Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lagoon, By David Chott

Humans, the newest species in Lagoon, the oldest land in existence, strive to permanently alter the ancient world they inhabit. Through the control and influence of the three energies of the earth they shape the primeval landscape to fit their whims. You and your opponents must take up this struggle against each other as you vie to establish a dominant energy, and ultimately determine the fate of the world…


Full disclosure: David sent me a demo copy of Lagoon to review after we recorded an episode of Back It!, our show about crowd-funded gaming projects. I endeavor to keep my reviews biased only by my love for gaming, but it’s possible a little of my respect for David has seeped into my opinions about his first game. With that in mind, please join me on a spiritual journey to the first forests in the magical world of Lagoon!

Lagoon is a game of worker-placement and world-building for 2-4 players. Each turn players use workers, called “Druids”, to take actions on a game board composed of hexagon tiles, called “Sites”. The set of actions available to players is determined by the sites that comprise the world, and those sites are added, manipulated, and removed by players throughout the course of the game. Each tile has two sites (one on each face), each of a different color (red, yellow, or blue), that represents the three energies of the game.


Play begins with three sites on the board, one of each energy type. One of these sites is a “haven”, an important site where new druids enter the world when summoned. Each player starts with three druids on the haven site, including one “Eldrid” a unique druid that can activate special sites. Players also start with two druids off the board, ready to be summoned.

At the beginning of each turn, players “refresh” up to three druids. Players may then exhaust druids to take actions or invoke sites until all druids on the board are exhausted, or until the player chooses to end the turn. Though most of the actions available to players are related to the sites in play, there are three basic actions always available: 
  1. Move: A player may exhaust a druid to move it to an adjacent site
  2. Summon: A player may exhaust a druid to summon a druid (exhausted) to any haven site. This ability can be used any number of times per turn, but only if the player has fewer than five druids on the board.
  3. Explore: A player may exhaust a druid to take a new tile at random from the bag and place it in on the board adjacent to the druid’s occupied site. The player chooses the side of the tile to use, and may choose to move the exhausted druid to the new site. Exploring may only be done once per turn. After exploring, the player takes a “seed” of the energy associated with the site. 
Prototype images taken from boardgamegeek.com
The seeds collected during exploration are worth 1 point each, but only if the color of the seed matches the color of the dominant energy when the game ends. This is half of the game’s scoring – the other half is “unraveled” sites, those sites that are removed from the game as a result of players’ action. Unraveling a site requires three available energy of a type that corresponds to site’s profile – yellow sites require three red energy, red sites require three blue energy, and blue sites require three yellow energy. 

This “wheel” of energy types creates the central drama of the game, as unraveled sites are worth 2 points each at the end of the game provided that they’re of an energy type other than the dominant energy. Players use unraveling not just to score potential points later in the game, but also to promote a specific dominant energy type and remove choices for their opponents.

Pro Tip: Gruu's Refuge is super good!
Here’s where the first unique mechanic in Lagoon is introduced: unraveling doesn’t require that you “spend” anything other than exhausting a druid on the tile you’d like to unravel. It requires that you have three available energy of the necessary color, and this can happen in one of two ways:

- You can spend seeds of the needed color/energy type
- You can count sites of the appropriate color/energy type on which you currently have at least one druid, whether exhausted or not.

This means that the locations of your druids not only affect the actions available to you, but also the energy available for unraveling, which is by far the largest source of victory points in the game.

The second unique mechanic in Lagoon is the way in which druids are interconnected. At any point, any of your druids may use sites that any of your other druids occupy. This means that an exhausted druid on a new tile isn’t useless – its presence provides the opportunity for other druids to use the site’s ability. This provides a wealth of choices each turn, especially as the world expands and sites are added to the board. Lagoon becomes a giant puzzle, where each turn players work to identify the best way to take the most beneficial actions.

The game ends when all sites have been added to the world, after which the energy that has the most sites in the world (noted by the colors of the tiles) is declared the dominant energy. The player most aligned with the dominant energy - as measured by seeds of the dominant energy and unraveled sites of the other two colors - is the winner, and is the master of Lagoon!

Playing Lagoon felt a lot like completing a puzzle competitively, or thinking through various choices in a game of Magic, Summoner Wars, or Da Vinci. That’s a pretty varied group of comparable games, and I wouldn’t say that Lagoon is like any of those games; it just presents choices in ways that lead to strategic thinking as a result of elegant design, much like many of my other favorites. Make no bones about it, while Lagoon is wrapped in compelling theme and gorgeous original art, it’s absolutely a game of strategy – one that’s earned a permanent spot in my collection.

See Lagoon on Kickstarter!

Check out Lagoon on Boardgamegeek.com
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JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.