I typically don’t gravitate toward light card games. In fact, in my natural gaming habitat, I don’t gravitate toward light games at all. I prefer to tax my brain with weightier fare that’s heavy enough to expend a good amount of mental calories via tough decision-making and dynamic strategy. If there were a sorting hat for gamers, I imagine it would assign me to house eurogamer before I had a chance to fully rest it on my head.
However, I do occasionally find myself in certain moods and/or gaming groups where a heavy eurogame fits the situation like Chris Farley in a David Spade-sized coat. Maybe we’re playing games with the in-laws. Or maybe it’s a weeknight after work and there isn’t time to play The Gallerist. Or maybe my brain juice has already been wrung out by another, heavier game.
It’s in these situations that I look to a game that offers strategy but in a side portion, something that demands the power-walking equivalent of mental output. It needs to be teachable, and it usually helps if it can be played in around 30 minutes. I own a smallish assortment of such games and even though they’re not the main ingredient, for the reasons stated above, I honestly would consider my collection incomplete without them.
Lotus has recently taken residency in said collection, and it seemingly offers the qualities mentioned: low-maintenance, clock friendly, easily accessible strategy.
In Lotus, you are making and completing flowers while placing insects, called guardians, on them to secure control of them upon their completion.
At the beginning of the game, each player will start with a hand of four cards, their own personal draw deck, and two guardian tokens in their player color. Each color has its own unique guardian tokens; for example, the red player has two ladybug tokens, while the blue player has two dragonfly tokens. In the play area is a separate deck called the wildflower deck, from which four cards are drawn and placed next to the deck, face-up.
On a player’s turn, they can take two actions from a choice of three. They can take any combination of actions, and the same action can be taken twice. The available actions are:
• Play One or Two Petal Cards to the Table
A player can place one or two cards of the same flower from their hand to the table. Each card denotes how many petals of that flowers are required to complete it as well as a number of the player’s guardian symbols—unless the card is a wild, in which case no guardian symbols are present.
Players can build on an incomplete flower, or start a new one, but two of the same flower cannot be on the table at the same time. Each type of flower is comprised of a different number of petals, spanning anywhere from three to seven.
When a player completes a flower by playing its last petal, control of that flower is determined. Players add up the number of their guardian symbols AND tokens (see below) present on all cards of the completed flower.
Whoever has the highest total receives a reward of their choice. If two or more players tie for control, each tied player selects a reward.
The rewards are:
o Five Point Token
This will contribute to the player’s score at the end of the game.
o Special Power Token
There are three special power tokens in the game, and a player can own up to one of each. They are:
- Elder Guardian
The player collects their silver-colored guardian token, which can be used like the others except that it counts as two guardian tokens.
- Enlightened Path
The player can now hold five cards in their hand instead of four.
- Infinite Growth
The player can now play up to three Petal Cards when taking the Play Petal Card action. They must still obey all of the previously stated rules for this action.
After receiving rewards, the player who completed the flower then “picks” it, i.e. collects all of the flower’s cards and adds them to their scoring stack. These will be assessed at the end of the game.
All guardian tokens on completed flowers are returned to their owners when the flower is picked.
• Place a Guardian Token on a Flower or Move a Guardian Token from One Flower to Another
A player can place a guardian token on a flower from the their own supply or they can move one of their previously placed guardian tokens from one flower to another.
• Exchange Petal Cards
This action lets a player place one or two cards from their hand on the bottom of their draw deck and then draw the same number of cards from the top of their draw deck and them to their hand.
At the end of their turn, the player draws back up to four cards in their hand. They can draw from their own draw deck, the face-up wildflowers on the table, or a combination of the two. Wildflower cards are not replenished until the player has drawn all of their cards.
When a player runs out of cards in their deck, the final round is triggered. That player will take one final turn, followed by each other player.
Once everyone has taken a final turn, control is determined for each incomplete flower by once again counting the number of guardians and tokens. For end game, instead of collecting a reward, the player who controls a flower will pick it and add it to their stack. In the case of a tie, the Petal Cards will be split and divided among tied players with all leftover cards leaving the game.
End game scoring is then calculated by adding all of the cards in a player’s stack (one point each) with any five point tokens they received for controlling completed flowers.
The player with the highest score wins. In the case of a tie, the tied player with the most cards left in their draw deck wins.
Going into this one, I had to battle some biases I (unfairly, I admit) have against pretty games like this.
The initial appeal here is undeniably superficial. The game is a bit of a pretty face, and in my opinion, that can be something for a game to overcome. There are more than a few games out there with the style/substance ratio of a Kardashian, and at this stage in the industry, people in the hobby are pretty savvy to that. So I do tend to temper expectations of a game when it stands out visually as much as this one does. Is it fair? Not at all. Am I ever wrong? More than I would like to admit.
Such is the case here. Yes, this game is a pretty face. But is it just a pretty face? Absolutely not.
I wouldn’t say it’s packed with strategy, but the strategic element of the game definitely keeps up with its aesthetic offerings. I’ve played this game a few times now, and in each game I found myself having to make some fairly hard decisions about focusing on control of a flower versus completing it. These two (and only) focuses of the game seem simple enough, and can go hand-in-hand, but with some flowers they’re hand-holding and others they’re arm wrestling.
For example, if you’re working on the five-petaled flower and have placed two of your own petals down with a guardian token, there’s a decent chance you’re going to at least tie for control of that flower (a guardian symbol on each card plus the token, so three guardians with three petals to go). Let’s say you have in your hand a fourth petal card for that flower. Easy play, right? Put that one down and now you have four guardians with two petals left.
But now you’ve opened the door for your opponent to complete the flower. Since one of the actions is playing one or two Petal Cards (or three if you have the Infinite Growth special ability) on a flower, your opponent can complete it if they have the right cards in their hand. So do you want to risk giving your opponent the opportunity to score the flower? Is controlling the flower worth it? If it’s a big flower, say six or seven petals, probably not, because that’s a lot of points going to your opponent. Too many to offset with a five point token even if you do control it.
There were times when I could easily complete AND control a flower, but that was typically on the flowers with lower petal counts (with the Infinite Growth ability, you can play the full three-petaled flower in one action), so not quite as many points were on the line. I found the real meat of the game to be the mini game of chicken when my opponent and I were trying to complete the six- or seven-petaled flower. Once there’s two or three petals needed to complete it, things can get tense. Controlling it at best gets you five points, so if your opponent completes it they will net a minimum advantage of two points at game end.
Then there’s the decision of taking the five points versus taking the special abilities. Again, whether you completed the flower can come into play here. You might have to play defense to offset the points your opponent just scored. But having another guardian token that counts twice can let you dominate control at times. And there’s always the option of being able to play a third card or having an additional card in your hand, though both of these will increase the number of cards you draw, so knowing how fast you want the game to end matters as well.
As I mentioned in the overview, I wanted this game to have just enough of a strategic motor to take me around the block without leaving first gear. I think it did just that. It presents some interesting choices without the risk of mental cramps, offering gamers enough of a game to bite into without being too chewy for casual players.
So all in all, there are some brains to this beauty.
Does this even bear discussion? The game is obviously beautiful. It doesn’t have a full board of bedazzling artwork like Abyss or Scythe do, but it doesn’t need it. The table is a canvas upon which you place the Petal Cards, which are vivid and colorful. And once you complete a flower, it’s almost sad that you have to take it away. When you have three or four flowers going at once, there’s an almost artistic quality to your play area.
With the collective luster of the flowers, the special ability tokens can easily fly under the visual radar, so I want to call them out for being equally beautiful, especially the Enlightened Path and Infinite Growth tokens.
I also like that each player color has its own associated guardian tokens. With everything else being identical, this adds just a touch of distinction to each player.
And I can’t left unmentioned the game box cover, which is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I’m honestly tempted to get it blown up and hung up in my game room.
My only negative here is the five point tokens. For a game with such an organic, colorful palette that almost makes a still life out of your game table, the stone-colored, austere look of these tokens stands out like a green thumb. They’re the one generic blemish hiding on the otherwise immaculate skin of the game.
This is definitely a game that is going to get some looks from passersby. If I’m being honest, the artistic merit of the game is what earned it a spot on my to-play list. So if you’re being shallow like me, this one is definitely a swipe right.
Like most beautiful things, this one doesn’t have everything.
Is there a theme? Technically. The first page of the rulebook will tell you something about finding a magical garden that will grant eternal life and wisdom if you grow and pick the flowers within.
That’s fine. Perfectly decent theme for the game. In fact I give them credit for not just making this a game about growing a generic garden.
But is the theme presented what’s actually shining through as you play? Not really. Completing a flower doesn’t really evoke magical ascendancy or enlightenment.
Does it matter? Not one bit.
Theme can be a tricky thing. In some games, it’s the whole sundae (Imperial Assault, Time Stories, to name a couple). In others, it’s just the cherry, something sprinkled over a game selling itself on other merits. This one definitely falls under the latter.
The truth is, some games just don’t need a strong theme. Unique mechanics, interesting choices, and—in this case, a stellar presentation can all suppress the need for theme. That’s not to say I advocate deprioritizing theme if it takes away from a game—just that in some cases it simply isn’t the secret sauce. If the game is good at what it does, I can forgive it for being less than thematic. I mean, look at the first Iron Man suit. Was anyone complaining that it didn’t have a paint job?
So while I acknowledge that this one is a bit lacking in theme and will rate it accordingly, there’s nothing really lost here because of it.
Lotus is a fine game that makes a decent filler, palate cleanser, or night cap. It’s a bit like watching Avatar in 4K: the content is good but its unique beauty is really what makes it what it is. And I find nothing wrong with that. If I can get my brain off the couch while looking at something with such an elegantly beautiful presentation, I’ll call it a win.
I don’t think this one is going to make it to the top of any gamer’s list of favorite games, though I could see it being played quite a bit by more casual players. It’s got a solid combination of playability, portability, and time appetite. And there will be those who just want to show it off.
As I previously stated, I need games like this in my collection; you don’t want your menu to be entrée-only. As an artifact, it provides botanical eye candy that is almost soothing to look at. As a game, it provides enough strategic depth to dip your toes in when you don’t feel like an all out swim.
So this one, while not stellar, is still a keeper.