Seikatsu was one of several 2017 abstract releases to utilize the “line of sight” mechanism. In order to score in these games, you have to place your pieces so that they can be seen (or give the best view of something) from a certain perspective. In Photosynthesis, you need your trees to be seen by the sun. In Topiary, you need to place your meeples so that they have the best view of the topiaries. Unlike these others, Seikatsu uses two types/phases of scoring, meaning your actions have both short and long term consequences. Is this enough to set it apart from the others? Let’s see.
How It Plays
Seikatsu is a tile/chip placing game. You’re trying to create large flocks of birds on each turn while simultaneously setting yourself up for the end of the game when the values of the flowers are calculated.
Most of the chips in the game depict birds surrounded by a ring of colored flowers. There are also chips that depict koi which act as wilds. At the beginning of the game, you draw two tiles from the bag and keep them secret in your hand. Random tiles are also chosen and placed on specific board spaces (depending on the number of players). You’ll choose a pagoda (green, blue, or pink) which will determine your perspective for end-game flower scoring.
On your turn you play any tile from your hand onto the board. There are only two rules when playing a tile: The tile must be played on an empty space and the tile must be placed adjacent to another tile already on the board.
If the tile you placed matches a bird on an adjacent space, you’ve created a flock. Score one point for the bird on the tile you played, plus one point for each matching bird on an adjacent tile. (Note that it’s only the birds on adjacent tiles that score, not any others that are also connected.) It does not matter where on the board the flock is created. It’s only during end-game flower scoring that the perspective of your pagoda comes into play.
Koi tiles count as a bird of your choice when they are played. You’ll score any flock created as normal. However, the koi does not count as a bird on any future turns, either for you or for other players.
After you’ve played your tile and scored any flocks, draw another tile from the bag and add it to your hand. Play passes to the next player.
The game ends when each player has played their last tile. Now you’ll score the flowers and add that score to the points you earned for flocks during the game.
You’ll score flowers using the perspective of your pagoda. Imagine that you’re standing on the terrace looking out over the shared garden. There are seven rows of flowers extending in front of you. Look down each row and count how many flowers of each type there are in each row. (Any koi chips count as the flower of your choice.)
The set with the most flowers is the only one that will score in that row. (So, for example, if you have three blue flowers in the row and only one or two of other colors, the blues are the only ones to score.) The tiles do not have to be adjacent, simply located in the same row.
Sets score on a sliding scale so that the more you have, the more points you earn. One flower is worth one point, 2=3pts., 3=6pts., 4=10pts., 5=15pts., and 6=21pts. Figure out your points for each of the seven rows you can “see” and then add those points to the points you scored for flocks during the game. The player with the most points wins.
Note that the rules for a 4-player game have players divided into teams of two. Play progresses more or less the same as the regular game with each player taking turns placing tiles. The trick is that you cannot show or discuss the tiles in your hand with your teammate. You score for your team instead of individually and the team with the most points wins.
A Perspective on a Game of Perspective.
I am not a huge fan of abstract games. Or at least I wasn’t until the last few years gave me Azul, Battle Sheep, Sagrada, Photosynthesis, Topiary and Seikatsu. I think my dislike of abstracts goes back to chess. While chess is a great game, it’s not for me. Frankly, I’m terrible at it and playing it is never fun. Over the years I’ve unfairly lumped most abstracts under the heading of chess in my mind.
But this new crop of games has me singing a different tune. These abstracts are fun for me. Part of it is how attractive they are. Sure, I’m shallow, but give me great artwork or a fun theme and I’m happier to sit at the table.
Also, I prefer simplicity in my abstracts. By simplicity I don’t necessarily mean an incredibly light game, or something appropriate for kids. I prefer simple rulesets that are easy to learn, but which still offer a wide decision space and enough depth that I’ll need a few plays to get good at a game.
Seikatsu hits on both categories. It’s lovely. The chips are hefty and provide a great tactile experience. The birds and flowers look like something out of an Audubon book. And the board is colorful and well laid out. Everything is easy to see and the perspective of your pagoda is clear.
The only gripes I have with the production are these: First, the pink and purple flower colors can be a little hard to distinguish. Second, there is an incorrect scoring example in the rulebook that leads to some confusion until you realize that it is an error.
Seikatsu is also super easy to learn and teach. The basic rules cover two pages. You have two things to do on your turn: Place a chip and then score it, if applicable. That’s it. But for all that it is so easy to learn, it’s not a game that you’ll master on the first try. That’s because it’s not just about placing chips and scoring bird flocks.
If it were, it would be too simple. Instead, you score your birds during the game, but those same chips will also be scored at the end of the game in a completely different way. Instead of looking at the birds, now you’re looking at the flowers and needing to have a large number of a single color in each row that’s visible from your pagoda.
And that changes things quite a bit. Now you have to ask yourself whether you should go for the bird points now, or the flower points later. The birds don’t seem like they’re worth a lot. The most you can get from a flock is seven points, and that’s nearly impossible. But points are points and every little bit helps because it’s the total that matters.
It’s tempting to focus on the flowers, instead. You can get twenty-one points if you can get six in a row. The problem is that your opponents (if they’re paying attention) can easily see what you’re doing and stop you from racking up those big points. That may leave you regretting passing up the opportunity to make some smaller flocks.
Ideally you’d make a move that gave you a good-sized flock and added to the flowers you have in a row, but that’s not always (or often) going to be possible. Remember, you have no control over which tiles come into your hand (and that’s the only luck present in this game). So even if the opportunity to do something great opens up, you may not have the tile to take advantage of it.
The trick is to always focus on outscoring your opponents. And since you can see everything that they’ve done, it’s possible. You may not need to go for the big flower score if your opponent isn’t making many inroads in flowers, either. Instead what you need is a steady stream of points on every turn, plus some solid, if not spectacular, points at the end. But it’s sometimes hard to resist the siren call of the flower bonus, even if it ends up stinging you in the end.
It’s this two-phase decision making that I enjoy about Seikatsu. It’s not the deepest game by any stretch, but it does fiddle with your brain in an interesting way. Gamers looking for a heavy brain burn should probably look elsewhere (like chess), but for those seeking a lighter experience, Seikatsu is a gem.
We really enjoyed it with two-players, but the game has the distinction of being an almost perfect game with three players. This makes it something of a rarity in gaming. Most games seem to do best with two or four, but three is the sweet spot here. There’s more competition for spots, but not too much. With one more perspective to watch out for, your brain gets even more of a workout.
I did not care for Seikatsu with four players, however. The four player game is played in teams and I almost never enjoy team games. In this case, it’s made weird because you can’t talk with your teammate about what tiles you have in your hands or what you should play. Yet you score as a team. It feels awkward and tacked on. If you love team games you may feel differently.
Seikatsu also offers a solo mode which was an enjoyable way to spend some time. It has adjustable difficulty levels, making it more fun than if you had to play one way all the time. This isn’t my favorite solo game (those honors usually go to something with more story or theme), but it’s a decent time killer.
Seikatsu has won a place on my shelf. It’s a near-perfect weeknight game that takes no time to set up, play, and put away, yet which requires thoughtful play. The artwork is also very calming after a tough day. Because it’s so short, we can play multiple games in a row, allowing us the fun of rematches or two out of threes. We’ll also use it as a gateway game. The theme is approachable and the rules are easy for non-gamers to grasp. I’ve found it works really well among the older people in my circle. They all love birds! If this sounds like a game you’d enjoy, I recommend Seikatsu.