Have you ever woken up from a horrible nightmare, covered in sweat, your heart beating out of your chest? Do you remember the frightening images that flashed before you, waking you from an otherwise peaceful slumber? Designer Aerjeen Tamminga created a game centered around this theme, and was kind enough to send me a copy for review. It’s one of the most unique games I’ve played, both in theme and mechanics. The fact that all the cards are tarot-sized certainly drew me in. But don’t let me spoil the review – read on to find out what I thought!
Game: Pleasant Dreams
Designer/Artist: Aerjen Tamminga / Wayne Dorrington
Publisher & Date: Aerjen Games, 2014
Players: 1 to 2
You’ll like this if you like: Press-your-luck games with a twisted, dark theme
Rules: (or skip ahead to my thoughts)
Pleasant Dreams is a light game that can be played in ten minutes or less. Each player chooses a wakefulness card, which has a track on it from 0 to 5. This keeps track of your sleep level, 0 being in a deep, peaceful sleep, and 5 meaning you wake up screaming from a nightmare. All players put a blue acrylic bead on the “1” position – if your bead ever reaches 5, you lose the game immediately. Before the game begins, each player also receives a barrier and action card, which I’ll explain later. Next, you prepare the dream deck, which consists of 19 cards with different symbols on them. Shuffle the deck, making sure the flip symbols on the cards are face up, and you are ready to play.
On your turn, choose how many cards (between one and five) you want to draw from the dream deck. You draw the number of cards specified, placing them one by one next to the dream deck, in a row from right to left – this is referred to as your dream flow. You would then resolve each card in the dream flow by performing their actions, starting with the leftmost card and working your way to the right. The actions either make you increase or decrease your wakefulness by one or two points. Once all your cards are resolved, and if you have not reached 5 on your wakefulness card, your turn is complete and the other player begins.
Some cards have a flip icon on them. When you encounter this, decide first if you want to flip the card over to reveal what is on the other side, or if you want to keep it unflipped. If you decide to flip it, decrease your wakefulness by one, then reveal the opposite side to both players. Once everyone has seen it, secretly place the card back into the dream deck, revealed side up, without looking at any of the cards as you do this. Now your turn is over, and the next player chooses a number of cards to draw for their dream flow.
Remember, you also have a barrier card and an action card! Barrier cards let you disregard any actions pictured on a card in your dream flow. Action cards provide various abilities that benefit you, like letting you peek at the top three cards on the deck, ignore a previously flipped card, and more.
The game ends when one all the cards are played in the dream deck, or when one person’s wakefulness card reaches 5. If all the cards are played and you are still asleep, you win. Because of these end-game conditions, it is possible to finish in a tie. [Edit: I misinterpreted the rules here. You can’t end the game in a tie – if the deck runs out of cards on your turn and you are still asleep, you win the game.]
What I liked:
If you’ve been following my reviews, you know I’m a sucker for a pretty game – and this one pulled me right in. From the acrylic blue beads that keep track of your wakefulness, to the whimsically terrifying images on the cards, Pleasant Dreams aesthetically delivers. The artwork evoked memories of American McGee’s Alice, a computer game from 2000 that I was obsessed with; it’s both macabre and playful, tying in with the theme nicely. Even the box for this game is splendid, as it looks like an antique photo album. Also, I applaud Aerjen for including two options for your character – it was a nice nod to gender diversity in the game.
The production value is good. The cards are sturdy, and will hold up to repeated plays. Everything fits easily into the box, which is small and perfect for traveling. The rules are written on four of the cards, which usually annoys me in games – I’d rather have the rules written in a booklet or on a sheet of folded paper. But since the cards are tarot-sized, I don’t mind it here; the text was big enough and clear, with illustrated examples of the iconography and layout of the deck.
There’s a lot of player interaction in Pleasant Dreams, as you’re constantly trying to guess what your opponent is going to do. I’ve only played this with someone I know very well, and was able to read them easily – but I imagine this will play well with close friends and strangers alike. It’s always interesting to see how the dynamics of the game change depending on who you’re playing with. One of the most intriguing aspects of Pleasant Dreams was trying to figure out how many cards to draw depending on how you think your opponent stacked the deck.
The game plays quickly, with easy set up due to its limited amount of cards. This means it can be played over and over again, and stopped whenever you like. I can see this working great as a filler during game meet ups. The Lucid Dreams expansion, which is included in every box, adds more options to the gameplay experience by including twelve new action cards. We found this expansion made us want to play over and over again, testing out the different card combinations available to figure out the best strategy. With that said, Pleasant Dreams is ripe for more expansions – though the base game is still quite satisfying.
What I didn’t like:
This game can end on your very first turn if you draw an unfortunate combination from the dream deck. Sure, it might be possible use your barrier and action cards to prevent you from losing, but I’d rather not waste them on the first turn. I wish there were more positions on the wakefulness track to make sure this doesn’t happen. It would extend the length of the game, but I don’t think by that much. The abrupt ending can make this game fall flat at times, which makes me realize the luck of the draw can make or break this game. The action cards can only do so much. That didn’t stop us from playing, though, since set up is so easy. I really think Pleasant Dreams would benefit from a few tweaks in the rules (maybe make the action cards reusable, for example), as there is a very dynamic game there beneath the luck-based mechanics.
While this isn’t a problem for me, this game can be cut-throat. You are actively hoping to screw your opponent over by flipping and reinserting the cards into the draw pile. Like I said, I don’t mind this style of play, but it is something to consider when making your purchase.
Also, despite the various choices you have to make, like when to use a barrier or action card or how many cards to draw, it sometimes felt like the game was playing itself. Once your action cards run out, you are at the mercy of the deck. The decisions felt limited, and I would have liked to see a bit more complexity. Then again, adding complexity would take away from it’s quick, filler nature, so this is certainly debatable.
Something else that bothered me was the fact that you could win in a tie. I always want a tie-breaker in games, and this didn’t come with one. It’s exclusion made some games anti-climactic. It would be cool if Aerjen included a change to the rules that addressed this issue, or an expansion that takes away any chance of a tie.
The Gimp Glimpse:
I was really impressed with Aerjen’s attention to detail, as far as promoting and supporting this game. You can easily find a PDF version of the rules on BoardGameGeek (including other languages), which fixes a minor mistake on one of the rule cards. He also posted instructional videos on how to play, and that is always appreciated for those who have trouble learning via reading. The rule cards themselves are easy to follow and clear in their meaning, making this easy to learn.
The graphics and iconography on the cards are big enough to see if you have low vision. I also think it is easily adaptable for braille users, as there is no in-game, crucial text beyond the titles of the cards. I don’t see any problems here for color blind gamers.
Pleasant Dreams may be difficult, however, for physically disabled gamers who have trouble handling cards. While the cards are big and easy enough to flip over, a large portion of this game involves going through the deck and reinserting cards to trick your opponent. You are not allowed to look at the cards as you do this, making it very hard to maneuver if you have fine motor control or dexterity issues. You’d also want the deck to be perfectly straight so your opponent doesn’t know where you placed the card – this proved troublesome for me.
Additionally, some players may have difficulty keeping the acrylic beads on the appropriate number. On more than one occasion, I accidentally bumped my wakefulness card, shifting the bead to the wrong number. While I love the visual of the blue acrylic, it might work better to attach it to a clip marker, like the ones used in Forbidden Desert.
I would give this a solid 3 out of 5. It’s perfect for a filler game, and well worth the small storage space to take it with you on trips. With a few tweaks to the rules, and maybe another expansion to broaden your choices, this could easily be a 5 star game. The hidden card insertion is a mechanic that is new to me – so the whole game felt very unique. I’d recommend Pleasant Dreams for the casual gamer, or for those looking for a new filler. From a purely aesthetic level, this is great if you appreciate fantastic, thematic art.