Following on from their first game Philosophia: Dare to be Wise (Cogito ergo Meeple), Joseph and Madeleine Adams move from Greek wisdom to Japanese in Philosophia: Floating World. Players each take on the role of a character seeking to establish themselves in four different ways - related to combat, building and, of course, gaining different types of wisdom - and the first to achieve them all will be the winner.
It's a 1–6 player game and there are six characters to play as, each with subtly different decks and special abilities, which can be combined with six slightly different player boards to provide variation from the outset. You can't quite call it 'asymmetric' but it does encourage you to try focusing on something different each time.
The game combines deck building with action selection, with a bit of resource collection and engine building too. Although it's essentially a race, it's a race where you can complete the four stages in any order, making it harder to tell who's winning. You can even choose a different path by completing an alternative fifth objective (discovering a secret location), which then means you only have to finish two of the other four.
Art credits are given to Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai, who were both active in the early part of the 19th Century. The aesthetics of the game are certainly noteworthy: the cards feature over 250 beautifully restored pieces of Ukiyo-e artwork, complemented by many excerpts from oriental philosophical writings to illustrate the wisdom your character is gaining, and there are beautifully sculpted minis to represent the six stereotypical Japanese characters, including the samurai, sumo wrestler and geisha.
One of the USPs of the game is the opportunity for simultaneous play, making a game for up to six players much faster than if it were turn-based. Certainly the initial card drafting and resource collecting phases are easy to carry out simultaneously. However, the main part of the game, the actions phase, is much trickier. There is provision via the influence track to resolve conflicts where multiple players want to do the same action ahead of each other but nothing to break a deadlock where players want to delay an action until others have taken it first, making new opportunities available. Some groups will be able to embrace the chaos and go with the flow but this might not work for everyone. The turn-based variant is recommended for beginners and is certainly a more strategic way to play: it just takes a lot longer!
The game has excellent appeal in its eye-catching components, relatively simple rules, fast pace, reasonable degree of luck, decent replayability and generally exciting gameplay. If you play with the full complement of six players, it might not quite offer the smooth 75 minute experience that the box implies, but should it will nonetheless deliver a memorable time that will leave players eager to return to the 'Floating World'...
(Review by Matt Young)