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Subject: A Masterful Build - Creaking Shelves Reviews Lisboa rss

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Creaking Shelves
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Up front disclosures: as Lisboa is still up on Kickstarter, naturally I was lucky enough to get a prototype copy of Lisboa for review. The pictures are therefore not of a finished game and changes may occur. This is also my first Vital Lacerda game, so I can only provide very limited comparisons with his previous titles based on what I've read about them. Finally, any pastry products featured in this review were bought by me, and not included in the game. Right, let's get on with this.





Lisboa is a game you approach carefully…





This sleeping monster can be tamed, but this should only be attempted by trained professionals. Or those of you who have played plenty of Euro games before. Basically, read on, and you’ll know if you’re ready.

Lisboa is the latest extravagant creation from Vital Lacerda, designer of other monsterpieces such as The Gallerist, Kanban and Vinhos. I’ve not had the pleasure of trying his previous titles yet his reputation is such that experiencing one of his games might be considered a… ahem, vital, part of a well-rounded board game education. Yes, he’s the darling of the heavy Euro crowd and possibly the best thing to come out of Portugal since the Pastel de Nata.





And it is to Portugal that we are returning with Lisboa, a game set in a dark time for the country. The titular capital city has been struck by perhaps the worst natural disaster Europe has seen: a massive earthquake, triggering terrible fires and finally a tsunami that razed the city to the ground. But the earth-shattering implications of the event went far beyond just structural damage; this event was set to transform European culture and philosophy. But first the leaders of Lisboa are determined to see a great new modern city be built and you’ll be the ones building it. And hopefully earning some new hairpieces along the way (wigs are victory points, I kid you not). Here is the city.





You can see the intended spaces where new, modern (and indeed the first examples of seismically resistant buildings in Europe) are to be built. But to do that the ruins of the old city must be cleared. The sets of cubes around the right and bottom of the plan represent the damage from rubble, fire and flood in the area and you’ll be literally clearing those cubes from the board as you build. This is not going to be cheap: each building costs the total value of cubes in the row and column that you are building in (plus some tax) but completing that allows you to start producing new goods (according to which street it is built on) and opening up the possibilities for trade that come with that.

Around the central area are a collection of spaces for the more impressive public buildings. These take more planning, but less money, to construct, as you’ll need to obtain architectural plans and ensure you have enough officials in place to run the building once it is constructed, though you can pay to hire more if needed. The public buildings control which rows and which streets will score points, with different columns being worth different numbers of points. Each public building will trigger buildings of the corresponding type(s) to score. Say, for example, this public building was placed…





Then any silk (pink) or tool (blue) building in the row would score. Or it could be placed at the head of a matching street and any building on that street would score. Potentially, a given building could score from 3 different public buildings… or it might never score at all! It entirely depends on what public buildings are opened!

Typically, when I play a Euro game, especially when it’s a new one, I’m going to pick one element of the game to focus on while trying to keep up appearances or even ignoring the others. That is not how you should approach Lisboa and that is a refreshing change. Everything should be focussed on the rebuilding of the city. You (probably) can’t ignore it, and nor should you expect to: it is the entire focus of the game’s background!

The city is an appropriately fascinating thing to think about too. Where to build is a balance between cost in terms of the rubble, the immediate reward you get from the space where you build, what type of shop you wish to open, the immediate points you might score from any open public buildings or the potential points from future ones, the end game area control bonus points for each street (with some being better than others!) or your own personal objective cards. Even what piece of rubble you get to collect, as with each building you pick up a piece of rubble, making it cheaper for you and for anyone who follows. This rubble goes on to your personal player board and into expanding your warehouse space, increasing the number of resources you can store, with each section requiring one of each colour of rubble.





The warehouses also contribute to the pace of the game: the first half ends when someone has opened their 2nd section (or when the card decks are running out, more on those later), the whole game ends when someone completes their 4th section. Thus, you can attempt to rush the game end, particularly when you open public buildings as doing so gets you both rubble cubes from that space. Though again you want to consider how it affects the scoring of other players and yourself and whatever immediate reward you get. Finding and implementing those perfect placements are immensely satisfying, as you might expect!

The rebuilding of Lisboa with its shops and public buildings, resource requirements and endless compromises and decisions would be enough for an entire game on its own, but here it appears as only the face of an elaborate clock whose ticking mechanisms we are now going to explore in a little more depth. Hold on to your hats kids.





Let us consider a basic turn. Part of Lisboa’s brilliance lies in its clever, branching decision structure within each turn. So the first thing you do is choose a card from your hand to play (and draw a new one from one of the stacks at the end). Any can be played to either your personal player board, where they slot in to help accelerate your personal economy, or on to a pile on the main board where they open up access to the most important actions in the game. By playing the appropriate face there you can visit that noble and beseech them to do whatever it is they do best. Let’s see what these 3 fine bachelors can offer a beautiful player like you!

Noble Blind Date!





Bachelor Number 1 is chief architect in these parts and is keen to build a lasting relationship with the right player. Expect many exciting visits to the city streets, although I warn you! He’s not looking for someone with too tight a grip on their purse strings. Manuel also likes making plans and filling the noble houses with… erm… men. Anyway, let’s move on





To Bachelor Number 2! Portugal’s primary pontificator, the Marquis de Pombal is an enlightened chap with a firm grip on the gavel of power. He’ll hammer out a new decree just for you (to score end game points off). He also enjoys ship making and producing goods from all those shops you built with Manuel. He’s looking for a like-minded player for friendship, maybe more.





Bachelor Number 3 is no less than the King himself! Bless him, he’s taken the destruction of his capital city rather harshly but is focussing on the simple pleasures of cutting ribbons to open public buildings, spending time at church, and handing out favours.





Of course, these three fine fellas don’t have time for everyone so you must spend influence to see them. This is recorded on one of the (many) tracks on the main board and is one of your 3 main resources. Yes, I said 3. Now, the more men other players have occupying the spaces below the noble’s grand picture, the more influence it will cost you to see them. Thus, using Manuel to stuff the place with your men will make it much more expensive for everyone else! You’ll take them out of these spaces when you want to open a public building. You’ll remember that you’ll also need plans to open those, so putting both relevant actions on Manuel’s banner is an evil little move that will make your life that much more challenging to organise, because you can only ever do one of the two actions in the white banner when you play a card to the centre, in addition to that gentleman’s main action. However, these lesser “state actions” in the banner can also be accessed when you play a card to your player board…

Playing to your play area gets you an immediate benefit, some future benefit, and then lets you liberate those trade goods from your warehouse. Noble cards get slotted under the docks at the top, which is a rather brutal metaphor for something, giving you whatever was depicted on the bottom, and giving you the chance to earn some tasty influence later. Whenever influence is totalled, you add up the total across the top of your docks, because in Lisboa, docks make influence. When is influence totalled?

Well! When you build a new ship you will gain influence as you show it off to the crowd, and while you’ll certainly feel like smashing a bottle of champagne across it in celebration, I’d remind you that it is only a board game! All players will also get the chance to gain influence whenever the cardinal completes a loop of the clergy track. The what!?





The clergy track sees the big red cardinal (note, prototype components) walking in circles as you take the church action from the King. When he stops you can pick up one of the tiles that offer you an on going bonus that can really boost a particular approach to the game. The whole clergy element feels like its own whirligig attached to the main apparatus of the game. It has a purpose… but sometimes it’s difficult to remember what that purpose is. Which you might say is an apt metaphor for the clergy.

What else? God, what else? The favour tokens you get from the King let you take an extra action when someone else plays a noble card of the same colour to the centre. That’s really good, and offers you interesting decisions outside of the normal turn sequence, continuing a design element I understand was present in The Gallerist. One complaint there was that it became difficult to keep track of turns, but here the player whose turn it is places their special pawn atop the pile of cards so everyone can keep track.





Speaking of tracks…! The value of goods drops every time someone produces that good in their shop (supply and demand!) meaning you want to be getting those items sold as soon as possible. Then there’s the treasury track (above) that modifies the costs and opportunities throughout the game. You’ll have to pay this cost in addition to the cost of rubble when building and you’ll earn that much cash when you play a treasury card into the bottom of your display (also dropping its value). Treasury cards are great because like the clergy tiles, they’ll give you some permanent benefit and when played to the centre let you take noble’s core actions without paying influence… but it costs money instead.

There! That’s everything! It’s all explained –





OH, F*CK IT!

The elements of this game are so finely intertwined that you quickly feel like you are falling down the rabbit hole. Indeed, Lisboa hit my brain with much the same effect of dropping its giant box on to a pastel de nata. And that is a feeling that persisted for me throughout my first game. But the second was much better. The third, better still! The player reference… booklet is a superb piece of support if you give it a good read through, explaining concisely the main rules and decision points as well as how you obtain and spend those 3 main resources I mentioned. The fact you need it, of course, just shows how overwhelmingly interlinked everything is.

Let’s take a look at those three resources: influence, money and trade goods (itself split into 4 different types). Influence can be spent to gain money, if things are going badly, but is mostly needed for visiting the nobles. The easiest way to get it is by building ships, which are paid for in trade goods. Of course, you also want trade goods for using the nobles’ state actions when you play a card to your player board, or for selling to ships… which is the best way of getting money. Now, aside from some of the cards and spaces in the city, you get trade goods by producing but that only works once you’ve built some shops in the city and that, of course, requires money!





Fighting your way through this mix to avoid running out of anything is the focus of the first half of the game. It’s a desperate fight although I’ve not seen anyone fail utterly (and there are escape mechanics built in if you do get in trouble). So often at this stage of the game you’ll spot some great move and then realise you just don’t have quite enough money to pull it off. Progress is slow and you’ll reach the halfway point of the game feeling like you’ve barely gotten anywhere. But after your first big produce action coupled with the more powerful cards in the second half the game blows your options wide open and the question is no longer how to afford to do what I want, but what is the best thing I can do to collect those wondrous victory points!? In this half the game really comes to life as the decisions become more and more important while you gain a freedom of choice you didn’t have before.

What struck me was how nicely this fits the history you are supposed to be experiencing. In the years following the disaster, resources are going to be hard to come by. You are reliant on what handouts you can get, or what you can find in the rubble of the old city. Times are tough. But as the years go on the economy picks up. Shops open and start producing goods. Trade springs up with the rest of the world. The city rises from the ashes and you feel that liberation as you play.

This sense of history runs to the very core of the game. The actions of Marquis, architect and King all correspond to their historical counterparts, the rulebook is full of historical footnotes, as are the cards, where the rewards of those cards often fit that flavour text. Even the way in which the clergy track feels like its own extra thing is representative of the separation of church and state that occurred at this point, driven by the enlightenment leanings of the Marquis de Pombel. It’s astonishing!





Lisboa is a deep and complex game. In many ways it feels like it goes too far. Could this story have been told in a more accessible way? Probably. But that can’t be a flaw when it has been so clearly crafted with intent and masterfully put together. I’ve played this 5 times now and am still peeling back the layers. Lisboa will definitely reward those looking to invest time mastering it. It’s a vast puzzle box that fans of his games will have come to expect. But it’s also much more. It’s a love letter to the designer’s home city, and that love just comes pouring through.



Rating: A Masterful Build


This review was originally posted on my blog: www.creakingshelves.com. If you've enjoyed it, please consider checking out the other articles on my blog and clicking the thumb at the top of the thread. Thanks for reading!
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Vital Lacerda
Portugal
Oeiras
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2010 - Vinhos, 2012 - CO2, 2014 - kanban, 2015 - The Gallerist, 2016 - Vinhos Deluxe, 2017 - Lisboa, 2018 - Escape Plan, CO2 Second Chance and Dragon Keepers - Maybe: 2019 - ROTW Portugal and On Mars, 2020 - Kanban Deluxe Edition and Máquina
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Thank you very much for a very nice review. Very well written and full of humor. Happy to know you enjoy your plays.

We disagree on one thing though. I'm not as sweet as a Pastel de Nata.
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Creaking Shelves
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newrev wrote:
I'm not as sweet as a Pastel de Nata.


Oh, so modest!
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Phil Triest
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So how did it fare compared with Kanban, CO2, The Gallerist, Vinhos?
 
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Kris Verbeeck
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philtrees wrote:
So how did it fare compared with Kanban, CO2, The Gallerist, Vinhos?

It is his first Vital Lacerda game. not sure why the shelves are creaking.
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Creaking Shelves
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KrisVerbeeck wrote:
philtrees wrote:
So how did it fare compared with Kanban, CO2, The Gallerist, Vinhos?

It is his first Vital Lacerda game. not sure why the shelves are creaking.


You haven't seen my Cthulhu Wars collection
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-=::) Dante (::=-
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KEW GARDENS
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How long does the game take with 4 new players, rules teach, set up and break down?
 
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Greg Peterson
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Great review! Though the food on the board made me nervous. surprise

Can't wait! my copy should arrive tomorrow and got some friends to finally take the plunge into heavier games. Playing Saturday so hopefully I can get this out.
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