Full disclosure: A review copy of Vivid Memories was provided by Floodgate Games.
Back with more reviews! I’m writing these a bit later than I would like, both in terms of “I’m a bit behind on reviews” and “it’s a bit late in the evening”, but what can you do. I ended up falling down a rabbit hole of looking for a different thing for an entirely unrelated review and now it’s even later. Time! But before I sleep for the night, I’m going to finish this review. So let’s get to it! Vivid Memories. Floodgate Games. What do we got?
In Vivid Memories, players collect fragments of memories of youth, trying to piece together connections between various moments on the way to achieving aspirations! It’s a bit abstract, since I don’t really fully get how brains work, but you get the idea. Tokens, tiles, boards, and the like. Will you be able to structure your fragments together to realize your aspirations?
To start off, each player gets a Brain Board!
Then, each player gets an Aspiration Tile. These should be kept secret and face-down.
Shuffle the Moment Tiles and set them aside, for now:
Then, put Fragment Tokens into the bag, depending on your player count:
- 2 players: 11 tokens of each color
- 3 players: 17 tokens of each color
- 4 players: 20 tokens of each color
Place the scoreboard nearby, and give each player a pair of score markers of their choice. There are a bunch, so feel free to pick. You can keep some extras aside in case you need markers during the game:
The big jack is the round marker; place that on Round 1, and you should be ready to start!
A game of Vivid Memories is played over three rounds, as players draft Fragment Tokens, add them to their boards, and build connections and paths to potentially gain points! Each round has four major phases, so let’s go through each of them.
To prepare, draw moment tiles so that there are (number of players) + 2 tiles in a line, face-up in the middle of the play area. A tile that’s face-up will have the action on the front, as well, so look for that. Then, draw Fragment Tokens and place five on each tile. In a two-player game, place four on each tile, instead. If you run out of Fragments, take one of each color from the leftover supply in the game box and add them to the bag, shake the bag, and then draw again.
After the play area is set up, the start player takes the first turn. On a turn, they must start by taking one, two, or three Fragments from one end of the Moment Tile line. The challenge is, if you take two Fragments, they must all be the same color. If you take three, they must all be different colors. If you take one, it has to be the same, tautologically, but some of you are going to ask. I did. If you empty a Moment Tile, you can keep taking from the next Moment Tile, but otherwise you’re restricted to only taking from one end of the line.
Then, place all the Fragments you took in an empty hex on your board. The position doesn’t matter, though, so you can place them however you want.
After doing that, there are some optional actions:
- Claim Moment Tile: If you completely cleared a Moment Tile, you take it and place it above your player board, action-side up.
- Rewire: If you only took one Fragment, you can Rewire. This allows you to choose any hex space on your board and either move any number of Fragments out of that space into one or more adjacent spaces or any number of Fragments into that space (to the maximum of three). You cannot do both in one turn.
After this phase ends, pass the Start Player Marker to the player on the Start Player’s left.
There’s no need for player turns, now; players can effectively do this phase simultaneously. There are a number of actions at the top of each player’s Brain Board, but if you have any Moment Tiles that you’ve previously claimed, you must start this phase by choosing a slot at the top of the board to place them into.
Each action can be performed once per phase. Generally, the actions allow you to add Fragments, split one into two others, combine two into any one Fragment of your choice, take a random Fragment, swap two adjacent Fragments, or move a Fragment. You can do each action once, but doing an action on a Moment Tile causes it to flip to the scoring side. More on that later.
Once everyone’s done as many of the actions as they’d like, move on to the Reward Phase. Generally, there are a few things that can score:
- Moment Tiles: These have a specific configuration of Fragments on each of them. Once one is scoring-side up, check your board to see if you have any hexes with that combination of Fragments (and no additional Fragments) in them. If you do, score the value on the Moment Tile per hex that matches, and move the Moment Tile to the side of your Brain Board, making it into a Cherished Moment Tile. If you don’t, the Moment Tile stays in place and junks up one of your actions next round. Not ideal.
- Connections: Around the edge of the Brain Board are slots for Fragments called Core Memories. If you connect two or more Core Memory slots of the same color / symbol together, you’ve created a Thread! Threads score for the number of hex spaces in the thread times the empty Core Memory slots that are connected. This means if you create a Thread between two filled Core Memory slots, you’d score 0 points, so be careful. After scoring a Thread, take a Fragment from each end of the Thread and place it into the empty adjacent Core Memory slot. If it’s filled, leave the Fragment on the board.
- Core Memories: Core Memories are composed of 1 / 2 / 3 Fragment slots. If they’re filled, they score 1 / 4 / 18 points each round, including the first round in which they’re filled. So an early Core Memory can become very valuable!
End of Game
The game ends after three rounds! Once that happens, each player scores their Aspiration Tile, which gives them various points:
- 1 point per Fragment of the matching color in hex spaces on the player board;
- 2 points per Fragment of the matching color in Core Memory slots;
- 5 points per Cherished Moment Tile beside the board with a Fragment of the matching color in its scoring pattern.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The big differentiator is just that players are more aggressively drafting at higher player counts, since there are more players around. This is addressed a bit with more tiles and more tokens per tile, and even more so with players all having different color tokens to prioritize throughout the game. That said, I think that I still prefer this at lower player counts, just because there are a lot of distinct moving parts that can slow the game down. The path-building and drafting elements of the game are not significantly longer with more players, but the game is much quicker and snappier with two, which feels about right for the weight of the game, complexity-wise, as well. Something about watching another three players fiddle with tokens or decide what to draft doesn’t hold my interest quite as well, and I like being able to plan ahead more than I feel like I can with additional players.
- You don’t necessarily want to take three Fragments every turn. The Rewire action is pretty great, especially if you’ve been taking multiple of the same Fragment here and there. You can essentially explode a hex outward to create a longer, more well-structured path. Even better if they’re all different-color Fragments and you manage to fill in three paths at the same time! Even if you take two Fragments, you can start trying to work on getting lots of the color that you need on your board, and if nothing else, that’s points at the end of the game. Don’t overindex on just getting as many Fragments as possible; have a strategy about the connections you want to create and the tiles you want to score, and keep working towards that.
- Ultimately, filling in big Core Memories early is extremely profitable. I’d be absolutely dazzled if you managed to fill in an 18-point Core Memory in Round 1, but filling it in before the end of Round 2 and scoring it again in Round 3 is pretty doable. That’s 36 points! That’s far from nothing. Plus, ideally, you’ll get even more points from the connections you make in order to fill in all those Core Memories.
- Even if you wait until later, you can make some pretty large paths and score big, if you set yourself up right. Connecting three empty Core Memory slots to a 5-hex path will score you 15 points, and you can imagine that only growing with additional slots and hexes. Trying to create a massive path can be really lucrative, but you should also make sure you’re not leaving yourself open to your opponents hate-drafting the Fragment colors that you need to complete it!
- You’re building out some paths, so try to focus on hexes where you can create intersection points between a few different paths. Having a hex with three Fragments in it can function as a pretty effective junction for a few different paths, should you set your board up correctly. It’s worth considering multiple paths at the same time so that you can both extend a long path and also potentially fill in multiple Core Memory slots in a turn.
- Don’t necessarily just take Moment Tiles for no real reason; they will effectively junk up your action pool. Try to be focused when you take them; you really want to grab Moment Tiles that play well with your Aspiration Tile so that you can score even more points at the end of the game. That said, sometimes it’s just worth taking one so you can get the Fragments you need.
- Similarly, don’t just use the Action if you don’t have things set up to score off of that Moment Tile. You can set up big combos if you plan ahead. I usually wait until I have two or three matching hexes before I use the action and score the Moment Tile, but I’ll also use the action if the game’s about to end, anyways. Might as well get a quick bonus action in if it’s the last thing I’m going to do.
- Keep an eye on your Aspiration Tile, as well; you’ll want them to align with the fragments and tiles you’re taking. You can gain a lot of points from your Aspiration Tile, just from Fragments on your board, but lining it up with your Cherished Moment Tiles is going to be what wins you the game. So try to focus around one color! That said, if you see your opponent going for one specific color, hate draft a little bit and mess them up. Take a few of the Fragments that they need. It could pay off.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Component quality is quite nice, here. I think the fragment tokens are a really nice, pleasant texture and color scheme, and I find the double-layering of the brain boards to be particularly high-quality, as well. It’s kind of on-brand for Floodgate to have nice components, though, so I wasn’t terribly surprised, here. The rulebook is surprisingly nice, as well, which I didn’t expect? It’s a good, quality paper; big fan of that.
- I really like the double-sided tiles letting you see what the kid imagines versus what’s actually happening. That’s a cute touch, and it does play nicely into the theme from a consistency standpoint. It’s also a fun bit of additional Andrew Bosley Art, which is always appreciated.
- Speaking of double-sided, I appreciate that Vivid Memories settles the (probably) classic debate of optimal scoreboard configuration by just including both types of scoring. I like the non-snaking scoreboards; it makes it very easy to add additional points without having to trace it every time. If I want to add 10, I just move it up one row. Some people prefer not that, for some unknowable reason, but the game caters to them as well.
- The fragment tokens fit so nicely into the little hexagonal grooves. This is less of a major Pro and more of a fun and satisfying component quirk, but I liked it enough that I wanted to specifically call it out, as well.
- It’s interesting that the Moment Tiles junk up your possible actions, if you’re not careful. It’s interesting, and a neat design choice, but I’m not entirely sure I’d call it fun? I think it’s curious and I’m curious about it, but I’m not sure where this lands on my Pros / Mehs list. I think that I end up liking the idea of it (and the danger it poses) more than I enjoy it from an actual gameplay standpoint. In-game, junking up player actions is kind of so-so, since it tends to punish novice players more significantly than experienced players (who better understand how to plan around it). I’m usually a bit less into that, so, I’d say the gameplay element of it doesn’t do much for me.
- I like that Core Memories are worth more if you complete them earlier in the game. On gameplay, I am a fan of things that are worth more points the earlier you get them (like the secondary points in Castles of Tuscany, among other examples). I like that, here, since it incentivizes (and rewards) players going for big, impressive combos early, and gives them a ton of points if they can actually pull it off. They usually can’t, in round 1, but that’s part of the fun.
- Honestly, there are too many score markers. I can see the allure of having many different options (and how they’re useful for indicating when a Moment Tile has been used and needs to be flipped and other things, but, there are a bunch and they’re not always the easiest to organize, being smallish circles and all that. They’re not bad; there are just a lot of them.
- I don’t really pick up on much theme in the gameplay. It’s there, granted, but it doesn’t really feel connected to the game, mechanically. And I get that one could ostensibly dissect any game down to its component parts, but here, the thematic and narrative binding between gameplay elements feels tenuous, at best. This is kind of disappointing, since often, the high points for games I really enjoy are satisfying connections between the theme and the gameplay. I can point to nice examples of the theme being expressed in the game, but I can’t really point to places where the game merges theme and gameplay for that ludonarrative consistency. The theme is delightful, but I don’t really get that from drafting fragment tokens from Moment Tiles. Creating the chains on the brain boards is fun, but it feels like thematically, this could have been anything, as well. I think that since the theme is already something that’s so opaquely abstract (how brains and memory work), it doesn’t fully connect or land, for me.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I think Vivid Memories is fun. It’s kind of interesting, because it feels like the kind of game I would have been blown away by when I was first getting into board gaming, whereas, now, it doesn’t have the same level of pizazz, for me. I’m not totally sure why that is! I think that early on, I was mostly looking for great themes and great art, and didn’t care much if that made it through to the gameplay. Now, I’m starting to notice those seams, and I’m looking for games that either mechanically distinguish themselves to the point that I don’t really care, or games that weave theme and gameplay into something that’s more than the sum of its parts. I didn’t really get either of those things from Vivid Memories, and that’s not necessarily bad! I still think the game’s got some nice things going for it, but each one feels like it has a counterbalance. For one, I think the path-building from the various connections is fun and interesting, but the way it scores and integrates into the gameplay is kind of … there. It’s not bad, I just didn’t find it compelling. I think the worrying thing about these kinds of reviews is that sometimes, there’s the impression that if I don’t find something compelling, then I hated it. And that’s not really the case! I still enjoy that feature of the game, but I do wish there had been something about it that really spoke to me. That seems to have happened a lot with this game, and while that’s disappointing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is fundamentally bad, either. It’s a fun game, but I think it’s … just a fun game, for me. It is a beautiful game, though, and that’s once again thanks to Andrew Bosley doing some of the best work in the industry. It might just be more abstract than I was looking for. If you’re into some abstract drafting and path-building, you love games with great art, or you just want something that will be a bit puzzly, you might enjoy Vivid Memories, too! I had fun.
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