Mr Cabbagehead's Garden
Teaching Time: 15 mins
Playing Time: 15-20 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: High
Price: Print and Play
Right up front, I don't like puzzle games, this isn't because of any good reason but an entirely personal prejudice. That said its probably a good sign that I still quite like Mr Cabbagehead's Garden. Its a good looking game with an easy to like dry sense of humour, the phases in particular are named with a sort of meta joke that mark out a very confident and capable designer. As a Print and Play this is a pretty heavy build, asking for some 50 cards and a hand full of tokens but the result is lovely enough to be rich reward, particularly if you find the term ruta baga as inexplicably amusing as I do.
The game is a neat collection of simple enough parts that mesh into an interestingly complex final puzzle. Cards must be selected and placed into a grid tableaux with cards costing or rewarding for use based on the order in which they are made available. At preset points throughout the game cards are removed from the tableaux to hinder your well laid plans. After a number of rounds points are scored based on the size of groups of cards with bonuses for certain patterns. Scoring is both tricky enough that you are unlikely to hit the top score in your first play through and varied enough that you can use a range of different tactics as routes to victory.
Generally its this variety, or lack of it, that puts me off most puzzle games. The complexity required to offer a range of scoring solutions can result in a fiddly game while a game with a single top score has only one final win state reducing need to come back for additional plays. Goodness knows what the perfect score in Mr Cabbagehead's Garden is (I'm sure somebody will have worked it out by now) but the point is that not just a range of patterns but at least three or four genuinely different tactics can place your finishing tableaux in the top category of points.
If I have a criticism for Mr Cabbagehead's Garden its that the way the neighbours (the mechanic that steals cards from your tableaux) are triggered is a little too difficult to foresee and guard against since scoring in the top category generally requires you to control their arrival to some degree. The result is that an otherwise perfect run can be ruined thanks to the arrival of an annoying neighbour, which might be an entirely intentional effect to create the game's intended narrative, but with little option to control or defend can occasionally tip over into frustration.
That single minor quibble aside however, Mr Cabbagehead's Garden is a stunning looking game (not just "for a Print and Play" either) and comes in as probably my favourite puzzle game and in my top 5 solo games.