Time for a review of a game I have been enjoying since I almost got it at GenCon:
Seasons is a 2-4 player game from designer Régis Bonnessée that was published by Libellud (Asmodee in the US). The game was published in 2012, and copies were allegedly available at the GenCon. However, as has been documented on this blog, when I got to the booth, they were gone, so I had to wait a few weeks for the game to be widely available. I did get a copy, and have played it several times since. So, here’s the review.
Seasons is a game about a three-year wizard competition where players are attempting to produce the most crystals. You’ll be summoning magic items and familiars to aid you in this task. At the start of the game, each player gets nine cards, and then you have a draft – choose one, pass the rest, choose one, pass the rest, etc. Once you have your nine, you select three to be available in year one, three to become available in year two, and three to become available in year three. Then the game begins. One player rolls a number of dice for the current season equal to the number of players plus one, and then each player chooses one. Then players takes a turns, resolving the symbols on the dice they chose and summoning cards from their hand. The last unchosen die tells you how far to move the season marker, and the next player then rolls the dice (which will be different if the season has changed). When year two begins, players draw their year two cards, and in year three, players draw their year three cards. When the third year is over, players total their crystals (those scored in-game plus cards that have been summoned minus five for cards in their hand minus points for using bonus actions in game), and the winner is the one with the most.
COMPONENTS: The most striking thing about this game, and indeed the reason I was attracted to it to begin with, is the art. This game is beautiful. From the cover art to the cards to the board, this game is wonderful to look at. The graphic design is very well done as well – the symbols are all very clear, and everything is laid out nicely on the board. The scoreboard is probably the worst designed thing in the game. It’s a track from 0-99, with spaces for you to mark if you’ve crossed 100 or 200 points. That’s all well and good, but the track is laid out in a very confusing manner. You start at the bottom and move across, and when you reach the end, you move up a row. That in itself is not confusing. However, most rows have exactly 10 spaces, while a few have 5, 7, or 9. It makes it a little more confusing when scoring simply because everything is not uniform. It might have been better to simply have a continuous path, highlight the 5s and 10s, or (as some people have done to pimp out the game) using actual physical bits to represent the crystals in different denominations.
Overall, the component quality in the game is outstanding. The cards are great, the dice are nice and chunky, the board is good, and the cardboard pieces are sufficient for what you need. I question the color choice for the seasons a bit – blue is winter, green is spring, yellow is summer, and red is autumn. We always want red to be summer. I think they chose yellow because it’s the color of the sun, but red seems hotter. Oh wel, it’s a minor thing. I like the components in the game.
THEME: The theme of a wizard competition is a little odd, and doesn’t seem to matter that much. Really, you’re focused on the goal of producing crystals, and you can ignore the theme completely. However, the theme is there in the well illustrated cards. In your hand, you get magic items and familiars, but they don’t really have a bearing on how you play. Overall, I would say this is not a thematic game, but you can get immersed in it if you try.
MECHANICS: The mechanics of Seasons are what drew me to it after seeing the art. It’s like a step up in drafting from something like 7 Wonders, with dice being drafted rather than cards (though you do get a card draft at the very beginning of the game). One player rolls the dice, then each player chooses the one they want to use for the round. It’s a very simple concept, and the variety of the dice means that there’s almost always going to be something different rolled on each face. There have been times where I have been faced with a choice between two dice that have the exact same symbols. In this case, your choice usually comes down to deciding how far you want the season marker to move. This is another element of the game I really appreciate. The season marker moves a number of spaces equal to the number of pips on the final (untaken) die, meaning that the last player to choose is in control of the timing of the game. Which is sometimes nice when everyone else has taken what you want.
The game begins with a card draft where you’re choosing your nine cards for the game. But then there’s a further personal draft where you determine which year each of those cards will enter your hand. This adds some intriguing strategic possibilities before the game even begins. Generally, you want to have cards that will create powerful combos, and you want to put the cards that will help you more in the long-term early and cards that are mostly just final crystals later.
During play, I like the way the game balances the different things you need to do. You need to summon cards to produce crystals, but you can only summon if your summoning gauge is high enough. Summoned cards provide instant, ongoing, and activation effects, and you need to keep track of what you have in play to gain the maximum benefit. There are bonus actions that provide you a small benefit, but you have to weigh their cost versus their potential gain – each bonus action costs you points in the end. The ability to transmute energy into crystals is also very helpful in clearing out excess to make way for future energy since you have a limit of seven energy at a time.
Seasons features some very creative ideas in what is not a difficult game to understand. It feels like something familiar and something new at the same time. I love the way it plays.
STRATEGY LEVEL: There is no doubt that there’s a lot of luck in this game. If you don’t get the right cards in the draft, and don’t roll well, it’s going to be tough. But there’s so much to do, you should be able to still score a lot. I’ve played twice now where players had virtually no points on the board in the third year, and they both came back to win/come in second by two points (they both beat me). I’m tempted to say the game is all luck because I’ve never won – in fact, I have come in last every time I have played except one (and in that case, last place went to a mother of a three-year-old and a six-month-old who both were distracting her from the game). However, I know better – if it was luck, then surely by now I would have at least come closer to winning. One thing that speaks to the balance of the game strategies is that in one game, I score 155 points and was feeling very good about my chances. However, another player had scored 157. And my wife, the third player had scored 159. ARRGH!
There are many paths to victory in this game, and part of the fun is finding them. So I’d say it’s high on strategy and luck, and a good balance of both.
ACCESSIBILITY: The rules of this game are fairly simple to understand. The biggest complexity is how to use the cards, and the game comes with three levels of play. At the most basic level, there is no card draft before the game – instead, four starting nine card hands are laid out in the rules. These hands are fairly well balanced and provide a good introduction to game play for new players. I would use this version if playing with non-gamers or casual gamers. The intermediate level has a card draft, but only uses thirty of the cards (two copies of each one). These cards are not quite as confrontational as the remaining twenty, and are better for gamers just learning the game. The advanced version, as I mentioned, uses all cards including some with some pretty mean abilities. This is probably best for gamers that already know the game. So, the game is set up for a wide range of skill levels.
REPLAYABILITY: There are fifty different cards in the box, and the replayability comes from finding all the different card combos that you can do. By introducing a draft, the game becomes more replayable as you have to make tough decisions between cards. And with an expansion coming, there will be much more to explore. But, even with just the base game, there’s plenty there for many games.
SCALABILITY: Most people say that this game plays best with two players, but I tend to think that the draft suffers with that many. Four can take a little long, especially if you have people subject to AP. I like three the best myself, but I think it plays well with two and four. However, different people have different tastes, and there’s no doubt that the game does take longer the more players you have.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. Seasons is my favorite game that I played in 2012, and I’m very glad to have gotten a copy. It is unique, it is simple to learn, there are tons of strategies to explore, and it is wonderfully gorgeous. I look forward to continuing to play it, and definitely am looking forward to the recently announced expansion, Enchanted Kingdom. Thanks for reading!