Seeders from Oh So Serious
You’ve got to admire the confidence of anyone who slaps “episode one” on their box. That isn’t even the most confident thing about Serge Macasdar’s Seeders from Sereis: Episode I: Exodus. Set in a sci-fi universe that will apparently warrant a total of ten episodes, an impending disaster has forced your people to construct arks to escape to the stars. Each ark is represented by a tableau of cards. Not too unusual. How those cards are acquired, however, is more of a twist.
Before we get to the actual twist, let’s talk about the way the cards work, because—
Oh. You want the twist now? Sure, let’s do it. It’s not like that’s the only reason you wanted to read about Seeders of Sereis. I’m sure you’ll stick around once that’s out of the way.
It works like this. In general, you want to fill up your hand with as many cards as possible. Some of these will be for your ark, but anything you don’t want can be recycled for the same resource you’ll use to play the cards you actually want. I say “resource” singular because there’s only one physical resource — crystals — not counting things like influence and the cards themselves and intangible resources like your attention span. So there’s no downside to claiming entire handfuls of cards, because you can toss them into the discard for resource crystals.
There are two main ways to get cards. The first is that you just draw them at the start of each round. Unless you’re playing the advanced game, in which case you draft them. Unsurprisingly, drafting them is far more interesting than simply drawing four cards. This is the only big difference between the basic and advanced game. It adds a few minutes but a whole range of considerations.
The second way to get cards is more original. It’s also so big that roughly 80% of Seeders of Sereis’s table presence is dominated by a board that’s only used for about a third of the game’s playtime. This board shows a number of slots for cards, plus lanes between them for these chunky plastic negotiator discs. Once the board has been populated with cards, everyone takes turns placing negotiators into those lanes. Each negotiator adds influence cubes to the two cards it now touches. If a negotiator matches the caste of the card it touches, it adds an extra influence cube. Otherwise it only places one. Once all the slots for negotiators are filled, everyone earns the cards where their influence is dominant.
That’s how things work at the outset, anyway. Over the game’s four rounds, the status quo receives constant shake-ups. Most visibly, whenever you claim a card, you also remove an adjacent negotiator. Services contracted, your negotiator escorts them back up to your ark, either to labor for your species’ survival or get tossed into the recycler. Meanwhile, any negotiators left on the board also come home, but their failure makes them stronger. Instead of defaulting to two solitary influence cubes, now they can place an additional cube on one of the cards they’re trying to entice. Eventually they can become powerhouses in their own right. Where early negotiations see trickles of influence gradually nudging cards to someone’s side, later rounds can feature wild swings of three or four influence with a single placement. Or even more, if a negotiator influences both of the cards they touch.
Further complicating this process are the cards already working aboard your ark, some of which can manipulate the outcome of ongoing negotiations. These aren’t common, but tend to be powerful considerations when they do appear. The Hacker can sacrifice himself to add an influence cube anywhere, potentially negating a stalemate — or forcing one. The Morphoplast lets you place a negotiator face-down, adding even more uncertainty to the bid. With some creativity, cards like the Smuggler can turn negotiations verbal: “Don’t add your negotiator there or I’ll steal your last crystal.” That sort of thing.
As a system, these negotiations are original. Bombastic, even. It’s a bidding game at heart, but one where the upper limit on everyone’s bids is determined by individuals with capacities and persuasive powers, rather than by pools of money. Sometimes it’s surprising, as when an uncertain bid swings in your favor. It can also be frustrating, often when rivals decide to collaborate against you. Either way, it makes for an interesting way to dole out a few cards, especially as the game progresses and those cards become more or less desirable based on the expansion of your ark.
If Seeders is at its most interesting when you’re bidding for cards, it’s at its most long-winded when you’re putting those cards to use.
There’s a certain format that must be followed based on card types. There are only two categories, which keeps things from growing too complicated — a relief, as we’ll see in a moment. The first type is called a “unit,” which functions as a section of your ark. Each of these can hold up to two “crew,” the people who keep things running. These types are interdependent; a unit cannot function without a crewmember, and a crewmember can’t do their work without a unit to provide essentials like breathable air. As a result, much of the tableau-building portion of the game revolves around achieving a proper balance between living space and useful survivors.
It also revolves around using their zany abilities to disrupt the table and bring home piles of points. There are plenty of these to keep straight. As I mentioned before, every card can be recycled for resources. Every card also has a resource cost, might earn victory points upon being played, might also earn recurring victory points every round depending on a range of criteria, and may sport abilities that activate instantly, bestow tokens for later use, or can be triggered for a cost.
More than that, each of the game’s six castes has its own strengths and methods of scoring. The Core caste brings out Workers, a “secondary” crew member that doesn’t take up space in its unit and earns points for fellow Workers, effectively multiplying as more of them are hired. Theocrats do something similar by earning Converts, upgrading them into Priests, and then figuring out ways to score them as a lump sum. Originals use “jails” for locking up and scoring extra crew that don’t need to be housed, the Bio-Consortium adds mutation tokens to other cards (which can either be a boon or a curse depending on how they’re used), Deviants tend to deploy jerky disruptive abilities like stealing resources or destroying an opponent’s unit, and Architeks do I don’t know what because I’ve never tried to synergize them.
It’s a whole lot to keep straight. But while all these abilities and triggers and scoring conditions can be a pain to sort through, it’s also a sight to behold once all those castes begin riffing off each other.
Seeders from Sereis is also a huge mess, although it’s the sort of mess I can’t help but feel a fondness toward. Every good thing that can be said about it is attended by a “but…” This would make it easy to evaluate, except that every downside is attended by a “but…” of its own.
For example, the placement of cards in an ark is weirdly permissive. Crew and units can only use their abilities if they’re properly slotted into one another, but you’re free to rearrange them throughout your turn and even before the scoring phase. It’s a persnickety detail that makes placements only matter under specific circumstances, such as when a rival wants to blow up one of your units but you have a crew that protects the unit it’s housed in. But it also lets you make maximum use of your cards, which feels great. But those cards also feel rather limited in their synergies. When it’s so easy to score by claiming as many cards from a single caste as possible, there’s little reason to do anything else. But then other players have a color-coded hint for which caste to deny you during drafts and negotiations. But then negotiations begin to drag on. But that makes for great tension, since the negotiations are the game’s stronger half. But all those pauses soon begin to accumulate, because building your ark must be done in order because of the zaniness of some of those abilities, which can disrupt your opponents, so a single turn can either be lightning fast or require multiple recycles, draws, synergies, triggered abilities, and so forth. But then again, isn’t that the essential spice of a game like this, that the unexpected can arise? But then Geoff sends my best crewmember to jail. Screw “essential spice.” I’d rather win.
But but but. Everywhere you look, there’s more to qualify. The cards are evocative, but they’re busy. The cards are busy, but their wealth of detail permits myriad synergies. Caste synergies are too strong, but they can be blocked. Blocking is possible, but it distracts from your own goals. Goals are nice, but too much inflexibility can lead to two players effectively bidding each other out of the running. Oh, and who’s to guarantee that enough cards of your preferred caste will show up anyway?
In the end, Seeders from Sereis: Episode I: Exodus is as messy and as brash as its title. But that’s also what I like about it. There’s no telling whether nine more episodes will be forthcoming. I’m not even sure I want more. But even at its shakiest, this episode is inventive and silly enough to justify its own existence. Wherever the Seeders from Sereis wind up, loading their arks made for a haphazard good time.
A complimentary copy was provided.