My journey into board games started like many others. I grew up playing classics like Monopoly and Sorry! with the family. A lot of these games had players activating some sort of randomizer, dice normally, to determine what they were able to do on their turn. So you’d roll your dice and get to move however far those little pips told you to go. There isn’t much choice to be offered, but it was that social setting with family around the table that cemented those memories for me.
As I reached deeper and deeper into the vast options of board games, I slowly eased into what some consider to be “heavy euros”. “Heavy” meaning that the game is generally tougher to learn, has plenty of options that must be considered before choosing your actions, and usually involves some amount of planning for what will happen down the road. “Euro” is a board game term that is used to describe the style of games that Germany (and other countries in the geographical vicinity) was producing at the time. These days, the term is used more to describe games that don’t have a lot of theme and are very deterministic in their playstyle.
These games offered much more than the roll-and-move games of the past and allow players to actually make a choice about what happens on their turns. They open up the floodgates of opportunity to really allow great players to make strategic long term plans or leaving people like me to forget to get enough apples to keep my workers alive during the harsh and cold winters. Almost always, players that plan and play better are going to do better than those that don’t.
Lignum is the Latin word for wood, and that is the primary focus of this board game. Players will be cutting wood down from the forest, bringing it back to their shop, processing the wood, and fulfilling orders. The general theme and idea of how the game functions is rather simple on the surface. Players move their pawns around what I consider a Rhondel style board, stopping their movement at locations that will provide the player with what they need.
Each of the main locations along the board offer something that’s integral to the process. One of the stops allows players to hire woodcutters so that they’re able to cut down the trees. One of the stops allows players to hire workers to carry the wood from the forest back to the shop. One of the steps allows players to hire sawers that will be able to cut the wood. The final location is the forest where players will actually be choosing the different types of trees they need to cut down.
That process sounds rather simple, and it really is. Each of the jobs makes sense in the production flow. It’s up to the players to make sure that they’re getting the workers that they need for that turn while doing their best to only spend what’s needed. Money in this game can be incredibly tight and can often lead to production slow downs or even cause them to come to a screeching halt. Hiring workers is going to be costing a lot of money, but we haven’t gone over how players will be earning the income needed to recoup those costs.
Once wood has been brought back to the shop, players must decide if they’d like to cut the wood down into planks or if they want to sell the log whole. Most of the time, players will make more money selling the log in planks, but that’s going to cost money! Even after a player has hired a sawer to cut the wood, the sawer is going to need a saw! These can be purchased from the market or picked up along the board at different stops. It’s very important that players make sure to have the required number of saws at their shop if they’re planning on cutting the wood.
The best way to earn money in Lignum is completing orders. This is another location along the board that players can stop during the round. Orders require various amounts of logs or planks that have been aged a certain amount of time. Players store the wood at their workshop until the planks have aged to the appropriate level and then are able to fulfill the order for a big payday.
Lignum doesn’t stop there though. It’s a game all about optimizing your turns and planning ahead the best that you are able. Another stop along the road allows players to plan for bonuses several seasons in the future. As an example, there may be a planning card that allows my worker to cut twice as many logs on a turn as normal. I would want to make sure that I have plenty of wood at my shop as well as all the required tools. The better players can plan for the future, the more they will be rewarded by bonus actions or rewards from tasks.
The final thing I want to talk about is that the seasons have quite an effect on the game. During winter, you can’t use the river to float your logs down, so you’ll have to be prepared with sleds. There’s also different actions that happen in winter compared to the other seasons. A theme found in several euro style games is the need to feed the workers and family. Each winter, players will need to have acquired enough food and firewood from the forests to keep their workers healthy through the winter. Failure in terms of winter planning can be catastrophic. Luckily, players know the objectives needed for both winters that occur in the game at the start of the game.
Lignum is a simple game to understand the basic concepts and a rather deep game when it comes to how important it is to plan. The planning isn’t just for the current turn, it could be for three rounds later in the game. The beauty is that players must decide how important things on the board are on their turns. They can skip large sections just to pick up a wagon or sled to help bring more wood back. They could skip ahead to try and secure a free saw or even to find some free food.
This isn't a game for everyone. It's rated as a 4.33/5 in terms of weight and that may scare people away. At its heart, it's a simple game to explain but tough to appreciate until you've played a game or two. If you want to play a game where the economy is really tight and your ability to plan can give you that extra advantage, I definitely recommend you check out Lignum which was brought to the US by Capstone Games.
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