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LUNA

1-4 players
25 min./player
Stefan Feld

Background:


My reviews will not focus on the rules of the game. There are better reviewers on that format than I could ever contribute. The purpose behind my reviews are to highlight one, and only one, overriding aspect of any game: fun. That’s it. As a big kid at heart, I play games in order to have a good time. In the end, all I really care about is if I’m going to want to play the thing again, and will anyone else. Hence, I’ve chosen five areas to highlight that are all aspects of the game’s funness. Examined from this paradigm, these are all aspects that I believe should be enjoyed during the whole experience of playing board games.

All right already, enough philosophizing, on with the review…

1. Out of the Box:

Luna comes with a box crammed full of gaming goodness.

The game comes with a board “frame” that needs to be constructed like the edge of a jigsaw puzzle, along with pieces that go in the center of it. Around it are seven islands upon which each player begins with their novice priest meeples…preestples!

Oh my goodness, on top of that, the game also comes with lots of little circular discs with numbers on them that correspond to the puzzle pieces, and there are “goods” tiles, a ton of influence point markers, and there are shrines you can build, end-of-round markers, final score discs, and a bunch of cardboard cutouts on plastic stands.

Lastly, there are 4 awesome player aids that are really intuitive, once you learn the (count ‘em) 14! different possible actions on a turn. Granted, all 14 actions are not always even possible all of the time. Actually, you can only do so many of them before you have to start “passing” – i.e. bringing the end of the round nearer (more on that later).

This game is marvelously produced, and the artwork is by the same talent that brought you Agricola. Everything is made of high quality cardboard, and the wooden bits are very nice. When you punch everything out, bag it up, and stuff it back in the box, it WILL be stuffed. And that’s always a good thing.

- The components are some of the best for a game of its weight

Fun-o-meter: 5/5

2. Rules:


The rules are an interesting exercise in deductive reasoning. It’s not that they’re poorly written; you just have to learn some new terms that are first introduced on the first page with the table of contents, and are henceforth referenced very casually throughout the rest of the rules. And there are a lot of terms. Also, there are a couple of ambiguities.

On the plus side, there are color illustrations, but some of them are not as helpful as they could have been. Overall, the rules are good, they’re just not great.

- Rules are…okay, but they work.

Fun-o-meter: 3/5

3. Ease of Play:


Well, that’s going to feel like a matter of opinion, at first. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re staring at a player aid that has 14 actions represented in iconography. However, when you break it down into the 4 categories that they are, they become clearer. The 4 categories are "Island actions," "Movement actions," "Temple actions," and "Special actions." I won’t try to explain each action now, but instead give you a description of the way game play unfolds.

Basically, you have a bunch of preestples on various free-foating islands surrounding a larger, more “important” island (more on that later). The various islands do various cool stuffs, like get more preestples, recruit, build stuff for cheaper, etc. And it is your objective to get your preestples into the center-board (Temple Island) in order to score points and “position” yourself on a grid of hexagonal spaces.

The real innovation in game play comes with the end of the round. There are 6 rounds in the entire game, but each round is of variable length. If you run out of options or possible actions to do, you can take an action that advances the round towards its end. After the round ends you score points for a few various things, reset a couple of things and go again for five more rounds.

That’s basically the flavor of the game. It takes a couple of rounds to reference the player aids and really learn how the different actions work and the finer points of procedure that go with a few of them. But overall, it becomes increasingly easier to remember.

- Game play is tricky at first but gets easier

Fun-o-meter: 4.5/5

4. Weight/Length Ratio:


The interesting thing about Luna is that it really plays out more like a worker placement “puzzle” game; it’s an exercise in efficiency in terms of getting from objective A to objective B and doing it before your opponent does.

The game can be thought of as having two components to it. The worker placement aspect (the “puzzle” part) really only concerns each player, through the use and manipulation of the smaller, surrounding islands that do different cool stuff. In this way, it may feel like multi-player solitaire. But even though there isn’t so much player interaction with this part, you can still apply pressure to your opponents by speeding up the end of the round, forcing them to shortchange their plans or even catch them off guard for the scoring.

The second component of the game occurs in the central island (Temple) where the game sort of shifts and becomes an area-control-esque game. It is possible to kick other players out of the Temple and deny them points in future scoring rounds, but it is also possible to move your ‘master’ preestple (a single round disc) up a ladder to simply score higher points during the final scoring phase. This can help offset getting kicked out of the Temple frequently. In general, I find it satisfyingly challenging to make the connection between these two aspects of the game’s play.

Down time is very minimal. This is because each player can only perform a single action on his or her turn. Players just go around & around doing one action at a time. It feels very fast. Analysis paralysis is another consideration altogether. This could potentially be a problem if players spend all of their time thinking and analyzing all of the possibilities, staring down the barrel of 14 actions. This can be avoided if players simply plan ahead what it is they’re trying to do.

The game is listed at 25 minutes per player, and that is about spot on. The first 4-player game I played took about 2 hour and 15 minutes, and that was with rules explanation, which was a challenge on top of that. I have not played it solo as of yet, but I imagine it scales well at least with 2 or 3. We shall see about the solitaire option.

- Challenging puzzle/area control game disguised in a worker placement outfit

Fun-o-meter: 5/5

5. The “F” Factor:


So, is the game fun? I think it is terribly fun. (Grumpy old men need not apply.) The theme is a bit new-agey. Basically, it’s about trying to win favor from a sexy moon goddess in order to study more reverently inside the temple, but first you have to suck up to the priest guard, and you can use the help of the master building when building your shrines while avoiding the apostate altogether, yadda yadda.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think there is plenty of “theme” in the mechanics, it just requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, but what else is new in board games. This is clearly not a simulation.

I’m not sure why this game hasn’t gotten as much press, as it is clearly rated well enough. But for some reason, it’s not reviewed much, talked about much. I think it’s an excellent game, and so did everyone else in my group the first time we played it. If you get the chance, play it. If you like it, get it!

Highly recommended.
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Evgeni Liakhovich
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pacman88k wrote:

The game can be thought of as having two components to it. The worker placement aspect (the “puzzle” part) really only concerns each player, through the use and manipulation of the smaller, surrounding islands that do different cool stuff. In this way, it may feel like multi-player solitaire. But even though there isn’t so much player interaction with this part, you can still apply pressure to your opponents by speeding up the end of the round, forcing them to shortchange their plans or even catch them off guard for the scoring


There are couple important "interactive" pieces here - competing for the priestess bonus and moving the bad dude to hurt other players.

About solitaire - I found it not very satisfying for the amount of effort it takes to set everything up and break down. I would rather just play something on my iPhone.
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The fact that the end of the round is collectively controlled by players makes the game much more than a solitaire efficiency exercise- often a player will speed the round end either in earnest or just as a bluff to scare other players into suboptimal sequences of moves. That and the competition for Luna points and in the temple makes the game highly interactive. Despite initial appearances Luna is anything but an efficiency/solitaire game- most decisions affect those of other players and vice versa, and games of chicken and other bluffs occur regularly.

Luna has also been a hit with my group- it just presents such an interesting challenge, from the strategic element of placing your initial meeples and subsequently moving them around to the tactical element of reacting to the time and other pressures applied by opponents. Wonderful game, vaguely reminds me of The Princes of Machu Picchu, another personal favorite.
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I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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Nice review. I was completely confused reading the rules but once I set it up and went through a couple moves it came shining through.

There's a lot of "get this to turn it into that and then use that to get points". I usually hate games like that but I find this one both fun and unusual.
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Kevin Garnica
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Thanks for the insight, everyone. I've only played it once so far. I know I like the game very much, but these were just my first impressions. Our first game didn't have too much of the whole bluffing/chicken/mess-with-your-opponent aspect.

Can't wait to play it again. I think it's clearly an interesting game.


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Ralph Bruhn
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pacman88k wrote:
Our first game didn't have too much of the whole bluffing/chicken/mess-with-your-opponent aspect.
That's normal - the first game is about learning the actions. But much of the game is about timing: Enter the Temple tiles as early as possible, play the Tide as late as possible. And of course pushing the Apostate so late that the other players cannot defend theirselves against it... devil
For a good use of these options you have to estimate how many actions you have left - sometimes the round is over before you are finished with all your ideas ...
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Johnpatrick Marr
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Thanks for the great review! Your description of the game as part "puzzle," makes me worry that the first part of the game is "solvable," or has clear optimal moves. Do you think there's a reason to worry, here? I know that skilled players could rush the round or do something to mess up someone playing optimally, but with a group of beginners could one person perform a series of actions that would make him unstoppable?
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Ralph Bruhn
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niftykracker wrote:
Thanks for the great review! Your description of the game as part "puzzle," makes me worry that the first part of the game is "solvable," or has clear optimal moves. Do you think there's a reason to worry, here? I know that skilled players could rush the round or do something to mess up someone playing optimally, but with a group of beginners could one person perform a series of actions that would make him unstoppable?
I can assure you that the game is not "solvable". This is guaranteed by changing the order of the isles and the starting position of the figures from game to game. The second thing is that you can't be sure that you really get a special Temple Tile or win the 6 points at Luna, even if you're an experienced player.
BUT - a "skilled" player will usually win the game. Not, because he learned a fixed combination of actions - it's because he better recognizes, when which actions are necessary. And these are depending from the opponents actions.
Or has someone made different experiences?
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Kevin Garnica
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I agree with the post above me. I don't think it's solvable; but it does test that part of your brain that forces you to see a chain of moves that is better than others. There are enough variables involved in the initial setup and beginning to keep it fresh every time.

Just get it...
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Andy Andersen
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I think I've waited long enough. Great review. I am really taking a liking to Stefan Feld games.
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Kevin Garnica
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Same here. If you like Luna, be sure to check out The Speicherstadt.
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Andy Andersen
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I just received The Speicherstadt last week after watching The Undead Viking's review
 
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