We’ve never participated in a Chinese Lantern Festival. But we can imagine how cool it would be to see.
After all, we’ve seen the hope lit lanterns can bring in Disney’s movie Tangled. And that led to “happily ever after”, right?
Of course, that was an animated movie and I don’t recall any of the Tangled characters being Chinese – so that must mean our total for Chinese Lantern Festivals is still zero.
But we’re trying!
And it’s quite an enjoyable experience!
How to play Lanterns: The Harvest Festival
Lanterns is a tile-laying game where players create the board as the game progresses. And in this case, the board is a lake with colorful lanterns all over. The placement of the tiles determines which colored cards players will collect — which they’ll then be able to turn in sets of cards to score points.
Like we enjoy in fun family board games, the game play in Lanterns is very simple to understand.
To begin, players set the starting Lake tile (the one with the image of a boat in the center) in the center of the table so that each edge is oriented toward one of the players.
All of the lantern cards are set to the side in their individual stacks by color.
The Dedication (scoring) tiles are also placed to the side in stack by color in descending order with the highest value tile on top. Depending on the number of players, some of the Dedication tiles will be removed from play.
Each player draws 3 Lake tiles to their hand and the rest of the Lake tiles are placed in a face down stack to the side. The number of Lake tiles used in a game also depends on the number of players.
Each player also collects a lantern tile corresponding to the color on the starting Lake tile facing their direction to begin the game.
Players may do the following 3 actions in this order on their turn.
1. Exchange a Lantern card
At the beginning of their turn, the active player may spend 2 Favor Tokens to exchange one of their Lantern cards for any other Lantern card of their choice from the supply.
2. Make a Dedication
The active player may use a specific set of Lantern cards to make 1 Dedication.
Each stack of Dedication tiles specifies the type of set needed to claim a tile. The options are: Four of a Kind (4 of same color), Three Pair (2 each of any 3 different colors), and Seven Unique (1 of every color).
This is the main objective in the game as players race to claim the most-valuable Dedication tiles first.
3. Place a Lake Tile
The active player chooses a Lake tile from their hand and places adjacent to an existing Lake tile on the table.
Although the colors on each side of the touching Lake tiles do not need to match, the active player will benefit by doing so. If the color on any side of the newly place Lake tile does match the color on an adjacent tile, the active player will collect that color Lantern card from the supply.
In addition, if any of the matching Lake tiles have Platforms on them, the active player also received a Favor token for each Platform.
Then each player (active player and others) will collect a color Lantern card matching the color on the side of the newly played tile facing them.
So on every turn, every player collects a colored Lantern card!
The only caveat is that the supply may run empty for that color. In which case, that player is out of luck.
Once a player has placed their Lake tile and Lantern cards are collected, the player draws another Lake tile to replenish their hand to 3 Lake tiles and play continues to the next player.
After the last Lake tile has been placed, players each take one final turn.
Since they’ll have no more Lake tiles to play, the only things they can do is turn in Exchange Lantern Cards and Make a Dedication.
Players then total up the scores form their claimed Dedication tiles and the player with the most points wins the game.
(And let’s not forget — the final step is actually taking a photo of the finished, colorful lake.)
Can the whole family enjoy Lanterns: The Harvest Festival?
Lanterns is an absolutely wonderful board game for families of all ages.
The simplicity of play makes it easy for kids to understand and enjoy. Yet there’s also a level of strategy that adults can enjoy as well.
And all age groups will enjoy the cool, colorful lake of lanterns that results.
On the light side, we simply love the tile-laying aspect where it doesn’t require edges to match.
In Carcassonne (still one of our favorite family board games), all tile edges must match. Thus, placement of tiles requires strategy in creating the countryside for maximum points.
In Lanterns however, any Lake tile can be placed next to any other tile. But if placed well, the active player will get bonus cards. And the more cards you collect, the better off you’ll be in creating sets for scoring later.
So while matching isn’t required, it does pay dividends for those who seek it out.
Another element that makes Lanterns great for family play is that all players get cards on everyone’s turn. There really isn’t any downtime between turns because players are constantly getting cards. Not only does this make for quick game play, but it also keeps players engaged the whole time.
This also means that the state of the Lake and options for making sets will change between your turns. You may have plans to make a dedication with a certain set of cards, but based on the cards you collect between your turns, by the time it comes back to you, you may be able to turn in a more valuable set of cards. Score!
Which also leads to another layer of the game.
If you’re playing with others who like games that are more competitive in nature, you’ll find something else to watch out for due to this game element.
Because other players will get cards on your turn, you’ll be choosing your tiles even more carefully. Now you’ll not only be looking for which cards you’ll receive, but which cards you’ll be granting to others. And you may choose to hold back on playing certain tiles because they’ll help an opponent make a valuable dedication.
And the last element we’ll mention that makes Lanterns a great family board game is that there’s a way to exchange cards. Granted, to do so players need to first collect Favor tokens by playing tiles with Platforms on them. But at least there’s a way to make a card swap that can make a big difference.
Whether you like your game play on the light side or with a bit more competitiveness, there’s plenty to enjoy in Lanterns.
How does Lanterns score on our “Let’s Play Again” game meter?
Lanterns scores very high on our “let’s play again” game meter. The game keeps players engaged the whole time and final scores are typically close together — prompting requests to play it “one more time”.
Lanterns also doesn’t take long to play and there isn’t much trouble in resetting the game for a subsequent play. Just flip all the Lake tiles over, re-stack the Dedication tiles, group the lantern cards, take your starting hand and you’re at it again.
Thanks Foxtrot Games for this great tile-laying and set collection family game with a colorful theme.
If you’d like a second opinion of Lanterns, we’d recommend you watch this short video review by the Game Boy Geek.