It has been quite a while since Allen, Han and I did a virtual boardgaming session. Now that daylight savings time has ended in Australia, the time difference with Han will be three hours instead of two. It will be more challenging because we tend to play in the evenings. Gaming on the internet is convenient, because the computer does all the setup and calculations for you. There are no physical components to fondle, and you lose the human touch a little, but there's Skype, so we still have lots of banter.
Seasons is played over 3 years of 4 seasons each.There are 3 steps per season, but the game progress marker may move between 1 to 3 steps every round, depending on the actions of the players. So the pace of the game varies from game to game. Every round some dice are rolled (one more than the number of players), and each player picks one. There are various icons on the dice. Some award energy tokens (there are four types), one lets you convert energy to crystals (crystals = victory points), one lets you draw a card, one lets you increase card slots, one lets you gain crystals directly. On your turn, you make use of these icons, and also play and activate cards.
A different type of dice are used in each season, and different types have different distributions of icons. Some energy tokens are more abundant than others depending on the season. The energy-to-crystal conversion rate is also different depending on the season.
You start the game with 7 energy token slots and no card slot. You start the game with 9 cards, which are picked using a drafting mechanism. Everyone gets nine random cards at first, picks one and passes the rest left, and this continues until everyone has claimed nine cards. Cards usually cost energy tokens to play, and give all sorts of powers as well as victory points. Some powers take effect once only when the card is played, some have ongoing effects. Some need to be explicitly activated, sometimes by paying something. You need to gain card slots before you can play cards. During the game you don't get to draw cards unless you use the card icons on the dice. Even then gaining a card is optional. You draw a card, look at it, and then decide whether you want to keep it. Any card not played by game end costs 5VP.
The most basic way of scoring VP is converting them from energy tokens. However you should always try to find more effective ways of scoring points. Cards being played give VP's, but more importantly the card powers can present huge scoring opportunities, or provide some steady benefits throughout the game to help you score VP's by other means. The is a lot of variety in the card powers, and there are many interesting combos that can be made.
Both Han and I were new to the game. Allen had played a few times before. We did a beginner level game first, where everyone starts with predetermined sets of cards, i.e. no drafting, and the card sets already have decent synergy. Gameplay was brisk, and the implementation at BGA was good. Han and I raced ahead in scoring VP's, but Allen hung back. We soon realised why. He had one card that could let him score 40VP in one shot. It could convert all his energy tokens to 4VP each. He had increased his energy token slots to ten and had filled them up, so that one patiently orchestrated move catapulted him ahead of us. To everyone's surprise, he didn't win the game. At game-end scoring, Han's card VP's let him overtake Allen to win by less than 10VP. Han 183, Allen 176, Hiew 134.
In our second game we picked the normal level, i.e. there was drafting now, but we only used the standard cards numbered 1 to 30. At the advanced level, advanced cards numbered 31 to 50 are used. This was the proper game now. We had to make our own luck when we drafted cards. We did not score as high as the learning game. When drafting cards, they need to be split into three groups, each becoming available at the start of each year. So you need to decide which cards to make available early (usually those that give ongoing benefits) and which to have later (usually those big scoring cards that require time to set up for). Picking cards that have synergy is important. Your cards will guide how you play. You need to adjust your play to your opponents' cards in play, and also the cards that you have seen and passed and know are coming sooner or later. The game is mainly about the cards and their combos. The rest of the game is just a framework.
Like Dominion, you can use 1 energy = 3VP as a guideline. That's the best rate when you convert (the term used in the game is "transmute") energy to crystals. Doing conversion at 1:3 takes a little planning. You need to have space to store energy, you need to wait until the right season comes, and you need to be able to claim a die with the transmute icon. Transmutation is more or less a reliable way to earn VP's, but with cards to support you, you want to do better than that. So it can be useful to compare whatever you are going to do against the 1:3 exchange rate. If it's no better than 1:3, it may not be worthwhile.
The gist of the game is collecting energy and converting them to VP's. You try to do this as effectively as possible using your cards. There are opportunities for clever play, in how to get your cards played, how to collect many energy tokens, and how to make the most of your card powers. Your cards determine your long-term strategy.
I found Seasons just so-so. I wonder whether I am biased by my poor showing. I am a big fan of Race for the Galaxy, and I like 7 Wonders very much too. The card play in Seasons has elements of both these games, but somehow it didn't quite click with me. Despite the very beautiful artwork, I keep getting the nagging feeling that this is just another cube-conversion exercise. Player interaction is low to medium. You can sometimes take a die that you know your opponent desperately wants. You should think of what your opponents can do with cards that you have passed up. However you are mostly charting your own strategy, taking into account your opponents' strengths and weaknesses nonetheless, but usually not being able to do much about them. There are cards that penalise your opponents, but often they can't be blocked. Your opponents just need to accept such penalties and where possible mitigate them.
I do like that there is long-term planning required. Pulling off a big scoring action which requires much preparation is very satisfying. One thing good about the game is it is very brisk, so I'm still happy to play and explore the card combinations further.