My mom has a beautiful garden, that she refers to as her pride and joy. She’s actually won awards for the mixture of flowers, bushes, vegetables, and small trees. She’s never happier than when she’s working out there, planting some new flora she’s picked up, or plotting out the next year’s crops. I think there’s a level of peace and reflection that comes from creating something alive and thriving.
Of course, beauty is all a matter of perspective, a point that’s driven home in the new game Seikatsu by Matt Loomis and Isaac Shalev, published by IDW. In Seikatsu (a Japanese word that translates to ‘life’), players take on the role of gardeners, tending a shared garden that exists between their pagodas. They compete to create the most breathtaking view from their own home base.
Seikatsu can be played by 2-4 players, but it is uniquely designed for three. The garden board features a grid of spaces with a koi pond in the centre. The outer rim of the board is divided into three different pagoda sections that determine player’s perspective.
Player’s start the game with a hand of two garden tiles. These thick plastic pieces are really beautiful. Each features a type of bird in the centre of the tile and a ring of flowers on the outside. On a turn, players will add a garden tile to the board, and draw another.
Throughout the game there is scoring to consider on two different levels. When a tile is laid, any adjacent birds that match the played tile form a flock. You score points for the amount of birds in your flock. If the tile you laid matches no adjacent birds then no flock is formed and no points are scored. At the end of the game, players score points for the flowers in the rows of the garden from their perspective. For each row, they’ll receive an amount of points based on the number of a single type of flower in the row (not necessarily adjacent). The more a type of flower appears in the row, the more points it’s worth.
This dual scoring is very interesting. It forces players to consider the short and long-term consequences when laying down a tile. Not only that, they must consider every gardener’s perspective when laying a tile. One move might earn you some bird points, but also create a larger grouping of flowers in a row for another player. It’s a fine balancing act, when you’re trying to maximize immediate and eventual points for yourself during the game.
Essentially you have to consider each move from three different angles and at two different times. Despite these permutations, the game flows quickly. It’s rated at 30 minutes, but I think experienced players could bang out rounds in less time.
Adding another dimension are the koi pond tiles. They act as a sort of wild card. When they’re placed, they can be considered any bird for flock creation, but then they sit there as a dead piece until the end game flower scoring. In the end game, they can be considered any type of flower, adding to the value of that row.
Seikatsu is a lovely game, with a beautiful board, rich with pastel colours making up the garden and thick, heavy garden tiles making up the playing pieces. I found the downtime a bit reminiscent of Splendor in the way you’ll play with your tile between rounds. There is an elegant flow to the game and it never outstays its welcome.
The game is excellent at three players, that’s what it’s designed for. I like games that excel at odd player counts. However, it also works well at two and four players. You just use two pagoda sections, instead of all three. At four, players break off into teams, taking alternating turns back and forth. I enjoy playing with a teammate, trying to anticipate their moves and work together for big scoring rounds.
I am not traditionally a fan of abstract games. There are some that I really like, such as Hive and Santorini, but for the most part I find there can be a lot of downtime as decisions are made. I also find that typically abstract games aren’t often as fun, with their lack of theme. Despite these preconceptions about the genre, I really enjoyed Seikatsu. I think jumping into this garden is worth it, whether you’re an abstract green thumb or you can barely keep a cactus alive, you’ll find things to love here.