Nothing says peace and relaxation like a sculpture garden. Except... not this sculpture garden.
Topiary is a game for two to four players based on a simple presence: take your people and put them on the edge of a sculpture garden so they can see as many sculptures as possible. The trick, because there's always a trick, is that you don't know what's in the garden at the start of the game except for the middle sculpture in a 5x5 grid.
At the start you get a hand of three tiles and a pile of little meeple folk. Each turn you place a meeple next to one of the tiles, either orthogonally so it looks straight down a row, or at a corner so that it can see in a diagonal path. Then you take a face-down tile into your hand and place a tile in the open spot (it can be the one you just picked up). Whatever line a meeple looks down, they can see the sculpture directly in front of them and others going back as long as the ones behind are taller than the ones in front. Thus a meeple could see everything in a 2-3-4-5 line, but only the first two in a 2-5-3-4 line.
At the end of the game, your score consists of three things: the sum of all the sculptures your meeples can see in their lines of sight; bonuses based on multiple sculptures of the same type in any single meeple's line of sight; and tiles in hand that are worth as much or less than a sculpture of that type that at least one of your meeples can see. Most points come from the first total, and all scoring requires you to get as many sculptures in front of your meeples as possible.
It sounds relaxing until you realize the flip side of this is that you can also make sure as few sculptures as possible are in front of your opponents' meeples.
The theme of this game does not match the play at all, because this game is a total fuck-you hate fest. If you have a 5-height sculpture in hand and an opponent is setting up a long visible line, drop that thing in front of all the other sculptures and that meeple's only getting five points. You can frequently screw people out of more than five points that way, and sometimes create a line for yourself where that five is at the back, making tactics of screwing over your opposition usually more effective than playing peacefully and just trying to help yourself. Unless, of course, everyone knows how to fuck each other over and so everyone plays carefully so as to minimize the ability of others to screw them.
It's a little weird to rate how good this game is, because the expectation of what you're going to get looking at the box is entirely undercut by the gameplay. I can't think of an aesthetic off-hand that would have worked particularly well, but almost anything would have been better than this. That said, the game itself is reasonably good, but its casual setup doesn't really fit the strategy required to win. It does not appear to be the intent of the creator to make a game where someone is almost guaranteed to be called a son of a bitch at some point. That's what we have, though.
Topiary is a light game with some clever ideas; a casual design with a rage-inducing best strategy. It's a game worth playing, but at the same time I don't know what type of player I would recommend this to. Maybe one who's willing to draw angry faces in sharpie on the tiles.
Score: Seven growly-looking T-Rex trees out of eleven.