Review – Harmonies

Harmoniesbox

 

Designer Johan Benvenuto

Artist Maëva da Silva

Publisher Libellud (Asmodee North America)

Category Tile-Laying, Family Game

Length 30-60 minutes

Release Date May 2024

Player Count 1-4

Price $34.99 MSRP

I’m not sure what game exactly started the renaissance, but about 15 years after Carcassonne caused an explosion in tile-laying games, there has been a serious resurgence. The Spiel des Jahres, Germany’s prestigious “Game of the Year” award, has gone in recent years to Azul, Cascadia, Kingdomino, and Dorfromantik: the Board Game, for example. This year’s contender seems to be Harmonies from Libellud. Can it stick out in a now-crowded genre? Let’s take a look!

Let’s just say it up front: there’s no denying that this game is excellent. But it is somewhat hard to put into words what elevates it above its peers. Certainly, the production is a place to start. Despite complaints about ripped bags and slightly warped boards and cards (including mine), the game is extremely attractive. It has a simple-but-great insert, the wonderful, dreamy artwork that Libellud (Dixit, Mysterium) is known for, and fun, chunky landscape pieces (the “tiles” of the game). It’s got some shockingly aggressive pricing at $34.99, slightly cheaper than both Azul and Cascadia. 

The rules are also pretty simple, yet allowing for quite a bit of emergent gameplay. On your turn, you take three tokens and place them on your board. Some tokens can stack while some cannot – the reasons why are thematic (e.g. tall mountains and forests, no tall rivers) and they’re also clarified on a good player aid. (PLAYER AIDS, publishers! It’s not hard! Be like Libellud!) There are no adjacency or “grid” rules about placement, either, making things fairly easy. 

But how do you want to place your tokens, and why? Well, there are ways (again, on the player aid) that each landscape scores naturally. But much more interesting is the card system, where players can optionally draft up to one Animal Card a turn (think of these like task/objective cards). When you complete the pictured landscape, you place a cube on the part of the landscape shown in the picture, increasing your score for the card. This system is so simple, yet so brilliant. 

You can only have four ongoing cards in front of you, but as you finish them, your strategy ebbs and flows as you look for other types of tokens. The landscape doesn’t have to stay how it is on the card once you’ve placed  the cube, but new tokens cannot go on top of scoring cubes – so if you’ve scored by placing a cube on a small forest, it cannot grow any taller, for example. You can often have Animal Cards that “intertwine” so that you’re working on two at once, and sometimes these are at odds with the native landscape scoring in interesting ways. It also just feels good to complete an Animal Card, like sticking that last little Bear totem in the grid in Barenpark. 

It sounds like the game is the standard, non-interactive “take and make” tile-laying game, and in some sense it is. However, the interaction is still there: there is some tussle over drafting of tokens and of Animal Cards, and the endgame is player-triggered. I’m also just so engaged in my own puzzle that I’m not annoyed waiting on other players’ turns, even if they don’t affect me in clear and immediate ways. It’s also just somehow the best parts of games like Cascadia, Azul and Reef, creating something better than any of those. 

Let me try and explain at least one aspect of that. For example, the landscapes you are trying to make on the cards somewhat resemble Cascadia’s animal goals. But in Cascadia, they never change and are scored at the end, while the landscape changes. I find myself having to constantly check whether my Hawks still have proper line of sight or don’t as I add tiles, and sometimes the score cards are too convoluted to internalize. In contrast, the Animal Cards in Harmonies are much simpler to grok, they’re also just right in front of you until they’re finished, and finishing them requires more interesting adjustment of strategies. Additionally, being able to take a trio of tokens and place them in a wide variety of ways in Harmonies feels more flexible than in other tile-laying games. It feels like the game is at the same time more accessible, yet deeper, than its tile-laying contemporaries. 

 While I’m being positive here, I don’t think I’m shouting loud enough. I’m just amazed that yet another tile-laying game could come out, with no “real” innovation, and blow me away so completely. This feels a bit like Lords of Waterdeep did over a decade ago: taking tried and true mechanisms but shuffling them into a new, beautiful package where the whole is far more than the sum of the parts. It’s one of the best games I’ve played in 2024, and a likely contender for the Spiel des Jahres.

The Bottom Line

Despite being completely derivative, Harmonies completely outstrips its inspirations. One of the best tile-laying games of the past decade.

 

9.5

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.