It’s sometimes hard to say why you decide to back a game on Kickstarter. Sometimes, it’s just the attitude of the designer/publisher and some of the buzz on Twitter or around the game that puts the bug in your ear. Sometimes, it’s the mechanics that look interesting at first blush, or the subject. Sometimes, and for me this is not as common, it’s the art or the minis.
In the case of Lagoon: Land of the Druids, the art attracted my eyes a little bit. It was nice and kind of stood away from the typical fantasy art. And then I started to see some buzz coming from Unpub 4. So when it came to Kickstarter, I took a look. Didn’t check the video (I find these less and less interesting since they tend to have little to do with the actual game/mechanics and more to do with “carnival barker” type thing) but what really caught my eyes was the fact that the designer/publisher had put up the entire game as a print-and-play, which I proceeded to download. The game looked interesting and what’s more, it was a simple matter to print it and try it out. What did I think? Let’s check it out.
In Lagoon: Land of Druids (3 Hares Games) by David Chott (KS link), 1 to 4 players are druids vying for control of the destiny of their land. They do this by exploring the land (placing new hex tiles on the table), which grant them both new powers and energy (in the form of Seeds), with which to unravel unwanted lands. The druid who has better guided the land to its destiny (by having the most unraveled hexes of the opposite color or seeds of the dominant color) will win this battle.
Lagoon: Land of the Druids is really a game of chaining, being able to take advantage of the various powers of the hexes that make up the board to move your druids around and set up combos to better unravel tiles. You want to both control what color is dominant on the board and remove hexes that might advantage your opponent.
It wouldn’t really be fair to review the quality of the components since I got to play with a print-and-play version of the game, but what we have seen so far on the Kickstarter page shows some terrific art. The game will ship with (at least) 24 large, two sided hexes of a very decent thickness, tokens for 6 players (5 per player) and 45 “seed” tokens. Not a lot of component, but this game doesn’t need it. There is just enough to make for a very deep, very interesting game. The game will also come with a rulebook and some player aids. The ones that are included in the print-and-play are already excellent and explain most of the rules.
As I said earlier, the art sample that have been shown so far is simply gorgeous. Hopefully this will carry over to the final product. The rulebook, on the other hand, needs work and David Chott admits as much on the very first page of the rulebook. Is this an issue? It shouldn’t be since the game is far from publication but it will be interesting to see the final rulebook. It’s not that the rules are unclear, but it is more a question of organization and layout. As it is, while it is not hard to understand the rules, finding specific section during a game is a little tough. However, it is not something that will be hard to fix once the game starts toward final publication.
Set up is quite simple: give each player 5 druid tokens of the same color. Select one tile of each color as the starting tiles, including 1 haven tile. Players place one regular druid and their Eldrid on the haven tile, on their refreshed side. That’s it, you’re ready to go.
Before we look at the turn sequence, let’s look at the components.
The Druids: the player’s pawns, they are the pieces the player will move around the board and use to activate the various powers of the hexes. There are two types of druids, namely regular and the Eldrid, both of which can be in one of two states, either Refreshed or Exhausted. The main difference between a regular druid and the Eldrid is that you have 4 regular druid and only 1 Eldrid, which is needed to activate some of the more powerful hexes. The two states denote which druid can still be used in a turn. Run out of Refreshed druids and your turn is over.
The Seeds: the Seeds are acquired by Exploring a new hex tile (more on that later) and can be used to help with an Unraveling (again, more later), to power certain hexes or as points at the end of the game if they match the Dominating color (the color that has the majority of hexes in play).
The Hexes: Hexes are what the players will be fighting over and what they will draw special powers from. As such, they are one of three color, with each color corresponding to a general theme: yellow hexes (or Elemeen) allow you to Refresh or summon your druids in different ways; red hexes (or Vowelon) allow you to move your druids around the play area in special ways; and finally, blue hexes (or Deonin) allow you to alter the board by Exploring or moving hexes around. Each of the hexes are double sided, with a different power/color on each side. When the hexes are first brought on, the player will decide which side is chosen. This allows for a very different experience every game since while all hexes will come out, you don’t know which sides will be used.
On their turn, the player must go through 4 phases:
- Begin: Any hex powers that are triggered at the start of a player’s turn are active now.
- Refresh: The player may refresh up to 3 of their druids.
- Actions: The player can perform any amount of actions using any druids that are not Exhausted. The player doesn’t need to use up all of their Refreshed druids.
- End: Any hex powers that trigger at the end of a player’s turn are now active.
What can you do with your druids? Apart from using the power of any hexes that one of your druid is standing on (which is great for chaining), there are a number of standard action they can do:
- Move: Refreshed druids can move 1 hex by Exhausting them.
- Summon: A player can bring on another one of their druid by Exhausting any of their druid. The new druid is deployed, Exhausted, onto any Haven (a special type of hex).
- Explore: By using Explore, the player is able to expand the land and bring in new hexes by Exhausting a druid. The player randomly selects a new hex and places it on any open side of the hex the druid Explored from and then takes a Seed of the hex’s color. The player then has the choice to move onto the hex or not. Note that unless the player is using a hex special power, this can only be done once per turn.
- Unravel: Unravelling is how a player removes hexes from the board. In order to Unravel an hex, the player simply Exhausts one of their druid that is on the hex, They then have to “power” the Unravelling by spending 3 opposite color energy. Each of the 3 color have an opposite color, in a rock-paper-scissor kind of way: blue beats yellow beats red beats yellow. The color energy can either be drawn from hexes on which the player’s other druids are standing (only 1 per hex and the druids do not have to be Refreshed) or they can come from the player’s stock of seeds. Any hex can be removed, as long as two base conditions are respected: 1) you cannot remove the last Haven tile and 2) you cannot remove a hex which would break the playing area in two (or the Hive rule).
One of the really neat aspect of the game is that all of a player’s druids are considered to be sharing a special connection, allowing them to use the power of the hex any one of them is standing on. To put it another way, it’s not because a druid is Exhausted that the power of the hex is standing on cannot be used.
The game ends when the last tile is Explored. At this time, Dominance over the land is established (what color has the highest number of tiles in play), with ties broken with the rock-paper-scissor used earlier: blue beats yellow beats red beats blue. In a complete tie (which happened the first game I played), the color with the highest seed total (all players) is the dominant color. Each unraveled tile of the non-dominant color nets 2 points to that player, with each seed of the dominant color granting 1 point. Highest point total wins.
This game captured my imagination the very first time I read the rules and looked at the different hexes. With a very simple ruleset, Chotts was able to craft a very deep, thinky game. There might not be so many different actions you can perform on your turn, but combining the basic actions with the different abilities granted by the hexes make for some very interesting decisions.
You can’t forget that, ultimately, your aim is to Unravel as many hexes of the non-dominating color as possible. Seeds are nice too, but they bring only one point and only if you manage to keep that color dominating. It’s much more effective to Unravel, sacrificing some Seeds in the process. Also, since Unraveled hexes score if they are not the Dominating color, your odds of scoring an Unraveled hex are twice as likely as scoring with a Seed.
The other interesting side-effect of Unraveling is denying the other player(s) specific powers and pushing the Dominance of one color. Note that Dominance is also nudged along by Exploring, since you get to choose what side of the hex will come into play. Since all of the hexes have different colors on each side, that choice doesn’t only boil down to what power is more useful but also which color you want to Dominate. Thus, by combining both an Explore and an Unravel on the same turn, you can really push forward one color, with a little luck, of course.
So you can quickly see that within these few actions and parameter, your turn quickly becomes this little puzzle that you are trying to solve every turn: how do you use your actions to not only gain some potential points right now (either by Unraveling or by Exploring) and how do you keep your opponent from doing the same. It’s the kind of puzzle that is not only interesting right then and there, but that kind of stay with you for a little while.
I’ve only had the chance to play 2-player games of this so far and I’ve really liked it. Most games were over in a little less than 1 hour, including the rules explanation. I might have been fortunate however to be playing against players who do not suffer from Analysis Paralysis, which might drag the game to something more along the lines of 90 minutes. However, due to the built in timer in the game (ie, the game ends when the last hex is placed), you do have a mean to speed up the game, which you may want to use even if your opponent doesn’t have AP. Controlling the end of the game means victory as in most games.
I’m very much looking forward to playing the 4 player version since it is a team game, with players simply sharing points at the end of the game. Not sure how this will change the dynamics of the game however, but it should be interesting to see it in action. I get the feeling that the game really does shine as a 2 player game, with 4 players mostly there as a possibility and not a must.
There is a huge potential for expansion in this game and that’s only looking at new hexes/colors, never mind exploring the world that the artwork is evoking. There is a beautiful structure laid out here and I can think of many gameplay levers that can be modified to bring about completely different gameplay experience, and this without changing the fundamental rules of the game. New hexes/colors could also play into the team version of the game, with activation costs being based on having both members of the team Exhausting druids or with allowing, with a hex power, the merging of all of a teams’ druids into a “super tribe”. These are just a few quick ideas, but you can see how much is still left to be explored by this game.
I can’t wait to get the final version of this game in my hand. What we’ve seen so far of the artistic design of the game combined with the depth of the gameplay will make this a game that will hit my table on a regular basis for sure. It might not be on my 10X10in2014 list, but I’m pretty sure I’ll play more than 10 times this year. What are you waiting for, back this game right now or at very least, try the print-and-play! You won’t regret it.
Now I regret skipping the Kickstarter on this! It just wasn’t in the cards for me while it was funding. I’m lucky enough to have someone in my gaming group who backed it, though, so I’ll get my hands on it eventually!