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Lanterns: The Harvest Festival

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Renegade Game Studios/Foxtrot Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes; $34.99)

lanternsboxJust when you think you’ve seen all the possible permutations of tile laying games, you discover something new. In Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, designed by Christopher Chung, tile laying is deftly combined with card play in a game where the setting is China and players are artisans seeking to place colorful tiles on the lake of the palace and, in so doing, gain the most honor.

The game uses multi-colored tiles and cards in seven different colors. The starting lake tile is placed in the center of the play area. The start tile is in four colors and the Lantern card each player begins with is the color on the tile facing each player. A draw stack of lake tiles is created (16 to 20 depending on the number of players) and the Lantern cards are separated by color into 7 stacks (5 to 8 cards in each stack depending on the number of players). Dedication tiles (the keys to scoring) are set aside in piles. The player with the red Lantern card goes first.

On a turn, a player has three possible actions. He may exchange a Lantern card, may make a dedication (these two are optional) but MUST place a lake tile.

Lake tiles are placed so that at least one side is adjacent to an already played tile. Colors do not have to match but if the color on any side of the newly played tile matches the color on an adjacent side of another tile, the active player receives a bonus Lantern card of that color. If any of the matching tiles (including the one just placed) has a platform on them, that player also receives a Favor token. Turning in two Favor tokens allows the exchange of one color of Lantern card for another. This can be very useful in acquiring sets of cards for collecting sets of Lantern cards allow you to make dedications.

A dedication means, simply, handing in a set of Lantern cards for “Honor” (Victory Points). Sets can be three pairs of two colors or four cards of the same color or a run of 1 card in all 7 colors. For this, a player can claim the most valuable Honor tile in that particular category still available. (Honor values run from a high of 10 down to 4.)

Finally, all players, staring with the active player and continuing clockwise, receives ONE Lantern Card matching the color of the lantern FACING the player. Then, the player finishes his turn by drawing a lake tile so he has three to play next turn.

lanterns1After the final lake tile has been placed, all players gets one more turn, a last chance to grab another Dedication token. Once done, Dedication tokens are totaled. The player with the most Honor wins!

While the genre of tile-laying games is certainly nothing new, this blend of tile placement (with the possible bonus of those Favor tiles) with a race to collect sets of cards (and claim those Dedication tiles) adds a little something extra. A clever design touch is the effect tile positioning has on card draws. Not only do you determine which cards you will receive due to your tile placement, you also determine the cards your OPPONENT receives thanks to your play, an unusual twist. This can mean major changes to your tile placement strategy as you have to be aware of your opposition’s holdings. Of course, tile drawing (as in card drawing) equals a significant luck factor. But this luck element is mitigated to a degree by having a hand of three tiles each turn and by being able to use Favor tokens to facilitate pivotal exchanges. While the game seems to flow quietly along, the competition to grab high scoring Dedication tiles adds a sense of urgency to play. As the game develops, the burgeoning burst of colors is very appealing to the eye with tile graphics matching the graphics on the cards. While the card icons are easy to see, the tile icons, unfortunately, are much smaller and their differences very subtle. Game play would have been better served with less subtlety here.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is combines familiar aspects of tile laying and card set collection but adds a bit of placement calculation to separate this game from the pack. It is colorful, easy to learn and lasts just long enough to satisfy without wearing out its welcome. In short, an elegant design and just the kind of game to entice non-gamers to the table.


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