Losing at Board Games – Seasons Redux

Seasons Redux

Seasons is a game that in which you are a mage, dueling other mages as you battle through four seasons and three years (for a grand total of 12 Seasons). I wrote a review of this game for the Google + games community, but I’m revisiting that review.

Why?

I played Seasons a number of times prior to writing my review. I have played it several times since. Some of my early criticisms are stronger criticisms now, but some of my early thoughts about gameplay have changed significantly.

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Gameplay – Planning

The game starts by players drafting a hand of cards which they will use for the rest of the game. Each player has 9 cards, and takes 1, and then passes the rest on to another player. Then each player takes 1, and then passes the rest on to another player. In this manner each player starts the game with 9 cards, but most of the cards have been seen by other players at the table.

A planning stage happens next, each player has to divide their cards by year. There are three years in the game, and you get three cards per year. This leads to a decision of “what do I need right now” versus “what could I use later in the game”.

Once this planning stage is complete, the actual game-play begins.

It should be noted that though the above drafting and planning doesn’t take a lot of the game time they are key activities the entire rest of the game will unfold in large part based on the effectiveness of your early plan.

Gameplay – Battling

Each turn begins with a player rolling the dice that belong to the season of time that the mages are in. These dice will represent actions that can be taken on that turn. There is always one more dice than players at the table. The player is rolling for the entire table – dice are not re-rolled until the next turn (which may be in a different season).

Each player takes one of these dice, which represent their turn action. Then each player takes a turn, using the action on their dice and playing a card as they want to (each card has a cost associated with it, so a player will need to plan to gather the supplies necessary to pay for that card in order to put it into play).

Once each player has taken their turns, the die that has NOT been selected by any of the players will have an indication of how many spaces the wheel of time will move – in short, determining how quickly time moves and whether seasons will change.

There is a different set of dice for each season, and different options for resource collection based on that season. Players are trying to collect elements (there are four elements) in order to play cards in front of them. Each season makes one element more plentiful. This is the pull of the game – players need to maximize their turn in any given season, even if the season isn’t giving them the elements that they need.

After the passing of four seasons the year changes. Players get to add the cards to their hand that they set aside for that year. Then play continues much as before. Dice are rolled, actions are taken, cards are played.

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Points. Tell Me About the Points.

Players accumulate points by playing powerful cards (cards in front of them have victory points associated with them), and by moving their marker along the “crystal tracker” – which is essentially just a means of keeping score of overall points. At times players will sacrifice points on the tracker to play more powerful cards – since cards add points, and the tracker adds points, it is the combination of the two that will determine the winner.

This is combination of the scoring in a tableau-building game (like Race for the Galaxy or Fleet) with the scoring track found on many games (like Carcassonne or Ticket to Ride).

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Component Quality

My review of the components is strongly mixed.

On one hand, I love the dice. The colors are bright, they are well etched, and the symbols are clear and consistent. Many of the photos that accompany this review are of the dice, and they are the highlight of the game from a component perspective.

But then there are the cards. They are thin and inflexible. The artwork is busy. The theme of the game is fantasy-kitsch. Many of the cards have a strong fantasy theme, but others have more of a kitschy feel. If you are trying to paint a visual picture of the theme of the game, think of fantasy art with rabbits in the mix.

This vibrant artwork is on the card, along with the cost necessary to play the card, and text explaining the card’s abilities. I find this aesthetically to be too much information on any given card, and really wish that the art was simpler and more minimalistic.

The scoring track is crowded and oddly shaped. Initially this wasn’t important to us but after multiple plays this became a strong annoyance. Trackers are moved up and back on the score track at times multiple times in a turn, and this action takes a bit of time as players try to puzzle out where their markers are located.

The dice are best in class – they are chunky and weighty and well structured. It is a shame that the cards don’t have a similar overall quality to them.

Review of Gameplay

There were a few surprises for me in this game.

I anticipated that this would be a game where a lot of cards are drawn through the game, and this isn’t the case.

Your initial cards, and the way you portion them out by year ends up being a huge part of how the game plays out. Make no mistake about it, this is a programmable game. The dice add a bit of a surprise element, but only in how many elements are available and what actions are available at a given time. If there is a “bad” roll of the dice, it affects every at the table equally – so this isn’t a scenario where you should think dice = individual luck.

The initial planning ends up being extremely important. This is essentially a game about planning what you can do on any given year from before the gameplay actually starts, and in addition you will typically have an idea of what cards your opponents are choosing because you are drafting off the same initial draw.

Pros and Cons and Pros and Cons

Pros

  • This game is fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and mainly features rolling big colorful dice and playing cards with vibrant art.
  • This game is competitive.  Players learn how to counter other player’s cards, how to set up card combinations, and how to pace the cards.

Cons

  • The theme feels pasted-on. I expected that this game would be saturated with theme, and instead the theme feels like an afterthought. Technically this is a game about battling mages, but if I hadn’t read that in the rulebook I wouldn’t have known.
  • Artwork on cards is busy, and the cards feel thin.

Overall, I’m happy to have this game in my collection.  After a mixed initial experience, the gameplay became highly competitive and strategic.  This is not a game for everyone, and one I suggest trying before buying.

 

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