I have seen this game everywhere. I hear people talking. I even see it scheduled to be on Tabletop next season. No one I know has it. But do I pick it up. Nope. I wait.
Listen, I have a lot of games. Bunches. So why was I resistant? I think I know the answer, but let’s see if I’m right.
Let’s start over.
Lanterns: this is an elegantly simple game. In Lanterns, your goal is to gain the most honor. You do this by trading in lantern cards to buy dedication tokens. You get lantern cards by placing tiles. Simple.
But the real charm of the game exists on several levels:
1) Its ability to be straightforward and light while still offering a good deal of strategy makes it a very versatile game, and this means that I can bring it to the table a lot. No, I’m probably not going to bring it to my hardcore gaming group where we play main-event games that last 3 or 4 hours, but if I’m having a bunch of people over for game night, it will definitely be in the stack. It appeals to lots of different gamers, especially if there are newcomers to the fold.
Which brings me to:
2) This game has excellent “First Game” appeal. It is very easy to grasp and therefore a breeze to teach. Just the other night I was teaching it to a newish gamer and after about two minutes he was in, and winning for that matter. There are only 3 things you can do on your turn and they are pretty straightforward and self-explanatory: Exchange for a different Lantern card, Make a Dedication, and/or Place a Tile. The game also supplies you with Lanterns on everyone’s turn so you are kept mostly paying attention.
3) Back to its lightness. There’s not a lot going on. Sure you get a lantern card on almost everyone’s turn, and everybody’s decisions matter to the overall gameplay, but it feels light and that’s rather nice. So many times I will end up playing a deep strategy game, or a long, long main-event game that when I find a nice light game, I really appreciate it. It’s nice to pull this one out at either the beginning of the night or in between two heavier games. My wife calls it a palate cleanser.
So what about any negative sides to Lanterns? I usually like to play games like Castle Panic and 7 Wonders with new gamers mainly for the reason that everyone usually stays pretty involved in the game, and that may be my only criticism of this game. While we were playing the first couple of rounds, everyone was very involved (no one but me had ever played it before). After a couple of rounds, though, the more seasoned gamers in the group realized that there was no sense in looking too terribly far ahead (due to the ever changing availability of lantern cards and open places to play your tiles). And I think a couple of them zoned out (or maybe phoned out is a better term). I think this game has a lot going for it, but you definitely need to choose your audience. I think, though, that this could also be its greatest strength. I could really see myself with a group of friends casually sitting around playing Lanterns chatting away about something completely unrelated and having a blast, simply because it doesn’t take up all of your processors. And a lot of times that is a very appealing concept.
So why was I resistant? I think it was for the very reason that I ended up liking the game. It seemed at first glance to be too shallow and light. But now that I’ve finally given it a chance I see the strategy underneath and the ease you might associate with a festival of lanterns on a lake. Overall, I do think it’s a great little game. I will probably play it anytime anyone even mentions it, but it’ll be going to casual game nights, not hardcore game nights.