As interest in board games continues to rise, so too does the interest in exploring new ways of playing those games. One such way is through digital ‘ports’ of those games – translating them PCs, consoles, phones, and tablets.
While digital versions may not exactly replace the feeling of a physical board game, many add subtle tweaks that such as for solo play, campaign modes, online competition, or simply as a more portable way to enjoy the game. This is new territory to explore. Welcome, to the Pixel Provinces.
Since it first shined its pleasantly vibrant lights with the gaming world, Lanterns has achieved great renown for being a simple yet fulfilling tile game that skillfully matches a casual social experience with set matching and color placement mechanics. When it was later announced that it was going digital, the question became: does that same experience carry over into the app world?
In Christopher Chung’s Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, the harvest has finally arrived and players are tasked with decorating the palace lake with floating lanterns in celebration. Players have a hand of tiles with various color arrangements of floating lanterns on them, which they place in the palace lake to collect colored lantern cards. These lanterns can be dedicated in sets – four of one color, three pairs, or one of each color – to earn honor, and the player that earns the most honor before the festival begins wins.
Lantern’s tutorial is concise and to the point, which is fitting for this quick tile placement game. The tutorial allows you to play out a full game with interjecting explanations, which provides new players the opportunity to experience every aspect of the game before entering into online ranked games.
That said, although the tutorial’s concise nature doesn’t present an issue for returning Lanterns players, it feels almost too concise for newcomers. The spatial aspect of Lanterns can be difficult for some new players to grasp, and, while the tutorial does explain what happens when a tile is placed, an example explanation or two during an AI’s turn could have helped the tutorial feel more complete.
Still, unlike most digital adaptations, Lanterns also includes a rulebook that can be referenced from the main menu, which is a helpful supplement to its speedy tutorial.
Lanterns’ set collection and tile placement mechanics transfer flawlessly to its digital adaptation. The focus of Lanterns’ physical game is on matching colors and collecting sets of lanterns through tile placement, which is a mechanic that lends itself well to the digital adaptation’s intuitive drag and drop system. The game fully embraces the physical game’s bright color palette, giving Lanterns stunning screen presence.
Players have the option between local and online games. Local mode allows players to choose between a pass and play match or a solo match against the game’s AI, which comes in three difficulty levels. The easy AI provides a good starting point for new players, while the normal and hard AI levels are challenging without seeming impossible.
AI players can be added to a pass and play game to increase the player count, but the game can easily be played with as little as two local players. The game does not include a save game option, however, regardless of whether you’re playing against the AI or friends.
Lanterns also includes an online ranking system, where players can join the queue to get matched up in asynchronous games. Matching with online players is relatively quick, and the game search option allows players to choose how many people they’d like to play against, making it easy to customize their online games.
Unlike local games, online games don’t have to be finished in one sitting; while getting matched in a game is a relatively quick process, the online mode is more suited for players that prefer longer games where they only take a few turns a day.
Many digital adaptations of board games are hindered by the size constraint of a screen, but Lanterns is one that is especially affected by it. Being able to see how all of the tiles are laid out is crucial to crafting a strategy in Lanterns, and the size constraint of smaller screens makes this especially difficult. The game doesn’t include a zoom feature, and only a few tiles are visible at one time, requiring players to frequently scroll across the screen to find all the possible tile placements. Repeated scrolling can disrupt the flow of the game, and tends to draw out the game’s length.
The size constraint becomes much less of a concern when played on a tablet instead of a phone. The tablet’s size doubles the amount of visible tiles and allows more breathing room for player areas and the display of available lantern cards, making it a superior choice when trying to play Lanterns digitally. Still, while playing on a tablet does improve the tile visibility, scrolling is often still required to view the entire game state.
Moreover, while the lantern colors are important to the set collection aspect of the game, care was taken to also depict the lantern shapes in each of the player areas, which is a positive step towards upholding the game’s accessibility for colorblind players.
Overall, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a solid adaptation of its tabletop predecessor. It suffers heavily from size constraints which can draw out game length through repeated scrolling, but the game’s stunning graphics and simple UI allow the adapted gameplay to really shine. The play options allow players plenty of choice when setting up a game and maintain the lighthearted fun that has made the tabletop version so adored.
Sara Perry is a contributing writer and aspiring game designer with a love for games both physical and digital. Also cats. She can be best reached via Twitter.
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