19 March 2019
Dr. Knizia’s been watching Moana
Are you the kind of person who, no matter how much you love to slap a new game on the table, still groans at the sight of a big, thick rulebook? Do you hate it when your rules explanations for friends and family members have to go on longer than some entire games? Do you find yourself constantly reassuring people sat around your table, “Don’t worry, it’s actually fun?” Well, here’s some great news for you: Blue Lagoon’s rules fit onto a small, four-page pamphlet, and it won’t take you longer than five minutes to either learn or explain them. Yet the game itself has impressive tactical depth.
As with many of the crazily prolific Reiner Knizia’s titles, Blue Lagoon thinly drapes an appealing theme – Oceanic island settlement by seafaring Polynesian tribes – over smooth and seemingly jointless abstract mechanisms. Player interactivity is maximal and there’s virtually no downtime whatsoever, with each turn involving a single action (place a settler – either boat-side-up in sea, or person-side-up on land – or a village) with little analysis paralysis.
After laying out a board which depicts eight verdant islands, you randomly scatter resources and statuettes on set stone-circle sites, having blindly drawn the chunky wooden tokens from a linen bag. These must be collected, with sets of resources earning points (from five for a pair to 20 for a quartet) and a 10-point bonus given for one of each type: coconut, bamboo, water and precious stones. The statuettes, meanwhile, earn you four points each.
But you’re doing far more than running around the map, scooping up as much loot as you can. There’s also an area-control element to Blue Lagoon, which rewards players for gaining the majority presence on each island, for populating the most islands and, in a Ticket to Ride-ish manner, chaining the most islands together with your strings of settlers.
While there’s no way for rival settlers to actually fight – this is a gentle Euro through-and-through – you can still get pretty brutal with your placements, blocking your opponents’ island-chaining attempts, or effectively cordoning off entire swathes of territory with your settlers. Which is why Blue Lagoon works best as a three- or four-player game, with its Polynesian landscapes quickly filling up with jostling tribespeople.
Interestingly, Knizia has also made this a game of two halves – literally. First you have the exploration phase, in which players are allowed to place a boat anywhere on the board, as well as a settler or village directly adjacent to another piece. Then there’s the settlement phase: after working out the half-time scores (which can be a bit fiddly, and does slow the game down) the board is completely reset, except for the villages, which stay wherever they were put and become the launching points for your fresh bout of settler-placing. It feels less repetitive than you’d expect, and if you’ve thought tactically about your village placement in the previous phase it’ll really pay off. Besides, with gameplay this dreamy, you’ll hardly complain about more of the same.
PLAY IT? – MUST-PLAY
A sweetly simple, gorgeously presented and blissfully accessible game that deserves to become as widespread and beloved as the big Eurogame classics.
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Artist: Tomek Larek
Time: 30-45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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