Picture the scene: it’s a warm, sunny day. You are sat in a garden looking out across a neatly cut lawn. Maybe there is a water feature. A pond or, if you are lucky, a natural brook. The peaceful trickle of running water provides a subtle accompaniment to the birdsong overhead.
Perhaps the last vestige of spring blossom is still on the trees or, if you prefer, it is late summer, and the leaves are beginning to turn from dark green into the burnt orange and red of autumn. You look across the garden. Calm, peaceful. Enjoying your favourite view.
Time passes and the sun moves across the sky. Its glare makes it difficult to see. You pick up the garden chair and move into the shade by the fence. Settling in, you realise that the view has changed. A subtle shift in perspective. The flowers face away from you and, from this new position, they seem dulled. The shadows cast by the trees stretch at unfamiliar angles and the brook is quieter. It’s unsettling, you don’t like this view and you begin to move back into the sun.
From behind you, your neighbour appears: “Good to see you”, they say. “Don’t you think the view from here is wonderful. Easily the best view of the whole garden….”
Seikatsu is an abstract tile laying strategy game for 1-4 players. Taking turns to place tiles, the aim is to build a garden with the most pleasing view. The player with nicest view is the player with the most points at the end of the game.
The mechanics of Seikatsu are very simple. In essence: pick up, then place a tile and score points based on the pattern made. As with all such games, however, the skill lies in how, and when, points are scored.
There are two types of tile in Seikatsu. The first and most common are bird and flower tiles. These feature a bird of varying colours surrounded by a circle of flower petals. When placed, these score points immediately for the number of matching birds adjacent to it. No flock of matching birds, no points.
The second type are Koi tiles. Just four in number, these rare tiles are wild. They count as any bird when first placed, however, do not retain this status on subsequent turns. Fish can’t fly, after all.
My Rows, Your Columns
The game ends when all tiles are placed, and this is where Seikatsu differentiates itself from many other, similar games.
Those flower petal halos surrounding the birds are not there purely for artistic value. Instead they are potentially extremely valuable points. Scored at the end of the game with a point value based on the unique viewpoint of each individual player, this is where the heart of Seikatsu lies.
The hexagonal playing area is divided into columns and each column scores points for the number of matching flower petals in it. The same tile layout might, for me, score a total of 30 points, however, for you, due to your differing perspective on the board and the order of the tiles – my rows are your columns – it might score 40 points.
A game of Seikatsu is a subtly shifting kaleidoscopic balancing act. Ensuring points are scored each turn to stay close to your opponents while planning for the end game from both your, and your two opponents', viewpoints is vital. That tempting four-point flock of Scarlet Tanagers might well gift an opponent a 21-point primrose flower garden. Keep in mind also that those use once wild Koi have a double life as wild-flowers and it is each player’s choice as to which flower type they are during their individual scoring round.
But this comes later.
The attention-grabbing artwork is first. The no-expense spared sheen of the embossed box. The stunning Japanese influenced art. The high quality poker chip style tiles. The lovingly illustrated game board; the clearly written rulebook.
However, this is also where you start to wonder about Seikatsu.
Those wonderful tiles are surrounded by an awful lot of empty space inside that box. A handful of components (plus board) in a space suitable for three times as many bits. In this Kickstarter age of bits piling upon bits to the point where there is an industry built around supplying organisers for those seeing so few cream tokens inside such a relatively large amount of black plastic is quite jarring. Surely a more compact packaging solution could have been found.
“Oh…is that it?”
Probably not the first impression the publishers (IDW Games) had in mind when printing a pattern on the expanse of plastic housing the components.
And that leads us to the next question. The box clearly states 1-4 players. It’s right there on the side in pretty purple foil. Yet, there are only three player markers included and three distinct sections on the board.
You see, despite what the box says, Seikatsu is really a three-player game. The rest is smoke and mirrors designed to broaden the games appeal.
At two players, Seikatsu does work quite well but it lacks the full challenge of considering multiple viewpoints. The solo game is interesting with varying difficulty levels and very quick to play. However, it isn’t enough of a puzzle to warrant repeated plays. At four players things get a little strange. A two vs two team game where the team cannot confer regarding tiles in hand or the best placement of those tiles. Maybe that works, maybe not. Depends on your viewpoint perhaps but it does feel very much an afterthought from here.
This a real shame, marring what is otherwise an excellent game. Quick to teach, quick to play. A thinking person’s filler. The viewpoint mechanic blends seamlessly with a theme likely to have broad appeal outside the dedicated gaming community. And it looks wonderful. If only the publishers had allowed the game to stand on its merits as the three-player game it so clearly is.
Final Thoughts on Seikatsu
An abstract strategy game with top notch components that excels at a frequently awkward player count. When taken it for what it truly is – a quick and interesting three player puzzle – it is hard to find anything negative to say about Seikatsu. Packaged as 1-4 players, however, it runs the risk of disappointing those looking for a game to be played primarily at the other player counts.