I have always been a sucker for “tile-laying” games. Either ones that are thematic, such as Carcassonne, Keyflower, or The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, or ones that lean towards the abstract side, such as Palmyra, Limes, or Voluspa. I have passed this addiction on to my wife and daughter. If I ask them to play a game in this genre, then I mostly get in response “When can we play!” For some reason, these tile-laying games bring out the cutthroat in both of them, but especially my wife. Darn if I know why.
The same enthusiasm was displayed when I described the game Lanterns: The Harvest Festival to both of them. Tiles with colorful floating lanterns, set collection, simple rules… I had them hooked after I said “colorful floating lanterns”. But is it another “keeper” for the collection?
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a game for 2-4 players that takes about 30 minutes to play. Lanterns scales well for all player counts.
In Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, players act as artisans who have been commissioned to float lanterns like colorful ornaments in the palace lake to celebrate the latest harvest. The players garner honor from the palace court through making dedications. When all of the lanterns have been placed in the lake the game ends and the player with the most accumulated honor wins the game.
Of course, the heart of any tile-laying game is the tiles. The tiles in Lanterns are not only Carcassonne-quality, but the top-down perspective of the lanterns on each tile is quite mesmerizing. Each lantern-type is uniquely illustrated with its own color and shape, which allows the players to easily distinguish between types. The lanterns appear illuminated and the reflections of their colors are seen in the midnight-blue water on the tiles. The detail is very eye-catching.
The lantern cards are small, but being linen-finished, they handle quite well. The 3-D illustrations of the lanterns on the cards match the illuminated colors and shapes that appear on the tiles. The glow from the lanterns on the cards and the shadow of the palace in the background are art details that I really believe add to the enjoyment of playing this game.
Notwithstanding, the quality of the dedication and favor tokens, and the start-player marker match the tiles and the cards. The attention to detail carries over to the rulebook. The cover art duplicates the warm and inviting glow of the box cover art. Overall, it’s an easy read, well organized, has detailed examples, and was a joy to thumb through page-by-page.
How to Play:
Lanterns is played in turns. Beginning with the starting-player and continuing in a clockwise-rotation, each player’s turn consists of 3 actions done in this sequence:
1) Spend 2 Honor Tokens in order to swap a lantern card from the ones laid out in front of that player with another card from the supply. This is an optional action.
2) Make a Dedication by turning in a set of Lantern Cards to obtain a Dedication Token. Each Dedication Token gives an amount of Honor to the player as depicted on the token. This is an optional action.
3) Place a Lake Tile in order to gain Lantern Cards and Honor Tokens (called “Matching” and “Orientation” Bonuses). The Lake Tile must be placed adjacent to an already-laid Lake Tile. Draw another tile from the supply to replace the one that was just laid. This is a mandatory action.
A game starts with the starting tile placed in the middle of the playing area. The orientation of the tile determines which color of lantern card each player starts with. Each player draws 3 Lake Tiles into their hand.
When a newly-laid Lake Tile’s side matches the color of lanterns of an adjacent Lake Tile, the active player takes the corresponding colored Lantern Card from the supply (“Matching” Bonus #1). All Lantern Cards taken from the supply are placed immediately in front of the active player.
Some of the Lake Tiles have Platforms depicted on them. One can imagine that this is where members of the Palace Court sit and judge the beauty of the artisans’ work. Honor Tokens are gained by the active player when any of the matching Lake Tiles have Platforms on them (“Matching” Bonus #2). One Honor Token is taken from the supply for each Platform.
The “thinkiness” of the game play comes from the “Orientation Bonus” determined by how the Lake Tile is placed. After the “Matching” bonuses have been taken, the active player gains a Lantern Card matching the color of the lanterns located on the side of the newly-laid Lake Tile facing him. Each other player, in clockwise order, also gains a Lantern Card matching the color of the lanterns located on the side of the newly-laid Lake Tile that is facing them. Since there is a limited number of each colored Lantern Card in the supply (based on the player count), there may or may not be a matching Lantern Card available in the supply to satisfy the bonus.
Players have the option during their turn to Make a Dedication. There are 3 different types of Dedications that gain the players Dedication Tokens that are worth Honor when scored at the end of the game. Players can choose to turn in Lantern Cards with sets of Four-of-a-Kind, Three Pairs, and Seven Unique. At setup, the Dedication Tokens are stacked highest-to-lowest Honor for each dedication type, making it a race for the players to gain the most valuable tokens.
After all lake tiles have been placed the game ends. The player with the most Honor wins the game.
I was pleasantly surprised on how “thinky” this game is. Not enough to cause serious AP, but enough to cause you to pause and quickly ponder before you lay your tile in the Palace Lake to gain your bonuses and possibly trigger bonuses for your fellow players.
There are various game play decisions designed into Lanterns that drive the strategies that I enjoy exploring in the games that I play. Whenever you play a Lake Tile, there is a potential that you will possibly benefit other players more than yourself. Do I trigger the Orientation bonus that may allow another player to gain the Lantern Card they need to complete a set in order to Make A Dedication on their next turn and grab the more valuable Dedication Token before me? Or should I lay out the Lake Tile in way that triggers the bonuses in a particular sequence that depletes a color of Lantern Card that someone else may want? Or do I play a Lake Tile that lets me get Honor Tokens now so I can to spend them during a future turn in order to swap for a Lantern Card that hastens the completion of a set? Or do I make a less valuable Dedication during my current turn or wait and attempt to complete a more valuable Dedication during a later turn?
Of course, your opponents may short-circuit your best-laid plans (no pun intended) either intended or unintended, so if you don’t like having to quickly switch between strategies in order to course-correct, then I would not recommend this game to you. I, on the other hand, thrive in such games, reacting and counteracting.
Since the Lantern Cards are “open information”, everyone will know what sets you may be attempting to collect and complete. What counters that is having each player’s Lake Tiles being hidden. Nobody can ever be sure that the next Lake Tile played by the active player will be a boon or bust.
The setup of Lanterns designates the number of Lake Tiles, Lantern Cards, and Dedication Tokens that are in-play for each player count. I have found Lanterns scales to all intended player counts very effectively.
In my estimation Lanterns is a light-to-medium weight tile-laying and set collection game that is easy enough to introduce to family and possibly non-gamers, but has enough meat on its bones to break out with your gamer friends.
Lanterns is pleasant to look at and also to play. The game contains enough variability in what tiles are played and the decisions surrounding maximizing their benefits making its replay-ability level high and its enjoyment factor even higher.
In case you can’t tell, I think that Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a keeper!
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Lanterns: The Harvest Festive, you can float it your way for about $35
Final Score: 4 Stars – An easy-to-learn and “thinky”-to-play tile-laying and set collection game that offers various decisions for players to explore in order to maximize their chances at obtaining the most “honor” while minimizing their opponents chances.
• Some gameplay decisions can be cutthroat
• Best-laid plans can be easily derailed