(2015 – Foxtrot Games, Renegade Game Studios)
In 2014, Relic Expedition became Foxtrot Games and designer Randy Hoyt’s initial release as a publisher/designer, combining exploration, set collection, and hand management. With Foxtrot’s second release, they have focused on another first-time designer, Christopher Chung with his game Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, which also contains elements of set collection and hand management, but executes these mechanics in a much different way.
In Lanterns, players will fill a lake full of colored paper lanterns, as dedications for the upcoming Harvest Festival. This is done by a tile placement mechanism in which a player will place a tile on the board, and players will receive colored lantern cards according to which side of the tile faces them. Additional cards can be gained according to how the placed tile matches those adjacent to it. Players can then turn combinations of these cards in for different Set tiles containing Victory Points. As these tiles are collected, the Victory Point value on them decreases. The player that has gained the most Victory Points by the end of the game is the winner.
During the game, players will place tiles from their hand into the central play area, helping to create a lake full of colorful, floating lanterns. Based on how these lantern tiles are placed, players (all players, not just the one placing it) will collect various Lantern cards. Players can then turn sets of these cards in for Victory Points.
Finally, all Favor tokens are placed near the play area. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
Player’s will take turns in clockwise order until all Lake tiles have been placed in the Lake area. A player is always required to place a tile on their turn, though there are a couple optional actions they can choose to do before placing it.
I. Trade Lantern Cards
At the beginning of a player’s turn, he’ll have the option to trade one of the Lantern cards in front of him with a Lantern card from one of the draw decks at a cost of 2 Favor tokens.
II. Collect a Set Tile
Whether the player has chosen to trade a Lantern card or not, the next option he’ll have on his turn before placing a tile is to collect one of the current Set tiles. When collecting a Set tile, the player will always take the tile at the very top of the chosen stack. There are three different types of Set tiles:
Set #1: A Straight (one of each color)
Set #2: Three Pair
Set #3: Four of a Kind
If the tiles of a particular set ever run out, players can still turn in cards to complete that set, however instead of gaining a Set tile from that particular set, they will receive one of the generic 4-point tiles.
III. Place A Tile
Placing a tile is the heart of the game, and is a mandatory action on every player’s turn. As the final step of his turn (or the only step if he’s chosen not to take either optional action above), the player will look at the three Lake tiles in his hand and choose one to place into the Lake area. The tile must be placed directly adjacent to the side of another tile (not diagonally), and the player has the choice of how it’s oriented.
After all players have resolved the placed tile, the current player will draw a new Lake tile from the draw deck and add it to his hand. The Start Player marker is then passed to the player on his left, and that player’s turn begins.
After a player has placed the last Lake tile and there are no other Lake tiles left, all players will have one more turn to do either of the optional actions (trading a lantern card and/or collecting a set tile), before the game ends. Players will then add all of the Victory Points listed on their collected Set tiles.
Though we still have quite a while to go before next year’s nominations are announced, (including the major releases from Origins, GenCon, and Essen) I’d be shocked if Lanterns didn’t get a serious look for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres. With its streamlined, simplistic ruleset, abstract design, and light strategy, it seems a perfect fit for the family-driven award.
One of the game’s most unique features is that players are awarded cards based on their seated position at the table. Since all players will receive some type of card reward on every turn of the game, strategies can alter from turn to turn depending on the Lantern cards you receive. The only control a player can really govern is on their own turn, making each of these turns quite meaningful. When placing a tile, you’re not only attempting to gain multiple tiles for yourself, but you’re also trying to minimize awarding your opponents the cards they are looking for. A particular placement could award yourself three tiles on a turn, which is great, but if it also gives one of your opponents the last Lantern color he needs to complete a set on his next turn, it may not be the best course of action. It’s also important to keep an eye of the Lantern card supply when placing a tile. It’s always a great feeling when placing a tile in a way that an opposing player won’t receive their reward because that particular stack of Lantern card color has run out.
Because most of the set tiles decrease in Victory Point value as they are taken, Lanterns becomes a tight scoring affair. The advantage to this is that it makes each decision and placement matter, which is unique for such a simple, family-oriented game. However, it can also make it considerably hard to come back from if you’ve played poorly during your initial turns. While the rules state that a Victory Point set tile is placed in front of the player when receiving it, I wonder how different gameplay would change if these could be kept face down after receiving them? Probably not that big of a difference since a player with the most of these tiles is almost always going to have a larger number of Victory Points, but it would be interesting to try out, especially when players have claimed the same number of set tiles.
Lanterns is one of those few releases every year that is somehow able to capture a balance for casual and dedicated gamers alike. Families will enjoy it due to its simple rules and gameplay that keeps everyone involved from turn to turn. More serious gamers will enjoy the tight scoring strategy, resulting in a neat filler during their weekly game night.