ZEN GARDEN from Mayfair's family game arm, FUN FAIR, is a 2-4 player game set from the accomplished French-Canadian (I believe) games designer
H Jean Vanaise, the creator of one of our most favourite games, SHARK. There are two sets of rules, one set for your starting game which is a simplified
version of the main game, and, of course, the rules for the main game.
The First Game:
This is a 15 minute plus game about pattern making. The players each have a pattern specific to them and thus secret to the others that they must make or help
make - other players laid tiles can be part of your pattern - twice .
The patterns can be made in any orientation as long as they conform to the shape shown, plus they can be elongated or have tiles adjacent - think of a grid of tiles
and then imagine an L-shape being located in the middle of the grid. If you think about it you can pick out the L-shape several times by
rotating the grid (mentally).
Of course the two patterns that you need have to be both of the same tile design but not using any of the same tiles, ie two totally separate patterns must be visible.
Lantern Tiles may be used as Jokers - counting as any tile but reducing the point value of the pattern.
The Main Game: ROCK GARDEN plus Optional Rules and the Tea House:
The TEA House / Tools tiles are available from Mayfair Games in a separate pack that also contains tiles for two other Mayfair games: Bacchus Banquet and Family
Business. There are 4 tiles in the Tea House set, each is double-sided with a set of Tools on the opposite side to the Tea House. These two illustrations are literally in
opposition of each other - the Tea House works in a similar way to the Lantern as a Joker while the Tool Set is really a blocking device that can be replaced (as can
a Lantern or Tea House) but it cannot be a part of any pattern (whereas Lanterns and tea Houses can be). These tiles add an extra dimension to the play as well as an
It would be easy to play through just the first game and dismiss Zen Garden as a frivilous five-minute fun time but once you have the basic idea of play you must take it
that bit further and involve yourself with Rock Garden. Here you will find the game that you were looking for, and it isn't hidden under a rock.
Rock Garden is more of the same with the emphasis on more. It extends the basic (first) game play by about 15 minutes and introduces the use of Tokens and Additional
Wild (Joker) Tiles (Optional rules) - the Tokens allow the players to "control" tiles. This game is about making patterns, that is true whichever version of it you play,
within the game grid and claiming (scoring) them by matching patterns on tiles in your hand with those in the grid.
This is a slightly more complicated game than the "first" game and it carries with it all of the ingenuity of Jean Vanaise's incredibly complex gamer brain. There is a lot more
to remember than just playing a tile and looking for a personal pattern. There is skill in deciding what to claim, when to show and which tiles to block as well as the best
time to block them (remembering that blocking tiles can be replaced).
The 15-30 minute game time noted on the box will say to possible purchasers that this is more of a lightly dramatic game than an intensely skillful challenging struggle. The
starer game can be played by fairly youngish players but once you venture into the depths of the main Rock Garden game then you will need a little more experience in the
playing of complexicated board games.
You can generally plan a move or two ahead but it is best to jkeep options for placement open in your mind as there is nothing to prevent other players from damaaging your
pre-supposed plans. Overall this is a nice game with great graphics and a thoughtful rules set; a pleasant half hour or so to get you in the mood for some heavier gaming or to
round off an evening where the main board game choice has ended a little abruptly and some time still remains.