09 July 2021
Fast Flowing Fun
Duelling puzzle games are the genre I didn’t know I wanted until I had it. Games like Paris: La Citié de la Lumiére and Patchwork utterly impressed me with their thought-provoking gameplay and great looking components. Botanik comfortably joins these games in my mind, but maybe that’s because I’ve a soft spot for Pipe Dream mini games.
Botanik tasks two players with developing a network of steampunk hydroponics, rewarding players who can build clusters of matching pipes that also connect flowers and vegetables of the same colour.
However, you can’t simply grab tiles in a frenzied free-for-all. The game starts with five columns, each containing a tile in the middle. Each turn a player draws three tiles, choosing to either place a tile on their side of a column (with the rule that it must either match the colour or pattern of that column’s centre) or to place a tile on top of any column’s centre. By choosing the latter, you can cause a piece reserved by either player to no longer match that column’s centre, releasing it from the board to be immediately placed in that player’s network.
The challenge comes from knowing when to risk taking tiles you don’t immediately need, whilst also punishing your opponent for doing the same. You always have perfect information for what has been played and which tiles remain. With five different colours that all have the same distribution of tile types, you can figure out what’s worth prioritising. The more valuable tiles are also the ones with less options when building routes, so you’ll need to try to plan contingencies and ways to manipulate your machine.
Whilst a tile must always be immediately placed when released, any pipe-less side of a tile can be placed adjacent to another, but it won’t be worth anything at the end unless connected to your machine. This generous rule ensures that plans aren’t immediately scuppered, but still means you have to work harder to course correct.
There’s a delicate back and forth which ensures players are constantly engaged, as players switch from deciding what to do on their turn with their new tiles, to watching their opponent’s moves to work out the best way to foil their plans. If you focus too much on either half you’ll be punished for it by game end, which always comes a lot quicker than you expect. Often you’ll want to arrange the board so that whenever your opponent tries to release one of their pieces, they’ll also release yours, saving you a future action. But rely too much on this and it gives your opponent the freedom to dictate which pieces you must place now, potentially forcing you to break up a pattern or cause a flowery tile to not score.
The whimsical art design and clear illustrations are to be congratulated, as there’s nothing better when playing a game about building something than being left with a gorgeous monstrosity of your own design, plus I love the little touch of integrating a colour blind symbol into each artwork.
The game does heavily rely on players enjoying the forward planning aspects common in route building games and the luck element from tile drawing may cause some to be put off, but for those looking for a bright and breezy challenge that comfortably fits in a half-hour, Botanik is sure to be a delight.
PLAY IT? YES
A charming duelling puzzle game that has style and substance, this game offers a gentle head scratcher that doesn’t outstay its welcome, provided you enjoy a little route planning and sabotaging.
Like Rosenburg’s game of competitive haberdashery, Botanik rewards players who manage to balance forwarding their own plans whilst finding ways to trip up their opponent, plus both games travel well and a perfect for a short puzzle break.
Designer: Frank Crittin, Grégoire Largey & Sébastien Pauchon
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Time: 20-30 minutes
This article originally appeared in issue 57 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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