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Subject: A Game for All Seasons: a review of Asmodee's latest hit rss

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Dan Edelen
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Nothing could have surprised me more than arriving at my FLGS board game night and seeing Seasons lurking in an Asmodee bag. Seems one of the attendees of Gen Con, Laura, managed to snag a copy (and shared that she handed the last copy to Joel Eddy of Drive-Thru Review fame).

In short: Had. To. Play.

What follows are the thoughts from a first-time player...

Look & Components


The art and graphic design of Seasons blends Art Nouveau and old Yes album covers by Roger Dean. In short, it's spectacular.

The dice, each about an inch square, are engraved with symbols that correspond to elemental energy in colors that match the seasons:

Blue = water/winter
Green = earth/spring
Yellow = fire/summer
Red = air/autumn

The dice contain the following symbols in different configurations:

* Energy symbols
* Numbers corresponding to crystals, the game's victory points
* A ring that allows for converting energy into crystals
* A star for increasing the number of cards a player can summon to the tableau
* 1-3 dots, which signal how many months to advance the month/season counter on the game board
* A rectangle, which allows a player to draw a card from the draw pile

The round game board is more of a player help, with an area in the center to mark the three years over which the wizards battle, and an outer ring in the four seasons colors, with numeric gradations 1-12 for the months. Between the year marks and month/seasons ring is a conversion table graphic for transmuting energy into crystals.

The game board packs needed info into an unobtrusive size and serves the role well. Nicely designed.

The score card, on the other hand, is something of a mess. Score markers are typical Eurogame wooden cubes that correspond to player colors, marking 1-99, plus markers for increments of 100. Though the card starts out with rows of numbers in increments of 10, this pattern diverges at the top, which foils a simple 10-point move by sliding up a row. In a game with such attention to design, this seems a misstep.

Plus, it is all too easy to jar the scorecard and knock the cubes around, especially if they are stacked because of tied scores. Given how often players will adjust scores—a nonstop process in the game that consumes more time than it should—a better scorecard is needed. Something along the line of the dial-based scorecards in King of Tokyo might make more sense.

The scorecard tracks crystal points during play. At game's end, prestige points from cards and bonus play use are included in the tally.

Player cards have numbers across the top to show the number of cards that can be in the player's summon tableau. Below that is a 0, -5, -12, -20 prestige point penalty mark and a list of bonus actions a player can take: exchange two energy types, increase the number of cards summonable to the tableau, transmute (exchange) energy for crystals. Taking a bonus incurs an increasing penalty each time, tallied at game's end.

The game's 100 power cards drive it. Each cards exists twice in the deck. Two forms exist: magic items and familiars. Resembling Magic: The Gathering cards, but with the unmistakable Seasons artwork, the cards contain the title of the card at top, along with any final tally prestige points (in purple for magic items or orange for familiars). Below the artwork, the cost of the card is shown. Cost is usually in crystals (sacrificing VP) or energy, with the needed elemental energy types depicted in icons. Some costs scale up with the number of players.

The card text reveals how the card functions. Some cards have multiple functions, some stack, but others may force a player to choose a use. These functions are the heart of the card—and the game.

In the lower left corner of the card is its effect timing. A squat arrow means it takes effect once. An arrow in a circle means a continuing effect. A cog allows players to "tap" the card and use it. Cog cards exact some price to play each time, usually in energy.

Lastly, cards include a number at the bottom in tiny text. This allows players to find them in the rulebook for rules clarifications.

Gameplay


Seasons offers three levels of play based on which cards are used. In our session, we used the entire deck, which is considered the advanced game. The basic and intermediate games restrict cards.

Each player receives nine cards. A la 7 Wonders, players pass their hands around until all have drafted a deck. The deck is then split into three cards per three years, with years two and three marked with corresponding marker chits. This splitting requires planning, because effects from cards played earlier will stack as time passes. Some cards have repeated effects that would benefit from early play. Others are end game cards.

The greatest truth about this game: Players MUST know how the cards work. Must. Definitely a game that demands repeat plays.

The second great truth about this game: New players will do almost everything wrong in that first game. Plus, they will be brutalized in the process. Count on it. Especially if they're the sole noob playing against—*ahem*—seasoned players.

The dice are set around the game board to match the season color. The number of dice used is the number of players plus one. The game starts with the lead player rolling the dice for winter. That player selects which die to keep after the roll, and each subsequent player does the same. The unselected die's dots determine how many months the month counter will advance, slowing or hurrying the game, so strategy is involved not only in what a player takes, but what is left behind.

Each player in turn then resolves the symbols on the die selected.

Players roll the same color season of die unless the month counter crosses into a new season, which means rolling the next color.

Each season/color of dice favors an element (noted above) and disfavors another (the opposing season on the game board). Good players will factor this into their initial card distribution. For instance, autumn is last, so any cards that rely heavily on air energy are going to be harder to summon unless the player works contrary to the season and manages to get that energy, such as taking a bonus play of converting energy 2:2.

When the month marker passes into the second winter, each player's second set of cards is added to the hand. Cards from the previous year remain in-hand.

Dispensing of hand cards is critical, since each unplayed card at game's end is -5 prestige points.

A player can perform as many actions on a turn as the die, played power cards, energy, and crystals permit. In addition, some cards allow a player actions on another player's turn.

Keeping track of all the card interactions is the major downside of the game, since with four players in an advanced game the sheer number of things happening at once can get out of control. Newer players will have their heads spinning, and ensuring all the cards get their chances to act and score correctly can be nightmarish. Seasons has the potential to be one of those games where the score may end up more of a guess than a reality (though the online version of Seasons at Boardgamearena.com solves the scorekeeping and card interaction craziness).

Once the 12th month of the third year passes, the game is over. All prestige points (both positive and negative) from cards and bonus use are added to the crystal tally. Highest number wins.

Thoughts


The rules of Seasons are simple. The game can be explained in less than 10 minutes—and possibly five with hardcore gamers who understand the basic mechanics underlying the game. It's one reason why the suggested player age is a low 10.

However, because the cards contain so many actions that chain actions, despite its simple rules, Seasons can be an in-play management nightmare. Analysis paralysis is assured, even among players who normally don't suffer that affliction. So much is happening in the player's hand, the other player's tableaus, and with forecasting moves and seasons, the input is almost overwhelming, espcially for people who have not played the game at least a half dozen times.

As noted, knowing the cards is ESSENTIAL. Until a player does, winning is almost out of the question.

One problem here, as with many games that feature cards with functions, players need to understand what their opposing players' card tableaus do. Sadly, that's extremely hard to do in Seasons, because it is not easy to read other players' cards. Fewer players might make this easier, but spreading out for more players positions players farther away. No remedy seems easy. Even then, managing your own tableau is hard enough. Trying to grasp another player's and how it will affect yours will hurt your brain.

Veterans of the game will whittle down playing time, but our four-player game with three noobs and a player who had played twice before lasted an epic 2 hours, 45 minutes. Ouch.

For that reason, and for the added chaos of a fourth player, I suggest that Seasons plays best with two to three.

Seasons is not for the faint of heart, either. This is a high-screwage game. Many detrimental cards exist, which means that a player's best laid plans can be ruined with a single card. In the case of the game I played, I got hit with an opponent's card that forced me to discard one of the two power cards I had built my entire strategy around. This happened in the first year, and I was energy poor for the rest of the game, which killed any chance I had to win. A better player may have overcome this, but perhaps not. Those who can't handle getting brutalized with a devastating opponent play, this is not your game.

In other words, Seasons' lovely exterior hides a harridan's heart.

Conclusion


Asmodee has a hit on its hands. People talked about the look of the game long before its release, and with the exception of the clunky scorecard, everything comes together beautifully. The game's pedigree contains elements of Magic: The Gathering, Dominion, 7 Wonders, and King of Tokyo, and with those top games swirling inside it, Seasons could be the game of 2012 so far.

With brain-burning tactics and strategy, beautiful components, hybrid Eurogame/Ameritrash gameplay, and unlimited replayability, Seasons is a winner in every regard and a fine addition to any gaming collection.

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boardgamemuse
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yes. Game is a R I N G E R laugh
 
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jan w
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Love your format for the review, works very well.

And I love the game, too Think you're spot-on when you say Asmodee has a hit on their hands.
 
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Dan Edelen
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kronik wrote:
Love your format for the review, works very well.


Thanks. None of my reviews have the same format. My consistency is lacking!
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Mikko Karvonen
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Yikes. Suddenly I'm not so eager about getting Seasons anymore. High amount of screawage and the necessity of knowing and understanding all the cards does not sound very appealing, nor does that 2h 45m playing time.
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Gargoyle wrote:
Yikes. Suddenly I'm not so eager about getting Seasons anymore. High amount of screawage and the necessity of knowing and understanding all the cards does not sound very appealing, nor does that 2h 45m playing time.


These are all misconceptions.

1) Interaction is low. There are but few cards that do things to your opponent. Of those, there are only 2 or 3 copies of each. The amount of screwage is nigh-nil.

2) You need to know the cards, yes. But really you just need to know the 9 cards you start out with. There's only a few extra cards that you'll get during the game, and the deck being the size it is, you can't hope to find that one card that will fit in nicely with your strategy. In total there's only 50 unique cards in the game, so not much to learn either way.

3) The playing time stated is exceptional. My first game with 2players lasted about an hour, looking up rules, carefully reading every card, asking questions. I think the 30min on the box would work for 2players. For 4 I'd say about an hour, tops. How you got to 2h45 is beyond me.
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Dan Edelen
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kronik wrote:
Gargoyle wrote:
Yikes. Suddenly I'm not so eager about getting Seasons anymore. High amount of screawage and the necessity of knowing and understanding all the cards does not sound very appealing, nor does that 2h 45m playing time.


These are all misconceptions.

1) Interaction is low. There are but few cards that do things to your opponent. Of those, there are only 2 or 3 copies of each. The amount of screwage is nigh-nil.

2) You need to know the cards, yes. But really you just need to know the 9 cards you start out with. There's only a few extra cards that you'll get during the game, and the deck being the size it is, you can't hope to find that one card that will fit in nicely with your strategy. In total there's only 50 unique cards in the game, so not much to learn either way.

3) The playing time stated is exceptional. My first game with 2players lasted about an hour, looking up rules, carefully reading every card, asking questions. I think the 30min on the box would work for 2players. For 4 I'd say about an hour, tops. How you got to 2h45 is beyond me.


1. Interaction isn't necessarily low. Several of the cards have functions that involve other players, which means time is needed for resolution. The session we played had two players playing attack-based decks from the full set of cards. That's a lot of interaction and major screwage.

2. You don't just need to know the nine cards in your hand. Because of the draft mechanism, a player must know how each card functions on its own AND how it might chain with already drafted cards AND how passing the wrong cards might benefit an opponent. That reinforces the need to know all the cards well.

3. The playing time may have been exceptional but not impossible. Given a lot of unchosen die with single dots (which happened), a large number of screwage cards in play that forced player responses, plus a constantly shifting score that had to be calculated per player based on all card interactions, I'm not certain how that game management could have been sped up much without making mistakes or missing card functions. Yes, there was AP due to player unfamiliarity with the cards, but I don't believe this game scale linearly per player. There's just a lot to track, and each additional player causes the well-noted chaos that lengthens play exponentially. Yes, four can play, but it's a management nightmare at that point. Better to go with three, and two is probably best of all.
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Rick Teverbaugh
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My longest 3-player game was with people who had never played and it was just shy of 90 minutes. I too have no idea how any game could have lasted 2:45.
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Mark Gerrits
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edelen wrote:
2. You don't just need to know the nine cards in your hand. Because of the draft mechanism, a player must know how each card functions on its own AND how it might chain with already drafted cards AND how passing the wrong cards might benefit an opponent. That reinforces the need to know all the cards well.

This is true if you want to have the best possible chance of winning. It goes for most complex card games. However, like with all those games, this is not necessary to have fun with the game and certainly not for a first play.
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Dan Edelen
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Runkst wrote:
edelen wrote:
2. You don't just need to know the nine cards in your hand. Because of the draft mechanism, a player must know how each card functions on its own AND how it might chain with already drafted cards AND how passing the wrong cards might benefit an opponent. That reinforces the need to know all the cards well.

This is true if you want to have the best possible chance of winning. It goes for most complex card games. However, like with all those games, this is not necessary to have fun with the game and certainly not for a first play.


Your logic can be applied to all first plays: Don't try to do well.

If true, then just choose random cards and don't even try a winnable strategy.

But where's the learning in that?
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Mark Gerrits
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I think I'm starting to see why your game took 2 hours 45 minutes.
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Richard Morgan
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When will it be released in Canada?
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Trent Boardgamer
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edelen wrote:
Runkst wrote:
edelen wrote:
2. You don't just need to know the nine cards in your hand. Because of the draft mechanism, a player must know how each card functions on its own AND how it might chain with already drafted cards AND how passing the wrong cards might benefit an opponent. That reinforces the need to know all the cards well.

This is true if you want to have the best possible chance of winning. It goes for most complex card games. However, like with all those games, this is not necessary to have fun with the game and certainly not for a first play.


Your logic can be applied to all first plays: Don't try to do well.

If true, then just choose random cards and don't even try a winnable strategy.

But where's the learning in that?


I only see this as an issue if some who have played before and some who are new and expect to win. Ultimately when playing any game against experienced players, your first game is just about learning (winning is a bonus). If all new, how is there really a great level of strategy, you're not going to have any idea how the game plays out in that regards.

Anyhow, each to their own, ultimately play games the way they are fun for you. I'm just suggesting to keep in mind that when giving opinions on new games a little quantification goes a long way in your comments (Like "I and my friends play to win from the very first go, so it can take awhile longer than normal").
 
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Gargoyle wrote:
Yikes. Suddenly I'm not so eager about getting Seasons anymore. High amount of screawage and the necessity of knowing and understanding all the cards does not sound very appealing, nor does that 2h 45m playing time.


My first play was pretty much all of these - totally, randomly, screwed by a card that changed all my energy to air half-way through the last year. I didn't know this card existed. And this was about 2h 30m in.

I'd like to play this one again, but probably only 2 or 3 player.
 
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Rick Teverbaugh
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My first Seasons was 3-player and about 1:15. 2-player is seldom more than an hour. I haven't experienced the kind of AP that must be taking place to produce these play times.
 
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A game of Seasons shouldn't take so long. There's choices, yes, but not that many. I say kick your fellow players under the table to get on with it Or play some 2 player games to get the feeling of the game. What I tend to do sometimes with card games like these is just "play to see what happens" the first time. Just play according to the rules, but don't think about your turns. Just see what happens. I'd rather play through like this, then play through seriously a second time than have a first playthrough last hours and demotivate anyone to ever play again.
 
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Phil Hannay
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None of the players really had AP - we were basically just playing through to see what happens. The game just seems to take ages.
 
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Rick Teverbaugh
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xorsyst_uk wrote:
None of the players really had AP - we were basically just playing through to see what happens. The game just seems to take ages.


Then I really see no sense for that length for a game. Were you discussing other topics, taking phone calls, fixing snacks during the game?
 
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