Published by IDW Games, Seikatsu is a board game in which one to four players use tiles to build a shared garden. Though all participants contribute to the creation of a single garden, the game’s scoring system ensures competitive play. I was instantly intrigued by the game’s nature aesthetic, but how do the serene visuals mesh with the gameplay? Is Seikatsu as fun of an experience as it is a unique one?
My first impression of Seikatsu upon opening up the box was that the game is very well-manufactured. The game board is gorgeous, with a variety of bright colors and plants that seem to promise a cheery but laid-back experience. The garden area takes up a majority of the board and extends outward from the center, while the edges are covered by three pagodas. Each player is assigned a pagoda from which to determine their perspective of the garden and their resultant score once the time comes. The communal garden is built up turn by turn using tiles, most of which depict birds surrounded by flowers. The art on the tiles is bright and impressive, but also disappointingly limited. There are only five or so types each of birds and flowers from which to create the communal garden, so there’s a definite sense that more of nature’s varied beauty could have been captured. Nonetheless, all of Seikatsu‘s artwork is very pretty, and what details are present create confidence that playing the game will be a relaxing experience.
Unfortunately, that sense is incorrect. As strong as the art direction and manufacturing for Seikatsu is, the actual gameplay is a source of major disappointment. Most of what one ends up doing is just setting tiles next to similar tiles, and building the garden provides no sense of wonder or success. Matching birds with like birds or flowers with like flowers feels more like crossing items off of a to-do list than it does passionately working toward a goal or tending to something beautiful. The relative lack of choices for the garden’s contents is a major setback here; there’s no pleasure in designing something when one only has a small handful of predetermined options.
Perhaps Seikatsu‘s biggest failing is that the appealing aspects of its design and concept are largely contradicted by the actual gameplay and scoring system. What looks like a fun game about appreciating nature and building something communally is actually a competition in which players don’t even have much room to strategize. I fully recognize that competition is integral to the gameplay of Seikatsu, as it is to virtually all board games, but as currently designed the competitive choices feel just as limited as the bare variety of natural species the game depicts. When I played the game in a group, there was little sense of who was winning or losing, and no one present felt enraptured enough to care how they ended up placing.
There’s no more important task for a piece of entertainment than to entertain, and Seikatsu fails to do so. I have played the game both in a group setting and using to its single-player rule-set, and both experiences resulted in my going through the instructed motions without caring about the outcomes. The concept of a gardening-based board game is intriguing, the art direction is strong, and the actual physical manufacturing of the game’s contents is stellar. Unfortunately, all of those positive aspects end up being moot because Seikatsu just isn’t fun to play. Overall, the game disappoints.