- Designer: Christopher Chung
- Publisher: Renegade Game Studios, Foxtrot Games, Pegasus Spiele
- Players: 2 – 4
- Ages: 8 and Up
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Times Played: > 5 (On the Renegade/Foxtrot Edition)
I first played Lanterns: The Harvest Festival at Gen Con 2015. I was impressed, calling it one of my hits of the conventions and a possible Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) contender. With the SdJ nominations and recommendations coming in the next few days, it is once again generating some buzz, so I wanted to do a quick review of the game.
Lanterns: Tile placement and set collection with a twist…
Players are artisans decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns. The player who earns the most honor (i.e. victory points) before the festival begins wins the game.
To set up, the starting lake tile is put in the middle of the play area, and each player is dealt three lake tiles. A supply stack is also created, with 20 tiles for a 4-player game, 18 tiles for a 3-player game, and 16 tiles for a 2-player game. The lantern cards are separated, as are the dedication tokens (i.e. what gives victory points), with the number of each varying with the number of players.
The edge of the table at which a player is seated has significance in Lanterns, as each player will receive lantern cards based on their seating position. At the start of the game, each player takes a lantern card depending on the color of the starting lake tile (the one with the boat) facing their seat. The player taking a red card (i.e. the player on the red edge of the starting tile) begins the game.
A player may perform each of these actions once per turn in this order:
- Exchange a lantern card (optional). Players will earn “favor tokens” throughout the game as discussed below. At the start of their turn, they may spend two favor tokens to exchange one lantern card for a different one from the supply.
- Make a dedication (optional). A player may make one (and only one) dedication by trading in a set of lantern cards. The dedication tokens show victory points, with players earning fewer victory points the later in the game, since the tokens with the most points sit on top of a stack. This action is mandatory if a player has more than 12 lantern cards.
- Place a lake tile and take lantern cards (mandatory). The player places the tile next to another lake tile, and then lantern cards are awarded. First, the active player earns a “matching bonus” if the edge he placed matched the edge he placed next two, with the active player receiving a bonus lantern card of that color. Then, if the matching lake tile has a platform (i.e. symbol in the middle), a favor token is awarded. It is possible that there might be multiple matches, so a player can earn multiple matching bonuses and favor tokens. Lastly, each player, starting with the active player, receives a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the newly placed lake tile.
There are three types of dedication tokens:
- Four of a kind (i.e. four cards of the same color).
- Three pair (i.e. six cards, two each of any three colors).
- Seven unique (i.e. seven cards, one of each of seven colors).
The game end game is triggered when all lake tiles have been drawn and placed. Each player then takes a final turn in which they may take the optional actions. After that, players add up their points, and the most points wins. In the event of a tie, the first tiebreaker is the number of favor tokens, followed by the number of lantern cards.
My thoughts on the game…
Lanterns offers tile placement and set collection with a twist, and that twist makes it more interactive than other tile placement games I’ve tried. Players seem tempted to place tiles to earn themselves the lantern card(s) they want, but the better move is often to block an opponent from getting cards they need to acquire a set. Plus, there’s a constant need to balance which dedications are optimal: it might be worth going for those that cost fewer cards, even if they give fewer points.
Lanterns is easy to teach, in part because the gameplay is so intuitive. The rulebook is especially well-designed, adding to the approachability of the game. Lanterns is light enough to play with non-gamers, but there’s enough strategy here where it qualifies for that “filler plus” category that gamers might enjoy. I’ve had plays go half an hour, but they’re usually closer to 20 minutes.
The artwork is beautiful — artist Beth Sobel always done a great job — and it actually makes for a relaxing game. The production value is also top-notch. The the favor tokens are wood, the tiles are a thick cardboard, and everything is well designed graphically. I would have preferred the lantern cards be full sized, but that’s a minor quibble.
Lanterns works best with four players. The game with two or three is also fun, but there’s just not as much going on around the table, so like most interactive games, the more the merrier. My other negative concerns replayability: the game is simple, and not much changes between plays, so my group tired of it after about five plays.
Overall, though, I loved the simplicity and interactivity of the game, as well as the originality. Gameplay is fast, and this could work with a variety of crowds, everybody from family to a regular game group. Toss in the clever theme, and this could be a hit. This year is shaping up to be a highly competitive year for the SdJ and other awards, but I could Lanterns garnering a recommendation, or even a nomination.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers . . .
Mitchell Thomashow: I only tried Lanterns as a two player game. Although it is very beautiful, I didn’t find it particularly interesting or engaging. It has a few original ideas as Chris suggests, but after awhile the game became repetitive.
Fraser: I have played it a few times, only two or three player from recollection. I like it, however Melissa is less enamoured than I am. I think Daughter the Elder would enjoy it though. It looks good, it is quite quick and there are decent decisions to be made (possibly more decent than you realise at the time).
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Chris Wray, Fraser
- Neutral. Mitchell Thomashow
- Not for me…
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Fraser is right – Lanterns leaves me completely flat. Moreover, I tried playing it with the Bigster and she found it very blah as well. I know it’s very popular with friends, but I just don’t get the appeal. It’s very much a not for me, and a not for her either.
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