A tile-placing game set in imperial China, ‘Lanterns: The Harvest Festival’ is family board game for players of all ages developed by Foxtrot Games. Two to four players must prepare the Emporer’s palace for the Harvest Festival by placing colourful lanterns across the lake. The artisan (player) who earns the most honour before the festival begins is the winner.
‘Lanterns’ is played with 35 lake tiles, 56 lantern cards, 20 wood favour tokens and 1 wood fishing boat. Players take turns laying lake tiles to create patterns with the coloured lanterns printed on the lake tiles, and receive lantern cards corresponding to the colour of the lanterns facing their direction on the lake tile. When the players have collected enough lantern cards, they can make a dedication, trading lantern cards for honour tokens. Dedications can be made as four of a kind, three pair, or one of each card.
One of the truly excellent mechanics of ‘Lanterns’ is that the amount of honour for each dedication becomes lower with each card; the first card on the pile is worth 9, the next 8, and so on. The available honour dwindles as the game proceeds, and the race is on!
The distribution of lanterns in this game is also ingenius. When a tile is placed, all players receive a lantern card corresponding to the colour facing them on the lake tile that’s placed. This risk vs reward structure introduces strategy and long-term planning into the game which must be weighed against the need for speed to earn the most possible honour. The combination of strategy, planning, speed, and cooperation is what won this game the Mensa Select status at the 2015 Mind Games.
The rulebook is easy to understand and laid out in a logical order, a small but important feature. From the first play through, the game is easy to understand and follow, and referring to the rulebook continuously isn’t necessary.
I cannot rave enough about the design elements of ‘Lanterns’. To put it simply, it’s stunning. The lake tiles abound with colour and delicate shapes, balancing the colours in a beautiful harmony. Each lantern colour on the lake tiles also has its own distinctive shape, appearing to be glowing flowers floating on a serene lake.
The lantern cards come in seven colours, each with their own shape. Lanterns come in blue, purple, blue, red, orange, green, black, and white, and each of them in a shade I can only describe as deeply calming. Holding the latern cards in your hand, with a soft glow emanating from the delicate paper lantern, is almost a zen experience.
‘Lanterns’ is so fun and simple – its simplicity makes it easy to play and enjoy from the first time, but the complex strategies involved in laying the tiles are what lets you play this game again and again without it gettin stale. Every time you play, watch a new scene on the water unfold before you. Moreover though, ‘Lanterns’ is just gorgeous. Even though I lost (to my on-going rival), the simple beauty and lovely materiality of the game kept the smile on my face. You’ll want to play this game over and over, just for the prettiness.
‘Lanterns’ is available in Australia through Good Games, and it’s well worth the $56 RRP. Get your friends and family together to compete for the favour of the Emporer!