As a reminder, Weekly Challenge #2 is writing up your first impressions on a game. First off, sorry about the trouble that the new textbox has been causing! The bugs led to some of you completely losing your write-up after pressing "submit" and that's never fun. Trent is working out the bugs and it should hopefully be resolved by tomorrow.
With that said, here are my first impressions on Lions of Lydia from Bellwether Games. Trent reviewed this a while back and I never gave it a chance because I thought it's "too light." But seeing @nealkfrank's enthusiasm for the Weekly Challenge also got me pumped to get new games to the table!
First, a bit of background.
I setup the game for 2p count and played both hands. The components you see may not be the same as the final as this is a review copy. It's pretty darn close though.
I LOVE IT when I open up a game and see a short rulebook :)
Rulebook is short (around 6 pages with large font size) and doesn't leave room for questions. I did notice some issues with how the text sometimes refers to images that are in a different location, but I think that's because the print is based on the PDF draft they had up on Kickstarter that you scroll through vertically (instead of a flipping through kind of experience.) No big deal, I'm sure they'll change that for the final production.
Quick setup and relatively small footprint.
Nothing much more to say here. This is something I always welcome with open arms.
The overall experience feels a whole lot similar to #Century: Golem Edition, except there's more and it's.... better (for me.)
This is a solid engine-builder that I see getting a lot of love from Century fans and others. Streamlined mechanics, smooth gameflow, satisfying tactile elements, market purchase, and a fairly appealing presentation (Century Golem likely edges out Lions of Lydia in this category though.) This will be a great go-to game to introduce to your friends and family who are new to this mechanic or to modern board games in general. And for those who appreciate Century Golem but feel it's too light for your preferences, Lions of Lydia may be a welcome surprise.
So why do I like this more?
1. It adds several layers of strategy and tactical gameplay without compromising accessibility.
Very smart use of "worker placement" mechanic and bag-building that keeps you on your toes and makes this a layered puzzle to work out. The turn structure is simple, doesn't overwhelm you with too many options, and leads you on to see one more step forward.
2. Worker placement mechanic adds a puzzle of its own.
On a turn, you draw one merchant from your bag and either take a Gate Action or a Fountain Action. Gate Action gives you resources and Fountain Action allows buying new property cards and/or developing (upgrading) the property cards in your tableau. The property cards augment your worker's powers based on the color of your merchant and the location in which it's placed.
When taking a Gate Action, you place your merchant on one of four colored Gates that are located on the four corners of the main board. For example, if you drew a red merchant and place it on a red Gate that already has 1 yellow merchant and 2 blue merchants, you will gain the following: 2 red resources (1 for the Gate color and 1 for the merchant color), 1 yellow resource, and 2 blue resources. In addition to this, the property cards in your tableau provide bonus resources (e.g. one of your property cards will award an additional red resource if you place a red merchant at a red Gate.) Developing these property cards will make the bonuses even more powerful. After you place your merchant and gain resources by sliding the corresponding resource tokens along on the track, you pick up one of the merchants in the Fountain area and throw it into your bag.
Here's where the interesting decisions come in:
- Do you want to gain resources or spend them to improve your engine? For each resource, you can only store a max of 6. Anytime a resource token reaches 6, you can advance one step along the Influence track. Each progression awards you better benefits, such as increasing the limit of your tableau size, giving you coins as a bonus, and/or awarding bonus VP at the end of the game. So you have to titter totter around advancing this track vs. spending your resources to work on your engine.
- When you place a merchant at the Gate, if there's another merchant of matching color, the pair of merchants get moved to the Fountain Area after you acquire resources (and before you need to take a merchant from this area to end your turn.) I think this mainly serves to (1) counter your opponents who are pushing their engines toward a certain color and if you want to make their moves less powerful and (2) is connected in line with my next point.
- If you get your hands on the Lydian merchants (gold), you want to keep them for as long as possible. You acquire them by purchasing gold property cards. Lydian merchants typically award more resources or give you coins (which serves as a "wild" resource.) So there's a trade-off between placing them at a Gate to make a powerful move vs. not being able to have it back in your bag. But, if there's a Gate that already has a Lydian merchant, you can place yours there so that the two go to the Fountain Area and it's up for your picking. This would also leave the other Lydian merchant available for other players to grab on their turn.
This not only adds a dash of luck to make this a tactical experience, but it also adds those short moments of "Ugh, another red?" or a gentle "Yes!" under your breath.
4. More opportunities for players to interact/influence.
Player interaction in Century Golem is mostly centered around competition for the cards in the market. That same competition is found in Lions of Lydia, but with another interaction around placing workers and snatching away workers that others were likely gunning for.
5. Upgrading is better.
Developing a property card is essentially buying a property twice (buying and developing costs the same amount of resources.) Although Century Golem has the same idea of getting more resources to buy better cards and improve your engine, I like putting this in the context of an "upgrade" instead of a simple "purchase." Maybe it's just me, but it's a simple change that makes it more satisfying when I turn over a card in my tableau to its upgraded side.
Finals Thoughts: I like this game. Not sure how often I'd play, but I'm actually looking forward to introducing this to my wife. There's enough puzzle in this that makes it a satisfying play even though the thematic connections are very shallow.