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In a circular path are placed seventeen double-sided tiles, randomly. Using clay, each player sculpts a pawn, representing a creature mysteriously created in a lab, and takes a number of energy tokens (cubes) in their color. A five inch high clay head called the Moa is also placed. On a turn a player rolls two dice, one of which he chooses to move the Moa clockwise, the other being used to move his pawn in either direction. Players who get landed upon must give up energy. A pawn that lands on another moves the same amount again until a free tile is reached (could this become an infinite loop?), at which point the tile is flipped over and its effects applied. These include diseases, lightning strikes, acid baths, explosions and an immunity flag; all but the last involve token loss. Half of the tokens are left in the pawn's starting and ending spaces, ready to be picked up by whoever can land there. While the round tiles are large and well-made, the Moa impressive and the pawns as good as the players care to make them, there is too much of a memory element and too little real decisionmaking for this to appeal. Player elimination gives a negative flavor as well, though most of the eliminated will find themselves happy to be no longer playing. Moreover, the instructions are somewhat confusing, leaving vague questions like what the immunity flag does and does not protect from and where tokens lost by inactive players go. Even for children this is doubtful as besides elimination it's a slow war of attrition that can last a couple hours and requires great patience. Plays with six only in partnership mode. [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 3
Tomas & Jakub Uhlir; CzechBoardGames; 2007; 2-6
Labyrinth Das Kartenspiel
The card game version of Master Labyrinth is another development in an ongoing and somewhat disturbing trend of board games morphing into card games, usually to the detriment of play. Earlier examples include Die Siedler Kartenspiel and Café International. This one starts out promisingly with about twenty-five different iconic treasure items which are a pleasure to discover and a "board" which, speaking of morphing, re-arranges itself constantly in nearly kaleidoscopic ways. However, while there is a little strategy, for the most part plays are obvious as there does not appear to be enough connectivity on the cards to make for truly interesting plays. It becomes more of a puzzle, but not one which is really in the player's control. Strangely, the deck contains only fifty cards – it would seem more fair for there to be sixty in a game which is designed for two to six players.
Ladybohn: Manche mögen's heiss!
if no image probably out of print
This is one of the strangest publishing situations ever. Originally there was Ladybohn published by Lookout. Then there was this game "Ladybohn: Some Like It Hot" published by Amigo. So far all is normal, except that not only did the game completely change somewhere along the way, but it appears to have actually gotten more boring. Well, the last part should be qualified as it's based not on actual play, but only on perusal of the rules, but it certainly looks to be so. And as to the degree of change, it is not possible to play either game with the other's components. Now to focus on only this game. It's a standalone that has the usual beans, but changes some of them to female versions with new artwork and, more importantly, better beanometers. If at harvest time a female version is the last one planted, the harvest rate is likely better. There are also baby beans which are planted just like all the rest. However, they do not permit any
harvest proceeds at all. They do have the side effect though of moving one lady bean in the row two places nearer the top. Apart from these alterations this is Bohnanza as usual. As such, it's not a particularly interesting variant since there is little different to do. Mostly one plays as usual and just deals with the new features as they are forced upon one. There is extra fiddliness in having to pull the lady beans out of the stack and move them. It appears a shame that Amigo did not stick with the original version, which was unfortunately printed in a single rather limited edition.
Uwe Rosenberg; Amigo Spiele; 2007; 3-5
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5 [Buy it at]
Lamarckian Poker
James Ernest-designed card game in which players try to evolve the best poker hand. The reference is to early naturalist LaMarck's incorrect theory of evolution which held that if, for example, a giraffe stretched its neck the progeny would have a longer neck. Awful luck is possible, but usually works out pretty well as long as there are four players or less. Players should be careful about trying to be too fine in the early game. First try to acquire several extra cards before trying to get the perfect hand. Easy to play and interesting to try to master, as well as to observe how much the hand has evolved since the beginning of the game. [rules]
Lancashire Railways
Railroad game set in the UK involving bidding to be the one to build track and then gaining income based on deliveries made over it. I prefer New England Railways which uses exactly the same system as it does not feature this one's long north-south, spinal track. In addition, the demands are grouped much more homogeneously location-wise. While this is all probably realistic, the result seems to be that the central spine tracks are all important. They pay a great deal and other players cannot help using them as well. Whoever can own these tracks seems destined to win so there appear to be fewer strategic options here. This can be unfair as these tracks might appear when one happens to be low on funds and inspite of the "inflation" rules meant to hamper the leader, it can still be that the rich get richer. There can also be kingmaker situations towards the end. We play by drawing tracks on the board with dry erase markers instead of using chits and found it about 100% better in terms of deciphering the board. I am still wondering whether the game would be improved by a variant which prohibits a supply of something appearing at a city where it is demanded. By the way, while I generally like little wooden blocks in games, in this one I thought it might have been nicer to have the commodity chips that one uses in a game like Empire Builder. Otherwise, one never pays any attention at all to the type of what one is hauling. Probably a long way of saying the story element is not as strong as it could be. [6-player Games]
Martin Wallace; Winsome; 1998
A presidential election game which offers some possibilities for fun, but is ultimately disappointing. Players must bid for states unseen so except for the player who draws it, a state from the East could be New York's 41 electoral votes or Delaware's 3. This does not exactly reward strategy. Moreover there is plenty of luck depending on which space a player rolls to land on. The same goes for drawing vote cards from the hands of other players. Then there are political cards which allow breaking the rules in some way, but these cards are so ambiguous that play may break down entirely. Finally of course, if one is to play today, the electoral vote totals are in serious need of updating.
Last Train to Wensleydale
Those old enough to know the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch need not fear: there's no cheese here, except in the theme of course. The other question is, since creating Age of Steam which has spawned myriad imitators (many of them published by erstwhile partner Winsome Games), has the original inventor forsaken the rails? No indeed; he's back, and on an entirely new track. Borrowing an idea from Tinners Trail (as firmly set in Cornwall as this one is in the English north), each playing differs by virtue of the random starting placement of tokens. These represent the aforementioned cheese, ore, passengers headed in one of two directions and finally landowners opposed to track being built on their lands. It's the players' task to use influence tokens to overcome the last named in order to build track and ship out the first four. Much of it dominated by impassable hills (where the ore is found), the map is rather irregularly divided into dozens of areas. Not necessarily a knock since learning new skills is often fun, discerning connectivity is not always easy and it's possible for first time players to miss seeing valuable openings. For of course only one player can build track in each area and cutting off the paths of others is often a useful tactic. On the other hand, there is plenty of built-in connectivity and there shouldn't usually be any question of anyone falling dramatically out of the running. Questions of turn order and resource allocation are once again handled masterfully, the hallmark of most Wallace games. Influence is not a generalized quantity as with most games, but more realistically comes in four types: government (which helps with both turn order and those squatters), local engine yards (which helps with shipping) and with the two trunk lines in the region. These items exist as discs that are semi-randomly distributed into eight lots each turn. Players bid on these using their investment cubes which are fixed at fifteen. It's a multi-multi system with responses delayed until the player's next bidding round . The need to bid high to get the best lots fights with the need to save cubes for track construction. Routing has the challenging restriction that each turn must be built as a single end-to-end segment with no branches. It also requires the aforementioned influence to connect to the trunk lines. Once all have built, the local influence determines the order of securing trains of varying types and sizes. These activities are interleaved with shipping which gets tricky as sometimes more than one player can ship a particular item. Then players add up their shipments and deduct their number of train links to adjust their profitability status for the turn, which affects player order. Finally, players decide which of their track to sell to trunk lines, facing the dilemma of their continued cost vs. the opportunities that are thus opened up for opponents who may now link to the accessible lines. This has the side effect of radically re-making the board each turn and players must keep on their toes to spot opportunities. The fact that there are two trunk lines sometimes leads to dilemmas over which one will get the track which can have surprising consequences. Game length is a fixed number of turns, which is somewhat annoying to track; it's regrettable that a better way could not be found. Victory is calculated, somewhat athematically, by a combination of set collection of pieces delivered plus profitability minus remaining owned track. This lasts about two hours, which feels right for the situation, and is not overly difficult. There is a positive feeling as usually the decisions are between multiple beneficial choices rather than, as in some games, between relative negatives. [multi-multi auction games]
Martin Wallace; Treefrog-2009; 3-4 [Shop]

Update: First Train to Nuremberg

In this new edition the map is double-sided, one again showing Wensleydale – this time with a more palatable color scheme – the other the Nuremberg area. Note that there are
map errors on the Wensleydale side and a problematic border on the other. On the topic of flaws, there are also about three significant ambiguities in the rules. On the other hand, the summary sheet is excellent and this is almost playable from it alone. There is also now a two-sided sub-board for the auctions and statuses; alas the space allocated to four tracks is too small (a lot is wasted on the little-used profit/losss track) for the disks that rest on it so mistakes are easy to make. Other differences in this edition include support for two players including a rules version for tighter play with two players (basically changing the number of available options and some valuations) which can also be used for three. As this is played more and more, the fiddliness of the setup has begun to irritte. It takes considerable time as probably a hundred items are drawn out of the bag and placed in various board locations, from which about half are removed. It's a bit tricky and error prone and often if messed it's generally necessary to completely start over. That's time that would be better spent just playing. Another realization that comes from more playings is just how unfair the
Wensleydale map can be; if it happens that items on the right half are sparse, someone starting at the bottom left can wall off most of the board and just run away with things. The Nuremberg map is more open which would seem to indicate that the problem would be less likely, but actually it's still possible to wall off a big part of the map, which seems to be the main tactic in the game. But this has several unfortunate consequences. For one, the player who does this becomes almost impossible to beat. But that's not all. Now this player's main concern is not to make too much money too soon, but delay it until the last turn so as to maximize end of game points. How much sense does that make in real life terms? This last turn becomes a time-wasting exercise as well since there is no chance for anyone else to possibly win. A final concern is that the closely-interlocked mechanisms of this game lead to a constant feeling that one has just completed the wrong move. You might have been thinking about how far to extend in order to get more pickups, but forgot all about ending at a station, which is what's needed to sell track to the state. Or you should have built one track past a station in order to ensure that after you sell back you are the only one to take advantage of the new position on the next turn. Or you might discover that you don't have enough points to sell off as much as you intended and so you actually built too much. And there are more. On the marketing front: considering the trials held there afer World War II, it's curious that the publisher didn't think this title would put players off.
Martin Wallace; Argentum Verlag-2010/Z-Man Games-2010; 2-4; 120 [Shop]
MMHH5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Leader 1
if no image probably out of print
Compared to Bolide, this publisher's last racing effort, this is much more of a game and less a simulation. But is this a compromise which will please anyone, and if so, whom? One of the clever ideas here is the concept of the main group (peloton) to which all racers belong at the start. Until a racer tries to escape it, it moves three to five spaces (via die roll) and all racers in it consume the same amount of energy. Racers generally expend extra energy to move past it and hope not to be caught. Cyclists come in three types: those effective on the flats, those who excel in the mountains and those who are good all around. These are represented by their base speeds in various terrains to which energy points may be added; thus dice are not involved in individual racer movements. But there are other issues. On a track having only three lanes, there is plenty of blocking as only one racer is permitted per space. There are also issues of handling the curves, which are treated quite seamlessly by lengthening and shortening spaces depending on whether the curve is being followed in the optimal lane or not. Drafting is handled by giving a one space movement bonus for having directly followed another bike on the previous turn. Disasters can crop up in the form of punctures which turn up on the die once or twice per game. Even then, it's just a requirement that every rider pass a puncture dice check, which by far most will do. The effects are not major either, as it only changes the turn order – often not important, save for the last turn. The other variable is that each turn there is a round leader who individually gets to decide if the peloton is trying to push things and if so, it moves an extra space. The abstracted peloton appears to be the major obstacle from a simulation point of view. Staying in it, one hardly uses energy at all, yet the peloton often manages to stay right with the riders for a long time. This is rather unfair to those who have broken away and who may even be caught and thus suffer a net loss in energy. It seems like if the peloton is going to work this way, then maybe its die rolls should be replaced by card draws so that there is a fixed total or tendency it can have. From the entertainment point of view, it seems often the best thing to do is stay with the peloton which is boring as can be. But if many riders break out of it, then turns become quite long and the waiting time while each player painstakingly counts out his move and updates his energy supply can become unendurable. Also because of the nature of the sport, it can well be that there is little excitement until the last turn or two. So ultimately this game may not completely satisfy anyone, but if it does, it is still mostly in the simulation camp and of most interest to those who are well steeped in cycling lore (which for better or worse is not most Americans). 'Tis a pity as the large hexagonal track tiles are as hefty and gorgeous as we might expect from an Italian production while the rider pieces, though a little fragile, are rather evocative as well. But except for the hard core audience, probably the only way to come close to enjoying this is as a three-player game with three team members each. By the way, do you have any idea how many cycle racing games have been published? What would you guess? 20? 30? 50? All are wrong. There are actually over 150 cycling games at present, and those are only the published titles. [Cycle Racing Games] [6-player Games]
Christophe Leclercq & Alain Ollier; Ghenos/Rio Grande; 2008; 2-10
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Small press Rummy-style card game for 2 to 6 about building meals using remains of previous dishes in five categories. A meal consists of a card in each category and one may make one for any player who doesn't already have one melded. There is a substantial points reward for doing so – which declines on each new meal – to which card points are added (or subtracted since many cards are negative) at the end. A player's turn then consists of only one of the following possibilities: (1) make a meal, for anyone; (2) use hand cards to replace some of one player's, including own, meal cards; (3) "eat" one of one's own cards preventing its future replacement; (4) pass. The amount of time required to figure out these decisions, especially because two entirely new cards are drawn at the start of the turn, causes exponential downtime problems at more than four players. Not only are there more players to wait for, but they have more other player meals to examine before making their choices. Something similar can also crop up in something like History's Mysteries, but is less likely as the information gathering and decisionmaking is much less. Drawing the cards at the end of the turn rather than the start would have helped, but to avoid one's own discards getting in the way, this would really require five discard piles à la Lost Cities, which might make meal creation far too easy. The point awards for creating meals might be too high as well since a player can't really sacrifice anything to acquire the necessary cards. This bonus simply goes to the player lucky enough to draw the right cards earliest, statistically the earliest players in the hand. Since these points can never be taken away, it seems too perfect a strategy to always play a meal as soon as possible, no matter what its quality. If played on oneself, there will probably still be time to fix it later. Moreover, toward the end players are too nervous to hold many cards, which if in hand accrue as penalty points, so are not likely to have much ammunition for sabotaging another's meal in any case. Packaging is a cleverly-related takeout food box. Card art is in color on business-sized cards, but disappointingly in the form of clip art. Still, it is some of the better clip art I have seen. Perhaps a future deluxe edition could employ more personal and thematically unified original artwork. Overall this is sort of a Cheapass-style game, but less satirical, in color and for less strategy-minded players. Up to four can reasonably enjoy the tactical possibilities and tension over the uncertain ending in this innovatively-themed effort.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Candy Weber; Weber Games-2004; 2-6; 30; 5+
Lego Creator
Roll-and-move game for children whose spaces instruct which and how many building pieces to take from the common supply. The goal is to be the first to complete the assembly on one's unique card. Decisionmaking is entirely absent apart from choosing first items which others will not wish to steal, but there are times when players have no pieces in common. Perhaps a bit of educational value in construction from a plan is there, but otherwise this is just another vehicle for selling Lego pieces. Setting up all of the pieces beforehand is lengthy and boring as well.
Leinen Los!
Dexterity game of racing boats around an obstacle course. Each small wooden craft's "engine" is a wooden dumbbell standing vertically in a notch at the back. With the words "Cut the painter!" a player presses down on the engine with just one finger, attempting to direct the boat along the turn-filled course. The problem is that unless moving slowly and absolutely straight the engine tends to slip out and with it any possibility of advancing. And if the task weren't difficult enough, the course doubles back on itself so that opposing boats may be in the path with almost no ability to dislodge them. By the way, this activity is also timed, via a unique method: another player wraps a rope between two mounted pegs until its length is ended. There are pretty good rules here for exceptional situations – often missing in such games – as well as two different courses. A variant employing a book to create a slope in the board is also provided to increase play value. This is probably mostly of interest to children, but can hold a line for adults as well. The German title means "Loose the line!", but surprisingly as the instructions state, the English title would be "Cut the painter!" Probably only folks with an interest in matters nautical would realize this has the same meaning, i.e. untie the rope connecting the boat to whatever is holding it fast, or more generally, to set out or depart. Why "painter"? It seems to relate to the words "depend" and "pending", coming from Late Middle English "paynter" which came from Old French "pentour" which ultimately derives from Latin "pendere", meaning "to hang". So the painter is the line that the boat is hanging on. The Norman French conquered England via boat and controlled naval operations. The strength of tradition in naval circles is probably why "painter" has triumphed over the Anglo-Saxon "line".
Alex Randolph; Haba; 1996; 2-4; 6+ [Buy it at]
LHLL6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Letters from Whitechapel
Besides this, Gabriele Mari has two published games: Mister X which is
Scotland Yard on the continent and Garibaldi, in which the Garibaldi player tries to hide from and escape the Austrian police. Can we guess what must be this inventor's favorite game in the whole wide world? So while we may be thinking, who needs another Scotland Yard, we should keep in mind that someone else must have been thinking, "How can we make Scotland Yard even better?". Even though the protagonist was called Mister X, the setting London and the police sort of bumbling, Scotland Yard players have always had lurking in the backs of their minds Jack the Ripper. Well, now he lurks no more, but is out there front and center with all the gore and mayhem one would expect. Each night the Jack the Ripper player whom the rest team up to catch, must commit at least one murder and then run back to his lair, where he becomes safe. The tone becomes much darker anytime there are simulated blood spatterings on the board. The intrusion of reality becomes all the more with the highly detailed, period style map of London, the fancy cards providing historical information and the figures resembling bobbies and lady victims. Strangely, however, the usual Scotland Yard visor meant to hide the villain's eyes is not provided. The voluminous instructions are not the easiest to comprehend either, but they're better than the confusing flow chart shown on the player aide cards. Despite a fair number of special rules thrown in for flavor this is Scotland Yard on a mild steroid, its extra wrinkles not really worth all of the extra time – three hours in all – it requires. Unless one is an absolute fanatic about the original, this is basically the same stuff: secret movement by one with the rest figuring out where he's gone and covering the likeliest possibilities. Sure it can finish in ninety minutes like the box says if he's caught on the first night, but it can take much longer. Considering that in the early days most Jacks are going to be played by the more experienced player, likely the owner of the game who knows the map best, he will have the advantage and most likely the game will go on for the duration. Better to get the same degree of fun from the original and also be able to play something else as well in the same amount of time because let's face it, this is never going to be as fun for the detectives as it is for the Jack player. [6-player Games]
LHML6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
Gabriele Mari & Gianluca Santopietro; Nexus-2011; 2-6; 180 [Shop]
Letzte Paradies, Das
Reiner Knizia board game about the development or preservation of a pristine tropical island. Short game of sixteen auctions seems to mostly be about blind bidding to the wall. Generally nice components are not without problems as it really needs a screen to hide unspent coins, especially as the wooden coins are so large that they cannot be easily hidden with one's hand. The artwork of the board does not match the promise of the attractive boxcover. Such elaborate wooden pieces and large board seem incongruous in such a short and simple game. Title means "The Last Paradise". [Tourist Games]
Liar's Dice (Bluff, Call My Bluff, Perudo)
Another one of the traditional games which has also been published commercially. Players all make a secret roll of five dice and then start making claims about the results, or deny the last claim made. Each time a person is caught in a lie or wrong denial, the wrongdoer loses a die. Many play with the rule that aces are wild unless the very first claim involves aces. The game has plenty of interest, but can sometimes be decided by lucky rolls, i.e. high rolls of many matching dice. [Spiel des Jahres Winner] [6-player Games]
Lift Off [Queen]
Card game about planetary occupation and mining. Has real-time aspects reminiscent of Brawl as players try to pile up cards as quickly as possible. Seems rather too subject to luck of the deal, even if the real-time aspects are agreeable, although in general such are not compatible with strategizing.
Marcel-André Casasola-Merkle;
Lift Off! [Task Force]
Game by Task Force about the space race of the 1960's. Players represent the space programs of the USA, USSR, PRC and European Union trying to be the first to land and successfully return a man from the moon. Features a rather satisfying level of detail about various delivery vehicles and payloads. Development of systems is reflected via paying for dice whose totals are added to the system's safety and reliability percentage. Different systems thus have different research costs. They also have different maxima, meaning that for certain kinds of systems you can never reach 100% reliability by R&D alone. Further improvements can be made by successful use of the systems. Players are engaged in the full gamut of launch activities including mere earth orbits, lunar satellites, satellites to Mars and Venus, spacewalks, etc. With each success, space programs are given more funds with which to prepare further missions. It is even possible to develop the space shuttle. Serving as a brake are event cards, most of which tend to trim the sails of the current leader. Tricky is the need to plan missions one year in advance, i.e. without knowing how the current year's mission will turn out. Tricky because if a system fails, reliability numbers go back to the stone age which can be a big problem if you were planning to use that system in the next launch. There is an amazing amount of very realistic detail in the mission failures . one could write a legitimate-sounding history with the results. Overall, plenty of stategic and interesting decisionmaking which should keep players interested for many repeats. Also later released as a computer game.
Linie 1 (San Francisco Linja 1, Streetcar)
Game of the "pipe connection" type in which players must construct track between their two stations, visiting certain stops on the way, finishing up the game by "proving" the efficiency of their route by actually running a streetcar over it. German rules move the streetcar via die roll which is luck prone while American rules (preferred) use movement based on previous player's speed which occasionally provides a kingmaker opportunity. One of the great fascinations of this game are the tradeoffs it offers and the difficult decisions that the player must make in response. The route which is strictly speaking the shortest may contain stops, which tend to impede velocity. Do you want to use them and hope that you don't get major movement penalties or do you want to route around them? Do you want to spend time making sure that stops for stations not of interest don't get in the way? In fact, the game has been called "broken" because of what has been termed its "conflicting goals." I guess that is another way of saying that there is no clear indication of exactly what steps are needed to obtain victory. Complainants will state that the three main goals in the game are incompatible with one another: (1) minimize the number of stops on your route, (2) minimize your route length, (3) minimize the amount of time to complete your route. But on the other hand this is what makes the game so fascinating. Empirical study seems to indicate that the above order should be the guide to priorities. Tactically, try to establish as late as possible the tracks which reveal your entry and exit locations. Published in English as Streetcar with a New Orleans setting and in Sweden as San Francisco Linja 1. The smaller packaging of the English edition may make it the best, even if somewhat drab. The Swedish edition is so busy that it can actually be confusing to play. It also has a few simple curve pieces which have trees on them, meaning they cannot be replaced. This would be a bad good idea as possibly someone could be prevented from ever reaching their station, but according to game reviewer and bona fide Swede Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson, this version adds the rule "you may not play a tile which totally prevents a 'rail termination' from reaching completion". It seems to me much simpler to ignore the tree on these tiles. [Two vs. Two Games] [Frequently Played]
Stefan Dorra;
if no image probably out of print
Buy it: Amazon

Imagine two people, identities unknown, who try to communicate with one another over a difficult connection while others listen and use what little they say to identify them. You could imagine ships eavesdropping on submarines, two spies whose messages are intercepted or even outer space aliens listening to earth communications, but it's the situation not the setting that matters in this party game. Using cards two players are randomly, and secretly, allocated the communicator (spies) jobs. Their cards contain a numbered list of 10 words, one of which is chosen for them to use. In round 1 each player takes a turn saying any word, other than the actual word. In round 2 they say their previous word and then add a second word. The spies try to use words that help their partner to know that they know what the actual word is while other players try to fool the spies by guessing what the word might be and trying to sound like the spy. The biggest surprise might be that this can be easier than one would think; voila, another talent you didn't know you had. All of the words are written down on an erasable board so that everyone can see them. Then on the count of three every player uses both hands to point to their top two suspects. Spies are quickly identified: they are the ones with one hand pointing at themselves. It's vital that the spies cooperate since they score best if both of them identify one another, but it's just as important that they not be too obvious otherwise they must give points away to any non-spies who identified both of them. So here's a challenge for the spies – how to make their word clear and yet also fit in with the rest of the words being uttered. There is a clever tactic for non-spies that can be used against other non-spies: they can try to pretend there is a code word between themselves and in that way throw others off the trail. Finally, any non-spy who guessed both spies can get extra points by successfully divining what the actual word was. This is a language game that greatly benefits from English's dual heritage of German and Latin. Most English concepts have at least two synonyms, which means that even though this is designed by Germans, it probably shines best in English. The presentation is well done, including dry erase markers and two score sheets, an indication of a sincere attempt to prevent cheating, intentional or otherwise. There is some worry about using up all of the words on the fifty-five cards too quickly so let's hope this is a big success that generates many expansion kits. Meanwhile players can have a lot of fun outguessing one another in this quiet and thoughtful form of a party game which is probably best with six or more. Also included are three variants, the most intriguing of which features two teams of spies.
[Party Games]
MMML7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7)
Andrea Meyer & Erik Nielsen; Bewitched-2004/Endless Games; 4-8; 45
David Livingstone (b. 1813) was a British missionary and explorer to Africa. Becoming ill there, he lost contact with the outside world until being found by the Welsh journalist Henry Morton Stanley. This first game by Benjamin Liersch is not about that story. Instead, we find a take off from the ideas of Yspahan, combining it with a majority control mechanism and other features. The board is essentially a grid, though artistically designed by Michael Menzel so as to make that inobvious. Along the bottom moves a steamer piece. Stretching above it are zones numbered one through six onto which players may place tents by using a corresponding die roll. These are derived from the roll of all of the dice by the current player, each one in turn being able to draft a die, so long as it is higher than that of the previous dice one has drafted in the turn. At the end of each turn scoring occurs for placement in the column, the higher the placement the higher the score. At the end of the game, there is scoring for having the majority in each row, the highest value for the lowest row and decreasing as one goes up. But placing tents is not the only use for dice. Another is the ability to draw largish, irregular plastic rock pieces from a cloth bag. Here one wants to get the valuable jewels, which are almost always turned in for the cash needed to play tents (a cost which goes up as the game goes on), and avoid both rocks and the reset rock which causes one to lose everything and returns discarded rocks to the bag. The number of rocks one can draw depends on the number of dice pips used. The last and best use of a die, however, is to draw an event card. These cards offer so much power that it should almost always be the choice one makes, provided one has a bit of money perhaps. But the cards even provide this. They can provide tent placement as well. They can even turn back time, by forcing the last column to be played again. One final dimension is that just as in the recent Hab & Gut, players make secret donations, in this case to the queen. The player who has donated the least automatically loses. (This is also similar to Knizia's High Society.) The game has been magnificently produced with cardboard boxes to hold the donations, unique wooden tent pieces, a wooden steamboat, a clear and yet attractive board as well as the aforementioned jewels in five colors. Yet what the thematic connection to the title, or anything is, remains a mystery. So ill-fitting is it that suspicion is strong that the original design had a completely different theme and this African one was picked by the publisher. But no matter: this is far too long for the degree of luck involved and a dry, trite mechanism, event card draws, has been permitted to dominate play.
Benjamin Liersch; Schmidt/Playroom; 2009; 2-5; 8+ [Buy it at Amazon]
MLMM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Not every inventor can make every sort of game, but in recent years Corné van Moorsel has fielded many different horses, e.g. linking, dominance and sports, in Morisi, Zoosim and Streetsoccer respectively. Now he has one of yet another color: a traveling merchant game of planes, ships and trucks. It's a contracts game and they are all fully public: first come and first served apply on either end. One's first playing is lived in stages. First experienced is Bewilderment at all the colors and delivery possibilities. Second, there is Doubt as it becomes apparent how expensive it is to move more than an iota at a time. Players concentrate on low-hanging fruit, i.e. the fortuitous short deliveries. A motherly rule prohibiting movement without profit helps protect players from serious mistakes. Then, Dismay registers over the difficulty of re-positioning the short haul vehicles to complete long run deliveries. Scores may go negative for a while. Are we really playing the game as she was intended? Finally comes Enlightenment as with patience things can get done and all will be right again. It's a contest of close planning, divining the opponent intentions and (a few) hidden objectives. One of the best ideas here are the variously-abled vehicles and getting them to work together. Eventually it crystallizes that the slower ones must get materials to the nearest airport where they can be jetted to another airport for the other vehicle to complete delivery. The other very nice wrinkle is that payoffs depend not on the distance traveled and the like, but, surprisingly, on what turn it is – payoffs increase as turns pass. In most games of this type, calculating payoffs is a tricky, messy business and the realization that the longer it takes to do something the more it is worth is a very clean solution which works because it is a system of pure competition with high costs to both storage and moving quickly. So the prima facie audience would seem to be train game fans, but they may prefer a little less luck than that given by the random starting locations and secret goals. In addition, they may dislike the thematic liberties taken as it seems difficult to explain why no new materials or contracts every appear or why the secret deliveries make sense in a real world. Probably this is more for would-be train game fans who find them overly long, repetitive and absent chances to catch the leader. For this group this should work fairly well although some doubts remain about whether there isn't bias in the turn order despite the inventor's public comments to the contrary. But perhaps more playings will prove him right. Certainly, rotating the turn order as in Puerto Rico could result in a lot of analytical headaches, and down time. A better solution might be to bid for turn order if it becomes necessary. The O Zoo le Mio money must be helping Cwali games to look better than ever as the usual tube has given way to a box. To be found within are a puzzle board, glossy cards, glossy instructions in multiple languages and plenty of wooden discs and cubes. [Cwali] [Traveling Merchant Games]
Lokomotive Werks
Board game featuring the gradual introduction of train technology and receipt of its attendant benefits which delves into problems of production, sales and most importantly, obsolescence. [more]
MMMH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Dieter Danziger; Winsome Games-2002; 3-5
This is the history of the city since the
1666 Great Fire to about the year 1900. Apparently it originally also covered the period before the fire, but since everything was going to burn down, there seemed little point to the first part of the game and it was removed. Other games would have tried to fudge this so full credit to Mr. Wallace for embracing the theme. Perhaps one day we'll see a Londinium for an earlier period? After so many games eschewing cards, the inventor has gone crazy with them this time, offering a double deck of 110 with a large variety of technologies, businesses and cultural developments spread over three programmed sub-decks. Initially players are mostly drafting new cards, but under control of a hand limit, eventually forcing
return of hand cards to the board for others to pick up. Finally the hand is as ideal as it's going to get and so it's time to start playing cards. These go to one's personal display and now it begins to be tricky. It would be good to play lots of cards so as to acquire lots of capabilities and, in particular, ways to generate cash and/or victory points, but maybe you should think about that a little. Each card is a little engine or transformer, consuming coins or cards or something, maybe nothing. Thus the third option in a turn is to run one's portion of London, activating one or more cards and having them produce. This is great, but afterwards comes the catch: each card showing (they can be stacked) and each card still in hand generates a poverty point. Getting too many of these can be pretty bad because at the end of play the player with the fewest discards all of his. The rest discard the same number and then consult a fairly steep schedule to see how many victory each loses. Leftover cards in hand also count as poverty points by the way. Thus, acquiring those cards which help dissipate poverty is very useful. Another way is to buy land, in the form of boroughs, in a special phase. Decisionmaking here is good since each borough is a different set of cost plus number of cards and victory points provided. Importantly, poverty point earnings are reduced by the number of boroughs owned. It's thematically satisfying that new boroughs must expand out from an existing one and across the Thames River only via a bridge. With so many different cards there's a lot of artwork here and it looks quite good. Cards are all named, e.g. Bank of England, Huguenots, Nelson's Column, Streetlights, the Underground, and have thematically-appropriate effects. The map looks to be historically accurate as well. Cards feature iconography for their functioning parts and for the most part it works. A supplement to the rules explains some of the more complicated ones. Some may be bothered that there is a fair degree of randomness here, but for the most part, the curious truism that players don't mind luck when it stems from cards coming out of a deck; e.g. it's entirely possible to never see even one of the valuable Underground cards. This might be okay if it's possible to make use of the others, but when one has been building up toward certain cards it can feel rather unfair. But as there are usually ways to at least accomplish some goals, this is usually not a problem here. This is also one in which familiarity with the cards will give experienced players a greater than usual edge. Four player is probably not the best configuration as there may be too much waiting between turns. The real challenge, as well as the fun is how to play well. What's the ideal number of card piles to work with and under what conditions does that change. As that's so much at the center of the fun, besides the history, no discussion of it will be found here. Go out and get this and try it for yourself. Includes instructions in English, French and German.
HHMM7 (Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Martin Wallace; Treefrog-2010/Mayfair-2010; 2-4; 90 []
London Game, The
Set in the London Underground, players roll the die and move along subway stops trying to be the first to visit all of the stations dealt to them at the outset. Wrinkles are that the player cannot change lines without stopping, that every lane change requires draw of a hazard card (conferring either good or bad), and that via the cards stations become unavailable from time to time. While there is some challenge in optimally choosing the initial station and planning the most efficient route, the randomness of the die and hazard cards removes most of the interest. The magnetic traveling version is a very appealing plastic package in which the game opens up to become the board, under which are drawers neatly containing all the components. Probably a nice way for city first timers to learn the main station locations.
Loopin' Louie
Game for children 5 and up featuring a very nicely made mechanism. A plane flies in a circle and if it flies low enough, will hit the coins of the four players, knocking them out of their slots and eventually out of the game. However, with their paddles players may be able to affect the flight of the plane, and if very skilled, even cause it to strike another player's coins in a virtually unstoppable way. Cheerful, light fun but not really strategically satisfying. Succeeded by the similar Barn Buzzin' Goofy (not described here).
Lord of the Fries (Herr der Fritten)
Set in the same fast food world as Give Me the Brain, essentially a card game of the climbing type in which players attempt to create particular card combinations (food orders). Although luck-prone, not without strategy and, along with Parts Unknown, one of the better offerings from this publisher.
Lord of the Fries De-Lux
The fancy version of the above offers a larger variety of cards, now bearing color illustrations, and a wide variety of menues from different sorts of restaurants, including the Christmas menu. The deck is customized for each type of menu. Certainly it is a presentation improvement, but whether play is enhanced is an open question as card counting players now have a more difficult time calculating the possibilities with a deck whose contents may not be entirely clear.
Lost Cities (Les Cités Perdues)
Reiner Knizia card game ostensibly about exploration of lost civilizations, but a primitive form could be played with an ordinary card deck. Here each card is very attractively illustrated with the clever idea that each successive card shows more about the civilization being explored. As in Gin Rummy, players contend not only with the activities of the opponent, but also with the vagaries of the ordering of the deck. This gives the appealing feeling of the chaos of a multi-player game which is not very common in two-player setups. More than one different play style is possible and players who feel they have the game figured out will sometimes have their convictions shaken by a new opponent. In particular, there seem to be two schools of thought. One holds that the only way to play is as aggressively as possible and any unfortunate results should be ascribed to bad luck. Holders of this view tend to dismiss the game as too chaotic. Others try to play the hand and the other player adaptively as both reveal their natures and tend to find the game quite satisfying. Overall, a very appealing experience with a large "one more time" factor – large crossover appeal for non-gamers as well. Web-published four-player partnership rules with card passing also make for a very challenging experience, layering communication issues on top of those of hand management. [Tourist Games] [Ancient Egypt games] [Two vs. Two Games] [Holiday List 2002] [Buy it at Amazon]
Lost Cities: The Board Game
As well as the multi-player board game version of
Lost Cities card game, this is the English-language version of Keltis. But why was Keltis changed to Lost Cities you may ask. Actually, it seems that was not the case at all. Despite Keltis' having appeared first, from the inventor's perspective the original game was Lost Cities, its theme having been changed by Kosmos to better fit in with its other titles. Evidently Kosmos knew what they were doing as that incarnation went on to win the vaunted Spiel des Jahres award. What have we here then? Well, a very similar game which can be used to play according to the Keltis rules if one wishes, but which makes some changes such as requiring three rounds rather than one to complete and goes back to cards being playable only in ascending order. Scoring occurs both at the end of each round with monuments being scored at the end of all rounds. Thus the most significant differences are in theme and presentation. Instead of the Celtic sculpted cylinders, this one features wooden Indiana Jones-style figures that resemble cowboys. Board paths no longer travel upward like spines of a fan; now paths in five colors spiral out from the center in all directions. A regret here is that the artist is not the same as for the card game original and the enticing look of that game is not preserved here. The new look seems more garish and cartoonish and is unthematic as well, making it appear that all of these locations are quite close to one another. The card artwork has been altered to correspond to the new look as well. In the end it's probably a matter of personal taste whether one prefers the quiet mysteries of the Celts or the more colorful and adventurous world of exploration. [Tourist Games]
MLMM6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Reiner Knizia; Rio Grande-2008; 2-4; 60 []
Lost Valley
Game of exploration and gold excavation in the frozen wastes of North America. The "house that Jack built" concept from Roads and Boats inspires part of it. (For example, to mine gold you must spend timber. To get timber you must chop wood in a forest. To actually extract gold you need food so you must fish or hunt an animal. Etc.) But added thereunto is a single moving protagonist and a more concrete theme, which is strongly reminiscent of Source of the Nile. Unlike that game, however, turns are kept very short, a player taking only a single action each (usually). One fishes, hunts, pans for gold, digs a mine, etc. Never do they directly affect one another except by getting in the way or taking an unowned item first. The board is free-form, consisting of the rhombus-shaped tiles beloved by this independent publisher. What's nice is that whatever one discovers, usually the player can make use of it, somehow. On top of that there are interesting purchase decisions to be made at the trading post that give a strategic flavor. One can only afford a one or two major items and the one chosen will have a big effect on the type of game you play. Canoe owners tend to stay on the river while horse owners stray away from it. Rifle owners tend toward placer gold while someone with a case of dynamite heads for the hills. Artwork and physical components are of high quality. Instructions are brief enough to cause a few minor problems, but nothing insurmountable. English materials are included. But best of all, the creators are interested in the theme! This can be seen by the variety of terrains, of tools and the glacier ending condition, among others. The only complaint would be the misleading title – more likely this valley has never been visited by anyone rather than lost. A title like "Lost in the Klondike" or The Gold Rush would have been much better – in fact it might be fun to have the classic Chaplin film on in the background during play. Intended for 3-4 players, it's likely that fewer and more would also work. This should appeal especially to logistical experts and those interested in theme – most game players will find it fun. The detailed treatment may be a little overwhelming for casual players initially, but only for a while. Strategically, try to get both dynamite and a cart, or at least don't let anyone else have same. Now if only we could more easily force the appearance of those triangular tiles ... [variant] [Frequently Played] [Holiday List 2004] [Kronberger Spiele]
Simple racing abstract for up to four features stacked checkers which travel a number of spaces equal to the height at which they are stacked. The Lotus space adds the twist of being a space where no checker may stop, but must instead trampoline forward a number of spaces equal to those already moved. Although sometimes it seems a good game for a computer to play to perfection, features a very accessible system and plenty of scope for tactical and strategic planning. The two-player game appears quite balanced while with more than that it is perhaps better to be the last player than the first. There can also be "kingmaker" problems in this version. An interesting sidelight is that each space features a different Chinese character which translated from end to start mean "Army", "Middle", "Light", "No", "Go", "Agile", "Lotus", "Car", "Go", "Big Tool", "House". From here, if one regards the board with "House" toward the bottom, the spaces on the left are "Truth", "Sky" and "Straight" while those on the right are "First", "Move" and "Black". Perhaps someone will design a variant where each of these spaces has a special game effect. In Ravensburger's Chinese edition, the title means something like "Chain Reaction Flying Dragon". Shares with the later Igel Ärgern the idea that only the top checker of any stack may move.
"Lion Dynasty" is a card game of the climbing family. Players each start with a level 1 lion card. At the end of the hand, each trick taken adds a level and so he turns in the "1" card and fishes out the one of his new level. Attaining 10 makes the player the king of beasts, triggering an immediate contest, for if anyone else can attain 10 in the same hand, the old king is out of the game and a new one reigns. The last king standing wins. The deck has up to six suits (depending on number of players) with lions numbered 1-10 in each suit and play consists of playing a higher card in the same suit or passing with the ability to come back in later. There are also three net cards which can be used to scoop up any lion and which in turn may only be defeated by a "1" (essentially a re-start). Finally there are three wild cards (mouse jesters) which can represent anything, and thus beat anything. In addition, if a net wins a trick the round is over – the lions have all been bagged without any new lines springing up elsewhere. This early ending may actually be a good thing to allow if one has a lousy hand. Inventor Hartmut Witt is also responsible for the marriage game Sumera and the rite features here as well. Each suit has a gender and when atop the stack, the 7-8-9 cards are eligible to get married with another card of the same rank and opposite sex. This starts a second trick going simultaneous with the first and each player can play on one or the other. This is a weird idea, as is play in general, but it is difficult to say whether this is good or bad. Perhaps with extended play certain understandings would come to light that could make this a masterful exercise, but more likely it's ruled by luck of the draw, particularly with respect to nets, jokers and high cards. An important tactic is one seen in games like MarraCash and Kill Dr. Lucky, which I call "blackmail" – players should usually not waste special cards trying to win the trick unless the player to their immediate left will otherwise take it. Much better to force your left hand opponent to give up his valuable cards first. (Blackmailing is much less common with more players.) Delay on the last hand is also a good idea. Let others become king of beasts first, only then take tricks to knock them out. Having a good feel for when it is safe to delay and when to act is really the key to it all. For a German game there is a surprising amount of memory required, not just the usual one of which cards have fallen, but of banal information such as who is winning each of the two ongoing tricks, who has won the main marriage trick and whether this trick has been married before or not. You might want to raid another game for some cubes to help keep track of it all. The variant which slightly weakens the all-powerful wild cards appears to reduce chaos. A final bit of weirdness: while the text description may make this sound like a fairly good thematic match to lion life (childhood, mating, capture, kinghood), this is totally betrayed by the card artwork which depicts the cutest collection of soft toy (stuffed animal) lions you ever saw in your life! The inventor has indicated to me that he had actually imagined a different sort of artwork, more satirical than cute. Perhaps we will see a re-issue one day. Actually, the theme comes from "The Lion and the Mouse" by Aesop. Folks who have tried every climbing card game should give this one a clamber as well.
Louis XIV
If a game's appeal can be divided into 4 principal factors and if one's most important factor is absent, can it be saved by factors 2 and 3 being well executed? These are the questions inspired by play of Louis Quatorze, for while Theme and especially Tactics are well-handled, Strategy is virtually absent. (Evaluation is mostly absent too, but for me that is only job 4.) Actually, inventor Rüdiger Dorn has made a game like this before: the light and fun Emerald. That one works because whatever its deficits, it remained short and accessible. But now under the Alea label, the same level of randomness is presented in a package which is rather longer and more difficult, even if not egregiously so. The game arrives in Alea's new midsize package, smaller than Puerto Rico, larger than San Juan (and as a boon to all who missed earlier collecting lines, the box is numbered "1"). This affords a "board" made up of 12 separate square tiles, which must be arranged in checkerboard fashion. This is novel and it's a wonder more wasn't done with the negative spaces. On the other hand, placing cubes on the tiles along the diagonals is also fairly novel. Each tile depicts an important personality in Louis' orbit and on them are fought majority battles, the outcomes depending on the type of the tile. "Money tiles" provide their rewards to all willing to pay with first place riding free while "presence tiles" give their reward to all who have at least two markers present. But probably the most crucial are those I term "who's your daddy?" tiles because here only first place receives a reward. This situation tends to make placing last crucial, but there is something to be said for going first and showing a strong interest in a tile as a deterrent. The variety of rewards includes coins, special cards, shield points and most critically, mission chips. Spending pairs of these last permit satisfying one's private mission cards, the chief source of victory points in the game. Each of these cards also provides a benefit which will continue for the rest of play so it is wise to buy them as quickly as possible (a rule against hoarding helps players avoid this mistake). The cards and their costs feel balanced, but there can still be inequities in those random draws, depending on how the new cards match up with existing ones and also with one's existing context. A player with a lot of coins already probably doesn't need more of the same whereas two players who need the same things fruitlessly butt heads while others sail through. There's even more randomness in the shields system, whereby chips are taken at random and the player having the most of each type at the end receives extra points. Usually the player with the most shields should win most of these majorities, but he will feel unjustly treated when it comes out otherwise. It's too bad that shield collection couldn't be a valid strategy in its own right, instead being relegated to a supplemental role, but at least now you've been warned not to make this mistake in your first playing. A high school obsession with the novels of Alexandre Dumas brought recognition of many of the personalities in the game. Mlle. de la Vallière was Louis' first mistress and was tied in to the Three Musketeers tale by being the first love of the son of Athos'. Another mistress, Mlle. Maintenon helps the player with her good friend, another of Louis' mistresses, Mme. Montespan. Cardinal Mazarin, successor to Richelieu, was said to be intimate with the king's mother, Queen Anne, and was the actual ruler of the kingdom. Here his character provides a powerful intrigue card. Colbert, the king's finance minister, gives coins. And so on. These thematic touches are quite admirable if one cares to look and this could have been a great game indeed had it been either less random or less involved.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
Löwenherz (Domaine)
Nicely produced Klaus Teuber design includes both territorial expansion on a grid, bluff and controlled negotiation for ownership of revealed cards. For unknown reasons does not seem to gain the attention that it deserves. Perhaps it it is slightly combative nature of the proceedings? (Although actual combat is completely absent of course.) As in the designer's The Settlers of Catan, there are multiple strategies – money, walls, knights, victory point cards – and all are fairly well-balanced, but it is hard to imagine anyone winning without completing all of their kingdoms. Now if only it were easier to figure out just how large a kingdom should be ... Theme is around a medieval European setting; the title translates to "Lionheart" which confusingly is the title of a completely unrelated game.
Update June 2003: Several of my favorite games of the past year – Abenteuer Menschheit; Edel, Stein und Reich; Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – have been re-makes. This onslaught of re-issues probably has more to do with the soft economy than anything else, it not being a great time to take a chance on a high cost, unproven design. Fortunately the independent small companies are still around to bring us true originals which comprise the rest of my best: Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, Trias, Eketorp and Mogul. But when it comes to Domaine, the Löwenherz re-issue which retains the original name in Germany, one gets the feeling something else is afoot. In fact Kosmos have been bringing back Klaus Teuber's earlier designs for a few years now, including Die Neuen Entdecker and Barbarossa. More than likely, demand for these has never truly gone away and in these cases a publisher routinely prints another edition of the exact same thing. But we are lucky that Teuber, like an expert craftsman, has taken the time to re-visit his work with the benefit of hindsight and present us with another realization. Domaine is substantially the same game. True, it now has rather fancy plastic castles, horsemen and walls. It has more complex and yet more satisfying territory valuation and it has removed entirely the simultaneous bid with possible negotiation mechanism (and replaced it with the option of pay-to-play a card or sell it for money letting others pick it up). Yet the basic ideas and strategies are all still there. It almost seems to reveal something of Teuber's design process, as if this was a possible way the game might have been designed from the start, but that was rejected in favor of a more original approach. In terms of play, this version is probably faster and less complex. On the other hand, the hardcore player may find it less fair as it's now possible to become the victim of bad luck of the draw. This is probably the overriding factor in deciding which version to get – a very pointed question as both are available new in our local store. By the way, the new version retains the slightly uneasy feeling one gets as players deliver rather palpable hits on one another. It never overwhelms, but it is always there, right on the edge. A new, clever yet unobtrusive bit of design is in the revenue system. No doubt in early playings there was a problem of players accruing enough money. Instead of designing in a whole new subsystem, a single high revenue card was inserted. This card tends never to be played, but is always passed from player to player, each time being claimed for cash, in the process generating interesting timing issues with respect to funding. It's amazing how many problems were solved and interesting situations created with just a single card. A few more comments on the physical production seem appropriate as Kosmos have now inaugurated their plastic pieces era. The whimsical castles remind of those tiny European countries like Liechtenstein and San Marino, no larger than a mountainside, and this can happen in the game too as a kingdom gets shrinkwrapped down to a single space. It's a very tiny quibble, but the castles are the same size and basic shape as the knights; in future it's expected that a bit more distinctiveness will be incorporated for quick decipherment of the board position.
Lucca Città (Lucca Citta)
Multi-player card game of tower and wall building, ostensibly set in the north Italian city of 1628. Having visited I can attest that a very fine, wide wall still exists there, and gets a lot of use, by wallters and runners, but the connection with the game is minimal. Anyway, the primary mechanism is drafting, players taking a group of randomly-dealt cards at a time. Cards also sport unique numbers which help to break varous ties, but strategically this seems best relegated to secondary consideration. There are multiple ways of scoring which are somewhat complicated and unfortunately not particularly elegant. The card artwork does incorporate an Italian sense of style, but is more stylized than sumptuous. While there is nothing very wrong here, there is not much which is particularly innovative either. It suffers a bit from the appearance in the same year of the similar Palazzo, which is more elegant with more interesting considerations, even if its running time is a bit longer. Not to be confused with the one page game, Lucca, also by daVinci Games.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium
Lucky Loop
Multi-player dice game very loosely-themed around old style barnstorming aircraft. Players make a series of dice rolls
trying to exceed, or even better, equal, the amounts printed on cards which have been chosen by the players. Failures give credits which can be exchanged for extra rolls on future turns. Players also have hand cards which can be used to create new challenges or replace existing cards. Of course luck of the dice plays an enormous role. There is a place for such games – probably amid beer and buddies – a buds and suds game if you will. In that context this works better than Fill or Bust or Knights, but on the other hand is not Exxtra or Can't Stop.
From the title you might think this is the first game since Lunar Rails to be set on the moon. You would be wrong. Instead this is about a priestess of the moon called Luna and her satellites, presumably called lunatics. In fact, very reminiscent of Royal Palace, this is a game of modular locations, represented as fantastic islands around a central temple board, each island affording a different type of action. Players have workers on said islands and for each one can execute its island's action. Some of the functions are infrastructural, like getting more workers, moving or relocating them, while others are more directly involved in point production such as temple construction and changing the game state such as the locations of certain non-player markers, which can have both beneficial and harmful effects. There are several ways of gaining points, not least of them acquiring spaces on the central temple board. Being able to plan as well as look ahead to what others are likely to do is astronomically important. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly new or different
here; rather it feels more like several systems put together in a hurry, sometimes being layered on as with the books in the temple. Thematic feeling is mostly absent. Perhaps worst of all, due to enemy action a player can get into a degenerate state in which all of one's workers are displaced and given the nature of a system that takes workers to make or restore workers, there is nothing much that can be done to recover from it. Larger publishers with whom this inventor has worked before appear to have turned this one down; perhaps one of them might have been able to develop this in a more satisfying way. As it stands, even the fact that the islands can be arranged differently each time won't redeem its problems.
LLMM5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Stefan Feld; Hall Games-2010/Z-Man Games-2010; 1-4; 90
Although it may sound like another of those Italian city name games, e.g. Roma, Venezia, Siena or Palermo, this title actually belongs to a prestigious district along the Arno River in Pisa. But when it comes to actual play, look not to Italy, but France, for it's another tile-layer reminiscent of Carcassonne. But not so similar as to permit description only by analogy. One difference is that the playing area is very much restricted, being divided by water into six two by six areas.
There is a short term scoring each time an area is completed as well as end of play scoring. Tiles which participate in the first are divided into two different shields, the player being able to place a pawn on either half so long as no other player has claimed that shield type in that area. When an area is complete players score points for each shield of their type in it, plus the value of the random extra points tile which is hidden except for players who have committed to the district (reminiscent of Chang Cheng). Unlike Carcassonne, there are also modifier tiles, some of which enhance, and some of which detract from, the values of adjacent tiles. There are also swap tiles which can be placed in order to bring into hand an already-placed one. Speaking of the hand, it is built up by also giving players the option to draft from three face up tiles, the oldest of which is free and then each one more expensive as they get younger (reminiscent of Vinci). Players pay one more as well when they wish to take more than one action, a nice idea. Final scoring is for tiles bearing only one shield and, depending on the tile, counts tiles in either its long or short row. Tiles are attractive and to go with them are some unique plastic merchant pieces showing wide coats; the communication design would have been improved by making circles for the pawns to stand in. Without them players tend to place on the shields which is most inconvenient for others. The indicator icons on the long-term tiles should have been made larger as well. This is a fairly simple affair which does not take overlong. It is probably at its best with fewer than five so that the tile queue can operate meaningfully. The negative scoring tiles are too powerful and easy to be used arbitrarily, leading to petty diplomacy issues, especially as it's often the case that the leading player may not have pieces in play and thus cannot even be hit. They're also a poor match to a system designed for ages as low as 8. Overall, this has combined a few good ideas, but would have benefited from more subtlety of design. Later expanded by Lungarno - Luminara.
LLHL5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Michele Mura; Mario Truant-2008/Elfinwerks-2008; 2-5; 8+ [Amazon]
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