Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of The One-Hundred Torii by Pencil First Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of The One-Hundred Torii by Pencil First Games
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Title: The One-Hundred Torii
Designed by: Scott Caputo
Publisher: Pencil First Games
Year Published: 2020
MSRP: $40
1-4p | 45-60 min | 8+

I absolutely love tile-laying games.  Carcassonne is one of my favorite games of all time.  It's the only game I regularly play on my phone when I'm looking for a digital distraction.  So when a new game comes out with some interesting tile-laying mechanics, especially if it has an interesting theme and artwork, I'm excited to play it.  And here we have The One-Hundred Torii, a gorgeous tile-laying game about building paths in a Japanese garden.  I was thrilled to give this one a try, so let's find out if it's a Bud, Bloom, or Thorn!

Find your path in a beautiful Japanese garden. In the Japanese tradition, the torii gate marks the transition into the sacred. Travel from fountains to flowers to shrines passing through as many torii gates as possible, while meeting vendors, poets, and even Samurai along the way.

The traveler goes
through the ancient torii gate—
Leaf falls in water

Earn the most journey points by expanding the garden and walking through as many torii gates as possible as you move between similar landmarks. Earn additional advantages and points by interacting with characters in the garden such as poets, samurai, gardeners, vendors and geishas. Maybe you will be first to visit each landmark 5 times or maybe you will interact with same character 3 times. Your journey to the most points may lead you down a different path every time!

The One Hundred Torii is a tile placing game played over a series of turns. Each turn the board expands and the game ends after the last tile is drawn and each player takes one last turn.

Each Turn, the player takes the following actions (in order):
- Get Help (optional)
- Expand the Garden
- Claim Rewards (if earned)
- Draw Tiles

-description from publisher

Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • Gorgeous art and components.
  • Wonderful educational supplement about the theme of the game.
  • Pretty simple mechanics and rules - can be explained in about 5 minutes.
  • Great puzzley moments.
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • Solo play!
  • Two mini expansions add variety to keep the game fresh and interesting.
  • Every game presents new puzzles to solve.
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • There are sooo many pieces!  Setup and cleanup take quite a while and the pieces are fiddly.
  • As the garden grows it gets very busy to look at.  
  • Very AP prone gameplay, in part because of the business of the play area.  Some improved graphic design could maybe have alleviated this a little.
  • Solo mode was fun, but not sure if it's worth the setup and cleanup overhead.
Final Thoughts:
In The One-Hundred Torii you'll work with the other players to build a Japanese garden, complete with paths, various landmarks like bridges, statues, wells, ponds, etc., and, of course, the titular torii gates.  Each turn you essentially play a tile and draw a tile, that simple.  However you also have the opportunity to ask for help from several characters.  You'll pay a small fee (from landmark tokens you've collected - these also contribute to your points, so use them wisely) and then gain a special ability.  Once you place your tile you'll gain landmark tokens based on the path from a landmark on the tile you placed to the closest tile with the same landmark on it.  As you pass through the torii gates you'll gain bonus tokens.  As you collect these tokens they'll get converted to points.  The mechanics and rules are simple, but the puzzles the expanding garden presents are fascinating!

There's even a solo mode that presents an interesting puzzle to solve as you compete against the AI character.  Each turn of the solo game you'll draw three tiles.  You'll play one and give two to the AI character, who just places them in a column matching the landmark.  But the AI gets bonuses as it fills columns and if you give it torii tiles.  This was a great puzzle to work through, though it did feel a bit random and luck-based at times.  Sometimes you draw three tiles and none are good to give to the AI.  You can mitigate that a little with the helper characters, but sometimes the solo game feels like it's just playing out and you're just moving pieces around.  The component issue I mention below is also exaggerated even more by making this a solo game.  I do want to explore the solo game a bit more though, especially since I lost my first attempt.

The One-Hundred Torii is a really great game.  It has all sorts of great moments where you are trying to puzzle out a great move.  When you pull off a move where you manage to get 8 tokens while also scoring an enclosure and two bonuses it really feels great.  Combined with the gorgeous artwork, relaxed theme, and straightforward rules, there is so, so much to like about this game.  But, it's not perfect.

All the tiles have at least one landmark symbol on them and many have two.  Many of the tiles also have one or two torii gates on them.  As the garden expands it gets busier and busier, making discerning the shortest paths between various landmark symbols and the possible places to add your garden tile more and more difficult.  This can really push those prone to analysis paralysis (AP) over the edge.  It's not really because the final decision on where to place a tile is difficult, but more that figuring out exactly what your options are is a visual challenge.  For a game that has such a relaxing theme, the visual chaos that the board presents later in the game is anything but relaxing.

I think some modified graphic design could possibly help with this.  The way the tiles are currently designed there are small icons of each landmark on the path they belong to and then a zoomed version of the icon in the green space of the garden so you can see it easier.  The problem is this larger icon is difficult to discern at a glance which path segment the landmark is on.  So you find yourself reexamining each path multiple times, trying to figure out the best route to take through the maze of paths that the garden becomes.  A single, medium sized icon, right on the path, might be easier and less chaotic.  Or bigger tiles, though that would cause the play area to grow significantly (and it's not small by the end of the game at all, especially with all the other components laid out).  I'm not sure if there's a good solution to the problem, but it ends up being a big detractor from the game's experience.

The other issue I have with the game is just the sheer quantity of bits.  For a fast game like this, there are a ton of components to take out and sort.  20 each of six different landmark tokens, plus four bonus tokens for each landmark.  But that's not all.  There are also eight coins, five points tiles for each of the five helper characters and five more for the the enclosures bonuses, plus four more bonus tiles, a reference tile (two if you include the one for other languages), two gorgeous screen printed meeples, a board for solo games, and a stack of 43 garden tiles (including the start tile).  That's over 230 components!  Pencil First Games does include a guide on how to put all the pieces back into the box, but I didn't really find that helpful.  The box is absolutely packed with components any way you pack them in.  But setup takes almost 10 minutes, even with everything pre-sorted and bagged, and cleanup takes even longer.  For a 45 minute game almost 20 minutes of setup and cleanup is a lot.  A custom tray to keep everything organized and ready to play right out of the box would have helped this a ton.

So, while I absolutely love the gameplay of The One-Hundred Torii, I'm not sure it'll hit the table very often simply because of the component overhead and visual chaos of the garden after a few turns.  Once the components are out I didn't find the quantity too fiddly or overwhelming, just during setup and cleanup.  Gameplay gets a Bloom for me, but the components and visual chaos are big thorns, so The One-Hundred Torii ends up as a Bud.  If these are things you can overlook then you'll find an amazing game here.

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Bud!  This game definitely has some
great moments.  It's good for several plays
and should appeal to most gamers, especially
if you enjoy other games like this.


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GJJ Games Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

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