Review: Miyabi

Japanese style gardens are an elegant form of art expression through nature. Everything is planned down to the last detail. In Miyabi, you’ll skillfully place stones, bushes, ponds, and pagodas on multiple levels within your garden to become the best garden designer of the season in this tile-laying game.

The Good

Polyomino Forgiveness (+8)

I’m normally not great at polyomino games but the fact that you can layer these tiles help a lot! In fact, the game actually does encourage you to cover up the tiles so you can get away with claiming that you did weird things intentionally for end game scoring. Honestly I would play this as a solo game if I could, since the tile drafting mechanic doesn’t clearly benefit those who try and deny tiles to other players. I appreciate this mainly because I’ve played other games in the past where the strategy can solely be about bringing the other person down quickly.

Pleasant Art (+6)

As would be expected from a gardening game, the art is aesthetically pleasing. The koi fish ponds and azalea bushes are easily my favorite, and the color palette is soft. Art perspective is from a bird’s eye view so not only do you get to create and design this garden but also survey it as its god — well, at least that’s how I felt.

Introduces Topography (+8)

One of the main satisfying puzzles that makes this game unique is understanding topography. Scoring favors higher terraces so it’s refreshing to be able to take advantage of 3D environments, and even at the end of the game you can view the garden in its entirety and several terraces that you spent the rounds trying to build. The game also hints strongly at aiming for a garden with height by adding topographical markings onto the player mat, in case you ever forget. Note that you do not need follow its placement verbatim but it does give a nice push towards scoring that way.

The Bad

Imbalance between In- and End- Game (-4)

It’s very clear after a few plays of this game that spending most of your time maintaining a garden that is not only full of flora and fauna but also tall is the key to victory. There is a section of in-game scoring that behaves like a race, so you could just go all in trying to fulfill one of those unique points and realize that the rest of the areas surrounding the tallest point are useless. Focusing solely on height is rewarding in the short term but long term planning is the win guarantee; this is especially true with the majority scoring for the types of flora and fauna in your garden. Because the relative face values of the in-game scores seem enticing and push you into the lead, you are falsely rewarded.

Gameplay Favors Experience (-1)

If you weren’t intimidated by the new mechanics already, it gets worse: you won’t always have the best pick of tiles because the pieces for the market do not refresh until the end of the round after everyone chooses to build or pass. So if someone is just experienced and knows maybe even the availability and possibilities of the tiles with the symbols they are looking for, or even the likelihood of making their plan come together, you’ll be stomped.

Topographical and Placement Paralysis (-4)

Unfortunately you don’t notice the impact of the ranking end game scoring until much later, and by later I mean when you cannot undo the decisions you have already made. This is definitely a game that improves with more experience and more plays, so it doesn’t help for players that are used to making simple decisions in polyomino games to AP hard. If you start getting hung up on the terrace levels, that paralysis is guaranteed because you cross-check that against the tile drafting and start reviewing other gardens, trying to math out the best 1) draft and 2) placement. The organizational restrictions of what kinds of objects can be in which row is already difficult when trying to stay within the confines of the square you have in front of you, let alone possibly realizing that all that time you spent maneuvering, flipping, spinning that piece you cannot even put the piece down because you’ve already interacted with that column (i.e. the lantern is blocking you).

The Ugly

Important but Tiny Graphics (-1)

Hard to see at first how many of a thing existed, and sometimes you have to re-count how many items by how many levels a placement has been in. The difficulty seeing mostly applies to the koi, which are tiny little slivers in larger pools. I suppose the game makes up for this annoyance by scaling down the end game scoring?

Lantern Housekeeping (-3)

Lanterns are very important because they control where you can build out more of the garden but require a bit of house keeping every building round. Opponents can get a little lawyery if you are not on top of this or are all in agreement (or focused on the rules of house keeping for them) on how to indicate a column has been used already. To be honest I don’t have a solution for this because the game would be so messy and ugly if you had something to indicate an entire column was off limits without having to look all the way up and all the way down again.

Topographical Counting (-2)

Counting how many levels you have built is difficult if you’re starting to cluster your tall mountains into tall rolling hills. Arguably you can use some relative location to deduce this but if you’re trying to be precise you may need to cause a little destruction to count the layers. I’m not very good at relative height analysis (i.e. if the surrounding areas I can confirm at level 2 then this must be a level 4) so I had to kind of destroy my layers every time.

Difficulty: 2/5 for Advanced
Satisfaction Grade: C (76.0%) for Good
Worth Your Money? Yes.