Originally created back in 2015, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a game that I have been looking forward to playing for quite some time. The game appeared on Tabletop back in 2016 and won the Mensa Select award in 2015. The reason I wanted to try out Lanterns: The Harvest Festival was because it was an interesting combination of different board game genres that you don’t see combined together often. Two of my favorite video game genres are set collecting and tile laying. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival actually tries to combine these two genres together. You play tiles in order to acquire cards for the set collecting mechanics. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a fun game for the whole family that finds the right balance between accessibility and strategy that unfortunately relies a little too much on luck.
How to Play Laterns: The Harvest Festival
- Place the starting lake tile in the middle of the table face down. Then flip over the tile and orient it so one side of the tile faces each player.
- Separate the lantern cards by color and place them into stacks on the side of the table (supply piles). The number of cards that should be placed in each stack depends on the number of players:
- 4 players: 8 cards per pile
- 3 players: 7 cards per pile
- 2 players: 5 cards per pile
- Create a face down stack of lake tiles. The number of tiles in the stack depends on the number of players:
- 4 players: 32 tiles
- 3 players: 27 tiles
- 2 players: 22 tiles
- Deal three lake tiles to each player face down. Players can look at their own tiles but shouldn’t show them to the other players.
- Set aside the three generic dedication tokens.
- Separate the other dedication tokens into three stacks based on the symbols on the bottom of the tokens. Sort the tokens in each stack and place them in descending order (highest number on top). The number of tokens that you will place in each stack depends on the number of players:
- 4 players: use all of the tokens
- 3 players: don’t use the tokens with four dots along the right side
- 2 players: don’t use the tokens with three or four dots along the right side.
- Give each player a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile pointing to the player. All lantern cards are kept so the other players can see them.
- The player who was given the red lantern card will be the first player and will receive the starting player marker.
Playing the Game
On a player’s turn they will be able to take up to three actions. The actions must be done in the following order:
- Exchange a Lantern Card (optional)
- Make a Dedication (optional)
- Place a Lake Tile (mandatory)
After a player has taken these three actions, play will pass to the next player clockwise.
Exchanging Lantern Cards
On a player’s turn they have the option to use two of their favor tokens in order to exchange one of their lantern cards for a card of another color from the supply piles.
Making A Dedication
If the player has the appropriate cards they can choose to make one dedication on their turn. In the game there are three different dedications that a player can make:
- Four of a Kind: Play four cards of the same color.
- Three Pair: Play two cards of three different colors (total of six cards).
- Seven Unique: Play one card of all seven cards.
After a player has played the appropriate cards to their corresponding supply piles, the player will take the top dedication token from the corresponding pile. They will place the token in front of them which will score them points at the end of the game.
If a stack of dedication tokens ever run out and another player completes the dedication, they will take one of the generic dedication tokens which are worth four points.
If a player ever has twelve or more lantern cards they must either make a dedication or discard cards until they have less than twelve cards.
Placing A Lake Tile
The final action that a player performs on their turn is mandatory. They will choose one of the lake tiles from their hand and add it to the table. When placing a tile it needs to be placed next to a previously placed tile so at least one side of the new tile touches another tile. Players will then receive bonuses based on the placement of the tile as follows.
First if the color of any of the sides of the tile that was just placed matches the color of an adjacent tile, the player who played the tile will receive a lantern card of the matching color. If the tile that was played matches multiple sides the player will receive several cards.
Next if any of the tiles that matched a color have a platform on them (including the tile that was just placed), the player will receive one favor token. If the player matches several platform tiles, the player will receive one favor token for each tile that was color matched that had a platform on them.
Finally all of the players will receive a lantern card corresponding to the color on the side of the tile that was just played that is pointing towards them. If the supply pile of a color has no cards, a player that otherwise would receive a card does not receive a card.
If there are still lake tiles in the stack the player who just played a lake tile will draw another tile.
End of Game
The game will continue until all of the lake tiles have been drawn and played. Each player will then have one more turn to take the optional actions if they want.
Players will then add up the points they earned from the dedication tokens. The player who earns the most honor points wins the game. When there is a tie the player with the most favor tokens will win the game. If there is a still a tie the player with the most lantern cards will win. If the tie still hasn’t been broken, the tied players will share the victory.
My Thoughts on Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
I was actually really curious about how Lanterns: The Harvest Festival would play. While the game is highly rated and has won awards, I was curious how a tile laying game would work with a set collecting game as you don’t see a lot of board games that combine these two genres as they don’t share a lot in common. Despite the two genres not sharing a lot in common I will say that they actually work surprisingly well together. Basically the game uses the tile laying mechanic to set up the set collecting mechanics. The players end up playing tiles to the gameboard which are used to determine which cards each player will collect. The cards that are acquired by the placement of tiles are then used to create different sets which can be turned in to score points.
While Lanterns: The Harvest Festival has a few issues that I will address later, I actually really enjoyed the game. I think this mostly comes from the fact that the designer found the right balance between strategy and accessibility.
On the accessibility front Lanterns: The Harvest Festival does a good job making the game something that anyone can enjoy. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is the type of game that you can teach to new players within minutes. On your turn you can only take up to three actions. All three of these actions are pretty straightforward. It may take a little while for players to figure out the strategy behind the game so they know what they should be trying to do on any given turn. Players should have no trouble with the actual actions though. The game has a recommended age of 8+ but I think kids a little younger could probably play the game even if they don’t fully understand the strategy. The simplicity also means Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a game that people that don’t normally play board games should be able to enjoy. For this reason I think Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is something the whole family can enjoy.
With Lanterns: The Harvest Festival being pretty easy to play, it also means that it plays pretty quickly. The game has the potential for some analysis paralysis (see below) but I would say most games should play pretty quickly. I would guess most games should finish in around 30 minutes. For the type of game that Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is, the shorter length works quite well. The game is short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but is also long enough where it feels like you can actually implement a strategy.
Speaking of strategy there is a decent amount of strategy behind Lanterns: The Harvest Festival where it should keep everyone entertained. For how simple Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is to play, it is nice that the game still has enough to it where you can actually impact your fate in the game. While there is some luck to the game, your choices in the game will have an impact on how well you do. The strategy in Lanterns: The Harvest Festival comes from a couple areas.
The decision that has the most impact on the game is where you decide to play your tiles. This decision has the potential to have a major impact on the game. When playing your tile there are a couple things that you have to keep in mind. Whenever you play a tile you can potentially receive a couple things. First you will receive the color of the side of the tile that you played that faces you. Therefore you need to place the tile in a way where it will give you a color that you need. This applies to the other players as well though so you need to be careful so you don’t end up giving other players the colors that they need. Generally you are better off playing offensively, but you don’t want to give an opponent the one color they need to claim a dedication token.
Other than choosing how to orient the tile that you want to play, you need to try to match at least one of the colors from your tile with one of the tiles that have already been played. You don’t have to match a color, but it is usually beneficial if you can. Matching colors is important because it ultimately gives you more cards than the other players. When matching colors you want to try to match a color that you need as well so it can help get you closer to claiming a dedication token. All things considered you probably also want to try to match a tile that features a platform as that allows you to take a favor token which will allow you to trade a lantern card. The holy grail of playing tiles though is being able to play a tile where you can match two or more sides as that will allow you to take even more lantern cards. When you factor all of these things together there are quite a few things to think about before you place a tile.
In addition to playing tiles there is some strategy in choosing which dedication tokens you are going to pursue. Your strategy in this area in any particular game may depend on which cards you end up receiving. There is an interesting decision to make though. The decision comes from the fact that some dedication tokens are more valuable than others. These more valuable tokens require you to use more cards though. Therefore you have to decide between going after more high value tokens that require you to use more cards or less valuable tokens that require less cards so you can collect more of them.
Between all of these choices, games of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival tend to be pretty close most of the time. First and last place can be separated by just a couple points. This means that each turn matters in determining who will win the game. One mistake or great play can totally change your fate in the game. I like when board games keep things tight as players then feel like they are still in the running until the very end. This is especially good as there is no player elimination in Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. Otherwise players that know they aren’t going to win can take actions and become the kingmaker ultimately deciding who is going to win the game.
As Lanterns: The Harvest Festival does such a good job balancing between being accessible and still having enough strategy, I enjoyed my time with it. My opinion is that a board game should never be made more difficult than it needs to be. This is a good description of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. It feels like none of the mechanics in the game are wasted as they all have an impact on how the game is going to end. The gameplay is quite satisfying and fun to play. If you hate tile laying games or set collecting games you may not like Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. If you like the two genres though I don’t know why you wouldn’t enjoy your time with Lanterns: The Harvest Festival.
The component quality in Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is pretty good for the most part. The tiles and cards are made of a pretty typical cardstock. The game’s artwork looks pretty good. The gameboard you eventually create looks pretty nice with all of the lanterns arranged in the water. I also like that the favor tokens are made from wood. Basically the components serve their purpose as well as bring a little flavor to the game.
While I enjoyed Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, it does have a few issues that keep it from being as good as it could have been. I think the biggest issue I had with Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is that it relies on quite a bit more luck than you would expect. Generally this wouldn’t be too bad as Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is meant to be a more laid back experience where winning isn’t the only thing that matters. There is a little too much luck in the game though where it doesn’t always feel like you have control over your fate. The game’s luck comes from a couple different areas.
First turn order seems to play a somewhat significant role in the game. For the most part players are going to get around the same number of lantern cards. Therefore players should never be too far ahead of the other players. This means that the player who plays earlier in turn order is going to have an advantage in the game. This is because the dedication tokens are of different values. As players will be able to redeem around the same number of dedication tokens, the player who gets to take the more valuable tokens of each type will have an advantage in the game. The first dedication token for each color is worth more than the rest of the tokens. The values for each category goes down pretty quickly as well. Therefore players earlier in the turn order may be able to collect a dedication token before the other players even have a chance to get the token. A couple points here or there might not seem that important, but in many games it may matter as the winner usually only wins by a couple points
Where turn order starts to really matter is when players are given the opportunity to play a tile that matches two, three or four sides. These opportunities are huge in the game. You should usually be able to collect two cards as you will get the color from the tile in your direction and you should be able to match the color on one side of your tile. Usually you will only be able to play tiles where it is only possible to match colors on one of the sides. As tiles get added to the board though there will be times where you can make two, three or even four matches with one tile play. Players that get these opportunities have a pretty big advantage in the game as they will get to draw more cards. It is going to be hard for a player that never gets these opportunities to win the game.
The area where luck may come into the game the most though is due to there being a limit on the number of lantern cards for each color. With each tile play all of the players have the opportunity to receive a lantern card. I liked this mechanic, but it introduces a problem when there aren’t enough cards of a color to give cards to one of the players. While you will usually get at least two cards on your own turn, you also have to rely on other players’ turns for cards as well. If there are no cards left of the color you are supposed to receive though, you are left empty handed. Losing the opportunity to receive a card will put you behind the other players. If these occurrences are spread out pretty well between the players it isn’t a huge issue as everyone is affected about the same. It becomes an issue though when one player is stuck losing out on a lot of cards. In one game I ended up losing out on at least five cards due to the other players keep playing cards that left me with a color that had no cards remaining. While players will sometimes make these plays just to deprive you of a card, you usually will just be the player that is unlucky due to the current player needing a certain color and giving you a color that you can’t collect. If this happens to you quite a bit, you are going to have a hard time winning the game.
The final area where luck enters Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is tile draw luck. The tile you end up drawing to add to your hand can actually have a pretty big impact on your chances of winning the game. Unless you stumble upon combinations of cards that you can turn in for dedication tokens, you will usually be developing a strategy to get cards of a particular color so you can redeem your cards for a particular dedication token. Therefore the cards in your hand are important as they are the easiest way to get the colors that you need. Players that draw tiles with the colors they need are going to have a much better chance of completing dedication tokens as they can just play the tile and get the colors they need. This is especially true if you end up having a tile that can match two, three or four sides at a time. If you can’t draw tiles with the colors you need though you will have to waste favor tokens or hope the other players give you the colors that you need.
Other than the reliance on luck the other small issue I had with Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is that the game has the potential for players to suffer from analysis paralysis. The analysis paralysis issue isn’t as bad as a lot of games but it could lead to players taking quite a bit more time than they should. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival has some issues in this area because there is actually quite a bit that you have to consider before playing any tile. You obviously want to match a color as it will give you more cards. If you can make a two, three or four color match it is even better. When playing tiles though you also have to think about what colors you are giving to other players. Some players are going to want to analyze every single option before playing a tile. This will drag the game down. To get full enjoyment out of the game you somewhat have to enforce a time limit so players don’t waste a bunch of time trying to analyze every option.
Should You Buy Lanterns: The Harvest Festival?
For combining two board game genres that you don’t see together very often, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a pretty good game. Basically the game combines a tile laying game with a set collecting game where you play tiles to collect cards which you then use to create various types of sets. Outside of creating a unique and interesting mashup of different genres, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival succeeds because it finds a good balance between accessibility and strategy. The game is easy enough that you can teach the game to new players within minutes. At the same time the game has enough strategy where it feels like you are making a real impact on the game. These two things combine to create a fun and enjoyable game that the whole family can enjoy. Lanterns: The Harvest Festival does rely on a little too much luck at times though where you can have a hard time winning the game due to no fault of your own. The game can also have some analysis paralysis problems.
People who hate tile laying games and/or set collecting games, probably won’t like Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. People who like both genres though as well as games that the whole family can enjoy should really like Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. If Lanterns: The Harvest Festival’s concept interests you, you should consider picking it up.