It’s not rare for me to like a game. I like lots of games, tons of games. I have so many games I like I rarely get to play as many as I’d like in a given month, week or game night. So imagine my dismay at finding yet another game to like. It’s a good, no… it’s a great problem to have. Lanterns looked good to me before I ever got the preview copy, that’s why I was a backer from day 1. The rules are tight, the game looked fun and I really loved the theme. So rather than bury the lead any more, here’s the quick scoop. This game is really good for a 20-30 minute game. Good enough that I have no problem recommending it. In fact, I’m going to make a comparison in a further down that may surprise you. Enough! On to the review.
Lanterns is a tile laying, color matching, set collection game for 2-4 players, which takes about 20-30 minutes to play. I don’t know what the ages are officially but I can say without hesitation that my 8 year old wiped me off the table. Twice. And the second time I was really trying to win! It comes with 35 lake tiles, 56 small-sized lantern cards, 30 dedication tokens and 24 favor tokens. It’s on Kickstarter right now, and has 14 days left, with two stretch goals already met.
By way of disclaimer, I was sent a prototype to review, and all components are not finished game quality.
This game really has only three things in it you’re trying to do, but it lends itself to a decent amount of strategy for a 30 minute game. First, each player has three lake tiles – representing the lanterns of different colors floating on the water. The last action you’ll take on your turn is to place one tile, resolve the effects and then draw another tile. This continues until all tiles are drawn and placed, which causes the game to end.
As players place tiles, they collect sets of lantern cards matching the colors on these tiles. They can then dedicate sets of lanterns and exchange them for dedication tokens – points. Here’s how this works during your turn.
First, players can choose to use favor tokens they acquired in previous turns. Players get these by interacting with lake tiles that have platforms on them (the center tile in the image above). Two favor tokens can be used to exchange one lantern card for another. Why would you do this? Because you’re striving to collect sets of lantern cards.
If you have four of a kind of any of the seven different colored lantern cards, you can ‘dedicate’ them and collect the top red dedication token. If you have three pairs you can collect the top blue dedication token. If you have one of each of the seven colors, you get the top green dedication tokens. These tokens each start with 8, 9 and 10 respectively and the numbers go down as players obtain them. This is what you use to get your end-game points.
Lastly on your turn, you must place one of your lake tiles. It has to be adjacent to another lake tile (one starts the game off) and this allows you to collect a lantern card based on the color facing you. That’s kind of cool. Each other player also collects a lantern card based on the color facing them – that means that every turn, each player gets to do something, which is always a good thing in my book. If you happen to match any two colors (white with white say) even if that color is not on your side of the tile, you also get a lantern card of that color. That is where the bulk of the strategy comes into play. You want to help yourself as much as possible but also face the fact that every tile you play also helps your opponents in some way. If you place a tile with a platform, or place a tile adjacent to another tile with a platform, you get to collect a favor token.
Here’s that comparison I promised. While the mechanics are a bit different and feature a directional component, this game very much reminds me of Splendor in complexity, strategy and that general feeling. I know, right?
I’ve played both games an equal amount of time and I’ve gained equal enjoyment from them both. Lanterns makes a nice pattern during game play which makes it visually appealing. It does have the tile laying aspect which appeals to a certain set of gamers just because it is what it is. Strategically your using pattern matching to plan ahead and acquire the sets of lantern cards you need to collect to turn in for points. Sounds fairly simple, but ends up with a bit of complexity as the game goes on. I found myself holding my tiles up in front of me and turning them about, looking for the perfect match to help me the most and benefit my daughter the least. I failed in that, but had a great time doing it. This might lead to a bit of analysis paralysis in those who are prone to such things, but nothing like a lightweight euro would.
I like this game, as I said at the beginning of this review. I like it enough that I’m actively planning on playing it more. It’s a great filler style game, which would be perfect for my occasional lunch time work group. also great for a game or two before my kids have to go to bed. At $24 shipped to the US, China and Hong Kong, $33 shipped to Canada the pricing is not outrageous. For US and China/Hong Kong backers it’s downright affordable. The expected MSRP is $30. It is a Kickstarter campaign so backers will have to wait until June of next year (barring delays) to receive it. Foxtrot Games did deliver one successful Kickstarted game last year, less than a month off from their initial date. You can find the rules online as well (PDF).
I very much enjoyed this game and my daughter’s already reserved a play of it during our upcoming Extra Life event – it’s one that I enjoyed so much so that I’ll let my status as a backer speak for itself. I’m getting this one!