Indian Summer review
A few years ago video games saw a strangely controversial new genre emerge: games in which you explored an environment and looked at things. Dubbed ‘walking simulators’, they were a tranquil, meditative alternative to the running and gunning of big-budget titles. Now board games are producing a similar genre: gentle games with themes so laid back they’re practically horizontal filled with elements guaranteed to give you warm fuzzy feelings: fallen leaves, autumn berries, hazelnuts, badgers, squirrels – and Uwe Rosenberg.
Indian Summer is the sequel to 2015’s Cottage Garden, and the second part in a ‘puzzle trilogy’ of games by the designer of Agricola, Bohnanza and Patchwork. Both Cottage and Indian, and Patchwork too, involve arranging odd-shaped tiles to cover boards, where some of the spaces you cover have special effects.
Here, each player gets a board showing part of the forest floor, including what the game calls ‘treasures’: mushrooms, berries, feathers and nuts. Each also gets a hand of five tiles showing fallen leaves, which can be red (five squares), orange (four) or green (three). All the pieces are gorgeous. They’re not flashy, but they’re beautifully harmonious and work together to build up a lovely collage of autumnal detritus.
However, each tile also has a hole in it, and if you can position that hole over a treasure then you put a relevant token over the hole. Complete a subsection of the board and you can claim every token on it. Complete a particular arrangement of holes and you can cover them with an animal tile, which gives you more tokens and makes your board even prettier. First to fill their board ends the game, but there are some special conditions that may snatch the victory from you and shatter your inner calm.
Two styles of play become obvious quickly. You can arrange leaves, tokens and the occasional animal in a pleasing fashion, and Indian Summer is great for that. It’s a lovely, very satisfying game to play. Its theme of having a walk through the woods doesn’t quite fit, but you’ll feel you’re doing well right up to the moment you lose, and you won’t really care because it’s the kind of game where you can swap nuts for squirrels to fill holes in your pattern. It’s just nice.
Or you can realise the way to win is using the treasures effectively, because each one can be spent for an advantage – refilling your hand early, taking other players’ tiles and so on – and you can spend more than one each turn. If every player twigs this, the game stops being a nice walk through the forest and becomes a frantic sprint trying to avoid muggers. This is Indian Summer’s true form, and where you’ll have most fun on replays.
There’s also a solo-play ruleset, where the ‘puzzle trilogy’ earns its name. You have just ten turns to fill your board, and it is properly hard.
Indian Summer is the child of Patchwork and the sibling of Cottage Garden, but its mechanics are more elegant (though twiddly in places), its gameplay more holistic and its charm more obvious. It is not a truly great game – if you already own one of its relatives then don’t feel you have to have this – but, for the connoisseur, watching a master designer work through variations on a theme is a true pleasure.
The core gameplay is nothing new, but this is not the same game as Cottage Garden and its bucolic theme hides tactical depth. Not many games make you ask yourself whether you should risk shattering the tranquility around the table by grabbing the win.
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Artist: Andrea Boekhoff
Time: 15-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.