In Imperial China, the harvest season has just ended. Before the farm workers can enjoy the (literal) fruits of their labor, it is time for the Festival of the Lanterns, celebrating the harvest! During the festival, families and friends gather at the edge of a huge lake to watch as artisans release hundreds of colorful lanterns across the surface of the water. As one of those artisans, you must compete with your fellow craftsmen to put on the best display and earn the most honor before the end of the festival!
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a set collection game, where players add tiles to an ever-growing lake in order to claim the titular Lantern cards. By collecting certain sets of different cards, a player can gain points by showing his or her Dedication to the craft. Will you be the most dedicated and honorable artisan?
There are only a few different kinds of components to keep track of in Lanterns. First and foremost are the Lantern cards, which come in 7 different colors (orange, green, purple, white, blue, red, and black), 8 of each. Then there are Lake tiles, which show lanterns of one of the seven colors on each of the four edges, and occasionally have a platform in the middle depicting symbols like dragons, pandas, flowers, or fish. Then there are three varieties of dedication tokens in varying values, which will be described later, and finally there are several round Favor tokens which depict the Chinese character for collecting or gathering.
To set up the game, separate the Lantern cards by color, and also separate the Dedication tokens and arrange them in stacks of descending value. Deal out 3 Lake tiles to each player and put the rest (with a number determined by the number of players) into a draw pile. The Lake tile featuring a boat is placed in the center of the table, and each player takes a Lantern card matching the color of the Lake tile facing them. The player with the red Lantern card, the color of good fortune, is the first player, and the game begins.
On his or her turn, a player can optionally exchange a lake card and/or make a dedication, but since these can’t be done on the first turn, we’ll come back to them later. On their turn, each player must play a Lake tile from their hand to the table. When playing a Lake tile, all players (not just the active player) receive a Lantern card based on the color of the newly-placed tile facing them. In addition, if any side of the newly-placed tile matches the color on an adjacent side of another tile, the active player also gets a Lantern card of that color. In addition, if any of the color matching tiles have a platform in the center, the active player gets a Favor token for each platform. Note that Lantern cards are given to the active player and then distributed to the other players in clockwise order, which may be important if a certain type of Lantern card runs out. Then, the active player draws back up to 3 Lake tiles and play proceeds to the next player.
As aforementioned, at the start of a player’s turn, they can choose to exchange a Lantern card. This is done by spending two Favor tokens in order to exchange one of a player’s Lantern cards for one of a different color from the supply. Then, the player can choose to make a dedication. This is done by returning a set of Lantern cards to the supply and taking the top matching Dedication token. The three possible types of dedication are four of a kind, three pairs, or seven unique Lantern cards (in other words, one of each). After optionally exchanging cards and/or making a dedication, the player must place a Lake tile. In addition, if a player has more than 12 Lantern cards, they must either make a dedication or discard down to 12 Lantern cards before placing a Lake tile.
The game ends when there are no Lake tiles left in the draw pile or in players’ hands. At this time, each player has one more turn in which they can exchange a Lantern card and make a dedication. Then, all of the points from players’ Dedication tokens are added up, and the player with the highest total wins!
Lanterns was a quick pick up for our friend Eric at GenCon 2015. The game is pleasant to the eye and easy to learn, which makes it good for families and beginner gamers. The set collection element makes it good for experienced gamers as well. I personally like that there are different set collection paths, so there are different ways to earn points. Ethan and I played with four players the first time we played and over the next few plays, finally playing with just the two of us. The game went by very quickly just the two of us, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing. There was much more of a puzzle feeling with more players, which made it a bit more strategic in my opinion. This is definitely a pick up if you have family who would like to expand their gaming knowledge or a game for people of many ages.
- Good for many ages and groups
- Visually pleasing
- Necessary to pay attention on others’ turns
- Plays best with more people
Lanterns is a good family-weight game, and I think it could be used as a good introduction to the set collecting genre. I especially like the main mechanism of the game whereby every player can get a card whenever a tile is played based on what color’s facing them, so it keeps everyone engaged throughout the game. At the same time, the limited amount of Lantern cards can make tile placement strategic, since you can play tiles in such a way that opponents get noting due to no available cards of that color. I also like the fact that turning in sets gets you more points the earlier you do it, and if you keep focusing on the same kind of set, you’ll start to see diminishing returns. The artwork is nothing too fancy, but the lake tiles especially are very photogenic. Whenever I see a picture of Lanterns on Twitter or elsewhere, I’m always in awe of how it looks like the lanterns are actually glowing in a dark lake. The theme itself is good, but I don’t feel it necessarily adds that much to the gameplay — it would play the same with any other theme, or even just colors on each side of the tiles. In addition, the game plays very differently with two vs. four players. With two, you’re really only concerned with the colors facing you and facing away from you, with the sides only mattering for matching bonuses, but with all four players each side of tiles you play have an impact. I’m sure this was designed primarily for four players, so I’m glad you can play with two or three, but I’d almost certainly want to play this with the full four if possible.
- Keeps all players engaged, even on others’ turns
- Easy to teach and learn; good intro to set collecting
- Definitely plays best with all 4 players