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SEASONS

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

(Asmodee, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 60 minutes; $49.99)

 

It is unusual nowadays to read game rules and say “Wow! This is really new! I have to check to see if it really works!” But this happened to me reading the rules to Seasons. The designer, Régis Bonessée, is already known for at least two games: Himalaya, back in 2004 (which started as a print & play game called Merchants of Empire [or Marchands d’empire in the original French] and featured in the Fall 2003 issue of Gamers Alliance Report), and Fabula, 2010. These two games and Seasons have only one thing in common: very innovative game design.

Two to four players fight to be the best wizard. They will battle and conjure for three years, each year consisting of four seasons. You get as many points as the crystals you own (which are tracked on a scoring board) and points for power cards you have played into your array. Finally you lose points for power cards still in your hands and if you have used any of the four bonus “powers” available. (These seasonsboxspecial powers may be used no more than three times during the game. The four bonus powers allow you, without going into the details, to change energy types, transmute energies better, increase your invocation level by one or draw more cards. But using these powers comes with a cost. The first time you use one, you will lose 5 points, the second time 7 more, the third time an additional 8 [so it will be a -5, -12, and -20 in total in the final scoring.) The winner will be the player who has amassed the most points by the end of the third year.

In preparing for this magical contest, players have to select (by drafting) nine power cards that will drive their strategy in the second part of the game. The second part (actually where most of playing time is spent) is a succession of rounds made of rolling season specific dice, choosing a die and then, in turn order, taking actions. But before going into details concerning the draft, let me quickly explain how the main part of the game works.

The first player rolls dice according to the current season and the number of players (one die more than the players in the game). Then, in turn order, each player selects one die and then, again in turn order, acts according to the one or more icons on the selected die. Dice can give you energy and crystals, let you increase your “invocation” power (the ability to play more cards to your array), draw new cards and “transmute” (change energy into crystals). Energy appears as four different types (air, water, fire and earth) that are more or less common according to the different seasons. Energy is mainly used to play power cards but it can also be converted into crystals (victory points) using the transmutation action.

Every turn, there will be a die left over that will determine how many steps (from 1 to 3) the time clock will move along its circular track. Every season has 3 spaces so a year will have 12 and the game will end when the clock has moved 36 spaces or more. This usually means something near to 15-18 rounds.

As the seasons change, the color of the dice to be rolled changes too. Not only does this change the appearance frequency of the different kinds of energy), this also changes the values of the different energies in the transmutation process. There is always a three crystal energy (the one less common inthe season), a two crystal energy and 2 one crystal energies. What, when and IF to transmute energy is one of the most important decisions a player must make since energy, once transmuted is no longer useable and you need energy to bring more cards into play.seasonspcs

Until now, it looks like Seasons is a not so uncommon resource management game. The real difference is in the role of the power cards.

As mentioned, in the beginning of the game, every player draws nine power cards. After selecting one, everyone passes the remaining cards left. This draft process will go on until all players have selected nine cards. There are 100 cards in Seasons, two each of the 50 different types found in the game. Cards are of three different kinds: permanent effects (like “Beggar’s Horn” that gives you 1 energy token of your choice at the end of each round where you have 1 or less energy), activation effects (like “Kairn the Destroyer” who makes all other players LOSE 4 crystals whenever the controlling player discards any energy token) and instantaneous effects (such as “Syllas the Faithful” who forces all other players to sacrifice a power card they have in their arrays as soon as that card is played).

The nine cards drafted have to be divided into three piles of three cards each. The first pile will come into play just in the beginning of the game, the second one in the beginning of the second year and the third one in the beginning of the third and final year.

Which cards to play and when to play them is the main strategic part of the game. You can’t win without playing your cards well if your opponents are doing their jobs. To play cards, you need both energy and enough invocation power. You can just decide to build your deck around 2-3 really strong cards or prefer to have a deck with easy to play cards. Cards still in your hands in the end of the game are worth minus 5 points. That is not a lot but sometimes can make the difference between winning or losing.

Every round we roll dice, all players select one and, in turn order, take action and then pass the remaining dice. Inside this structure, you have to increase your invocation power and get energy to be able to play cards and transmute. You know in advance the cards you’ll have in your hands, which and when, and you have to program them to play them efficiently. You also know most of the cards other players can have (in a 4 player game you know 30 of 36 cards). There are beginner rules (that I suggest for the first play) that skip the draft phase giving each player a fixed assortment of cards. Normal play will use cards numbered from 1 to 30 and expert players can also introduce cards from 31 to 50 that are more complex to manage.

So what is Seasons? Apart from the nice theme (wizards fighting in the legendary 12 seasons tournament), what really makes Seasons unique is the core mechanic: combining a draft prelude with a dice driven resource management game. The game is a hybrid, a combination of resource management, drafting and planning. You have to select the right cards, think in advance how they can best be combined and then play them to their maximum effect. There is not too much interaction between players although, of course, you all compete for the same resource dice and some cards do offer you the possibility to harm opponents. I really enjoyed Seasons and find it to be one of the most clever designs in the pile of good 2012 releases. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue


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