Many cuisines have a hodgepodge dish. Think like burgoo or gumbo or cioppino.

Basically, these dishes are where you generally take whatever ingredients are available, throw them together, and usually what comes out when it's all said and done is a tasty meal.

Seasons is a board game burgoo. Explaining each aspect of gameplay in Season usually winds up including lines like "kind of like in 7 Wonders" or "kind of like in Magic". But you take all of these different mechanics and actions and mix them together, and you wind up with quite the tasty game.

That's tasty in the figurative sense, though. Don't eat the pieces. Let's talk Seasons.

Game: Seasons
Players: 2 to 4
Gametime: 60 minutes
Designer: Regis Bonnessee (France)
Key Mechanics: Card Drafting, Dice Rolling, Resource Management

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Story: It is time to decide a new archmage for the kingdom of Xidit. This will be determined through the legendary Tournament of the 12 Seasons. For three years, the kingdom's greatest sorcerers will test their skills to see who among them is the best as utilizing great magical items and summoning faithful familiars.

What do you do?: The game starts by setting out the central game board (which basically functions as a clock for the game), and setting its timekeeping cubes to the first month of Year One. The four sets of colored seasonal dice are placed around that game board. The crystal (scoring) track is also placed in the center, and each player receives a personal board that tracks their energy reserves, summoning gauge, and bonuses used.

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But the core of Seasons is the deck of power cards. These cards hold the magical items and familiars that players will be attempting to summon throughout the game. In total there are 50 different cards, with two copies of each card. Each player is going to have nine of these cards at the start of the game.

There are options available for how those cards are distributed. For beginners, the instruction manual has a group of balanced pre-made deck arrangements that can be used. But then there's also the option of holding a draft. The draft works by dealing out nine cards to each player. Players look at this group of cards, pick one to keep, then pass the remaining eight cards to the player next to them. Then they take the new group of eight cards they've been given, keep one, pass the remainders along, and so on until each player has chosen their nine cards.

So now you have nine cards. You're not done yet. Now, you split them into groups of three. You get to have one group of three right away at the start of Year One. The second group will become available in Year Two, the last when Year Three comes around.

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OK, now we can get this tournament going. Take a look at your calendar/central board. Specifically, look at what month it is. Take the corresponding season dice that matches colors and roll them. You're going to have one more die than there are players. Each player then takes turns choosing one of the dice as their own. Once everybody chooses a die, you receive the crystals (points), abilities, or items shown on the die.

So, let's talk about these dice. For the uninitiated to Season, these die are going to look something like hieroglyphics or Na'vi. But there is a method to the madness, and it's fairly easy to catch on. Here's each possible symbol and what they mean:

  • Is there a number? A number means a player will score that many points.
  • Is there a star? A star means your summoning gage, which tells you how many power cards you're allowed to have played from your hand, increases by one.
  • Is there a symbol that looks like a leaf, water drop, feather, or flame? Those are the elemental energy tokens. You get to add those to your personal reserve. You can have up to seven energy tokens in your reserve.
  • Is there a rectangular box? This means you get to draw the top power card off the deck, then choose if you want to add it to your hand or discard it.
  • Finally, is there a circle encircling the other symbols? If so, you're allowed to transmute, or exchange energy tokens from your reserve for either one, two or three crystals each, based on the current season's exchange rate (this is shown on the central board).

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So, you pick your die, you get your rewards. Now, if you are able and so choose, you can deploy one of the cards from your hand. All these cards have a summoning cost, which can consist of certain energy tokens, a number of crystals, or a combination of the two. The power cards come in two flavors: Magic items, which only affect their owners, and familiars, whose abilities affect multiple players. Some of the cards have a single-time effect, such as extra summoning, crystals, or energy, or might have effects that can be triggered multiple times either by player action or automatically as the game goes along.

Maybe there's something you really want to do, but the dice roll and choice hasn't gone your way. That's where the bonuses come in. On your turn, you can choose to, regardless of what your die has on it, receive a bonus that includes exchanging energies in your reserve, getting extra points on transmuting, draw extra cards, or add onto your summoning gauge. But going this way has a price, since you have to pay a crystal points penalty at the end of time, and the penalty gets steeper every time you use a bonus.

So, everybody gets their die, does their turn, and now it's time to end the turn and move the time track forward. You determine this through the die that wasn't chosen by anyone back at the beginning of the turn. It will have one to three small circular pips on it. However many pips there are on the die indicates how many months forward time goes. Move the month track forward, see what season die you're using this time, and on you roll. Do this for three years...in game time, not real time.

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How to taste sweet, sweet victory: After three years, a player's final scoring is determined by taking the number of crystal accumulated during the game, adding the prestige points of the cards they've played (these are the numbers in the upper left corner of the cards), then subtracting any penalty points for bonuses used during the game and unplayed cards from their hand. Whoever has the most points is the winner.

So, what makes this game awesome?

  • Seasons is one of those games that can be very intimidating out of the box. You have these dice with weird symbols, all these different cards in front of you, this personal playing board that looks like brass knuckles, and all of these different things to track. But the learning curve is surprisingly small for as much as there is going on.
  • There's something fun about deciding how best to build a scoring machine out of the cards you've picked. There's a enlightening challenge in determining not just what cards to pick during the draft, but then deciding what cards you have to have right away and which ones you're holding to hold off on not being able to use until the game is at least two-thirds completed.
  • The power card variety allows a lot of different strategies. In one game, you could just trying scoring points as fast as possible, another game you could focus on stealing points fromother players, another time it could be about grabbing cards are trying to play 15 or 16 while other player have their original nine and winning on prestige points. And all of these things could be going on at the same time.
  • Colorful. Very very colorful. It's a well-illustrated game.

Variety is the spice of life: Seasons expansions focus on adding even more power cards to the game. The first official expansion, called Enchanted Kingdom, added 20 new power cards along with enhancement cards (which alter the game's basic rules) and tokens that grant unique powers to individual players. A second official expansion, Path of Destiny, is scheduled to be released this year.

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Other ways to play: Seasons is available to be played on the BoardGameArena website.

Watch it played: The popular Shut Up & Sit Down board game review site gave this rundown of Seasons last year.

Board Games With OB is a somewhat profane feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

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Previous Board Games With OB:[Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus] [Puerto Rico] [Love Letter] [Can't Stop] [The Red Dragon Inn] [Dominion] [King of Tokyo] [Pandemic] [Spyrium] [Settlers of Catan]