Vivid Memories has one of the more intriguing themes I’ve seen in games. You’re assembling fragments of memories to try to recapture the best moments from your childhood. Unfortunately, the theme is so disconnected from the fiddly game play that it’s lost from the playing experience.
Vivid Memories is the latest game from Matthew Dunstan and Brett Gilbert, who previously worked together on Elysium and Costa Rica. It looks incredible, from the art on the tiles to the components to the thoughtful color choices of the “fragments,” navette-shaped tokens that are the main elements used in the game.
Players gather fragments from the central market on moment tiles and place them into the recessed hex spaces on their two-layered board. For each round, you lay out a new market of moment tiles, from four to six depending on player count, and then put fragments on each. You may only take fragments from the tile at either end, and may only take one, two, or three. If you take two, they must be the same color. If you take three, they must all be different colors. If you take one, you can take a bonus action that lets you move some fragments already on your board. If you take the last fragment from a tile, you take that tile as well, and you may continue taking fragments from the new end tile if you still have the capacity to do so.
You place those fragments somewhere on your board, all into one of those recessed hexes, to try to create chains that connect labeled spots around the edges of your board. Those chains are the heart of Vivid Memories and the one part around which I would like to see this game built. Taking the right fragments and then using those bonus actions to move them around, either taking one or more fragments from one hex and putting them in adjacent ones, or taking fragments from several hexes and moving them all into one adjacent one, is the real puzzle here, even with the overly arcane scoring they create. You score a chain at the time you complete it by multiplying the number of hexes it includes by the number of core slots, endpoints around the edge of your board, to which it connects.
At game end, those core slots can be worth one, four, or 18 points, depending on how many chains of different colors you’ve connected to that particular endpoint. You can also create a chain, score it, and then break it up later by moving fragments to other hexes so you can create and score new chains. Each core slot can have a tile if you’ve received any from the market; if at the end of any turn, your board includes at least one hex with the same combination of fragments shown on that tile, you score it, getting four or six points per hex. You can only do this if you’ve used the bonus action shown on the front side of the tile, after which you flip it over to reveal the fragment pattern. Are you still with me?
At game-end, players reveal which color of fragment was on their aspiration tokens, acquired at the start of the game, and score more points for how many of those fragments appear in your hexes, in core memories, and on the ‘cherished moment’ tiles you completed during the game. You add those points to everything you got during the game and declare a winner.
Avid gamers use the derogatory term “point salad” to describe games where you get points, often in small increments, from a lot of disconnected sources. Vivid Memories isn’t quite point salad, but more like rule salad—all the points come from the fragments you place on your board and how you place them, but there are too many ways to score and the point values assigned to those actions don’t make any sense, either within the game’s logic or as they derive from the game’s theme. There are also more rules on fragment movement, including “splitting” fragments, I haven’t covered here. It’s just too fiddly for a game that is supposed to be light and playable in under an hour. I do love how the game looks, from the artwork to the components, but I have a hard time even explaining the rules to anyone in a way that will stick, because they’re not intuitive and just don’t tie together well enough to make the game accessible.
Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.