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4Aug/161

Is Lanterns a Carcassonne Killer?

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Lanterns has made a splash over the last year, earning plenty of great reviews and awards nominations. It's a "lay tiles for points" game that looks a lot like Carcassonne, but is Lanterns likely to dethrone that classic game?

Lanterns certainly seems to have the edge in a couple of areas. The game is a colorful excursion into a Chinese harvest festival, with players putting out tiles that represent sets of paper lanterns being released on a lake. It's a cheerful all-ages theme that's easy to explain to new players, especially if they've who have seen the Disney movie Tangled.

The basic game mechanism of Lanterns is also simple and highly interactive. There are only three things to do -- exchange a card, score points, and play a tile. During the first few turns, you'll only be playing tiles, which makes the game even easier to teach. You score points by collecting lantern cards, and you collect lantern cards when players add tiles to the board. Good play gets you more cards, but everyone is getting a constant supply of cards.

lanterns

Lanterns spreads its colors across the table.

Lanterns Shines at Player Engagement

The "everybody earns cards every turn" rule is a stroke of genius. It takes one of the best elements of Settlers of Catan -- the hope that your opponent's next turn will get you just what you need -- and makes the drip of reward even more continuous. There's almost no downtime, and the flood of incoming resources keeps the game short and sweet. That's a big advantage over Carcassonne, where a beginning player can got a lot of turns without an appreciable increase in score.

Don't count Carcassonne out, though. The elder game's mechanic of enclosing spaces for points isn't quite as tight as the cycle of earning and playing cards in Lanterns, but the looser structure might work better for Carcassonne in the long term. Carcassonne has been putting out annual expansions for over fifteen years now. We've seen princesses and dragons, pigs and cathedrals, and dozens of other cool variants. It's hard to see where Lanterns can find the design space for so many little tweaks.

In the end, both games are strong additions to any game shelf. I've been playing Carcassonne since it was the hot new game, and I'm still not tired of it. (In fact, most of the time I still play the base game. It's just that good.) But when I want something just a little bit faster and even easier to teach, Lanterns is a new go-to game for me.

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Posted by Chris Aylott

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  1. Lanterns is pretty, but there’s something special about creating a landscape with towns, farms, churches, roads, etc. that made me flash onto Carcassonne in a way I did not do to Lanterns.


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