Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Science and Seance Society was provided by New Mill Industries. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
More Kickstarters! It’s looking like I’m going to have these through November, probably, as a few got delayed as of the time of writing. We’ll see how everything shakes out. At the very least, I’ve got two for you this week, so we can do those. This is a new game from a new publisher, New Mill Industries! Daniel Newman and Tony Miller teamed up to launch some new games via Kickstarter, and this is one of them! Let’s see how it shapes up.
You’ve found yourself in The Science and Seance Society, a Victorian-era club dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of the universe. Unfortunately, something has escaped from the void and you can’t really just … let it out. A debate ensues, as it tends to during These Times, and the two factions (the magic-users and the scientists) can’t decide which side is better suited to dealing with the latest bit of chaos. You decide to both it and let both sides try, but what’s the threat of imminent doom against the spirit of some friendly competition? Whoever can banish this nonsense first wins. Are you up to the challenge?
Since it’s a purely asymmetrical game, there are two different player setups. I’ll go through Science and then Seance, and follow that pattern for the rest of the review.
To play as the Science Player, take the Science Engine Cards and split them into two piles (light / dark gray). Shuffle both piles.
Take four light gray cards and three dark gray cards to form your initial hand. Discard one of each color back to the box and place the remaining cards face-up. Place the Science Ability cards nearby:
And place the Science Engine Markers close, as well:
Place the dice into the bag, mix them around, take four out and roll them:
You should be good to go!
Take your Tarot Cards:
Shuffle the black-backed cards together, making sure to rotate some of the stack 180 degrees as you do. Take three of them and place them spaced such that the two gray (white-backed) cards can go between them (black-white-black-white-black, in terms of card backs). Reveal them, and the Science Player will choose which “color” cards you’re playing (black or white). Once that choice is made, lay out the matching Ability Cards, turned to the correct side:
Draw three cards and you’re ready to go!
Add the Void Card between the two players and you should be all set up!
Similar to Setup, I’ll be outlining each player’s turn, but since they play asymmetrically I’ll split the sections accordingly. I’m also swapping Science and Seance because Seance goes first.
Seance always goes first. Your goal is to get your cards into either 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 order (black side) or A – B – C – D – E order (white side). You also win if the Science player loses (they can’t draw 4 dice from their bag). Let’s see how it’s done!
Your game is a bit gentler than the Science Game, but you have more icons to deal with, I think.
On your turn, you’ve got two phases to deal with. In the first, you’re going to choose from a few options:
- Draw a card from the deck. Place it in your hand.
- Replace a card in your tableau with a card from your hand. One ability on the pair of cards must match, but otherwise, you may choose the orientation of the card you’re swapping in.
- Discard a card from your hand. You may activate one of the abilities on that card.
If you replace a card that’s in your tableau and it has dice on it, move those dice to the Void.
In Phase Two, you may first optionally discard one card to remove a die pictured on that card from any incomplete Engine Card or any of your Seance cards. Return that die to the Void.
After doing that, you must activate up to two abilities on cards that are right-side up in your tableau (the side closest to you). You may only activate a given card once, and you cannot activate cards with dice on them. If you can’t or don’t want to use your tableau abilities, you may use one of your single-use ability cards and remove it from the game.
If you can get all of your cards in order, you win!
Science always goes second. You win if you fill out all your Engine Cards with dice, placed correctly. You also win if the Seance Player loses (they cannot draw another card from their deck). Let’s dig into their turn.
Your turn has three major steps:
First, you may optionally place one of your dice on one of your opponent’s Seance Cards, provided it can be placed there. That disables the card’s ability, but it can still be moved or rotated. If a Seance Card ever has two dice on one of its sides, they’re removed to the Void and the Seance Card is discarded. You then draw three cards from the deck, choose one to replace the discarded card (and its orientation!) and return the other two to the bottom of the deck.
Next, you may place as many dice as you can on Engine Cards, provided spaces are available. There are requirements on the spaces, such as matching the color or number or matching other dice already on the card. Make sure you know which is which!
Finish out your turn by drawing four more dice from the bag and rolling them again.
Now, a few caveats:
- Locking cards: Dice on an Engine Card are considered “unlocked” until all three are placed. That means your opponent can mess with them! Once you’ve got three down, they become “locked” and you gain access to that card’s ability, represented by the Science Engine Token. Place it on the card.
- Abilities: You will have access to both Engine Card and single-use abilities over the course of the game. You may only use one per turn, regardless of the source. For single-use abilities, after using the first one, discard one of the two remaining. For Engine Card abilities, remove the Science Engine Token from the card and place it below the card. If all of your Science Engine Tokens (that you’ve placed) are below their cards, you may reset all of them.
- The Void: If there are ever three or more dice in the Void at the end of your turn, return them to the bag.
Either way, play until someone wins or someone loses!
Player Count Differences
None! Purely a two-player game.
- Both players can move fast in the right circumstances. You gotta be really careful with your setup. If you’re playing Science and you get the right dice, you can win in 4 – 5 turns, which is hugely dangerous for the Seance player. If you’re playing Seance and your opponent chooses poorly or you have a lucky draw, you may be able to win in 3 turns or fewer. Keep an eye on those outcomes.
- You need to commit to slowing your opponent down. As I mentioned, you should try to take advantage of those pathways for yourself, but if your opponent looks like they’re going that way you’ve got to shut them down. Discard cards to junk up their dice! Add your unneeded dice to their cards so that you can discard them! You gotta do something to mess up their system before it’s too late.
- Don’t over-commit to preserving your single-use abilities. As with all things, it’s a short game; burn them if you need to. Sometimes it’s critical just to get the extra boost so that you can potentially get an edge on your opponent.
- Science: Try to figure out which card will hurt your opponent the most to discard, and then replace it with an even worse option. Don’t forget that it takes you two turns to discard a card, which means you gotta drop one die a turn if you want to keep your opponent mostly at bay. Otherwise, if they’re a turn away from winning and you just noticed, you’re done. Take a look at how they’ve been drawing and playing and see if there are any cards they’re trying to protect. Those might be the cards you need to tank.
- Science: Limiting your opponent’s ability to draw cards is never a bad option, early in the game. You can essentially attack them from two angles; place dice to block their ability to draw cards, and then by preventing them from drawing cards, you make it harder for them to have enough cards in hand to discard cards to unblock their cards. Also it’s harder for them to get the cards they need in the right places.
- Seance: Stop your opponent from locking down Engine Cards. Ideally, you could stop the first one since that gives your opponent a pretty clear buff, but it doesn’t always work that way. If they’re leaving one, though, you should try to pick off dice so that it’s harder for them to complete the card quickly.
- Seance: You don’t have to keep your cards clear, but keep in mind that it only takes two dice to discard a card, which can be a body blow when you’re in your late game. You do not want to lose a critical card, so make sure you’re discarding cards to keep your opponent off of your back. Just don’t run out of cards!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Neat theme. It’s very Daniel, imo, but the dual ideologies of magic and science as a competitive asymmetrical game is a neat concept! I like it a bunch.
- I like the asymmetry. It works pretty well for me! Both players have very different playstyles, but they’re mostly focused on proactive luck mitigation. It’s a good split, and I think it feels like both characters are strong enough that they could easily win with the right permutations and low mitigation from their opponents. It’s honestly a bit better version of a game I played a while back called Trieste, which tried a similar schtick in that all three characters were overpowered unless they were being mitigated by another player, so it would just come down to whoever did a poor job balancing. I like it better as a two-player split, all things being equal.
- I also appreciate that Science gets an early power boost that gradually levels off to counter their reliance on a bunch of dice for gameplay. I think it’s a smart little bit of design, and it’s things like that that really make a game feel well-done, in my opinion. There’s the macro and the micro and that’s a smart micro-touch.
- Plays pretty quickly. Especially if your opponent is bad at mitigating! Then it’s over before it begins.
- The muted color scheme really makes the red pop, in a good way. It’s nice to have one accent color to go with your game (I wouldn’t count gray, in this context).
- Could probably fit the game in a bag if you really wanted to make it portable. Hopefully that’s what ends up happening; the game doesn’t have a gigantic footprint, so I think making it portable will be a nice bonus.
- Having the Science player roll their dice at the end of their turn is a nice, cheap way to make sure they have something to do when it’s not their turn. Again, smart micro-touches are a cornerstone of a tightly-designed game. You could have the player do it at the start of their turn, but doing it at the end gives them time to start formulating plans while the Seance player does their thing. Makes their turn shorter and they don’t get bored.
- Boy howdy this game was a pain to photograph. I’ve already had it out with Daniel. I get the “aesthetic” and all that, but man, a black-and-white game really messes with my Entire Photography Deal. Thankfully, as you’ll note, it gave me an opportunity to be more creative.
- Lots of different cards that are all different sizes is a bit visually noisy, to me. This is mostly me just being too Type-A to function, I think. But this is my space to whine, and I will take it. I just like card size consistency, and I think since there are so few cards in the game, it kind of stands out.
- Both players have to rely on luck a fair bit, which may be irritating to players who prefer low-luck games. Yeah if you’re looking for a high-strategy game, this still has a good bit of it, but if you’re not drawing the cards you need there’s not much you can do about it. And dice are dice, which is to say they’re fickle monsters.
- The lack of symmetry on the card backs is frustrating, since they need to be rotated 180 degrees at times. This is something that I just kind of agonize over. It doesn’t make sense, but it bothers me. It also can signal how the Seance player is looking at cards in their hand, so make sure that you keep them all facing the same way.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think The Science and Seance Society is a pretty fun title! I’ve been looking for more work in the two-player game space, especially since my options have dwindled somewhat in quarantine, and this seems like a quick one you could break out, trade off, and play again, similar to Aqualin. I do prefer this to Aqualin, as I feel like the strategy is a bit more robust and the theme is pretty cool, so, points for novelty (especially now when new experiences are at a premium). I do want to give it a bit of a bump up for some pretty solid design (and color) choices that it’s made that I think smooth the game out nicely and make sure that you’ve always got something to do when it’s your turn. I think that’s good! I will say if you’re looking for a Pure Strategy game, that’s not going to be this one; pretty much any game involving rolling dice is going to miss that mark for some players. But it’s a pretty quick, nice asymmetric game, and I think a good launch title for a new indie publisher. If that sounds up your alley, though, I’d recommend checking out The Science and Seance Society! I’ve had fun with it.