A Kind of Magic – Seasons review

Stuart Platt, the only games reviewer out there who’s as at home with a figure four leglock as he is with a d20, returns to pass judgement on the new hotness from Libellud and Asmodee, Seasons… is it up to his most exacting of standards?

Now, I like Seasons.  I have played it extensively at BoardGameArena.com  (an excellent portal for online boardgaming by the way) and was thrilled when my shiny new copy landed on the doorstep.  This intro sounds like a massive BUT is forthcoming (which it is); first though, let’s focus on the good stuff.

The game is glossy and shiny to the n’th degree.  The art and excellent iconography of the cards, dice and central play board capture a sense of light fun – wizards and spells, summoning familiars and artefacts.  It’s all thoroughly lovely! This would, of course, be for nought if the game mechanisms weren’t up to scratch.  Thankfully, there’s a load of interesting stuff going on.  Firstly, players draft a set of nine cards – a la 7 Wonders for instance, and then separate those into three sets of three.  These will be released to players’ hands as the game clock ticks through the seasons into years one, two and three.

Seriously, it’s a beautiful game to look at, as you’d expect from the folks who originally brought you Dixit.

The cards are the meat of the game – providing victory points (referred to as crystals throughout), special abilities and some ‘take that’ powers which hurt your opponents.  From the selections you draft, the aim is to create an array of cards that combo together and empower each other. How do we cast these spells and summon these familiars? Well, each turn players select a resource die from a pool rolled each turn. It would be remiss of me not to shower these beautiful creatures with special praise.   Large, chunky, satisfying beasts – despite the pretty colours, these are MEN’s dice! There is no squinting at miniscule icons like you have to with Quarriors.  Here, everyone at the table can easily read what each dice provides – be that resources (Wind, Water, Earth and Fire), Crystal VPs or a Summoning point that increases the number of cards you can have in play at any time.  Some dice even offer an ability to directly trade in resources for Crystals – very useful as there are strict limits on the number of resources you can store at any one time.

Each round, the seasons clock ticks onwards (with some resources scarcer and more valuable at various times) as players make the best of what is available – including the hands of cards they set up at the beginning of the game.  At the end of year 3, points are totalled – any cards NOT played are worth negative points – and the winner is the person with the most crystals.

Close up on one of the player boards. That is one terrifying looking rabbit.

Sounds great right? Well it is…BUT! [I was waiting for that – Michael] it all falls apart with more than 2 players – but why?

First of all, the game length extends greatly. Players have some control as to the pace of the game – an icon on the remaining die indicates how far the seasonal clock ticks round – but with three and certainly with four, this medium weight game goes that little bit too long.  I like the flow.  I like how the cards are released over the three years.  However, that final year REALLY drags with the full contingent of players sat around the table.

Secondly, there’s a lot of admin to deal with. “Each new season I get a resource… OK…  and I get a crystal… Ok… and so do I… but then I take 4 crystals off all of you.  Ok…  oh, but it’s also the end of the year, so I need 3 more resources… I’ll just work out what I need… [LOUD SNORING NOISE]…”  The cube shuffling and admin that the online implementation handles so well is such a ball-ache on the tabletop.  With two it’s tolerable.  With four it’s thoroughly unpleasant.

Finally, there’s the “take that” element.  The pendulum effect of cards that directly hurt your opponent and help you work well in a 2 player environment – like Magic the Gathering, it works very well as a duelling card game.  With four, not only is the admin a pain, but the swing it causes almost makes the rest of the game seem redundant.  Taking ‘4 crystals’ from every opponent every turn, for instance, just grinds things to a halt.

So, I am both very enthusiastic and bitterly disappointed by Seasons.  It does so many things well.  If I was the cynical sort, I’d suggest that this was designed as a two player game but converted to become more commercially attractive. So do yourself a favour – get yourself a copy and play it with two.  If you must play with more, do it online.  The bits are great though…

Seasons is available now and was designed by Regis Bonnessee, with art by Naiade. Published by Libellud and Asmodee, between two and four can play (though you’ve read Stuart’s views on games with more than two). If you’d like a copy, Gameslore have it in stock for £32.99 – a bargain!

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