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The trouble with being fashionably late to the party is that sometimes the party has finished. I was a tad later than fashionable to the Lanterns: The Harvest Festival party. Those seemingly messy tiles wouldn't draw a cool cat like me in.
Where some saw beauty I saw something I vainly reckoned I could knock up myself. After some of the buzz died down, I downloaded the app, and realised there might be something here after all...
Inside Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a two to four player game that fits nicely into the 'gateway' (games that are great to introduce pre-gamers to) and 'filler' (games that are short and accessible enough to fit into 30 minutes or so) categories.
The box contains a number of lantern tiles, the orientation of which is highly important as facing each flat edge will be a colour. When a tile is played, whoever it faces gets a lantern (card) of the colour on that edge.
Lanterns are used to make dedications which earn you the points required to win the game. The three types of dedication are four of a kind, three pair or one of each different colour of lantern. The earlier you earn these the more points you will score.
Lastly are the emperor's favour tokens, which can be earned by matching the lanterns of a tile with a platform on it. Tokens allow you to swap lanterns for other coloured lanterns at the start of a turn.
The catch to tile placement is that when you match the colours on two adjacent edges of tiles, you get that colour as well as the one facing you. Potentially this can earn you lots more lanterns, which in turn means more dedications.
You also need to think about what colours you are giving to the other players as you can have some influence on the dedications they are able to make. There is a strict order to turns meaning you have to use favour and make dedications before you play your next tile.
Players will start with three tiles in hand, drawing back up to three at the end of their turn. Once someone places the last tile, you will get a final chance to make a dedication. The person who earns the most dedication points wins the game!
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is no doubt a simple game. Perhaps too simple for hardened gamers. Yet it has found a market with it's simple gameplay and colourful visuals. Personally the actual art doesn't do a lot for me but I do appreciate the colourful nature of the game.
The tiles are of a good quality, and the tokens are wooden rather than cardboard. The colour cards representing Lanterns are the biggest component bug bear. You are constantly taking cards, grouping them and ten paying them back for dedications.
It's a fiddly system at best and one that plastic components would make better. Even better would be player boards that track your colour levels with cubes ala Caverna: Cave vs Cave or similar.
You see the last thing you want a gateway game to be is fiddly. You want players to bask in the simple enjoyment of playing, not passing cards back and forth. Over and over...... and over again. Ultimately this is a minor complaint, and one that is more noticeable post app.
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival - Cards
A more major complaint would be the favour tokens. While it is nice to have them and the ability they provide, they just don't feel fleshed out. This is addressed in the expansion, but having more options in the base game would make a huge difference.
Or Lantern's Extinguished?
Despite these complaints Lanterns: The Harvest Festival will often return to the table, particularly when I am trying to win over new gamers. The game is fun, turns are swift with virtually no down time and scores often remain close. And while your socks won't be blown off, they will be gently warmed.
What you have here is a light, simple gateway game full of charm. After the game you aren't going to be optimising your strategies. Nor will not mind when someone else beats you by a few points. You might not play it for a good few months. And all that is ok, because when you do play it, you know what you are getting is some good, light fun.
Bright and inviting.
Great introduction 'gateway' game.
Favour tokens under powered.
Won't last in the memory.
Lack of depth.