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Desert must be transformed into the Garden of Eden. The player who is the first to hold cultivated land with a total of 20 fertility points will win. The small squares on the board are covered with landscape tiles in fertility stages from 1-4. Manna is currency and comes in the form of cards of different values. There are also cultivation and watering cards. Players can take over the land of other players, and compete to amass enough cultivated land to satisfy the victory conditions.
Start with Manna from...the bank. Play Irrigation Cards to place seed tiles on the spaces of the earth. Playing Cultivation cards with shapes matching your adjoining tiles causes seed tiles to be upgraded, at a cost in Manna, to higher-valued tiles representing more advanced stages of growth. But there could be trouble in Paradise--laying an Irrigation tile allows you to attack an enemy tile adjacent to it. Players bid for the space. The winner pays and, if he's also the attacker, replaces the tile with one of his. You'll be in heaven when you win by collecting tiles worth 20 points.
Eden is one of the four first games in Kosmos' "Spiele fr Viele" series, sold in the half-size boxes. It is the most abstract of the set, offering a thin "planting and irrigation" theme on a grid-based placement and bidding contest. Players irrigate land tiles, and cultivate specific patterns of tiles to make the flora grow larger and of course earn more manna. The first player to have twenty "growth points" worth of land on the board wins the game.
Each player receives a set of double-sided land tiles that show one square of land in each of four states of growth, from a single white dot (just barely watered) to one white and three red dots (fully formed). The concept is the same as that used in Fanfor's "Waldesfrust", and it works fine. There are three types of common cards. Manna cards record income, and while income is necessary to win the game it is not the victory measure. There is one Irrigation Card for each square on the grid, la Acquire. And, there is a set of Cultivation Cards that show patterns of two to four tiles in specific layouts.
The play is straightforward. On your turn, you play one or two Irrigation Tiles to start your planting. This can create the opportunity to take over another player's land. This is where the Manna comes in, since to successfully take over another land area you must outbid your opponent. As the attacker, you choose how many tiles you will attack, and this will be a function of their growth and your relative cash. The reason is simple: while you bid against each other in unit increments of 5 Manna, the amount either side pays is the unit times the total number of "growth dots" on the lands in question. Since only one or two newly-placed tiles (by definition having only a single dot each) can attack, the attacker can be at a significant "dot disadvantage" if going after multiple tiles or well developed land. For example, if I place a single tile and attack an adjacent tile that is already at a "three" growth level, I will pay three times the bid for every one my opponent pays. To be perfectly clear, if I win the auction at 25, I owe them 75 (25 for each dot on their tile), but if they win at 25, they owe me just 25. It is possible to attack with two newly placed tiles, raising your factor, but still it is hard to win new land without being in a superior cash position. Thus, if you've just paid a bunch of money in an acquisition attempt, others will likely jump on you if possible to take advantage.
Since money is important to acquire new land, earning it is of course important. Since growth earns income, you collect Manna for every red dot (red dots are growth beyond the original irrigation) at the beginning of your turn. You can also sell Cultivation Cards, although doing so is usually not a good strategy. This is because the Cultivation Cards are used to mature the land you start with the Irrigation Tiles. The Cultivation Cards show patterns of tiles, and by playing one that matches a pattern of your tiles on the board, each of the lowest-value land tiles are "upgraded" one step. If you sell these cards for Manna, you make them available for others to buy, likely improving their land, giving them more income, and more Manna for your next battle against them.
The game works fine with these basic ideas, but randomness of the card draw significantly takes away from the otherwise strategic decisions. You can only irrigate land if you have the right tile, and getting adjacent land is the only way to use the Cultivation Cards efficiently. Also, since the Irrigation and Cultivation Cards are shuffled together and you only add a single card to your hand each round, to a maximum of five, you can be easily shut out of income if you do not get Cultivation Cards that match your land patterns. We have considered an alternate approach, similar to Mamma Mia, whereby the Irrigation Cards and the Cultivation Cards are shuffled separately, and you choose which pile to draw from when you take your card at the end of your turn.
Eden is worth a play or two but I don't see it having much staying power beyond this. It is of course nicely produced, as are all of Kosmos' games, but I don't see this as being a family game and it is too dry for serious gamers. There is also a serious lack of ability to come from behind, making it frustrating for those who make an early strategic error or, more likely, just draw cards that allow for no logical strategy. Despite this, I look forward to future games by Gal Zuckerman since the mechanics of Eden create some nice tensions and there is clearly a good gaming mind evident in the design.