Seasons, designed by Régis Bonnessée and published by Asmodee is still a relatively new game, but for how well it seems to be established in mine and many other gaming circles you could be mistaken for thinking it was much older. When I say older, it came out in 2012, if measured against that rate games are coming out and balanced with how easy it can be as a gamer to sign up to the cult of the new, 2012 is a long time. Games have the potentiality to age exponentially in our modern gaming climate, for every dog year a board game ages three.
Seasons has found it’s place in many gamers hearts and looking on the BoardGameGeek’s ranking it sits (today) at 115 between ‘Carcassonne’ and ‘The making of the President’, snuggled in amongst small word, love letter, mice and mystics and Dungeon Lords. This really isn’t a bad pedigree of games to hang around with on the BGG ranking system at all.
At my last gaming group, as the evening drew to a close and most folk were trundling off home into the night, a few of the remaining stragglers cracked this out for final game of the evening. There were four of us at this session; three who had played Seasons extensively both physically as well as online on Board Game Arena and a fourth person who has an uncanny (and annoying in the sense that I’m jealous) knack of picking up these games really fast.
There is a genuine joy in playing a brand new game; seeing the board grow in front of you as pieces are set up by a familiar player and as you look at the glorious tableau of meeples and chits and maps and coins form the initially bewildering and confusing layout that over the course of the game shifts from the perplexing to the familiar, while patterns of winning emerge and strategies can be formed. To find and fall in love with new mechanism and new creations is part of what keeps us coming back to the table. Equally though there’s something quite Zen like in going back to the familiar territory and playing a game that plays instinctively.
It’s common for a board gamers time to be dedicated to explaining new systems to unfamiliar people before a game can start proper, punctuated with questions and clarifications throughout, with that many games on the market a given that at least one player will be new around the table. Therefore it really is a joy when you get to unpack a game that everyone is familiar with, can help set up fluidly, the gameplay starts instantly and flows easily.
This is how it was with Seasons and this is why Seasons was even more of a joy this night.
The theme of this game, for the unfamiliar, is that you are all playing wizards trying to win a Tournament of 12 seasons to become the Archmage of the kingdom of Xidit. Which from the outset sounds like wonderful scenario before the game even starts.
I’ve read many other reviews of Seasons, which is a dangerous thing to do when I love a game so much because occasionally there will be someone who disagrees with me and that can cause internal turmoil when, almost stalkeresque, I want them to see the error of their ways and appreciate the game in the exact same way I do.
Several boardgame reviewers have said a problem they found with Seasons is that it is devoid of theme and in the end if you boil it down it’s really just a numbers game and you’re only making one mathematical decision over another. Maybe they’re right and maybe it is all about the maths, but can’t everything be broken down into mathematic principles? There a whole TV series about a savant mathematician that could only understand the world through numbers (it was called Numb3rs), he could even explain love and a seemingly random meeting as an algorithm or statistic of having things in common with the geometry of facial features mixed with some geographical equation. Saying it boils down to math, for me anyway, is like predicting the ending of a film half way through or having someone explain to you how an illusionist completes his tricks, it removes the magic. Why would you want to remove the magic.
I fall into the category of the people that understand the maths are there and the main structure of this game but really enjoy the beauty in the cards, the synergy between the seasons and the energy tokens and the power cards and the evil familiars.
At the start of the game you have an individual player board that charts your summoning level (how many spells you can have out on your board) your energy tokens (for casting spells) and any penalties you may have gained by taking an extra action to aid your game.
Each turn you roll the big, satisfyingly clattery dice, one more than there are players, and in turn order choose one of them to use. The one that is left over goes into the middle and determines how far forward the marker for the season moves at the end of everyone’s turn.
You then perform the action on the dice following the symbols displayed. These can include increasing your summoning gauge, gaining crystals, summoning cards, transmuting and adding energy tokens to your reserve.
Then you cast a card if you have one to play and if you can pay the cost and if you have a large enough summoning gauge. After each player has taken their go the person to the left of the starting player now rolls the dice and get to choose one first.
Seasons is a busy game, and if you have the right cards summoned in your tableau you can find yourself having to remember to trigger some cards, the on going magic items or familiars to gain crystals either after someone else plays a card, or if the season changes, or if someone triggers one of there cards, or gain energy tokens, or sacrifice energy tokens to reduce your opponents crystal track; there can be many working parts to keep your eye on.
The greatest joy I get with this game is that when players sit down who already know the game enough to not need the rules explanation how the game moves with ease the drafting of the cards and movement along your summoning track all come together to create a beautiful machine that all you need to do is steer through the seasons to hopefully become the ultimate winner.
There’s a satisfying warmth that comes from not only watching your own tableau grow, but also those of your opponents, even if they play a large amount of ‘take that’ cards. Asmodee have furnished the game with some beautiful components such as the big chunky dice that rattle satisfyingly in the hand as they are cast across the table each turn, each card is a piece of art on it’s own, full of character and charm along with the simplistic energy tokens of air, earth, fire and water, the player boards flowing curves that look as magical as the lands they inhabit; this is a game that is always wholly satisfying to play from beginning to end.
Yes it may be pure maths, and some people may say there are too many take that cards that can make the game combative and wearing, and yes this is not a game you can drop straight into without someone a little more familiar with the set up to take you through it, but don’t let this put you off. This game is like a treasure chest full of longevity, diversity and fun, and at £31 on Amazon the value for money is massive. You need to go out and buy this, now.