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Make the desert bloom


Make the desert bloom

Ishtar is a strategic game of choices. It is touted as a game to mix cooperation and competition, and it delivers in watering-cans-full.

It’s a tile-laying game which may put you in mind of Carcassonne. Take tiles in order, play them on to the board, and play an action from the tile, if there is one. These actions may be to place an assistant meeple to claim a flowerbed and garden, or upgrade a skill to gain a momentary or persistent advantage. When placing your funny shaped vegetation (triangle, straight, bananaish) ensure you’re connected to a fountain or other greenery, and collect any gems underneath. You can’t connect two fountains and you can’t connect to a garden already owned by a player (including yourself). Spend your gems on trees, upgrades and so on, and plant trees if you have acquired one. Do this until the tiles begin to run out and tot up the points. Sounds simple? It is, but the gardens of Ishtar have deep roots.

Some of the draw of tile laying games is the collaborative aspect: together, you build a world that is both aesthetically interesting and playfully wonky. You are solving a board with your friends, even if, in the end, you’re trying to be the owners of the best garden in the desert. The game is lush in its design, making it a satisfying pleasure in turn the arid (if gem-strewn) land green and blooming. As is buying an attractive tree card and placing the lovingly hewn little green trees on an open vegetation tile. The tree cards are so interestingly verdant and varied that it’s very easy to assume this is the only way to win on your first play-through. In Ishtar, because the laying of the tiles isn’t directly competitive, it does feel like a co-authored experience.

The competition comes in whatever form you want it to – and it’s less combative for that. You might decide that you want to gather the most gems and also upgrade your skills so that your victory is in the form of leftover wealth. Or you could focus on collecting trees, or the adjacency of sacred stone tablets in your garden. You could decide you want to just grow the most flowers, and connect the biggest contiguous flower bed. You may decide on trying to own as many fountains as possible is your key to victory. But you do have to make a choice of how you want to play.

With this variety of options you tend to leave something on the table at the end of game. It’s one of those games where people sit back and discuss what they should have done differently, noticing the slight edges their opponents got on them and commending them for it. You want to play the game as soon as you finish it – because there were so many strategies you did not manage to enact. You know next time, you can play differently, and you want that next time to be immediately.



It’s a tightly balanced game that has bloom-based fun available to everyone around the table in buckets. Even when you don’t win the world is better for having played the game, and you’re probably about to play it again.


► What’s in the box?

► 4 Player boards

► 6 Double-sided terrain boards

► 1 Carpet board

► 6 Cup tiles

► 42 Vegetation tiles

► 8 Blooming tokens

► 26 Tree cards

► 20 Trees

► 6 Fountains

► 114 Gems

► 16 assistants

► 1 Water can

► 1 Double-sided scoring pad

► 1 Set-up instructions sheet


If building out a satisfying landscape with friends and claiming victory through a variety of means works for you, Ishtar is a fast-paced inheritor of this space on gaming nights

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About The Best Games of 2019

Must Plays and more in our Best Games of 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Over the next 196 pages discover all of the most positively reviewed games of the year. With a massive 181 games reviewed, this is the definitive “what to play next” guide of 2019! Games reviewed include: Wingspan Copenhagen Hellboy: The Board Game Res Arcana Lifeform Century: A New World Megacity: Oceania Pandemic: Fall of Rome Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Rough Nights & Hard Days Azul: Stained Glass of Sinatra Tapestry Letter Jam Hako Onna Everdell Battle Ravens Dune + Many more!

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