. Each veggie in the game has a reference tile that details the action permitted. Actions generally involve shifting columns of cards one space up or sideways on the grid (cards that “fall off” the grid are then placed in the empty spot created by the shift on the opposite side of the board), swapping cards or fence posts horizontally, diagonally, or vertically, exchanging a card from your hand with any on the board, or discarding a card from the grid and replacing it with one of the three remaining in the harvest.

Veggie Garden Tiles
The veggie tiles, fence post tokens and bunny and gopher.

There are two special characters in the game which impact the actions you can take. First, there is the groundhog. He’s only in play in games where peas are being used. No peas, no groundhog. The groundhog resides in the compost area. When a player harvests a pea card, he can move the groundhog to another space in the compost area and choose one card adjacent to his new position to swap with the card on the groundhog’s direct opposite side.

The groundhog also acts as a blocker. If he is present on a card or in a row/column, the regular action for that vegetable cannot be taken. So if you harvest a cabbage card which allows you to shift a row or column, you cannot apply that action to a row/column where the groundhog is sitting. Or, if you harvest a card that lets you swap cards, you can’t swap the card that the groundhog occupies. He’s a pesky bugger.

The bunny is only in play in games where carrots are in play. No carrots, no bunny. If the bunny is in play, he begins the game on a randomly selected fence post. As the game goes along, anyone who harvests a carrot card can swap the bunny token with any other fence post. At the end of the game, the card adjacent to the bunny token is worth zero points.

After the player takes their action, the harvest card is added to their hand and the top card of the veggie deck is drawn to replace the card taken. Now the next player takes their turn.

Play continues for six turns, after which each player has eight cards in hand (six drawn during the game, plus the two starting cards). In player order, each player takes one more card from the harvest, but does not take the associated action. Cards are not replaced during this phase so the last player gets the dregs.

Now you score. If you have one of each kind of veggie in your hand, you get ten bonus points. Players then tabulate the points for each type of vegetable. Remember, the points for each card are determined by the adjacent fence posts. So, for example, if there are potatoes adjacent to fence posts with values of 2, 3, and 2, each potato card in your hand is worth seven points. Remember that cards in the compost area, as well as the one adjacent to the bunny (if he’s in play) are worth nothing.

The player with the most points wins.

Growing a Great Game or Putting Me Into a Vegetative State?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m in the market for simple, fast, yet somewhat strategic games these days. Veggie Garden hits two of those categories marvelously. It is very fast. Most of our two player games are twenty minutes or less. It’s also very simple. The rules are one page and setup is a breeze.

As for strategy, it’s a mixed bag. This isn’t a brain burning game. However, there is more strategy here than you might expect. Not as much as Worlds Fair 1893 or  New York 1901, but enough to keep me entertained for a while and take the edge off of a bad day.

The strategy centers around both manipulating the points of the veggies and collecting cards in hand to match those points. It’s difficult to do both. If you’re collecting peppers in your hand, thinking that they’re going to be valuable at the end of the game, but then someone lowers the value of peppers, your hand has just decreased in value. Plus, the more cards you’re hoarding of one type, the fewer there can be on the board, meaning potentially fewer scoring opportunities. You want to balance banking on the big score against also protecting yourself against a veggie market collapse near the end of the game.

While there can be value in chasing the most valuable veggies, there is also value in diversification. You end the game with a hand of nine cards, but if you have one of each type of veggie, you get ten bonus points. So if you go for the full set, that’s only going to leave you four spots in hand for chasing one or two types of valuable veggies. So do you go for the set points, or try to score big by having only one or two types of veggies? If you fail on either count, you’re likely in trouble, but will succeeding in only one strategic area be enough? Hard to say.

Veggie Garden Board
The board set up to play.

That’s because any strategy you try to follow in this game is subject to severe disruption. First, the card draw is random. While you have four known cards to choose from on your turn, those cards were placed there via random draw. This means that sometimes there won’t be anything useful on your turn so you’ll have to make the best of what you can get.

The board also changes so much between turns (especially at higher player counts), that you have to think on the fly and adjust accordingly. This makes for a chaotic game and gamers seeking total control over their strategy won’t appreciate this. However, it feels right for a game of this weight and family-friendly nature. If you go into it just to have fun, you won’t mind the chaotic feeling.

Two player games do feel more strategic so if that’s where your heart lies, don’t play with more. With two, you have more control over your plans since the board will only undergo one change before it’s your turn again. This makes it more of a brain burner as you try to suss out what your opponent is doing and what you should be doing to counteract their plan while advancing your own.

A memory element can also come into play in two player games. If you can remember which cards she’s taken into hand and if you’ve closely watched how she’s manipulating the garden, you have a better chance of counteracting your opponent’s moves. This is also possible at higher player counts, it’s just much harder and not for someone like me who has a terrible memory!

I’ve heard complaints that the last player always wins but we didn’t find that to be the case in our games. At least not the higher player count games. The draft at the end of the game helps to overcome the last round manipulation of the cards. Without it, the player who goes last would indeed have a big advantage, as she would be able to manipulate the garden’s values to best suit her hand of cards. But when everyone gets a chance to take one last card, this helps mitigate any last minute arranging the last player did.

Veggie Garden Languages
Stickers in multiple languages for the veggie tiles. Awesome ingenuity!

Note that this isn’t quite as effective in the two player game, particularly if there is more than one of the “best” cards available in the harvest area. When that happens, each player usually takes one and you’re back to even, with a greater chance that the last player’s market manipulation wins them the game. We house ruled this to make it fairer and to better simulate the higher player count game. We play that the second player can’t take the same veggie (if available) as the first player. That solves the issue of the last player simply protecting that last market manipulation. (Play it by the rules a few times before changing anything. Then you’ll know if you like it/need to change it or not.)

For all of its cuteness and lightness, the game can feel a little mean, though, and players who are super sensitive might want to avoid it. I wouldn’t call this a true “take that” or “screwage heavy” game because it’s not nasty enough to merit those labels. It’s difficult for players to gang up on just one player and make their life miserable, or to be deliberately mean on every turn. But there are definitely opportunities to deliberately or accidentally mess up your opponents by swapping cards into non- or low-scoring positions. It’s not always on purpose, but sometimes making the best maneuver for yourself will wreck someone else’s plan.

Fortunately, this seems to even out over six turns. Some turns you’ll be the person who gets messed up, sometimes you’ll be the messer-upper. In a game this light and fast it doesn’t bother me. It’s so easy to just play again that it’s hard to work up hurt feelings. However, I know some people who cannot take any sort of messing with their plans, no mater the level of intent behind it. These are the people who need to avoid this game. Everyone else will just groan and play on, hoping that the next turn or game works out better.

Veggie Garden Feature
The art in the game is lovely.

Finally, I want to end with some words about the components and replayability. First, the component artwork is lovely and really makes me want to play. The theme is something that everyone can understand and get behind. The nicest touch, though, is the inclusion of stickers in a myriad of languages that can be placed on the veggie tiles. This means that people who don’t speak English can easily and neatly alter the only language-dependent components to their language. (It also comes with rules in tons of languages, too, but that’s nothing new. A lot of games do this.) This is the first time I’ve seen this and it’s a treat.

For such a small game, Veggie garden is highly replayable. Since one veggie is left out each game, no two games will play exactly the same. You may have games with the bunny, the groundhog, or both. The random card draw and the way players change the board every game also mean that the game is never the same. No, it’s not the sort of game where you can say, “I’m going to try for trade routes this time since I went for warfare last time.” The strategies aren’t that disparate or nuanced. But you won’t find that the game feels too samey, either. We’ve played probably fifteen times and the different combinations and the way the game plays out keep me entertained each time.

Veggie Garden is a fun little game for those looking for a lightweight, cute, easy to learn gateway /family game that offers some strategy with just enough chaos to make things interesting and keep the playing field level. The two player game offers enough meat to keep me coming back on busy nights, although I find that our house rule improved the end game quite a bit. I may not be able to grow my own veggies, but I do enjoy virtual gardening on a board.

iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Quick Simple Fun Games for giving us a copy of Veggie Garden for review. 


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Summary

Pros

The stickers in various languages is a neat touch.
The "left out" veggie idea and the presence or absence of groundhogs and bunnies makes for good replayability.
Family friendly, easy to learn, quick. Great gateway game.
Offers some strategy with enough randomness and chaos to keep the playing field level.
Solid 2p experience.

Cons

Might feel mean to some players.
Long term strategy is nearly impossible due to constantly changing board and randomness.

8.5 Very Good

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I'm also one of "those people" who likes dice and revels in randomness.

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