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Game review: World's Fair 1893, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and Apotheca provide something special for every kind of gamer

Posted March 20

Renegade Game Studios recently produced a string of hits that fans are devouring. This article reviews three excellent games bound to capture the imagination of gamers who like easy-to-learn but strategic games. World's Fair 1893, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and Apotheca are sure to please.

In the game World's Fair 1893, gamers will be faced with a series of tough decisions as they ponder each turn where to place supporters to gather cards and increase their influence to earn points that will win the game. It's an easy game to learn for two to four players that takes about 30 minutes.

The game board consists of five exhibit areas at the World's Fair surrounding a central Ferris wheel. The wheel keeps track of time, and when it completes a revolution it is time to score the round.

On a player's turn he or she must decide which of the five exhibit areas of the fair he or she will send a supporter to. At that area, the active player takes all of the cards by it. New cards are then added to some of the areas.

There are three types of cards representing tickets, special people (personas) and exhibit proposals. Ticket cards are counted every round and the person with the most scores two points and everyone scores a point per ticket card. The cards are then returned to the draw pile. Persona cards can be played to break the rules or do a specific action on a following turn. Exhibit cards can be traded into colored tokens representing that exhibit, scoring points.

There are three scoring rounds in the game, each triggered by players gathering a certain number of Midway tickets. Players gain points for having a majority of supporters in each of the five exhibit areas. Majority holders in an area also have the opportunity to change in exhibit cards for points, as mentioned above. Players gain points at the end of the game based on the variety of their exhibits. Get a colored exhibit token from all five areas and score 15 points.

The thing that strikes me the most about this game is how well-designed it is. It is a tight game that can be explained to new gamers in five minutes or less. It contains tough decisions about where to place supporters, which cards to collect and how to score points most effectively. It's a solid title for the weekend strategist and casual gamer.

Beautiful colored lanterns are a cultural tradition in some countries and Lanterns: The Harvest Festival puts two to four players in the role of creative organizers making a light display by laying tiles and collecting card sets to score the most points.

The square tiles in the game depict four colored groups of lanterns on each edge. On a player's turn, he or she places a tile next to another tile on the table. Most of the time everyone will get a card of the color facing them on the tile. If a tile's edge matches the edge of another tile, the active player gets an extra card of that color.

For example, player one decides to play a tile with green lanterns on the north edge, blue lanterns on the east edge, red lanterns on the south edge and black lanterns on the west edge. It matches a tile already played on the north edge showing green lanterns. The active player gets a green card (for matching another green tile edge) and a red card (because she is playing the game on the south side of the table). The player to the north gets a green card, the player to the east a blue card and the player to the west gets a black card.

Some tiles have a special symbol on them and when played to match another tile's edge, a player will earn a special favor token. Two favor tokens can be exchanged for any colored card. Speaking of cards, well, that is where the scoring is at.

On a player's turn they may discard sets of cards for scoring tiles (dedications). Tiles are awarded for discarding four of a kind, one of each of the seven colors or three pairs. The ingenious scoring tiles come in stacks and the more that are taken, the less they are worth. So cashing in cards first is important.

Play continues until all the lantern tiles are placed. Then each player has one more turn to cash in cards for scoring tiles. The person with the most points in scoring tiles is the winner.

There is so much strategy associated with this game than what might first meet the eye. Players must strike a balance between what they need and what they are helping their opponents receive, because everyone receives cards on every turn. Players who pay attention to what is going on at the table will be victorious.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is an excellent game to play to just unwind at the end of the day. The rules are easy to digest. The strategy is focused. And the game looks beautiful on the table with its myriad of colored lights. It plays just as well with two as it does three or four. It is a light strategy game that will keep people coming back again and again.

The game Apotheca is themed around one to four players being part of a secret potion society trying to create combinations of powerful potions. But at its heart, Apotheca is an abstract game wherein players try to align potions of the same color in a row or column on a board shaped like a four by four grid. Think about all the cool apps out there where players try to align gems of the same color and it's similar.

The four by four grid board is placed at the center of the table and set up with three different colored potions: red, yellow and blue. But some potion tiles on the board are facedown and must be revealed to determine the color.

The goal of the game can be easily explained: Earn points by matching three potions of the same color in a row. The first player to get three matches wins. It sounds easy, right? But there's much more.

On a turn a player takes two of four possible actions. First they can reveal a facedown potion. Whatever the color is, the player takes a corresponding gem of that color. Second, a player may draw up to three potion tiles, look at them, and place them on the board.

The third action that can be performed takes into account the apothecary cards. Each player starts with one and more may be purchased. The apothecaries can be activated and they will grant special powers. For example, an apothecary may allow a player to swap tiles on the board to make it easier to score or prevent another player from scoring.

The fourth action allows players to use gems to purchase apothecary cards. Gems are earned by creating matches and, as mentioned above, apothecaries can be used to take special magic actions. The more a player has, the more powerful he or she becomes.

However, what's interesting in this game is that when a player makes a match, he or she must place it on one of his or her apothecaries and remove it from the game. Thus a player must create balance by collecting gems, purchasing apothecaries and creating matches to keep his or her game engine running.

It is surprising how much thought and strategy goes into a game of Apotheca as the layout of the board changes, apothecary powers come into play and matches are created. There's nothing like aligning three colors in a row!

One of the unique aspects to this game is how it changes based on the number of players. It can be played solo, with four players in two teams, with two players and with three players. But the best mode is one versus three, "the master of the market." The master takes a turn between the three other players, controls all of the apothecaries and determines which color will score. It's chaotic, crazy and a whole lot of fun.

Apotheca is a simple game to learn but hard to master. The wonderful design lends itself to quick play and setup but the different game modes, apothecary cards and strategies will provide hours of exploration. This is what a well-designed board game looks like. Find out more about Apotheca and the other two games reviewed here at Renegade Game Studios website.

Email: rmorgenegg@deseretnews.com

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