‘Seikatsu’ Is a Lovely and Peaceful Abstract Strategy Game

Tabletop Games

Seikatsu is a word that means “life” in Japanese. In Seikatsu, a new game from IDW, the word means “fun”!

What Is Seikatsu?

Seikatsu is an abstract strategy and puzzle game for 2 or 3 players. It also has rules for 1 or 4 players. It’s for gamers aged 10 and up and plays in 30 minutes or less.

Seikatsu Components

In the box, you’ll find:

  • 1 Garden board
  • 3 Scoring pawns
  • 32 Garden tiles
  • 4 Koi Pond tiles
  • 1 Cloth bag

The board is nicely done and, if you look closely enough, shaped in a hex. There are three pagodas in the garden, blue, green, and pink, and a score track running around the outside. While the perimeter of the board has the randomness of a natural garden, the interior has an air of order. There, in the center, is a koi pond with 36 perfectly placed empty spots around it.

The scoring pawns, in wood, requisitely stick with the theme and are color coordinated flowers, each tied to one of the pagodas, the capitals of their portions of the garden. The cloth bag is a cloth bag, wide enough to easily draw tiles and branded with the game’s logo. The insert is a bit maddening with a pressing that allows for a single tile to get stuck in the box unless you dump the game, but … small complaint. Pretty standard, so far.

The tiles though, wow. There are 32 of the garden tiles, wonderfully thick and heavy plastic with the game’s name engraved in Japanese on one side and art printed on the reverse. Each tile has a bird surrounded by a ring of flowers. There are four types of flowers, in four colors, and four types of birds, also in four colors. In all, there are 16 unique tiles and a duplicate of each. These, in addition to the four koi pond tiles, are really nice and very well done. The art is beautiful and the tiles feel wonderfully important in your hands.

How to Play Seikatsu

The following setup and rules outline a three player game. Descriptions for variants are at the end of this section.

Set the board up so that a pagoda sits close to each player and place the pawns at zero on the scoring track. Randomly draw three tiles (with birds, not the wild, koi tiles) and place them on the three spaces with flowers on them, next to the center, printed, koi tile. Each player randomly draws two tiles, you are now ready to play.

On your turn, you do three things:

  • Play a tile
  • Score matching birds
  • Draw a new tile

When you play a tile, you must play on an empty spot that is adjacent to any other tile already on the board. You want to play a tile that has a bird that matches other bird tiles on the board because you are creating flocks. For your placed tile and each tile with a matching bird, you will earn one point. For example, placing a Flycatcher in a space that is adjacent to two already placed Flycatchers will earn you three points. However, if you are forced to play a bird that is not adjacent to any matching birds, you score nothing.

But that’s not the full story on scoring — there’s a long game, too. At the end of the game, when you’re finished placing tiles, you’ll score the rows of flowers you’ve planted. In each of the rows flowing from your pagoda, find the type of flower that appears the most and count the tiles with that flower on it. They needn’t be next to each other, anywhere in the row counts. The number of flowers is compared to a table and then scored on the scoring track.

This placed tile scores three, one for the just placed tile and one for each adjacent, touching, blue bird.

One final wrinkle, there are wild tiles. Should you happen to draw a koi tile, it counts as any bird on the turn that you place it, just say which bird you intend for it to be. After that turn, it is just a koi pond and doesn’t count toward any flock count. When it’s time to count flowers, the koi pond counts as a wild card for flowers, for every player. That is, each player can count it as whatever flower they want.

After playing a tile and scoring bird points, a player then draws up to the hand limit of two before the next player taking their turn. Play continues until both the draw bag and players’ hands are empty.

There are also variants for playing with one, two, or four players. In the solo variant, a player plays the role of two pagodas. Setup occurs like in a three player game (but taking care that each tile is different from the other starting tiles). The player starts the game with all four koi tiles in their hand. On each turn, the player draws a single tile and either places it next to the last tile they played – the player can place next to any of the three starting tiles on the first turn. Alternately, the players can play one of their koi tile. Whichever choice, the player will score on one of three chosen difficulties for the entire game: in easy, you score as the normal game. In medium, you ignore flock scoring. In hard, you score flocks for your opponent. The player takes turns playing for each pagoda.

The two-player game is very similar to the three player setup and game, but you place two tiles at setup instead of three and have a few additional turns when placing tiles. Everything else is the same. In a four-player game, four tiles are set at the beginning of the game and each player gets two tiles. Players are split and they play as teammates in a two pagoda game, taking turns, but not sharing information.

These images illustrate how scoring gardens in rows occurs for each player.

Why You Should Play Seikatsu

Seikatsu is one of those games you can teach in about a minute, plays pretty quickly, but you’ll want to play over and over. It’s simple to get the hang of and you can be playing in no time. Your strategies may vary from game to game based on the tiles you draw. In a single game your focus may migrate from the flock phase to the garden phase, depending on tiles you draw and how your game progresses.

Luck does play a large part in this game, you have little control over the tiles you draw and the place you were planning on placing that Scarlet Tanager tile last turn may have been taken by an opponent, so the best laid plans can easily be overturned. You may end up just making the best decision for each turn, with only a hopeful eye toward the end game. Or, you may have that great game where nearly every tile draw and placement goes your way and you beat your opponents by a landslide.

And the end of the game can prove to be a total game-changer. The garden phase routinely scores as much, if not more than the flock phase of the game. Point totals are often doubled and the leader at the end of the flock phase is not necessarily the leader at the end of the game. It makes for exciting games, a t first, but the more you play, the more you can anticipate outcomes. This require more strategic approaches, which may slow the game down a bit, but makes for more fun too.

One of the big challenges is being conscious of how tiles you play will benefit other players. A poorly placed tile may gift you an extra point in the flock phase, but give your opponent a huge multiple of your gains in the garden phase.

As with any garden, there are a few bugs. In the rulebook, the first scoring example is misprinted. Ignore it. Just go with what the text says. Second, while the three player game is great and the two-player version is almost as good, I didn’t care at all for the solo mode at all. It felt too much like me walking from one side of the table to another, pretending to play two-players. The four-player was ok, but not as fun as two or three.

I’m a big fan of abstract strategy, but, to be honest, it’s not that often that you run into one that’s this pretty. Gameplay is very enjoyable and the tiles feel very satisfying in your hands.

Seikatsu is available now and retails for $39.99.

Chart for scoring the single most common flower type in a row.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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