Seasons is a light-hearted game that manages the difficult balance of having comparatively straightforward gameplay while still maintaining a depth and complexity of strategy.
You win Seasons by accumulating the most crystals (technically Prestige points, but the Crystal resource converts to these at 1:1); it’s the kind of points scoring system where the winner will almost always have well over a hundred points. Crystals can be gained by rolling the dice (explained later), but the primary source is through “power cards” that make up the majority of the gameplay.
Power cards are, for the most part, played by paying a cost in energy tokens. Energy tokens come in the four classical elements: air, earth, fire, water. A power card will have listed its cost in energy tokens (and/or crystals—yes, you can have to sacrifice points to hope to gain more points later) which must be discarded to play that card, and you can only hold up to seven energy tokens. Energy tokens are gained through rolling the dice. Each season will have different access to the elements; for example, in Winter, the dice will commonly give Water and/or Air, uncommonly give Fire, and never give Earth. There are always two common elements (one of which was common last season and the other which was inaccessible last season), one uncommon, and one inaccessible. This different availability has a second function: transmuting. Transmuting an energy token means discarding it to gain crystals, and the value gained from transmuting changes based on the season. A common element for that season will give one crystal per token, an uncommon will give two, and an inaccessible will give three.
Each season has a different set of dice; each die has a different set of faces, and the rewards can be some combination of +1 to summoning gauge, one to two energy tokens, one to six crystals, the ability to transmute energy tokens that turn, and drawing an extra power card. A game uses dice of each color equal to players plus one, and the table will essentially run a secondary mini-draft every round; the first player rolls and picks one die, then the next rolls the remainder and chooses one. The last player will choose one of two and the last one will determine how many months forward the game will go; each face has a number of dots between one and three, and the dots on the face of the non-chosen die will be the number of months that pass. There are three months to a season, so the game can be as short as twelve rounds or as long as thirty-six (mathematically averaging around twenty-four).
The first part of Seasons, the shortest part that determines the flow of the rest of the game, is a draft. For those unfamiliar, drafting is a process where a player selects one card from a set and passes the rest on; the cards circle around, with each player taking one at a time, until they’re all claimed. In Seasons, each player starts with nine cards and therefore ends with nine cards, but the draft lets you shape an overall strategy. After the draft, you have an additional choice to make. The game is divided into three “years” of four “seasons” each. Three of your cards will make up your starting hand, three will be reserved for the start of the second year, and three won’t be accessible until the start of the third year. It’s important to look at both the effects of the cards and their cost when deciding what cards to set aside for which year; for example, fire is only really accessible in the second half of the year, so if you have more than three good early-game cards it might be best to push any fire-heavy ones into the year 2 stack. It’s also important to note that you will be penalized for any power cards you don’t play, so you have to plan your strategy around playing out everything in your hand. Ideally, with the draft mechanic, you should have something of a strategy going into the main game, but again because of the draft, not every card will contribute well.
Despite the complex-sounding setup, the gameplay is quite simple. In a round, each player rolls the dice as described above. Starting with the first player (which rotates every round), each player performs the actions on their die, plays cards if they can afford it and want to, possibly uses the activatable abilities of their cards if any have them (most don’t), and then ends their turn. There are few enough options that turns move quickly enough that it can be difficult to remember who’s first player, which means the players stay engaged and no one gets bored. At the same time, the necessity of playing for both the short and long game, combined with there still being multiple decisions to make each turn, means that
A word of caution deserves to be mentioned about the cards. The beginner’s deck (using about half the available cards) follows the overall pattern described above, but the limited number of cards means that it’s easy to anticipate being able to get specific ones and that strategies can become repetitive. However, adding in the rest of the cards for the ‘advanced’ deck creates its own problems. A couple of the cards in the beginner deck have negative effects for other players, but there are enough additional ones—and nastier ones—in the advanced deck that, with the wrong deal, the game can end up less about pushing forward and more about dragging your opponents back. Because of these cards, and the fact that all cards in the opening deal end up having to be played, it’s best to consider carefully whether you want to upgrade. Still, many of the ‘advanced’ cards have more interesting effects and the game can feel more engaging with the increased competitiveness.
Final Thoughts: This is a very good game. It’s one of our top choices to seek out an expansion for, though, because the more cards that are available the more the game becomes one of adaptation to the deal rather than card counting and math regarding the deck. The “advanced” cards go a long way to helping this but are unfortunately dense with effects that… well if this were Magic: the Gathering they’d be called “Stax” cards but here I guess you’d call them “Negative sum” cards in that they cause more damage to the progress of others than they help their owner. I think the most problematic example is the Arcano-Leech, which, should it arrive too early, can lock players out of laying down any power cards for turns. It’s not a bad card to have in the game, it’s just irritating when two of them are the first two cards played.
The card drafting followed by dice drafting is a very interesting system, in that there are still random elements (especially the dice rolling) but the player is given agency at every step along the way. Combined with many cards that help to reduce randomness without eliminating it, I feel like that this is a model (though not necessarily a mechanic) that more games could adopt.