Recently, we realized that we were approaching our 150th different game played. To select the new title which would mark this UpWithMeeple gaming milestone, we decided to run a poll on social media to ask our readers, fans, and well-wishers exactly what game we ought to play for the occasion. The winner was Regis Bonnessee’s Seasons, an interesting choice for us as it was a game that, until recently, sat for a long time on our individual ‘might buy’ lists – we knew that it was well-reviewed, but we tended to overlook picking it up it in favor of newer releases that boasted more immediate buzz.
Still, although we knew something of Seasons’ reputation prior to our 150th Game, would it live up to its hype when it hit our table? Even if it followed through on its advance billing as a good game, given the wide variance in weight and strategic challenge, as well as the importance of randomness, often involved with dice-and-card games, what exactly would it be good at? Would it turn out to be a quick time-filler for more casual audiences, or would it offer the complexity and replayability needed to make it a more regular feature at our gaming table?
In Seasons, two to four players take on the role of wizards competing to be declared the greatest magic user in the fantasy kingdom of Xidit (also the setting of Bonnessee’s Lords of Xidit board game). The winner of the contest is judged to be the sorcerer with the most crystals at the end of three years’ time. In Seasons, crystals act not only as victory points, but also as one of the game’s primary resources, along with four types of energy tokens – earth, air, fire, and water – corresponding to the four seasons making up each of the game’s three years. Players use these five resources types to play power cards from their hand, which serve as the primary means for generating additional crystals, thus helping them on the path to victory.
On a given turn, the first player rolls a selection of custom dice (one more than the number of players) corresponding to the current season, with every player drafting one die from the results. Each die face indicates between one and three rewards which players then claim when their turn resolves, consisting of a mix of energy tokens, crystals, an increase in the total number of cards a player may field, the ability to exchange tokens for crystals, or a random card draw. The possible rewards on a die differ from season to season, but each of the aforementioned rewards typically appear on at least one face of all season dice. A die’s most common energy type is the one associated with that season (e.g. earth tokens in spring), but at least two other types of tokens also appear on each die’s faces, so players needing ‘out of season’ energy are not completely out of luck.
After collecting the rewards from their die, players may play power cards from their hand, paying the necessary cost in crystals and energy tokens, and activate effects appearing on any of their cards already in play. While power cards come in two basic types – magic items and familiars – a distinction can also be made depending on a card’s effect. Some cards provide a one-time benefit when played, some require an activation cost each turn to use, and others generate permanent effects for a player. However, players are limited in the number of power cards they can have in play at a given time, with each player having summoning gauge that needs to be built up from zero through season dice or power cards increasing summoning capacity. This elevates the importance of players’ decisions of which card(s) to play, especially early in the game when summoning capacity is limited.
Another of Seasons’ signature mechanics comes into play at the end of each round, when the turn marker on the season wheel advances between one and three spaces, depending on the markings appearing on the season die which was not chosen by any player that turn. Given that the season wheel is divided into twelve spaces (three spaces for each season), the unselected die can cause seasons to rapidly shift, and the pace of the game to shorten overall. At times, players may find themselves as interested in choosing their die based on prolonging or accelerating the game as in the die’s actual rewards. This time mechanic not only results in a variable game length, but also adds another strategic dimension to gameplay. Once the wheel passes the twelfth month of the third year, players total the number of crystals they’ve accumulated, points provided by power cards in play, and any end-game effects provided by those cards, and the wizard with the highest total is declared the winner.
Seasons hits a sweet spot that not only makes it fun, but also an attractive pick for a variety of gamers in a number of situations. The relatively straightforward rules, small number of central mechanics creates, and one hour playtime creates accessibility for casual gamers, or those interested in a quick warmup option, while still presenting enough opportunities for experienced gamers to ply their strategic chops. Seasons’ strong replayability is another of its selling points. While the mix of basic power cards (two copies each of thirty different magic items and familiars) is enough by itself to make each play a relatively fresh experience, an additional 40 ‘advanced’ power cards can be added for increased variety and strategic challenge. And it’s hard to say enough about the quality of the components, which are also colorful and eye-catching. This is especially true of the custom seasons dice, whose humongous chunkiness brought back youthful dreams of being a contestant in the Dice Game on The Price is Right.
Seasons also features a higher number of strategic choices and a greater ability to affect other players than one would assume at first blush. Resource management is important in Seasons and permeates the game, whether in terms of deciding what power cards to play while constrained by the limits of your summoning gauge, how you acquire and spend energy tokens, whether to save or spend crystals, or even the rate at which the season wheel advances via your choice of die. Additionally, you can also directly impact your opponents’ options at multiple turns, and starve them of resources by drafting dice that provide needed types of energy crystals or increases to the summoning gauge, playing power cards that negatively affect your opposition, or strategically timing the play of cards that impact all players to maximize the loss to others and minimize your own.
As I mentioned in my review of World’s Fair 1893, I’m also a sucker for games that treat time as a resource. The ability to control the pace of the game, whether prolonging your own ability to make moves and bring your grand strategy to fruition or to speeding up the clock when you’re in the lead, adds another layer of strategy to a game that I really appreciate. Beyond that, it provides players another unknown that they need to get a feel for, and to balance, in the game – how important is time as an opportunity cost, a price that needs to be paid in relation to the benefits of the other options available to you? The variable time feature is one of the key things I feel elevates Seasons above being simply a light dice-chucker to an option that more advanced gamers will also enjoy.
…and Some Cons
However, some aspects of Seasons prevent it from rising from a good game to a truly great one, with the biggest being the randomness involved in both the dice and card-based aspects of the game. Bad die rolls can combine with the strategic choices of opponents drafting before them to result in players being locked out of certain key rewards early on. Although Seasons mitigates this somewhat by allowing players bonus actions – increasing your summoning gauge by one, transmuting two energy tokens in your reserve into other types of energy, exchanging tokens for crystals, or choosing picking one of two cards during a draw action – only three total bonus actions are allowed over the course of the game, and even then come at a steep victory point cost.
Likewise, some of the game’s power cards appear a bit imbalanced. Though the basic version of the game prescribes fixed opening hands that are well-balanced (advanced players are encouraged to choose or draft their starting hands), drawing certain cards early, or even being lucky enough to roll the energy needed to field the more powerful choices from your opening hand, can put a player on a fast track to victory. For example, early on in our first game, Austin (the eventual winner) was able to play the Hand of Fortune, a card that reduces the cost of all future power cards by one energy token, substantially increasing his ability to get more cards into play, and to enjoy the benefits of those cards over more of the game. But not all power cards are equally powered, nor do they all work well in pairs. In the same game, I drew two copies of Potion of Life, a card that can be sacrificed to transmute all your energy tokens into four crystals apiece. However, as it made the most sense to use one Potion of Life to maximize my crystal total at the very end of the game when I wouldn’t need any of my energy tokens, a second Potion of Life was useless after the first completely emptied my energy token reserve.
Finally, one missing element from the base game (although possibly remedied in one of Seasons’ two expansions) is the lack of asymmetry in player powers, a seemingly simple addition that could further boost replayability. Asymmetry is one of my favorite aspects of games, as it encourages players to try different strategies, thus freshening the play experience – Eclipse is a great example of this, a game I’m notoriously bad at, and which features a playstyle (shifting player alliances and direct aggression) I don’t typically care for, yet which I still enjoy playing due to the different feel of the wide variety of races from which you can choose. However, this asymmetry is missing from Seasons, increasing the potential for players to settle into regular strategies over time, especially if some power cards are more central to victory than others.
I really enjoyed Seasons. I went in knowing very little about it other than it had kooky dice and was well regarded. I wasn’t expecting time management, bidding, and tableau-building as the mechanics, I was expecting a big box of random. I really enjoy bidding games, as I think I tend to understand the value of what is being bid on pretty well, whether it be a resource, 1st player, etc. This helped Seasons click with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I guess I got a bit lucky in my first turn, and I had a card engine going that encouraged me to play as many cards as possible, but I had no interaction or effect on my opponents, unlike they had with me. I was losing 3 crystals a turn for much of the game. Towards the end, I was able to make a 70-odd point play in one turn, and on my very final play, I pulled the best possible card I could’ve. So I guess it is fairly random after all, but it’s got a lot more strategic depth to it than a pure dice chucker.
Even though Seasons lingered on Austin’s and my respective buylists before we actually acquired and played it, it shouldn’t linger on yours. The game is quick, fun, and eye-catching, has a playtime that makes it easy to get to the table in almost any situation, and offers something for all groups of gamers, and all gamers in your group, to enjoy. While it admittedly has flaws, they’re not substantial enough to prevent Seasons from being an extremely solid game most gamers will be glad to play and to return to from time to time.
Up With Meeple Rating:
Silver medal games are great games, games you make a point to play. They’re a ton of fun, and usually stand out because they do at least one thing really well, like having tight mechanics, unique gameplay, or outstanding production value.
By Regis Bonnessee