BOARD GAME HAPPY is building beautiful bonsai one tile at a time in BONSAI by dV Games!

Bonsai review by Neil Proctor (Board Game Happy)

The art of bonsai always amazes me. I once tried to care for a bonsai tree, but it was obvious I was doing more harm than good and I let it go to a new home where it flourished. Until now I have satisfied my small tree enjoyment with the Lego equivalent but all that has changed with the purchase of Bonsai from dV Games.

This is a 1 to 4 player tile laying game with set objectives and card drafting. It plays in 20 to 40 minutes and sees players building their bonsai tree to score the most points.

Art & Components

No need to rub your eyes and take a second look, yes Bonsai looks that good on the table. Over the course of the game you will be constructing your bonsai with satisfyingly thick tiles that are illustrated beautifully and sit next to each other perfectly. The cards have lovely art work and are also of a good quality.

A special mention to the pots which start your bonsai journey. These look amazing and have wonderful little touches like the repairs to the side and the colour which gives them an old and well used look.

The rules are well written with good illustrations and examples of the gameplay. The box feels luxurious and is the right size for the game components (which makes a nice change in a world of ever larger and larger boxes).

In terms of the overall production Bonsai is one of the best games I can recommend for   value for money.

How to play

The core gameplay is drafting from a market of cards. Whilst drafting you may also receive a bonus number of tiles from both the card and its location in the market.

Be careful with the draft as you can only hold five tiles at the beginning of the game and this can be increased by drafting a tools card. If ever you have more tiles than you can hold in your supply at the end of your turn you must return these to the general supply.

Some cards allow you to build a small part of your tree immediately and others will be scoring cards for the end of the game (such as 1 point per wood etc).

The other action you can take is to build your tree with tiles in your personal storage. However this is also restricted at the beginning of the game to three tiles (two specific and one wild). To increase the amount of tiles you can build you will need to draft the growth cards that increase your limits.

Through these small changes the game gives a feel of an engine building mechanism, but it is very slight and players should not focus on this element of the game to the detriment of the scoring objectives.

There are five scoring objectives (goals) and in each game you use three of them. Each scoring objective has three levels and when a player reaches the first level (lowest) they have to decide if they want to take the objective or push their luck for the higher levels. Once a player has rejected a lower level they cannot go back for it on a later turn.

Once the market deck runs out of cards one final turn is taken and then scoring can commence. Players will score for their leaves on their tree as well as the fruit and flowers, they will also score for their drafted scoring cards and finally the scoring goal objectives for the game. The player with the most points wins.

Who is this game for

The game definitely falls into the ‘filler’ category due to its length, and you could be mistaken to think only new gamers would want to play, however I have found that all types of gamer have enjoyed this game and asked to play again mostly due to both the way it looks and the quick, smooth and satisfying turns.

Final thoughts

Bonsai fits into my collection perfectly with its quick gameplay, simple rules and amazing table presence. The theme feels wonderfully intertwined with the gameplay, however, don’t let the calming nature of the trees relax you too much as the game is quick, scoring goals are hard to achieve and every decision you make is important.

You can’t review Bonsai without constantly referring to how good it looks on the table. Each tile you lay builds your tree and you get excited to see how it will develop over the game. I haven’t yet built two trees that look the same and I am always pleased with my final creation even though if I just had one more turn I could have perfected it.

I am in two minds about the length of the game. I really enjoy the quick gameplay and the fact that with four slow players, at most, it would only take 40 minutes. However the game ending always seems abrupt with my best laid plans unfulfilled. This is maybe because I am too ambitious with the scoring goals, but I definitely feel the game could do with one or two more turns.

Talking of the scoring goals I wish more variants had been included in the game. There are five included and three of them are very similar (collect wood, leaves, or fruits). The only outlier requiring you to build specifically outside the boundaries of the pot. I found this one to be the most interesting and I wish more of this type had been included.

The solo mode is a fun addition and also a great way to learn the game before teaching others. It plays very similar to the main game with an opponent drafting cards you may have otherwise wanted to use. There are also some solo scenarios to play around with and these add some new gameplay twists and provide a decent challenge.

Overall I find Bonsai to be a charming, relaxing and fun game to play. I would definitely recommend it to fans of games such as My Shelfie, Kohaku or Kanagawa as like these examples, it has an amazing table presence combined with easy to learn rules and satisfying gameplay.

Now, if you excuse me I am going to go and tend to my little tree that I know will always look very special.

Rating 80 out of 100

Art Work 5 stars

Complexity 1.5 stars

Re-playability 4 stars

Player Interaction 3 stars

Component quality 5 stars


  • Each tree built is unique and beautiful
  • It is so gorgeous on the table
  • Easy to learn rules
  • Solo mode is fun whilst being tough to score well


  • The game always seems to end one turn too soon
  • I wish there were more goal tiles to mix in