Could It Be Magic – Seasons review (again!)

So, let’s talk about Seasons. Again.

The Judge has already had his say right here, but as this is a game that’s garnering a fair bit of buzz, I thought I’d put down my thoughts as well. Following its release a few weeks ago at GenCon, this new release from Libellud (the folks who brought us Dixit) is being more generally distributed by Asmodee, and copies are already in short supply. However, does it live up to the hype? You’ll see soon enough; first though, a quick run through on how it works…

It’s a relatively straightforward thing – one player rolls a bunch of dice and everyone at the table chooses one in turn, leaving one remaining. You follow the instructions on the dice you selected, taking elements (made up of earth, air, wind and fire), scoring points and possibly ‘transmuting’, which is pretty much selling your elements back for points. Should there be a star on the dice you choose, you also get to move a space up your summoning track, meaning you’re allowed to play cards from your hand.

The cards are where the meat of the game lies. Each player begins with nine but must split them into three sets of three. As the game continues through three years, each of which is divided into four seasons using differently balanced dice, you’ll get your hands on more and more cards. These can get you points, more elements to use, mess about with the rules in your favour and – of course – screw over your opponents. Once the third ‘year’ is completed, the points that you’ve scored throughout the game are added to those shown on all your cards in front of you, the whoever has the highest score is victorious. Just like you’d expect.

Getting near the end of this one… it’s going to be close.

Except the whole game feels like a lot more than just the sum of its parts. Seasons is an incredibly enjoyable game that, despite looking rather cutesy and light, is actually very deep and requires a surprising amount of brainpower. This isn’t one to break out with a bunch of newbies – experienced gamers shouldn’t have too much an issue but if you’re not used to This Kind Of Game it can melt the brain. As more and more cards come out in front of you, there’s a need to perform a fair bit of administration all the way through your turns – keeping track of the changing seasons, scoring bonuses, getting free elements… there’s a LOT to maintain.

The trick to victory is two fold – picking the right dice at the right time will help, of course, but learning the combinations of cards will be the true path to glory. It’s suggested that you use set lists of cards (as outlined in the instructions) for early games that really work well together, but once you’ve got to grips with how everything works, you can bring in more hardcore cards as well as drafting your selections at the start of play. It really adds an extra element of strategy to your game once you begin doing this – will you horde all the cards that will boost your points or summon as many as you can that will tie your opposition up in knots?

Production throughout is excellent. The art is fantastical and beautiful in equal measures, really capturing the dreamlike atmosphere that you’d associate from the company that is famed for the Spiel des Jahres winning Dixit. Thick punch tokens and playmats, sturdy cards and some of the most gloriously chunky dice I’ve seen in any game mean that Seasons will happily stand up to lots and lots of plays… the question is what will wear out first; your game or your friends?

You see, Seasons is definitely going to divide gamers. If you’ve read Stuart’s review, you’ll already know that he thinks it’s a great game – as long as you’re only playing with two. Personally I don’t mind all the extra admin required in a game involving three or four people, but I can see that the additional time involved would annoy a lot of people. The side of the box says you should be able to get a game done in 60 minutes, but after nearly twenty plays I’ve not come close to that – even with only a single opponent.

Learning to play Seasons takes only a short while – actually getting good at it requires a much longer time investment. If you’ve had any prior experience with something like Magic: The Gathering or the Pokemon CCG you’ll be at a slight advantage early on, sure – in fact, any game that encourages learning combos and prioritising the cards you’re working with will be useful. With the extra levels of gameplay involving the dice and dealing with managing your collection of element, you’ll have to pay more attention than if you were playing a more basic card game, but if you’re looking for an entertaining yet challenging way to spend your time, Seasons comes highly recommended. Just don’t expect it to be a speedy experience, especially if you’ve got more than two players – settle in for at least ninety minutes and just enjoy the thing.

Seasons is available now for around £40, though Gameslore currently stock it for £32.99. Designed by Regis Bonnessee with art from Naiade, it’s published by Asmodee and Libellud. Between two and four people can play, but remember, you’ll be there for at least an hour…!

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