Cloud Gardens is a diorama game with surprising star power

Cloud Gardens seeks to start a dialogue between game and player about nature and the built environment. It’s a conversation I don’t really want to butt in on here, because I’ve played the game and had the privilege of thinking my own way through it, and I shouldn’t rob anyone of that. But there’s something else here that I love, so I will gush briefly and incoherently instead.

This is one of those diorama games. You start each level with a floating chunk of real estate – a tumbledown road or the skeletal rig for urban signage. Then you apply little nubbins of plants to the diorama and watch them grow. The aim is to reach a certain level of coverage, and you can encourage plants to grow further by chucking in extra items that you’re given – street signs, a stack of tyres, a shopping trolley perhaps, or a couple of empty bottles.

I was enjoying this for a few levels and having one of those dreamy, ruminative days that a diorama game can hand you. But then I unlocked a new kind of plant to grow – my third or maybe fourth. And everything changed.

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