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Game Overview: LAMA, or Handle Your Llamas with Care

W. Eric Martin
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My friend Ken Shoda attended BGG.Spring 2019 this past weekend, and he is undoubtedly the attendee who traveled the farthest distance to the show since he lives in Japan. Ken helps me out at Tokyo Game Market, translating for the guests we have on camera and introducing me to designers, publishers, and other game industry figures as he seems to know everyone.

Ken and I share a love of similar games, especially when it comes to the works of Reiner Knizia. Ken owns more than seven hundred Knizia titles, he's translated some of Knizia's books into Japanese, and his BGG jersey (which we gave him as a "thank you" for the translation help) bears the name KENIZIA. Naturally, Ken and I played a lot of Knizia games together during BGG.Spring: Karate Tomate three times, 13, Rummy 17, Seimi in the Super Crazy World, and lots of the 2019 Spiel des Jahres nominee LAMA.


Ken takes a shot in Tal der Wikinger
while wearing his shirt backwards for some reason


I had played LAMA four times previously on a review copy from AMIGO, but mostly with three players. Ken said, oh, you need to play more with four players to see the differences — and you really need to play with five or six players as it's like a different game.

I wasn't surprised to hear that as most of Knizia's designs require different approaches to gameplay depending on the number of players. Amun-Re with five players, for example, is quite different from Amun-Re with 3-4 players given that not all the provinces will come into play when you have fewer than five, which then changes how the bidding process plays out and what people compete for due to how the harvest will differ. Nothing changes with the rules, mind you — only with what you need to consider while playing. You can say this for most of his designs, which is a short way of saying that Knizia designs have a lot of player interaction that affect how games play out.

In any case, we played LAMA a fair amount with both four and six players, then after getting home from the show I played four games with only two players — which feels like a completely different animal. (Speaking of which, some people have stated that the cover shows an alpaca, not a llama, but that doesn't seem to be the case.)


We both failed Selfie 101


Now with sixteen games under my belt and in my head, I felt ready to take on a video overview, which ends with a 14-minute, single take exposition on this game, the experience of gaining experience, and how good Knizia is at what he does. While editing the video, I realized that I probably could have said twice as much as I did, given that I didn't cover, for example, how a player's approach to playing in a round changes depending on their current score — and how you can use that to your advantage. I also didn't talk about the joy I get from multi-round games, that is, games that "finish", then start over, giving you a chance to respond to how the previous round(s) played out and to react to how others played out their hand. I love trick-taking games for this behavior as they're not just one-and-done like a larger board game, but more like chapters of a larger story.

Finally, in the video I didn't shame AMIGO for its inconsistent naming practices, specifically using "L.A.M.A." on the cover, with the acronym standing for "lege alle Minuspunkte ab" ("Get rid of all the minus points"), while using "LAMA" in every other mention of the game on its website and in its press material, so I'll do so now. I try to be consistent with my usage of game names, convention titles, and so on, but it's hard to do that when a publisher isn't consistent in the first place!

As for the game itself, I said quite a lot about it in this video:


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