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Lagoon: Land of Druids» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Based on One Play at Unpub - A Beatiful, Engaging Gem rss

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Michael D. Kelley
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I had the pleasure of meeting David Chott and trying out Lagoon at Unpub 4 this past weekend. This review is based on one 2-player session. The copy I played had most of the final art, and I believe all of the final mechanics and rules.

Theme - Each player represents a group of druids trying to rebuild the world of Lagoon after some catastrophe befell it. There's no violence in the world... the only competition is over which of three energies (blue, yellow, and red) will become dominant in determining the future of the newly built land.

Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit granola. I am an Ameritrash lover. My own game designs at the convention were full of explosions, sword slashes, and high body counts. So clearly, I must have hated collecting "energy" to rebuild a world, right?

Well, actually, no. I really enjoy the theme of the game. It's a refreshing change from other non-violent games I know of, which usually focus on building European castles and have frowning, ugly men on their cover. Besides, my clan of druids was a bunch of frickin' magical bunnies. Who doesn't love that?

Art and Components - The art that I saw was fantastic. Peter Wocken has done a beautiful job on the hexagonal tiles that form the majority of the game components. Each depicts one location being built into the new world. The names on the tiles were quite creative and poetic, with tons of Greek and Latin words to make them sound majestic.

The art matched the titles, but sometimes in slightly abstract and intriguing ways. I mean, yes, the Labyrinth tile had a picture of a labyrinth, but another tile was called "The Lambent Opus" (I made that up, but it was something similar) and had a wizardish looking guy in the foreground admiring a newly raised plateau of rock. Just figuring out how the art and tile name integrated kept me engaged and entertained during the game.

The rest of the components were nice. You have 4 or 5 smaller druid circular wooden markers (mine had adorable bunnies on them) and one larger elder druid ("Eldrid" in the game) that is slightly larger. The art on these markers was simple and evocative. Finally, you have tokens in the three colors of energy that you get as a reward for exploring new tiles of that color. These were chunky, the colors were clear, and they served their purpose.

There is no game board. The tiles themselves are built together in one sprawling world as the game goes on, and other tiles are "unraveled" away, so the map is constantly shifting to match player choices.

Gameplay - Here are the basics of gameplay. Forgive me if I get a few things wrong; I'm going off memory and have no access to a rulebook.

First, Victory Conditions. The game ends when every tile (there were 24 or so) has been built into the world with the explore action. At that point, you check to see which of the 3 colors has the most tiles on the board. Players receive 1 point for each energy token they have in the winning color, and 2 points for every map tile they have Unraveled (more on that later) in either of the two OTHER colors.

In my game, blue was the winning color, and I received 3 or 4 points for blue energy tokens, and a bunch of points for the 5 or 6 yellow tiles I had unraveled earlier in the game. My opponent had unraveled mostly blue tiles, and had a bunch of yellow energy tokens, but all of these were worth 0 victory points. He did have some red tiles that earned him points, but the game was a bit of a blowout. More on that later.

As for playing the game, you start out with one of your druids on a Haven tile. You can flip this druid over, exhausting him, to perform one of several actions. You can:

- Summon another druid to any haven tile. The new druid comes in exhausted, and won't usually be able to act until next turn.

- Move a druid to an adjacent tile. Since every druid is summoned to a Haven tile (of which there are only 4-6 in a given game), you'll have to move often to get access to important positions and tile powers.

- Explore a new tile. You draw one tile from a bag, and can choose which side to place face-up. Each side of a tile has its own special power, and comes in one of the three colors. You must place the new tile adjacent to the summoning druid's tile, and you MAY move the druid to the new tile for free. In either case, you receive an energy token matching the placed tile's color.

- Unravel a tile. This action removes a tile from the world and to your victory point area. To unravel, you must have druids on at least 3 tiles in the color that beats the unraveled tile's color. Blue beats yellow, yellow beats red, and red beats blue. So if I had 3 druids on blue tiles, and 1 druid on a yellow tile, I could exhaust that final druid to unravel the yellow tile.

This both helps to weaken colors that you do not want to win the game, and potentially earns you 2 victory points (as long as the color of the unraveled tile is not the winning color in the end).

You can unravel a tile without having 3 druids on the opposing colored tiles, if you spend energy tokens of the opposing color to make up the difference. So if I have 1 druid on a blue tile, and I want to unravel a yellow tile, I would have to discard 2 blue energy tokens.

Your unraveling druid goes back to your supply (he is "exiled"), but he can be summoned again later.

It's important to note that the world can never be split in two, so you cannot unravel a tile that is "locked". This is similar to Hive.

- Perform a tile action. This is the heart of the game. Almost every tile has a special action it allows druids to perform. These generally match a theme of the three colors: yellow refreshes druids to let you use them multiple times in a single turn; red allows druids to move around the board quickly; blue moves and rearranges tiles and thus the world itself.

The cool thing is that as long as you have a druid on a tile (exhausted or not), that tile's power is usable by ANY of your druids. It made me think a bit of computers in a network, or of one of the armies in Neuroshima Hex.

You can exhaust as many of your druids as you want, but you only refresh 3 druids at the beginning of each turn. If you summon all of your druids onto the board, you can perform a bunch of actions in one turn, but you'll be left with more druids than you can consistently refresh.

You can only explore once per turn; my game saw both of us exploring basically every turn. It gave our druids a free move, gave us an energy token for victory points or unraveling, and added one tile to a given colors total, making it more likely to win.

One final point I forgot is that some tiles have more powerful effects, but require your Eldrid to be the one who exhausts to use them. That's the only difference between Eldrids and other druids. The Eldrid does not need to actually be on the tile... you just need that tile's power in your network.

My Thoughts - First, let me address the crushing victory I achieved in my first game. Yes, my blue-focused strategy smashed my opponent's yellow-focused strategy. But that's only natural; as mentioned earlier, blue beats yellow. By having druids on blue tiles, I can unravel his yellow tiles. But his yellow tiles do not give him the same power over my blue tiles.

This brings up one of the really fun aspects of the game's strategy: you have to be flexible with your color focus. Your druids are not aligned to any one specific color. If you only place tiles of one color your opponent can focus on the color that beats yours and soundly thrash you.

Your main counter to this move is to focus more on the color that beats HIS color. So then I have to focus on the color I was previously killing. As David the designer described it after our game, it becomes a bit like a dance, with us chasing each other around the 3 colors like a snake eating its own tail.

And I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed that chase. I'm usually not a fan of more Euro-ish designs, or abstract strategy games in general, but this one really captured my imagination and my interest. There are fascinating choices every turn: do I summon more druids, or try to work with what I have? Do I move off of this tile, giving up its tile power, so that I am on the correct color to unravel that other tile? How can I change the shape of the world so that my opponent's dominant tile is no longer locked, and I can unravel the sucker?

But the great thing about these choices is that, while you must have a long-term strategy at work, your tactical turn-to-turn choices are hardly impossible, and don't lead to a ton of AP. At most you have 5 or 6 druids to act with. But those druids have a ton of options, once you've placed them each on a different tile, each tile providing a new ability to your "network" of magical powers.

Let me give you an example of a sample turn, so you can get a feel for the strategy and tactics at work in the game. Let's say I want to unravel a yellow tile, because my opponent has a bunch of yellow energy tokens and unraveled blue tiles in his score pile and I am much more focused on red and blue points. However, I don't have a druid on a yellow tile. I do have druids on 4 blue tiles and 1 red tile. But how can I move a druid to the yellow tile (which will exhaust him), and also unravel the tile (I can't exhaust him twice!)?

And heck, the only yellow tile I am next to has 3 other tiles past it, linked to the world only by my target yellow tile. It's locked and can't be touched anyway.

So I:
- exhaust one of my druids on a blue tile near the yellow tile to explore, placing the new blue tile adjacent to both the yellow tile and the connected 3 tile chain. The yellow tile is no longer locked, and I can unravel it freely.
- exhaust another blue tile druid, but to use the power on my red druid's tile, which lets me move an exhausted druid two spaces. I move my exploring druid onto the target yellow tile.
- exhaust my eldrid to use the power of the yellow tile I just occupied, which lets me exile my eldrid to refresh two exhausted druids. I'll refresh my druid on the yellow tile, and my druid on the blue tile.
- exhaust my druid on the yellow tile to unravel the tile. I moved one druid off of a blue tile, so I only have 2 druids on blue tiles, but I earned a blue energy token from exploring a blue tile, so I discard that to get up to three energy and unravel the yellow tile, exiling my unraveling druid.
- I exhaust another druid to resummon my eldrid onto a Haven, and stop there. I could do a couple more actions, but I already have 3 druids exhausted, and I'd like to refresh them all on my next turn.

So there you go; each choice by itself isn't too complicated, but the interplay of powers and choices is phenomenally intriguing. And there are probably 1 or 2 other combinations I could have used to achieve them same goal, but maybe I would have exhausted one druid less in the process.

And the scoring system itself is very cool. You get 2 points from unraveling, and each unraveled tile has a 2/3 chance of scoring at game end, since yellow and red tiles both score 2 points if blue wins, for example. Energy tokens are easier to get, but you only score 1 point for each, and they HAVE to match the winning color exactly.

I have no idea how the game plays with more than 2, but I doubt I would play it that way anyway. Lagoon is the perfect game to play with my wife, who will get the fairly simple gameplay, become enthralled with the deep strategies available, and will love the beautiful artwork all the while.

Final Thoughts - Lagoon was one of my few definite buys of the many great games I played at Unpub 4 this year. Its marriage of simple mechanics, beautiful artwork, unique theme, and deep strategy are a true winner. I can't wait for this kickstarter, because I am jumping right on it. David has truly created a gem.
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Ray Smith
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Thanks for the excellent review. thumbsup

Any ETA on the Kickstarter?
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David Chott
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Barring any hiccups, the Lagoon Kickstarter should launch on Friday, January 31.

And I agree, Mike did a fantastic job explaining the game. I'm impressed at his memory from only playing Lagoon once!
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Michael D. Kelley
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dchott wrote:
Barring any hiccups, the Lagoon Kickstarter should launch on Friday, January 31.

And I agree, Mike did a fantastic job explaining the game. I'm impressed at his memory from only playing Lagoon once!


What can I say... good games tend to stick in my memory.

Good luck, David!
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Paul Boos
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Sigh, wish had made it to unpub... I really wanted to... This was one of the games that had caught my eye when perusing the list.
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David Chott
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It would have been great to meet you and show you my game! UnPub was an incredible experience. It was great meeting all the other designers, publishers, semi-professional playtesters, and various levels of gamers from the public. I hope you make it next year! And if you're still interested in Lagoon, it goes on Kickstarter on Friday.
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Jim Andrew
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excellent review!

i blame you for adding even more game to my wishlist whistle
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Michael D. Kelley
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veenickz wrote:
excellent review!

i blame you for adding even more game to my wishlist whistle


Sorry to negatively impact your wallet!

But you won't be disappointed
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Glen Seymour
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https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1619383091/lagoon-land-...
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