Haven’t done a Kickstarter game in a couple weeks, so I might as well do another one of those. As with most Kickstarter games, I was drawn in by its art and theme (and reasonably low price — this is why you buy early, kids, the savings) and I stayed with it for its fun replay value.
In Lanterns: The Harvest Festival (“Lanterns”), you play as one of 2-4 people during the annual and completely unexpected Harvest Festival, in which you place lanterns on the lake to create beautiful patterns that will earn honor for your clan. This, undoubtedly, makes Lanterns one of the most descriptively titled games I own (save for Betrayal at House on the Hill), which is nice, I suppose.
Super simple setup. It changes slightly depending on player count, so pay attention. You should see the following:
Lantern Cards. These are the primary currency of the game. Split them up into their respective colors and set them aside.
Favor tokens. These are used for exchanging, which I’ll explain later. Set these aside.
Dedication Tokens. These are worth points. Separate them by color and organize them in descending order (that’s most-on-top for you keeping score at home) and set them aside. You can keep the three generic (gray) 4 tokens aside as well; you probably won’t need them.
Lake Tiles! These are all very nice and have blue backs. I’d say set them aside, but you have to pick one out in particular first:
This is the starting tile. Place the tile such that the red lanterns are on the starting player’s side. This is crucial. You might see other Lake Tiles with pictures of dragons, koi, pandas, or etc. on them. They are Platform Tiles, which should be shuffled in with Lake Tiles and played normally. Now, shuffle the stack, deal each player 3 Lake Tiles, and put the remaining in a draw stack.
Now, player ordering things.
- 2 Players:
- Use 16 Lake Tiles in the draw stack.
- Use 5 Lantern Cards in each stack.
- Remove Dedication Tokens with 3 or 4 dots on them.
- 3 Players:
- Use 18 Lake Tiles in the draw stack.
- Use 7 Lantern Cards in each stack.
- Remove Dedication Tokens with 4 dots on them.
- 4 Players:
- Use 18 Lake Tiles in the draw stack.
- Use 7 Lantern Cards in each stack.
- Remove Dedication Tokens with 4 dots on them.
Cool! You’re almost done! Now, notice how the starting player is facing the red lantern side of the Lake tile? Give her a red lantern card.
Now here’s where things get interesting. You should give the remaining players a lantern corresponding to the color lantern they’re facing, but where does the second player sit in a 2-player game? Do they get white? Black? Who knows! Just pick one and roll with it. I’ll explain why in Gameplay.
So, Lanterns is very simple to play. Here’s why.
This is all you can do in Lanterns. You have two optional actions before every turn, and then you MUST place a Lake Tile if you can. Let’s recap really fast for people who find picture-reading beneath them:
You may perform each action once per turn, if possible. Once the Lake Tiles have been exhausted (including the players’ hands), each player gets one last turn where they may perform the optional actions.
- (optional) Exchange A Lantern Card – spend two Favor Tokens (you start with zero) to exchange a Lantern Card with another Lantern Card that is currently available in the supply. If there are none of that card left, you’re out of luck.
- (mandatoryish) If you have more than 12 Lantern Cards, you must either Dedicate or Discard. And by that they mean you really should dedicate. You will never have more than 12 Lantern Cards and be unable to make a dedication, if you’re looking for a quick math exercise.
- (optional) Make A Dedication – spend a specific set of Lantern Cards to make a dedication, and take the next available Dedication Token from the appropriate stack. If none remain, take one of the grey 4’s. You can make one of three dedications:
- Four of a Kind – Four Lanterns, each the same color.
- Three Pair – Six Lanterns, two each of three different colors.
- Seven Unique – Seven cards, one each of every color.
- (mandatory) Place a Lake Tile – Play one of your Lake Tiles onto the board, such that one side is adjacent to an already-played tile. Once this is done, distribute Lantern Cards and other bonuses.
Cards and Bonuses
So, let’s look at a special tile as an example. Here’s one of the Platform Tiles I mentioned earlier:
Adorable. But when it’s played, you can place it adjacent to any tile. Once that happens, the following events happen in sequence:
- Matching Bonus – Lanterns – if you placed it such that one side of the Lake Tile is touching the same color on the adjacent Lake Tile, you collect a Lantern of that color.
- Matching Bonus – Platforms – Platform Tiles are special. If you match with one, you also take a Favor Token (remember those?) for every matching tile (IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: Not for every match. This means each tile can only generate at most one Favor Token). This includes already-played Platform Tiles. So if I matched the pink side of this tile with the pink side of another Platform Tile, I would get two Favor Tokens, since both tiles are matching. Make sense?
- Orientation – Every player (yes, every player) starting with the active player and going clockwise receives one Lantern card matching the color that they’re facing on the tile you just played. For the most part, that means that everyone will get a Lantern every time you play a Lake Tile. The only exception is that if there are no Lantern Cards remaining in the stack, that player gets nothing. (Note, there’s a strategy to this.) This is why Lantern distribution always starts with the current player — you should really only place Lake Tiles such that you get Lanterns.
Note some things about this:
If you were to slide that Dragon Platform Tile in on your turn, it would match with the Koi Platform, the Panda Platform, and the Green Lantern on the Lake tile. This means you (assuming you are facing green, like the picture) would get the following:
- One each of blue, pink, and green Lantern Cards (Matching Bonus – Lanterns)
- Three Favor Tokens (Matching Bonus – Platforms)
- Dragon Match
- Koi Match
- Panda Match
- One green Lantern Card (Orientation)
Which is, all things considered, a pretty sweet deal. You got four Lantern Cards and three Favor Tokens!
Now, draw a Lake Tile from the stack (if there are any left) and continue with the next player’s turn. Continue until all the Lake Tiles have been played, and the player with the most points wins!
Not very hard, but has a fairly interesting strategy to it. Let’s talk about it.
- If you CAN Dedicate, you usually SHOULD Dedicate. Unless you’re getting double the points by dedicating a different set (which can happen), usually it’s better to Dedicate on your turn if you’re able to do so, since you’re at least scoring.
- Try to Dedicate intelligently. If you’re doing Four of a Kind twice, you’re only using one more Lantern card than doing Seven Unique once. That means you’ll potentially have more points with fewer Lanterns. However, there’s a minor hiccup to that plan.
- Be Flexible. If everyone tries to buy Four of a Kind, they rapidly become worthless (Dedication Tokens eventually decrease in value), so it may be worth saving it to buy a Three Pair if that’s still worth 8 instead of a Four of a Kind worth 4. My personal preference is to try to get at least one point per Lantern Card I use unless I have no other options.
- Deny your opponents options. Try to place Lake Tiles such that your opponents don’t get Lantern Cards they need, or better yet, Lantern Cards at all. If you see that your opponent has three red Lantern Cards and no Favor Tokens, you’re better off giving him a pink or blue Lantern Card so that he can’t dedicate on his turn.
- It literally pays to be first. If you can Dedicate a set that your opponents are about to Dedicate, you will often get a higher-point-value Dedication Token than they do, making their set literally worth less overall. So if you’re trying to save up for Four of a Kind and you see your opponent’s about to get Three Pairs, it might actually be good to Exchange and Dedicate Three Pairs instead so that they get potentially one fewer point. It can make a difference. To that end:
- Keep an eye on what people are getting. You don’t want to try and get Seven Unique if everyone else has (it’ll be worth fewer points and cost more Lantern Cards), so try to avoid getting the same sets as other people.
- Always set yourself up to Dedicate on the last turn. You pretty much want to set yourself up so that once you’ve played your last Lake Tile you can still score on the last turn, just to make sure nobody overtakes you.
Pros, Mehs, Cons
- Really pretty. As with most Kickstarter games, I got it because I thought it had cool art and seemed reasonably fun. I like the theme, and I especially like how the theme intertwines with the gameplay.
- Nice component quality. They did spend a bit of money upgrading the Lake Tiles (and Favor Tokens), if I remember the Kickstarter correctly, and it was a good move — they’re pretty nice.
- Quick. This is a really short game to play, and I appreciate that. Just a nice game to take a break between other games, if you’re just playing with 2-4 people.
- Simple. That’s also a perk. It doesn’t take much effort to explain (though, as I just found out, some of the nuances regarding Favor Tokens weren’t especially clear), and as a result it can be played with most people.
- ARRIVED EARLY. As a Kickstarter game, that’s damn impressive. Honestly, let’s just take a moment and talk about how professional these guys were in their handling of the Kickstarter. Reasonable game, reasonable goals, and EARLY DELIVERY. Props to y’all.
- Post-game, there’s a sense of accomplishment. As with most games involving tile-laying (Betrayal, Carcassonne, even Saboteur and Vye), after the game ends it’s really nice to be able to look at the game and see the whole thing. Given how colorful this game is, it’s particularly spectacular.
- Probably the best rulebook of any game I’ve ever seen. When you list the rulebook as a pro of the game, it’s a damn good rulebook. Three separate examples of turns that cover most cases, heavy use of pictures and art to explain the gameplay, and honestly just a clear, consistent voice throughout make the rulebook an absolute breeze to use and a pretty solid tool.
- Low player count. It would actually be amazing if this were designed with like, hexagons or something that allowed for more players, but then the gameplay would devolve into a total mess. Just a thought. It’s not a really big deal, so it’s a meh.
- Strategy is pretty difficult to grasp. It often seems like this game is very luck-based, and that may frustrate some more strategic players. After many plays, I’d just say that the strategy is a bit difficult to immediately wrap your head around, and if you’re playing with new players they may inadvertently give another player the boost they need to win. However, it’s a fun enough game that you can still play it assuming it’s only luck-based. More than two-player games can feel pretty haphazard, due to this. I have similar complaints about Splendor.
- Tile orientation can often be … frustrating. If you’re anything like me then you’ll swear up and down that some of these tiles were designed to be intentionally difficult to match to other tiles. This may or may not have been the case.
- Box insert isn’t particularly helpful. There’s a lot of box space, and it would have been nice if it had been sectioned to have separate spaces for the Lake Tiles, the Lantern Cards, and the Favor Tokens. It seems like they opted for a slightly cheaper option, here, and it kind of shows.
- VERY difficult to come from behind. If someone gets ahead of you, there’s really no way you can come back from it, especially if they keep scoring every round. This can be very frustrating — it often feels like if you miss one turn for dedication, then you’ve lost. We’ve tried fixes for this (randomizing the Dedication Tokens and going in ascending order rather than descending order), but nothing’s really worked perfectly. If you’ve got a suggestion, let me know.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Yeah, this game is pretty great. It’s got a really nice aesthetic, the set-collection gameplay is really well-woven into the theme, and overall I just think this is a pretty great game if you’ve got some downtime. I would really like to see an expansion, here, maybe adding in some fix for that whole “being stuck in last place” thing that I mentioned or adding in new types of tiles or platforms, but honestly right now I think it’s a pretty great game. Definitely worth the Kickstarter money (especially for an early arrival!) and definitely worth picking up, now.
I’d say if you’re looking for a slightly more aggressive strategy game Splendor is the winner there, but if you’re looking for a slightly more fun, low-key strategy game Lanterns fills that niche quite nicely. Check it out!