Full disclosure: A review copy of Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Alright, I’ve been really into these “themed” months that I keep accidentally doing when I’m trying to organize up my review queue for any given period of time, so, I figure, why not just lean into it? As you (hopefully?) noticed, I pushed Tussie Mussie’s review Monday ahead of its Kickstarter, so we’re rolling through Button Shy month (very exciting), but also, to my great delight, I’ve got enough roll and write games handy that we can power through a few weeks of those reviews, too! I mean, Hex Roller deserved to be on the list as well, but it came out last month so I wanted to make sure I got that review out the door. Or at the very least dicey games. Let’s do that. Anyways, Renegade is coming up with another one, Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky, so let’s check it out, shall we?
Setup isn’t too bad. You’re going to want to set out the Emperor Cards:
Use the A side for your first game, and then mix it up. Also set out four sets of tiles:
Use the 3-square angle, the 4-square, the 4-t, and the 5-u for your first game; again, mix it up on subsequent games, but they recommend 1 3-square shape, 2 4-square shapes, and 1 5-square shape. Place the tiles chosen into stacks based on their shapes, and then sort them from largest to smallest (largest number on top).
Give each player a different scoresheet:
It doesn’t matter if they get A / B / C / D; they just can’t have the same one. The player counts determine how many turns there are; cross out the bonuses under the player counts that you’re not using.
Take the dice tray and the dice:
Give them to the first player (the player with the alphabetically earliest sheet). You’re ready to start!
So, a game of Lanterns is played over a set number of rounds. Each round, each player gets a turn being the first player to roll the dice. Similar to Lanterns: The Harvest Festival (its original game), all players benefit when it’s your turn, so that’s nice; always something to do. Instead of placing tiles, however, you’ll be filling in spots on the lake. Do so to earn points, bonuses, and Fireworks Tiles. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins!
On your turn, roll the dice into the dice tray. Turn the tray so that every player has a die pointing towards them. If you don’t like the dice, you may spend one gift to reroll them (you may do this as many times as you have gifts to waste).
Now, every player shades one area on their scoresheet matching the die that faces them’s color. Certain areas are worth bonuses:
- Pavilions are the gold circles. If you shade either area adjacent to a pavilion (there are two triangles on each square), you immediately earn 1 gift.
- Platforms are the squares on the lake. If you shade both areas, you may immediately shade one additional area on a square adjacent to the square with the platform you just completed.
- Boats aren’t really “bonuses”. You can shade them, if you want, but they can potentially earn you points if you don’t, so, maybe don’t? More on that later.
After this, the start player alone gets the bonus on their score sheet’s bonus area. Cross it out and shade one area matching that color. The same effects still occur as though you had shaded this area as part of the previous step.
All players may now spend gifts to perform one of the three face-up Emperor Actions. They usually let you shade additional spots on your board, but you must spend gifts to do them. You may only take one Emperor Action per turn, though. As with a Bonus Action, the effects of Pavilions and Platforms still apply if they’re shaded as the result of an Emperor Action.
And back to the Start Player again, who may now launch a Fireworks Display, if they can. If you have a set of shaded pools that match the size and shape of one of the tiles, you may take the topmost available tile of that type and place it on your scoresheet, on top of the shaded pools. Note that you may only take this action if it’s currently your turn (as in, you rolled the dice this time).
Once you’ve done that, pass the dice to the player on your left.
End of Game
Once the last player has taken their final turn, the game ends. Each player may then, in turn order, launch one last Fireworks Display, if they can fit it on their board. Once you’ve done that, move on to scoring.
- First, score Fireworks Displays. These are pretty easy; just sum up all the values on Fireworks tiles on your scoresheet.
- Next, score your second-largest group of completed pools. These are squares that you’ve filled in both triangles for. If there’s a tie between two, ignore one and score the other. Pools covered by Fireworks Displays count; incomplete or partially-complete pools do not.
- This is the tough one. Every boat that is surrounded by four complete pools (orthogonally) scores an additional 4 points, provided the pool with the boat is compltely unshaded.
Total your score; the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not a whole lot, though you’ll probably see players going through the Fireworks Tiles at a greater clip. You’ll get the same number (roughly) of tiles at every player count, but you won’t get as many predictable ones (since they’ll be coming from other players, rather than being generated by the game). That said, I still think that this game, like Lanterns, is most exciting at high player counts (more dynamic), so I tend to recommend it at 3 – 4 players.
- Do not make one large interconnected area. That’s a fool’s errand. You get bonus points for your second-largest interconnected area; make sure you don’t accidentally connect the two over the course of the game. That said, the temptation to do so is very real, so you really need to be careful. I find this comes the closest to happening when you’re trying to score the boats.
- Don’t take the gifts for granted. You’re going to want to use them as much as possible to try and set yourself up for combos down the line. Important ones are making sure you can get the right platforms set up, making sure you have the right boats surrounded, and making sure that you are
- Don’t forget that you can only score Fireworks tiles on your turn. This means you can give your opponents things that they need for Fireworks tiles when you’re the lead player and then steal the tile they want right out from underneath of them! It’s exceedingly cruel, but, I mean, you need the points, too, and better them than you.
- Don’t shade boats. I mean, you can if you don’t think you’re going to be able to score it and you want to use it for a Fireworks tile, but generally speaking only do that in like, the last round at the last possible second and even then you should think about it a bit. Four points is a pretty substantial amount in this game (> 10% of your final score, in all likelihood). You don’t want to shut that possibility down turn 1.
- Watch what your opponents need, but also watch what they’re getting. I generally try to give my opponents dice that match the tile they get as their bonus, since it’s more likely that that will be unhelpful (unless they’ve predicted me and left multiple spaces of that color open, just in case). It’s casually spiteful, but, I mean, the whole game is.
- I usually only use gifts to get more gifts (or platforms). It makes me feel like I’m essentially getting them for free? It’s not quite as painful to spend them, then, I think.
- If you go for a gift entirely on your first turn, you can usually earn some pretty sweet bonuses. For the A side, it means you can color in an extra 3 spaces on any turn, once, which is pretty awesome. On the B side it’s useful to try and go after a Fireworks Tile, but that means it’s really most useful on your turn (since that’s when you can get them).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the classic game as a roll and write. I was kind of surprised, honestly; it very much captures the same feel of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, down to the Dedications giving you point-scoring tiles instead of … point-scoring tiles. I think I’ve seen a larger trend of adapting games to roll and write versions, but this is a particularly on-point one, I think; other games would do well to study how they did it.
- The dice tray is a nice way to present the dice, honestly. I was completely thrown off by it when I first opened the box, but it’s a solid thing to have in there to help players.
- I really like the multiple possibilities for tile configurations. I’m not totally sure how much I invest in the nuances of going after a particular tile type, but I do spend some effort on it, so I appreciate that it offers a few different options. I’d love to see an expansion add even more.
- Variable scoresheets are also pretty interesting. They provide players with a variety of different starting abilities (essentially, since they give you different tiles on your turn every time), so you can tweak your starting moves a bit. Word on the street is that there might be promo sheets, as well, which would definitely make things interesting …
- The art, as always, is quite nice. I like the fireworks tiles; I like the board layout; I like the box a whole lot. The whole game looks really great.
- The dice tray is a bit odd, but it works. Sometimes you just have to shake it a bit before the dice settle in properly. We recommend not poking the dice into place because that can cause them to really shift and players typically don’t super love that.
- It might have been better to call the sheets something other than A / B / C / D. That lettering implies that there’s an ordering to it (where there isn’t; they just need to be four different ones). If you had named them after four major elements of the Zodiac or four colors or something, it wouldn’t seem like you’re always supposed to use A then B then C then D. That’s more of a nitpick, but worth mentioning because I worry that people will throw C and D away after two-player games.
- It doesn’t feel like you end up using that much of the board. I think I just expected the fairly-large board to be like, 75% filled out (just judging from other roll and write games I’ve played in the past), but most games you’ll end up a bit below half unless you’re really hustling. There are 108 squares; in a two-player game, you’ll place two on your turn and one on your opponent’s; that’s 30 total. If you always pick the platform, that’s going to be 40. That’s 37%. It’s just sort of a weird thing to see when the board is so large. Assuming that you instead did the Pavilion every time, you would eventually be able to get 21 Gifts, which you could use to add 3 more tiles onto the board. If each one of those are platforms, you could fill out all 12 of them, so you’d end up with 30 + 12 + 21 = 63, which is only a bit above half. Oh well; it’s just something that struck us as weird when we were playing.
- It’s a tiny bit confusing that you only earn platform bonuses when the whole tile is complete and you earn gifts every time you fill in one side or the other. It’s definitely something you’re likely to get wrong on your first game, so I’m telling you now.
- It’s also a bit difficult to shade lake areas near tiles that you’ve placed. It often means you have to pick up the tile, shade in what you wanted, and put it back down, which is a somewhat annoying hiccup in the game. Not an enormous problem, but definitely weird.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky! Like I said previously, I think it’s a surprisingly on-point adaptation of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. That has pros and cons to it, of course; ironically, one thing I don’t like about it is that it feels so similar to Lanterns that I’m not sure I really need to own both of them. That’s kind of funny, in a way, but I think the positive way to interpret that is that they did a really good job capturing the important parts of The Harvest Festival and adapting them to this new format for Lights in the Sky, and I respect that. Personally, it makes me excited to see how they’re going to further develop this concept, and if it’s going to start diverging from The Harvest Festival any. If it does, that’s going to be really neat. Of the two recent roll and write games from Renegade, I think I have a slight preference for Hex Roller because it has a bit less overhead to getting started, but I’ve solidly enjoyed Lights in the Sky, as well. If you’re a big fan of Lanterns, you’re looking for a roll and write with great art, or you want a game with some dice drafting and interaction, Lanterns; Lights in the Sky might be a great fit for you!