Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a two- to four-player board game by designer Christopher Chung with artwork by Beth Sobel. It works for ages 8 and up and plays in about a half-hour.
Published by Foxtrot Games and Renegade Game Studios, it has a suggested price of $35 and can be found online for about $10 less.
The game was one of five chosen for Mensa Select status at the 2015 Mensa Mind Games.
How it works:
Lanterns is a tile-laying game, which in this case means the board begins with one square tile. Each turn, players will lay a tile adjacent to one on the table, building the board as the game progresses.
Each tile has four sets of floating lanterns, which come in seven different colors also distinguished by shape so colorblind people can play, too.
The starting tile is placed so one side is facing each player. Each player will get a card with the color of the lanterns facing him or her.
Each player is dealt three lake tiles, and a draw deck is formed with the rest.
When a player places a new tile, each player gets a card with the color facing him or her. The player who placed the tile can get an extra card by matching colors with a tile or tiles already on the table.
Matching a tile that has a platform in the center earns the player favor tokens, as well, two of which can be used to trade a card for one of a different color.
Players also make dedications of card combinations — four of a kind; three pairs, or one of each of the seven colors. This is how they earn points. The first person to make a dedication gets more points than a player who makes a dedication later.
When all of the lake tiles in the draw pile have been played, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
Why you might buy Lanterns: The Harvest Festival:
Sobel did an amazing job on the artwork in this game. In addition to different-shaped lanterns, the lanterns form different patterns on the tiles, and the contrast with the dark blue lake is lovely.
That will make the game easy to get people playing.
And the game is quite simple to learn.
Lanterns is tactical. You’ll be reacting to other players, both when they block you from getting what you need and when they inadvertently play a tile that benefits you in an unexpected way. This makes for surprises throughout the game.
It plays quickly and works for a variety of ages, which makes it a good choice for families, provided you have four or fewer people who want to play.
The race for points works. But more on that later.
Why you might not buy Lanterns: The Harvest Festival:
If you like games where you can plan a strategy several turns ahead, Lanterns will frustrate you. It keeps changing.
It works well three people and is at its best with two. It’s good with four, but defensive moves will be more difficult to use, since every other player gets a card each turn. In a two-player game, it’s easy to keep track of what your opponent has and orient a tile so that you won’t be helping her out. With four, you’re more likely just racing for points.
There’s been some criticism that the first player has a huge advantage in Lanterns. I played this game several times with different numbers of players. At first, I found it to be the case that the person who grabbed points first would always win. But as everyone learned to play more defensively, that changed. That means to play the game to its full potential, it may require a few plays — and players that can adapt to whatever is handed to them on a given turn.
I was drawn to Lanterns by its attractive package and beautiful tiles.
But I’ve kept playing because it’s a good game. I love laying tiles, and I like that Lanterns does something a little different, including set collection.
That makes it familiar to almost anyone who’s played card games.
But it’s also a race disguised in a zen-like package.
Lanterns is really intriguing and fun.
But beware. There are two ways to play. One is to lazily put your tiles down, making a pretty pattern on the board and trying to get points where you can. The other is to study exactly what your opponents need and deny them every chance you get.
Either way, it’s good fun.
Full disclosure: I got a review copy of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival from Foxtrot Games. I wasn’t required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.