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Thank you for checking review #36 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: A review copy of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.
An Overview of Lignum (Second Edition)
Lignum is a game designed by Alexander Huemer and is published by Capstone Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 90-120 minute play time.
Starting with a limited amount of resources and workers, you set out to run your lumber mill as efficiently as possible. Savvy investments and proper planning will ensure that your mill will be the most profitable. Be cautious, however, for competition is fierce! You will need to secure the best cutting areas, make use of limited contract workers, and continually update and replace your equipment. Your competitors are not the only thing to worry about as you will also need to store enough firewood and food to survive the harsh winters.
Lignum is a strategic optimization game that portrays the logging industry in the 19th century. Each round, players travel to the nearby forest, picking up tools and hiring workers along the way. After felling timber, players must decide how to transport their wood to their sawmills and if the wood should be processed or sold immediately, all the while optimizing their entire processing chain.
The second edition of Lignum also includes the "Joinery & Buildings" expansion. In this expansion, players can visit two additional locations along the supply path. Players may now acquire special buildings that give them unique, special abilities for the remainder of the game. Additionally, players can acquire joiners to help generate more income each round; if those joiners are supplied with the appropriate wood, players can earn extra money at the end of the game!
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
There are only a few changes in setup for this player count. The starting wood supply in the center will have (2) firewood placed on four of the spaces and (3) firewood placed on the other two spaces, along with a player's token going onto these two spaces so that each player will cut in a (3) wood area for the first round. The tokens placed along the track each round will consist of (2) X tokens, (2) rafts, (1) cart, (1) sled, (2) food, (1) money, (1) saw, and (3) random orange "building" tokens. These are randomly distributed throughout the empty spaces around the board track each round, and the big inclusion would be those X tokens which essentially shrink the board by two spaces.
Six bearers, eight cutters, and three sawyers are placed on their respective places on the board. Two task cards are placed face-up, and four planned work cards are used. If using the Joiners expansion, six random building tiles are also placed face-up along the board.
The game is played over the course of two years, with each year being broken into the four seasons. Spring, Summer, and Fall are all played in an identical manner. Players start by secretly selecting one of six areas where they will cut wood that season, revealing them at the same time and putting those tokens in the associated area. If there is food in the area, they get that food immediately - however, if two or more people select the same area the food is divided equally with any leftover remaining on the space. After that the players take turns moving their foreman around the board along the numbered track, taking the action associated with the space. This ranges from taking the token on the space and getting its reward (or putting it in their supply), hiring workers, planning work for future seasons, gaining tasks that provide a bonus at the end of the game if completed, and buying/selling goods.
After that comes the cutting phase, where players use their woodcutters to chop wood in their chosen location. The first player to reach the end of the track cuts first, etc. so if two players chose the same spot there is strong incentive to jump ahead in the previous phase in order to cut the desired wood. That cut wood is placed on the player's supply area of the board. Then players can assign their bearers to transport the wood from the supply down to either the cutting or the selling area of their board. Then, players can assign sawyers to cut the wood (but they need a 1-time use saw token per sawyer) and either place it into the firewood storage space or into the selling space. Players then can assign wood to task cards, sell wood for money, and then wood remaining in the sale area advances one step along the drying track.
In winter, a lot less happens. Each player takes a wood of their choice and adds it to their supply. Then, they can use their colored meeple to either cut two firewood, transport wood from their supply to the cutting/selling area (but only if they have a sled), or to cut one piece of wood. In the second year only they can then assign wood to a task card. After that comes the time to pay the required food and firewood to feed and heat, which is determined by a 1st Year and a 2nd Year winter card chosen at the start of the game. Any wood or food that cannot be paid will cost 3 money per unit the player is short. Loans can be taken to help pay this debt, but must be paid back (with interest) at the end of the game.
After both years are played there is one final selling phase and then players tally up their money. The player with the most money will win.
I'm all for variability in a game, and this has ample changes to allow a fresh experience from play-to-play and, to an extent, even within the game itself. There are five different Winter cards for each year, each card having two different sides. So your amount of food and wood will change each time you play. The task cards only have a few out at a time, and those only change when a person buys them. There is the variable reseeding of the forest areas between rounds. There are only a certain number of the planned work cards used each game, and only a certain number of the buildings used from the Joiners mini-expansion. And then, round to round, the position in which the tokens appear will be different. So there is a lot of freshness to be found even at the round level in optimizing your path in order to grab what you want first or get to the end before your opponents so you can cut first.
The planned work actions are a fantastic mechanism in the game. There are only a few available for the game, so you can't always count on a certain strategy being available but you'll know from the start what you can use. These can be really powerful, such as getting food when shipping wood down the river. Food is usually in short supply, so any action that can provide food is a great one. You have three tokens to use, allowing you to plan either one, two, or three seasons in advance to use that action. But each season you can only use this space once, meaning you if you want to do two of the actions in the same season you need to go there two seasons ahead of time and drop a 2, then next season go and drop the 1 on the other card you want to execute. But some cards don't do anything if used in winter, and if you're like me and accidentally ship your logs down river in the Fall with a planned work action they won't arrive until the Spring rather than the Winter because the river freezes in Winter. It is certainly possible to ignore the planned work and do well. It is also possible to do a little bit of it, using just your 1 token to plan for the next season. But this system rewards those players who are able to think 2-3 seasons ahead and plan accordingly. And I love that!
The worker placement aspect of this game was what initially got me interested, as you are all traveling along the same 18-22 spaces on the board. Some spaces, such as where you hire workers, have enough space for everyone to stop there. Many of the spaces hold only one foreman, and most of them have a 1-time use token on there which means the first person to stop there gets it. Which means if you stop there, someone else is able to jump ahead of you, which brings about the internal debate on whether you need that item on the way or if you need that one six spaces down the path to make sure no one else takes it. You can jump ahead as far as you'd like with your move, but once you go there you can't travel back. If you're a fan of aggressive play, you can go as far as to take a spot you know the other person needs in order to force them to buy that food they are short on, and so forth, but at the risk that they might leapfrog you and get to that spot you really wanted. It all works magnificently, especially since the tokens will appear in a different location each turn, meaning that food you need might be near the very end and so you really have to agonize over when to start jumping ahead and how far you need to go to be sure to get that spot.
It is a process to chop the wood, move it to the cutting area, and saw it down into the more useful pieces. This makes me appreciate the whole process, but also provides a great set of mechanics in the game. You need various numbers of each type of worker, although you may not need all of them on a given round. There are ways to be more efficient with moving the wood, although some come at the cost of a delayed delivery. You also have to provide saws for the sawyers to use, making it even more costly to do. You also have your colored meeple to account for, which I forget to account for more times than not and end up overspending. Did I mention that hired workers are only there for that season, which means every season you need to hire more if you want to do that action again! I really enjoy this aspect of the game.
Money = victory points. And unlike a game like Five Tribes (which uses money as points), they final scores are usually low. Our average scores are 57-58 with the absolute highs coming on our last play: 69 for me and 80 for her. Most come around the 45-55 range, which means that every dollar usually counts. I haven't won a game yet, but my first two games were lost by a combined total of 3 points. Yes, 3 points. You try telling me that my bad habit of hiring a worker I don't need wasn't a difference maker. This game forces you to be thrifty because it is not only a challenge to make money, but your essential actions of hiring workers, buying food, and buying saws all cost you money. Want a task card that can score you 18-23 points? It costs you money. Want to use a planned work action that someone else is already on? It costs you money! You start with 5 money, and for the first few seasons you'll over between 0-10 pretty regularly. After all, it is quite the process to get that wood cut, moved, sawed, dried, and sold for a big profit! All of which feels like it pays off at the end of the game.
The Joiner mini-expansion is an easy expansion to include. I left it out for our first two plays to learn the base game and understand it. After playing with the expansion, though, I see no reason to ever leave it out. Even when teaching new players, because it honestly does not add to the complexity of the game while opening at least one path to higher scoring. And a player, like my wife did, can completely ignore the expansion content and do just fine. It adds two more stops along the path. Easy to add, easy to learn, and it definitely enriches the game. Do yourself a favor and just learn it with your first game. You won't regret it, as it adds in seamlessly.
You can play this game and do well without paying attention to other players. You can have a great experience even if you intentionally avoid taking the things they need. However, your game will get better if you take note of their needs and try to disrupt them. Our last game as lost because I didn't realize she had her wood set up to be able to pick up and score two additional task cards in the final seasons of the game. Her three completed tasks blew past my one task + triple joiner combo and I didn't see it coming. Don't want a multiplayer solitaire game? Good, because this is a game where paying attention to the other players can make a big difference. I would gladly have spent one money to prevent her scoring an extra 20+ from that last task card!
I need to find a way to have myself not be the banker in this game, as I could see it really slowing things down in a game with more players. I'm very interested in the new insert that Meeple Realty just announced for the game, as it might make the distribution of money/wood/food an easier process. The game is a bit fiddly, but never in a way that really detracts from the game experience. If anything it adds to the experience of seeing the wood progress from area to area, and going from cut wood to sawed wood, etc.
If you dislike a game where feeding and heating are a mandatory requirement, a mechanic seen in games like Agricola, then you won't be a fan of it here. Overall, this never feels out of place, however, it definitely has a chance of slowing you down in your money-making engine because you need to get wood for year-end heating while also getting wood to sell for profit. You need food, and there are only two spaces each season that get food tokens and two spaces in the wood-cutting area that get food cubes added per placement card. It can become a hard thing to gain, making you have to consider purchasing food in the Fall rather than lose 3 coins per food you are short. So while it is a requirement each year, I did find it easier to accomplish overall than Agricola.
Let's face it, the color scheme of the game isn't spectacular unless you really love browns and greens. The board and components don't pop when on the table but, as far as I am concerned, they don't have to. The color schemes make sense in terms of the theme. But if you need a pretty-looking game than this one might end up leaving you disappointed.
On behalf of my wife: she doesn't like how long the drying process takes. See, before the wood gets to the spots where you can sell them at an added profit, it has to take a season to advance to a spot that is the same as when it enters the selling area. So that wood you need to get to the +2 area for your task card really takes 3 seasons to get there. As for me, I think this is fine as it stands but my wife wasn't a big fan of that initial "add no value" drying space. I think she should just get some huts and then she can zoom those right along as she pleases.
This game has hit me in a way that few games accomplish. I fell in love with this game from the first play, and I can't stop thinking about Lignum. I am pretty sure that, if I had no restraint on time, this is the game I'd be pulling out almost every time someone asked what game I wanted to play. And I am still trying to wrap my head around the full scope of strategy that this game has to offer.
There is so much going on in this game, yet it all ties together in a manner that feels like it should be easy. I still find myself failing in my attempts to plan work effectively, wishing I had a certain token still available or choosing to do an action in the wrong season so that I don't reap the rewards in time. Yet rather than being a source of frustration, this actually has me excited to try again and do better the next time I play.
Victory in the game has eluded me, something that could be a source of frustration as well. Yet I find myself enjoying the experience even when I lose. Most of the time I don't lose badly - my first two games I lost by a combined total of 3 points - but the last game we played I got crushed by her clever planning that I didn't see coming. I obliterated my previous high score only to watch her take things a notch above even that.
Lignum is that perfect game that provides a fulfilling game experience, although I'd always be willing to reset and play again after finishing. This is the sort of game to play when you only have time or the desire to play one game. I'd gladly travel to a game day to play this and nothing else and consider it time well-spent. It plays reasonably well for the timeframe - our latest game took around 90 minutes for the two of us - which means it could even be played on a weeknight after the little one goes to bed.
It can be hard to read through the positive excitement written in many reviews out there, so let's be completely transparent for a moment about Lignum. I've played a lot of great new games this year. I've reviewed three dozen games so far and, looking at that list, I'd put this above any one of them. Yes, even my much-loved Kingdom Builder and my newer-loved Mystic Vale. Both of those games will appear on my year-end Top 10 list, but neither will be as high as Lignum. There is a very real chance that this game is in my Top 3. It is that excellent of a game.
Edward at Heavy Cardboard likes to state "Theme schmeme" and I agree - don't let a lack of interest in woodcutting put you off from a game that is excellent mechanically. There are a lot of great, tense moments throughout the game. This is one that, when it hits the table, leaves me feeling satisfied. It plays well with two, and we've tried it with three and enjoyed that experience as well. I imagine it scales just as fine with four, being a great game to add to your collection because it can be used for any of the advertised player counts.
If you like euro games and either enjoy heavier games, or want to try something that is mechanically different than an Uwe Rosenberg game but similar in weight, this would be an excellent choice. I've played two excellent games from Capstone this year, and this one secured them as one of my top publishers. There are other games they produce that don't play 2-players, but I intend to at least play, if not own, them all at some point in time.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.
Thank you for the review, very helpful. You said enough without saying too much