Each month, the Indie Spotlight highlights a new game that exemplifies the creativity, cleverness, and beauty of today’s independent games market.
This month’s Indie Spotlight is:
The Last Garden
If you’ve ever sat back while watching a movie or reading a book and anticipated where the story was going to go next, congrats! – you’ve learned to be able to spot a trope. Tropes are a common tool in storytelling to convey specific themes or plot devices used set audience expectations. Sometimes they’re used to provide familiarity to your audience, and sometimes they’re subverted to intentionally upend those expectations. Tropes may be a regular occurrence in many mediums, but they aren’t inherently good or bad.
That is, unless they’re horribly overused.
It’s why, for instance, someone always seemingly has to die for the hero to learn a hard lesson. Or that the sitcom dad is going to be an idiot. Or that taking off one’s glasses immediately makes them more attractive. Or how a completely unrelated conversation helps a detective solve their current case.
Tropes may seem like the bastion of movies and books, but in truth, game design is chock full of overused thematic devices too. All Vikings wear horns and all ghosts look like a ten year old’s Halloween costume. Colonization is always good and farming is always easy. And post-apocalyptic settings either resort to being full of zombies, mutants, mutated zombies, or some bleak dystopian landscape where humanity has been reduced to a shell of its former ideals.
Every now and then, though, a game comes along that purposely takes a different approach, offering up a plot or theme that not only undermines the trope that players may be expecting, but also presents an alternate vision that’s every bit as good as the one it’s purposely avoiding.
This is where we find ourselves with The Last Garden, a lightweight worker placement and area control game by One Thousand XP. This is a post-apocalyptic game with a markedly different angle…literally. In The Last Garden, players aren’t struggling to survive in some dust-addled wasteland or trying to fend off psychotic marauders bent on Mad Max style anarchy. Rather, you compete for favor as you attempt to bring a little beauty and hope back into the world by constructing a garden from rare gems and repurposed metal.
Over the course of several rounds, 2-4 players boot up as reprogrammed robots – Robotanists – who jockey for favor with the Queen, one of the last remaining human women on the planet. She wishes to recreate the gardens of The Earth That Was, but as water and vegetation are scarce, rocks and metal will have to do. Using an appealing combination of light worker action spaces and a handful of programming cards – accented by excellent artwork – the Robotanists tactically place, move, and shift the layout of the board to their advantage as they try to get the most points at end of each round. In the end, only one will be the Queen’s Favorite. But all of them will have helped to create something that makes the world just a little nicer.
Which, robot or not, is certainly something we all can stand to have a little more of.
Do you have a game that we should spotlight? Let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org!
Previous Indie Game Spotlights:
January 2018: Triplock | Review | Developer’s Site
November 2017: Cytosis | Review | Q&A | Developer’s Site