Miyabi cover

Build Up Your Garden in ‘Miyabi’

Gaming Reviews Tabletop Games

Plan carefully to build a terraced Japanese garden in Miyabi.

What Is Miyabi?

Miyabi is a tile-laying game for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It retails for $39.99 and is available directly from HABA USA (or use their store locator to find a local game store that carries it!). The gameplay is not too difficult to learn, though the scoring requires a bit of addition and multiplication, so you may be able to play with kids younger than 8 but they may not be as great at working out the strategy.

Miyabi was designed by Michael Kiesling and published by HABA, with illustrations by René Amthor.

Miyabi components
Miyabi components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Miyabi Components

Here’s what comes in the box:

  • 4 Garden boards
  • Score board
  • 24 Lantern meeples (6 each in 4 player colors)
  • 8 Score markers (2 each in 4 player colors)
  • 6 5th Layer Bonus tiles
  • Bonsai Tree standee
  • Building Round marker
  • Info card
  • 96 Garden tiles
  • 5 Expansion Tiles
  • 16 Zen tiles
  • 4 Frog markers
Miyabi garden tiles
A few of the garden tiles. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The scoreboard is sturdy cardboard, and the garden boards are a heavy cardstock that look like a simple contour map of a hill. The tiles themselves are all cardboard, color coded on the backs according to tile shape; the fronts are mostly green with some garden features like red maple trees, green boxwood trees, grey stones, and so on. Each tile has 1, 2, or 3 of the same feature (corresponding to the tile size), which matters for scoring. The only one that is a little confusing is the koi, because there are 1, 2, or 3 fish in a single pond, and it’s easy to glance and just see the one blue pond instead of 3 fish.

Miyabi lantern meeples
The player pieces come in a non-traditional color palette that should be good for color-blind players. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The wooden components are nicely made: the meeples are shaped like lanterns on a post, and the scoring markers are simple cubes. The frog markers (used in one of the expansion rules) are wooden tokens with metallic silver paint on one side and metallic gold on the other.

The bonsai tree standee is passed around to mark the starting player for the round—mine was a little loose and tended to come apart, so a little glue could be helpful.

Miyabi box bottom
There’s no box insert, just a chart showing the tile frequency. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The inside of the box bottom has a chart showing how many of each garden tile is in the game, since there are some slight variations among the different features. It’s nice to have this reference, but putting it inside the box means it’s a little harder to use as reference (especially if you’ve put unused components back into the box). The box itself is just a large box, with no insert: you just keep all the tiles and bits in plastic baggies inside.

How to Play Miyabi

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to score the most points by placing features in your garden; the higher the layer, the more points a feature is worth.

Miyabi 4-player setup
Starting setup for 4 players, with the tiles revealed for the first round. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Place the scoreboard in the center of the play area, with the scoring markers nearby and the round marker on “1” at the top of the board. Each player has two scoring markers—one is used at the bottom of the scoreboard to track when they exceed 50 points; the other goes on the track from 1 to 50. Set the 5th layer bonus tiles nearby, along with the info card. Turn the garden tiles face-down and mix them up.

Give each player a garden board and 6 lantern meeples. Give the bonsai tree to the starting player.

Gameplay

Miyabi takes place over a number of rounds (based on the player count). Each round, you set out garden tiles from the supply face-up to form a market. (The number of each tile depends on the player count and is shown on the info card.) In turn order, each player may take a tile from the market or pass, until everyone has taken 6 turns.

When you take a tile, you must place it on your garden board so that the features on the tile are in the correct row, lining up with the icons printed on the left side of the board. So red maples must always be in the top row and stones must be in the bottom row, for example. The column where you place the features is also important: you must place a lantern in the space above that column, and if you’ve already used a column this round, you cannot place any more features in that column this round. Tiles may be placed on top of existing tiles, but they must be fully supported—no “floating” tiles.

Miyabi garden board with tiles and lanterns
Each round, you will place one feature in each column, marked by the lanterns. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After placing a tile, you score points immediately: the number of features on the tile x the layer the tile is in. So, tiles on the first layer of your garden are worth 1 point per feature, but tiles on the third layer are worth 3 points per feature. Also, if you are the first to place a particular feature on the 5th layer, you get the bonus tile for that feature and score those bonus points immediately.

Miyabi 5th Layer Bonus Tiles
Being first to put an object on the 5th layer gets you a bonus scoring tile. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If you can’t use any of the tiles in the market, then you must pass for the rest of the round. At the end of the round (after everyone has either passed or filled all 6 lantern spaces), discard any remaining garden tiles. Move the round marker forward, reset everyone’s lanterns, and set out more tiles for the market. Pass the bonsai tree to the next player.

Miyabi - building up layers
Stacking up layer is worth more points, but you may cover up existing features. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Game End

The game ends after 4 to 6 rounds (depending on player count). Players now score bonus points. For each feature, the player who has the most of that feature scores the gold bonus shown on the left side of the garden board. The player with the second most scores the grey bonus.

The player with the highest score wins! (There is no tie-breaker rule.)

Miyabi expansion tiles
Miyabi includes 5 mini-expansions. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Miyabi Mini-Expansion Rules

There are five mini-expansions, represented by the expansion tiles, which can be used individually or combined. Set the expansion tile near the scoreboard so that everyone knows the expansion is in effect.

  • The Colorful Garden: At the end of the game, you score for your largest connected group of objects (counting adjacency orthogonally), with 1 point per object in that group.
  • The Big Meadow: At the end of the game, you score for your largest connected area of empty, green garden tiles, with 2 point per square in that group.
Miyabi zen tiles
Each zen tile has one object surrounded by raked sand. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu
  • The Zen Garden: During setup, add the 16 Zen tiles, shuffled face-down. Turn 5 face-up. On your turn, you may take a Zen tile instead of a regular garden tile (revealing a new tile), and it can only be placed on the lowest layer. You get 1 point for each Zen tile, plus 1 point per object adjacent to it when it is completely surrounded. You may only have one unsurrounded Zen tile at a time. Zen tiles may not be covered.
  • 7!: At the end of the game, you score 7 bonus points for each column or row with exactly 7 objects.
Miyabi frog markers
The frogs are silver on one side and gold on the other. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu
  • The Frog: Give each player a frog marker, placed anywhere on their garden board, silver-side up. Before or after your turn, you may move the frog one space on the same level or 1 higher, to an empty space. Each time it moves up a level, you score points equal to its level. When it reaches level 4, flip it to the golden side. It may now move onto objects (but not Zen tiles). The frog is removed during final scoring.
Miyabi - choosing tiles
Do you pick the tile that helps you the most, or one that you know your opponent wants? Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Why You Should Play Miyabi

I first got to try Miyabi at the tail end of Gen Con 2019. It was Monday after the convention and everyone was exhausted, but I had a few hours between when I needed to check out of my hotel and my flight home. I ended up hanging out in a hotel lobby with a few folks including T. Caires (my contact at HABA), who had an early copy of Miyabi, which was coming to the US soon. We got to try out a 4-player game, and I was drawn in by the puzzle of how to place tiles so that I got one object in each column every round, while still trying to build upward.

The scoring reminds me a little bit of NMBR9, because tiles on higher layers are worth more points—but it’s multiplicative, so it’s not as good to get a “1” tile on a higher layer, either. In Miyabi, you’re really hoping to stack things up so you can get a “3” tile on a high layer for a really big score. That goes against my Tetris-driven intuition that I want to fill up spaces on my board as much as possible, or the desire to collect a little bit of everything. I’ve seen some incredibly high scores with small, compact gardens that built up instead of out.

Miyabi layers
Focusing on a few objects can be better than trying to get a little of everything. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

But don’t forget the end-game scoring, either! Because players will score points based on who has the most of each object, you’ll have to make decisions about what to cover up as you build. Sure, that 3 makes a nice, wide foundation, but will stacking on top of it cost you the lead?

It’s interesting to me that the objects have different bonus values: the red maples are worth a lot more points than the rocks, though there are the same number of each. So although the supply is actually the same, the demand for red maples tends to be higher simply because of the bonus points, making them more sought after. It may be easier to get the bonus points for the rocks, but you won’t get as many.

While you can’t directly manipulate anyone else’s garden, it’s important to keep an eye on what your fellow gardeners are doing. Not only do you want to keep track of who’s ahead for a specific object, but you also want to note when others are building up high. Do you really want to leave that 3-pagoda tile sitting there, knowing that your neighbor will be able to put it on level 4? Sometimes this becomes a game of chicken with the other players, too: I don’t want that tile because it’ll interfere with my plans for my koi ponds, so you should take it to keep them from getting it.

The tile placement rules are another intriguing aspect of the game because of the way they limit where you can place something. You’ll put one object in each column per round, and each object itself is limited to its own row. The first few tiles you place in a round feel flexible—they can go almost anywhere! But by the last few turns, your options become quite limited, and sometimes you’re forced to pass because the tile that’s left simply won’t fit on your board where it has to go. Sometimes taking a tile that will score you points now means that you’ll be stuck passing later on because you’ll miss out on the tile that fills that final column.

Miyabi 5th Layer bonus
Being first to get a maple tree onto the 5th layer is worth 10 points. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

As I mentioned earlier, the game itself isn’t too hard to learn, as long as you understand the tile placement rules. It does require some spatial reasoning, of course, to figure out how things will fit into place and prepare levels for building higher without covering up too many objects. And you’ll need some simple multiplication skills for calculating points. Sometimes it can be tricky to tell exactly how many levels there are below your tiles, especially if you’ve built around them as well.

After my initial experience playing Miyabi at Gen Con, I was sent a review copy early this year, shortly before quarantine, so I only managed to play a couple times with my group and we didn’t get to the expansions. I’ve played the basic game with my family as well, though they have varying degrees of comfort with spatial reasoning games, so it was a hit for some of them but frustrating for others. I like the tile-placement puzzle, and I’m looking forward to exploring the expansions, perhaps after I’m able to have people over for games again.

I will note that, although the game is about Japanese gardens, I didn’t see any indication that there were any Japanese people involved in the game itself, and I’m guessing the game’s restrictions about how tiles may be placed has little to do with how actual Japanese gardens are arranged. There’s a note in the rulebook that Miyabi is Japanese for “elegance,” “grace,” or “refinement,” but aside from that and a brief paragraph about the theme, there’s not much else that delves into the significance of any of the garden features.

If you enjoy tile-placement games, you might like the way Miyabi puts a new twist on things, with its emphasis on building up rather than out. It’s a nice addition to HABA’s “Game Night Approved” line of games, which expands their library beyond the yellow-box games for younger kids.

For more information about Miyabi or to order a copy, visit the HABA USA website.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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