Designer: Régis Bonnessée
Time: ~60 min
Reviewer: Dale Yu
Times Played: 5 with advance copy provided by Asmodee, 4 games online at Boardgamearena.com
Seasons has been one of the most anticipated games coming out at this GenCon for me. Surprisingly, I’ve been around the game a number of occasions (both at Origins in July as well as at the Gathering of Friends in April), but I never managed to be able to sit down at the table to play it! The reason for this was because it was always in play – everytime I wanted to give the game a try, there were other gamers already taking it for a spin.
I’d had a pretty good chance to read the rules or have it explained to me from Stefan from Asmodee. I was pretty sure it was the sort of game I would be interested in as it combined some mechanics from other games that I adored. The start of the game is dominated by a card draft a la 7 Wonders, Notre Dame, or Fairy Tale. Then, once you get your hand of cards, you have to apportion them into 3 packets – kind of like the bidding cards in Strasbourg. Finally, once you’re in the Tournament phase, you’re choosing actions in bundles reminiscent of San Marco or Last Will. Finally, in this phase, you are also playing with action cards that have casting costs and special abilities – similar to Magic: The Gathering or perhaps even Dominion.
However, eventhough many of the mechanics feel familiar from other games, the sum of the parts feels different from anything I’ve played before. Prior to receiving the game in the mail, I had had the chance to play a few times online as it is available at Boardgamearena – http://en.boardgamearena.com/#!gamepanel?game=seasons . I was quickly enthralled with the online play, and I must admit, the gameplay online pales in comparison to the physical game. Since I’ve had the game, it’s already hit the table in three different sessions for a total of 5 games.
So how does the game work? The game is separated into two phases – the card drafting phase and then the tournament phase – which is played over three years or rounds, and the winner is the player who has the most victory points at the end of that second phase.
Though no victory points are scored in the first phase, it is quite important, as it is the way that you seed your hand with cards for each of the three rounds in the tournament phase. At the start of the game, each player is dealt 9 cards*, and they are given time to look at all of the cards and read them. Each of the cards has a casting cost, VP value, and special ability – so it can take a bit of time to familiarize yourself with the cards in that initial bunch of 9 cards. Once you’ve had enough time to read them all, you choose one of them and place it face down in front of you – this card will be the start of your 9-card hand. You then take the eight cards you didn’t choose, and pass them to your neighbor on the left. You’ll also be accepting a group of 8 cards from your RHO, and from this packet, you will again read them and then choose one card to add to your growing hand. Repeat the passing procedure until you have 9 cards. Many of the cards can work well in combination with others, so you’ll be spending lots of time in this drafting phase trying to choose cards that work together. You’ll also need to use your memory as you’ll get a chance to see all the cards available in the draft fairly early in the process, and knowing what cards you might be able to draw will definitely help you decide what you take.
*There are 100 total cards in the game – 2 copies each of 50 different card types – and once you’re familiar with the game, the 9 cards you are dealt come from this pool of 100 cards. However, the basic card set is only 60 cards (2 copies of 30 types), and it’s recommended that you limit yourself to these cards until you have played the game a few times. And, to make things even easier, in your first few games, the rules even have suggestions for preloaded 9 card hands so that you don’t even draft cards. Since novices to the game likely have no good way at evaluating the cards, the pre-built hands allow players to jump into an early game with fairly equal footing.
OK, so once you have your hand of 9 cards, you need to plan for the tournament phase. To do this, you split your 9 cards into three packets of three cards each. The first set of 3 cards will be your initial hand in the second phase. The other two sets have tokens placed on them denoting “year 2” and “year 3”. At the start of each of the successive round in the tournament phase, you will pick up the appropriate packet and add those three cards to your hand.
But before we play the tournament phase, there’s still a bit of setup that needs to be done. There is a Seasons board and scoreboard are placed on the table. You start the game in month 1 of year 1 (use the cubes to denote the month around the edge and the year in the center.)
Each player gets a personal board which has spaces for storing up to 7 energy chits. Your summoning strength is also tracked on this board – you may play as many action cards as your current summoning strength. Finally, there are four special abilities that you can use on your turn, but each time you use one of these special actions, you are hit with a VP penalty at the end of the game.
Also, you need to prepare the dice. There are 4 colors of dice, one color for each season. You need to randomly select N+1 dice in each color – each of the dice is slightly different, so each 2 and 3 player game could have slightly different dice in play. In a 4p game, you use all the dice, so there is no variation! Each of the dice has a number of icons on each face – these icons correspond to 5 different actions:
- Gain energy tokens of the type(s) shown
- Gain VPs
- Increase your summoning strength
- Draw a card
- Transmute energy tokens – sell tokens for VPs
At the start of each round, the start player picks up the dice which match the current season (blue for winter, green for spring, yellow for summer and red for fall) and rolls them. Then, the start player gets to choose any of the dice and places it on his personal board. Going around clockwise, each player in turn chooses a die from those remaining. After everyone has chosen, there will be one left – leave it on the table for now, you’ll need to refer to it at the end of the round.
Now, going back to the start player, each player takes their turn. The first thing you do on your turn is take the actions on the die that you chose. If you have any icons which allow you to gain energy or gain crystals, you do these first. To gain energy, you simply take the matching round chit according to the icons on the die. If there is a number on the die, you simply move your marker than many spaces ahead on the VP track.
If you have a star icon, you increase your summoning power by 1, and if you’re allowed to transmute energy, you use the chart found on the central Seasons board – depending on which season you’re in, different forms of energy are worth different amounts. For instance, in winter, blue and red are worth 1 VP each, yellow is worth 2 VP and green is worth 3 VP.
During your turn, you can also play action cards from your hand. You start the game with three cards, and you can draw more cards during the game from icons on the dice as well as from some actions found on certain cards. To be able to play a card, you have to meet two criteria: 1) you have to have enough summoning power (as noted on the track on your personal board), and 2) you have to have the requisite energy tokens and/or VPs as listed on the card you are trying to play.
Every card type has a unique action – and they can take effect at different times. Some cards have effects that occur as soon as the card is played. Others have ongoing effect which start when the card is played and then remain in effect. Finally, there are some actions which need to be triggered (sometimes with a cost associated with the triggering), and they can be triggered once per turn.
Below are pictures of a few of the cards so you can see what some of them do. Important things to note – the casting cost of the card is found just below the main art, and the action of the card is found just below that. The VP value of the card is found in the upper left corner.
There are also four bonus actions listed on your personal board that you have access to – though only up to three times in each game. There are four possible options:
- Change two energy tokens for any other two energy tokens
- You can transmute energy (without having the die icon), and you get +1 on each transmutation
- Increase your summoning power by 1
- Draw two cards and keep one
But each time you use one of these actions, you have to move your penalty marker forward – it starts on 0 VP, then -5 VP, -12 VP and finally -20 VP.
Each player takes their turn in clockwise order from the start player – doing all the actions they want to do on their turn. When all players have finished, it’s time to move forward on the season board. You look at the die which was not chosen by the players, and move the month marker ahead a number of months equal to the number of pips on the remaining die. Each of the dice in the game have a equal distribution – two sides each of 1, 2, and 3 pips. But, as you can see, the speed at which the game progresses will depend on how many pips are on that remaining die. If the month marker passes from 12 to 1, a new year has begun – and the year marker must be moved. Additionally, players take their reserve packet of 3 cards for that year and add those cards to their hand.
If the third year has just finished, the game is over. If not, the start player moves one position clockwise, and the next round begins. You have to look at the new position of the month marker to see which season you’re in. Choose the matching color dice and roll them, and repeat the process outlined above. Continue until the month marker moves through the end of the third year.
At the end of the game, the final points are tallied up:
- Start with the VP total accumulated through the course of the game
- Add VPs found in the upper left corner of each card in play
- Subtract 5 VP for each unplayed card in your hand
- Subtract any penalty points from the marker on your personal board from taking bonus actions
From my first game online, I was enthralled by the game. Every turn is filled with hard decisions, and I find that I spend most of my “downtime” going over my cards so that I can figure out what I can do with them and what I need to get to play the cards in my hand. As a result, the game flies by – and it never seems to take long before my turn comes up again. Games online seem to take 25-35 minutes, and games IRL take 45-60 minutes. Though they take a bit more time, I mentioned earlier that I prefer the physical game.
Why is the physical game better? Well, for one, you can look at your cards in reserve in case you’ve forgotten them. Additionally, you have the ability to pick up the dice and see what are on the other faces. When you have a card which has a re-roll action, it’s pretty useful to know what the other possible roll outcomes are before you choose to use the re-roll action! It’s also useful to know what are on the dice if you’re in a 2p or 3p game because it may work out, for instance, that a draw card ability isn’t even available in a certain season. If you know that, it would certainly change how you plan your turns in that particular season (or maybe even in the preceeding season). In real life, you’ll see that when you examine the dice – you don’t have that option in the online version.
That being said, not everything is better with the cardboard version. The scoreboard and the summoning strength and negative VP tracks on the personal boards are fragile, and it doesn’t take much jostling to move the cubes onto a different space. Just be sure to be careful not to bump the table or these boards!
While the varied action cards are the centerpiece of the game, the actions on the dice end up being just as important! For instance, you can have great cards in your hand, but if you’re unable to collect the right resources via the dice, you’ll have a hard time getting those cards in play. Additionally, knowing that the remaining die determines the movement of the month cube is another layer of strategy to consider when choosing amongst the actions.
Also, with 50 different types of cards, there are many different possible strategies that you can employ. The draft is a very important part of your strategy planning because you know from the start of the game what cards you will get into your hand in the later rounds. As I continue to play the game, I’m still being surprised at some card combos (usually as they are played against me!), and we’re still limiting ourselves to just the basic 30 cards right now, though I think with our next game, we’ll break into the advanced cards.
I’m pretty familiar with CCG Games and Dominion, so I didn’t have much problem with the action cards – but you should be aware that the game can get a bit cumbersome by the third round when you might has 10-15 cards face up in front of you, each with actions that are triggered at different times. I have found it helpful to arrange the cards in my tableau based on when the actions should be triggered so that I don’t miss anything. i.e. All the cards which give me something when I play a new action card are in one column while all the cards that trigger at the end of my turn are in another place. The game gives you plenty of time to get used to your cards as you don’t have many in the earlier phases of the game, and once you play the game a few times, it shouldn’t be an issue. Just go slow in your first game and go over all of your cards to make sure you are getting all the benefits from them!
When you get a chance to play Seasons, I think you’ll find that much of the game feels familiar. However, the game as a whole feels very fresh and engaging. There is definitely a learning curve with the cards, but if you follow the recommendations in the rulebook – starting with pre-set hands in your first 1 or 2 games and then limiting yourself to the first 30 card types – you should have time to learn how those cards work and get used to the flow of the game. (To make another comparison, this is similar to how learning Dominion using the recommended starting 10 Action cards makes that process easier as well.)
There is plenty of replayability in the game due to the different action cards and the way the luck of the dice will change what actions are available to you during your turns. Based on what I’ve seen so far, the game has plenty of legs left in it as I haven’t even moved onto the advanced cards after 9 games, and I’m fairly certain that there is plenty of room for possible expansion here with new action cards or even new dice.
We’ll probably run another review of Seasons in a month or so once a few of the other Opinionated Gamers have had a chance to play it!
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor