Lanterns: The Harvest Festival Review

Based on a popular board game by the same name, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival ($4.99) (Lanterns for short) is a beautifully realized digital conversion of this domino-style color matching game. The presentation of the game is an artful expression of matching patterns of Japanese lanterns in a pond. How well does this serene setting translate into a compelling contest against AI and online players alike? Read on to find out.

Lanterns was translated from the original board game by Foxtrot Games to the mobile realm by Dire Wolf Digital, a video game company that is rapidly gaining a reputation for impeccable art and interface programming excellence. In addition to Lanterns, Dire Wolf is also busy working on the upcoming digital collectable card games EternalCardCraft and the highly anticipated Hearthstone competitor, The Elder Scrolls: Legends published by Bethesda Softworks. Even with their small team of developers, designers, and artists, Dire Wolf somehow managed the resources to release Lanterns (oh, the company also created its own physical board game, Clank, a deck-building dungeon crawler that is getting rave reviews from board game review sites). Given what the company has already achieved, I was anxious to see what made it decide on Lanterns to be its first iOS board-game conversion. 

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Lanterns iPhone Title Screen

I never played the original Lanterns board game, so I initially relied on the quick tutorial at the beginning of the game. However, it still left me a little confused as to the optimized objectives and strategy to employ in order to win the game, so I opted to watch a playthrough of the original board game on YouTube to gain a better understanding of the game's flow and strategic approaches. The attractively presented 10 page Rules section available from the main screen also proved helpful toward solidifying the best winning strategies to adopt.

Lanterns iPhone Main Screen

Once I got the hang of the game (after initially thinking that the rules were more complex than they really are), I played through several rounds against the AI in two-, three-, and four-player modes. The game also offers a multiplayer online mode by requiring players to first register an account with Dire Wolf via the app. However, this online player account seems to be specific to Lanterns, as a previous account I created for beta access to Dire Wolf's upcoming Eternal game failed to be recognized in the Lanterns multiplayer login screen. Once I did create a new account and log in, I attempted several times to compete in a ranked game at various times of the day but remained "In Queue" for several minutes each time before finally giving up. Eventually a ranked game commenced when I logged in a few hours later and discovered that an individual had joined in for a pass-and-play game. I was hoping for a real-time competition, but was unsuccessful doing so. The game encourages adding friends, so until Lanterns gains a critical mass of online players, playing against registered friends may be the only consistent online multiplayer option available.  The game offers a number of challenges and achievements as well as a leaderboard for both Friends and Overall rankings to encourage further mastery of the game.

Lanterns iPad Main Screen

The presentation of the digital version of Lanterns is sublime, from the beautifully subtle touches (such as a Koi lazily swimming around the floating tiles) and flourishes of animation and vibrant use of color to the contemplative oriental musical soundtrack that is occasionally punctuated by gongs and shimmering sprinkles of congratulatory audible cues (as well as water splashes whenever new lantern cards are placed into the pond play area) when a point-gaining move is played. The app also runs flawlessly on both the iPhone (confined to Portrait mode) and the iPad in landscape mode. The game's design investment exceeded my expectations of high attention to detail and outstanding quality that Dire Wolf is solidifying its reputation on.

Lanterns iPad Win

Yet even with such a beautifully executed, highly polished experience, I simply found the gameplay itself, well, boring. I usually enjoy contemplative challenges like these (Mahjong being my go-to, low-stress pattern-matching game of choice). I simply had little interest in playing the game more than about a dozen times, even with the game's challenges and achievements trying their best to motivate me to progress further.

Overall, Lanterns is a game with amazing audiovisual polish usually reserved for PC or console games; but unlike other Dire Wolf titles to date, it could not hold my attention or desire to load up the app for "just one more round." I'll instead be anticipating the company's upcoming release of its digital card games to eventually soak up whatever future free time I may have.

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Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.