Four Corners: Kaleidoscope [Preview]

Base price: $32 for one, $60 for both on Kickstarter.
1 – 6 players.
Play time: 20 – 40 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 2

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Four Corners: Kaleidoscope was provided by Calliope Games. 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. 

Like I said, this is a pretty busy month for me in terms of crowdfunding games. Lots to check out, but that’s fun! Just means I need to get through a lot of the reviews in my queue before I head out on my various travels this month. It’s never too early in the year to get too busy, I suppose. But among the crowdfunded games, one of them (this one) is coming from Calliope, a longtime publisher of games in the 1 – 6 player space. I’ve played a bunch of their titles, so, naturally, jumped at the chance to check this one out. Let’s see what’s going on.

Four Corners is actually two different games! This one is Four Corners: Kaleidoscope, and in Kaleidoscope, your goal is to create beautiful Fractals by connecting tiles (either their centers or their corners). Unfortunately, the other players have similar goals. But not exactly the same ones! Each player will get some unique Goal Cards that describe what they’ll need to create in order to win, so it’s going to be a bit of a race. Will you be able to connect the tiles that you need?

Contents

Setup

First up, you’re going to assemble the board:

It clicks together; just roll with it. Next, shuffle the Goal Cards:

Deal each player three. Then, shuffle up the tiles:

Each player gets three, as well. Reveal the top tile of the tile stack and place it in one of the four central spaces of the board. If it’s a Special Tile, keep drawing until you find a tile that isn’t a Special Tile and then shuffle the others back in. You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

The goal of Four Corners is to score your Goal Cards! With Kaleidoscope, you’re doing that amidst a rainbow-colored backdrop of colors and shapes. Exciting stuff.

On your turn, you have a few options:

  • Play a tile. You can play a tile from your hand to the board, provided it’s adjacent to another tile. In order to play the tile, however, either the center of the tile or the corner of the tile must match another, adjacent tile. Instead of placing a tile, you can replace an existing tile, removing the replaced tile from the game. If you play a special action tile, perform the special action and then discard the special action tile.
  • Manipulate two tiles. You can either rotate two tiles 90 degrees or swap the position of two tiles, maintaining their orientation.
  • Draw a new Goal Card. You take a new Goal Card from the stack and then discard one from your stock of Goal Cards. You can never end up with more Goal Cards than you started with.

After completing your action, you may have more to do! This depends on whether or not you completed a goal. A goal can be completed two ways. A Four Corners Fractal is created when four adjacent corners show the same shape and that shape matches one of your Goal Cards! As soon as you reveal the corresponding Goal Card, play it face-up. Then, reset the Fractal by turning each shape in the Fractal 90 degrees. The other possible Fractal is a Fractal Sequence: a set of four tiles in sequence whose central shapes are the same. This also lets you score a Goal Card. Reveal it, play it face-up. Now, the reset sequence is a bit different. The next two players must, on their turn, replace one of the tiles in the sequence with a new tile with a different center shape from their hand. If the first player somehow manages to create a new Fractal Sequence, then the second player resolves the second tile in the first sequence and the next two players resolve the second one. Same rules for a new Four Corners Fractal.

Notably, you cannot make a Fractal of any kind unless you have the Goal Card to score it. As mentioned, it is possible to score multiple Goals in one turn, but you cannot score any of your Goal Cards on another player’s turn. First player to score three of their Goals wins!

Player Count Differences

All things considered, I prefer Four Corners at higher player counts. With two players, you’re just having a back-and-forth. There’s no rule that explicitly prohibits you just swapping out every tile your opponent plays, and you can effectively stalemate unless you’re just not paying attention to what they’re doing. That’s … not really interesting, and in our two-player game we both essentially agreed to swing for the fences rather than just let the game stagnate. “Just let the game stagnate” isn’t really a great line to write about the two-player experience for the game, so I sought a higher player count to see if that’s where the hype was. It flows a lot better! There are more players doing things between your turns, so the board state can change aggressively. This can be annoying if, for instance, a player doesn’t notice that they’re helping another player score a Goal Card off of a tile that you played (and wanted to score), but that’s what you get for interacting with other people, I guess. I see Four Corners appealing to that desire for a chaotic game where you score by pulling a pattern out of the chaos without anyone noticing, so I’m a much bigger fan of the game at higher player counts.

Strategy

  • If you see someone going after a goal, you might want to let them! After all, they might perfectly set you up to steal it from them on your turn. Don’t necessarily let them get a Goal Card scored, but having someone work on the same goal as you can be pretty helpful! You let them make moves along the construction and then you try to swoop it out from them before it’s completed.
  • If you’re not getting anywhere with the board, swap out your Goal Cards. Sometimes you’re just not aligned enough with other players to get any of the Goal Cards you have scored. Instead, just swap one out and try to see what you can do with a new Goal Card. There’s plenty of options. Sometimes, you get unlucky and just end up with another Goal Card that you already have, but them’s the breaks, sometimes.
  • Don’t forget you can swap in tiles! It’s a great way to thwart your opponents’ plans. If you’re worried that the player after you is about to get a Fractal at some time, you can just swap out one of your tiles with one of the tiles on the board. You can use that to break up Fractal Sequences or shake up a Four Corners Fractal. You need to keep an eye on the board if you want to make sure your opponents aren’t outscoring you with Goal Cards.
  • You probably shouldn’t play tiles that don’t advance your goals in some way. It’s kind of odd to advance other players’ goals, so … don’t do that? You may find it helpful to do that if your only goal is to block other players, but at higher player counts, blocking one player isn’t as helpful as advancing your own goals is.
  • Be careful about being the third person to place anything resembling a sequence. You really don’t want to set another player up for a Goal, as I keep emphasizing, so if you play something that almost completes a Fractal, then you’re possibly going to help another player get points rather than successfully playing a sequence. It’s pretty easy to place a tile, so you’re not exactly going to be able to block another player, pretty much no matter what you play.
  • Keep an eye on what your opponents are playing; maybe you can infer their goals? You can kind of see what other players are working towards. If you know what they want, you might be able to figure out what they don’t want. Goals that players don’t want might be easier for you to get without your opponents cutting in?
  • If you play your tiles right, you might be able to get two Goal Cards in one turn, which is pretty cool. The key is trying to get a Four Corners Fractal and then using the rotation to activate another Four Corners Fractal. It sometimes works, but it requires the other players to completely miss that. It could work, but it’s not easy.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • They really got the kaleidoscope vibe down. It’s the right color, for sure. The colors and shapes are varied as well, though I’d love if there were more! I think just having more kind of messes with the vibe of the game, overall.
  • I’m hoping that the game board is going to be the like, light purple that it is in the rulebook. It’s black in the preview copy, but a light purple board would be excellent. Just a real nice color vibe.
  • While I’ve never loved the game board that they use for this, I do have to hand it to them: it’s extremely easy to remove tiles without messing up their relative placement. You’re moving, removing, and swapping tiles a whole bunch
  • I appreciate Calliope’s commitment to box size. Almost all the boxes are basically the same size, which is nice! Everything fits on my shelf and in roughly the same place on my shelf. I would like to organize my games by publisher, but I more often than not organize by size, so I’m left in kind of the same spot. Publishers with consistent box sizes earn a bit of my love though.
  • Plays relatively quickly. Your turns are pretty short, since you’re just doing one thing. You may try to plan ahead, to some degree, but with a lot of players your best bet isn’t always to rely on the game being in the same state that it was when you left it.
  • Fairly non-blocking; I appreciate that you can’t complete a Goal if you don’t have the matching Goal Card. You have to actually put in work to block another player; you can’t just mess them up for the sake of doing it. This also means that you probably don’t want to fill the entire board, since then it will be tough to place tiles without necessarily completing a Fractal.
  • Since you can also swap out Goal Cards, it’s also pretty easy to get out of a rough patch. Easy in the sense that you’re losing a turn, but it’s better than being stuck with bad Goal Cards the entire game.
  • I do like the core concept of players using a shared board to get to personal goals. It’s a fairly simple concept, but I like it. I think I’d like the game more if there were a bit more complexity to it, but, this is a pretty nice and lightweight game for groups interested in less complex fare.

Mehs

  • I think I kind of wish the game were a bit more aggressively glittery? I’m supposedly looking at a kaleidoscope. It’s got the colors and the shapes and the tessellating patterns, for sure, but I feel like it’s supposed to be harder to look at or more glittery or something. I think that would take it from an impeccable vibe to an immaculate vibe, to some degree. Plus, it would be fun, provided they sealed it correctly so it’s not getting glitter all over my house.
  • The limit of one Special Action tile in your hand makes drawing gently clunky. The rulebook isn’t quite clear (as of writing) where you return the extra Special Action tile you draw. If you’re supposed to place it on top of the stack, that’s odd. If you place it on the bottom, that’s fine, I suppose. If you’re supposed to shuffle it back into the stack, that’s just a lot of extra work. I’d normally say remove it from the game, but it specifically says “return” a Special Action tile.
  • I do find the Fractal Sequence resolution clunky. To resolve a Fractal Sequence, the next two players to play must replace a tile in the sequence rather than playing their turn. So they’re not only falling behind, but they’re now also getting punished by partially losing their turn. Then, you add in the extra caveat of them having to discard a tile if it matches, which I don’t love. The thing that vexes me is if you then create another Fractal Sequence while replacing the first one, you create an event where the following player fixes the first sequence and then the next two players have to resolve the new sequence, which is just confusing.
  • It would be nice if they named the shapes in the rulebook. I’m just never sure what to call things! We definitely call one of them a rose because it pretty explicitly looks like a rose, but we’re at a loss on the others. It’s a process.

Cons

  • I said the same thing about Tsuro: Phoenix Rising, but every time you disassemble that tile holder it sounds like it’s physically breaking apart, which freaks out people who aren’t used to it. It’s mostly just something that deeply unnerves people (likely because they think they just broke your clearly-made-for-a-specific-purpose four-piece game board). I assume that’s just part of the design, but from my experience, players do not enjoy it. Also just mentioning this because it’s something to keep in mind when you’re having players set up and tear down the game. Maybe politely alert them that a plastic CRACK noise is going to happen when you pull the board pieces apart to give them some peace of mind.
  • I don’t think there’s quite enough entropy happening at two players; you can just find yourself frequently countering your opponent’s move, which isn’t really … fun. It felt a bit like a stalemate with no real way to make progress. I’d want something where a random element was added in every so often, but then you’re just seeing who most benefits from that random element. I believe the key is making enough spaces on the board that help you score a Goal Card that your opponent can’t block all of them, but even then, it takes some time to pull that off by yourself. I think that Four Corners works a bit better when you have more players all contributing to that entropy at the same time.

Overall: 6.25 / 10

Overall, I thought Four Corners was fine. I think, for me, it’s missing some of the charm and complexity that made games in the Tsuro series so dynamic and enjoyable, since it’s much more about creating sets than surviving paths and sea monsters and the occasional lantern-based shenanigans. I wouldn’t normally see much of a comparison between the two, but the tiles and the board draw my mind immediately to Tsuro: Phoenix Rising, so what can you do. On its own merits, though, Four Corners is enjoyable, albeit a bit lighter-weight than I was hoping for. I like the color scheme quite a bit (though, paradoxically, I kind of think a lot of glitter would go a long way towards making this exactly the 80s / 90s kitsch that I’d aspire for it to be). The core gameplay is simple enough: every turn, play a tile, mess with some tiles, or get new Goal Cards. That’s enough to keep you busy for a little while until you can successfully build a Four Corners Fractal or a Fractal Sequence. That part is fine, to me, though I think some of the resolution steps for a Fractal Sequence feel a bit clunky, since they dictate the action that subsequent players must take on their turns. I tend not to love things like that. That said, with more players, the high chaos of folks adding and shifting and removing tiles can make the game a bit more dynamic. There’s more things happening between turns, and I think that that makes the game a bit stronger as a result. Four Corners definitely feels like a game pitched towards the lighter complexity end of the spectrum, though, and I imagine that the Kaleidoscope theme is going to be one that grabs a lot of folks, especially if they just go full Lisa Frank with it (which I would strongly encourage). If you’re in that part of town, you like a bright and colorful game, or you want a tile-laying game that’s pretty easy to pick up, I’d recommend checking out Four Corners! It might be up your alley.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s