Gather your cattle, gather your crops, and exchange them for coins and buildings as Board Game Gumbo looks at Lions of Lydia, out on Kickstarter March 11, 2020. Bryan and BJ received a preview/media copy from Bellwether Games, so please note that the art and components are not final and are subject to change during the campaign.
Lions of Lydia is a gateway-level engine building game by Jonny Pac Cantin, with art by Darryl T. Jones, published by Bellwether Games. The basis of the game is that it takes place during the height of the Lydia Kingdom, which is credited for inventing coinage. The game takes place over several rounds, during which the players will try to buy and sell goods, attract the Lydian merchants, and use their coins to purchase high scoring cards.
Let’s take a look at the game as a whole. (Thanks to Bellwether Games for providing the images.) BJ and Bryan will give their individual thoughts as to what Lions of Lydia does well and what could be improved.
Lions of Lydia is played by using a combination of bag manipulation and engine building. Each player will have four, and only four, workers in their bag at any point in time. On their turn, they will draw a worker from their player bag, and place the worker on a gate space. When placed, the worker creates resources based on the gate color and the color of all workers there. This placement may also trigger build powers if you match the worker/gate pairing on that power.
The player could choose to place a worker in the center fountain instead. This allows a player to buy new buildings and develop the ones they currently own into better buildings.
At the end of their turn, the player will take a new worker and add it to the bag, so their bag always has four workers inside. Play will continue until a player has developed a set number of buildings, which varies by player count, to trigger the end of the game. Points are gained from all buildings, influence track, and coins if you have the fountain token. Overall the listed time on the box is accurate.
What Does it Do Well?
Lions of Lydia has a few good points that really stood out to me in our playthroughs. First, let’s talk about the art in the game. I do like the art Darryl Jones did for this game. The cover looks good, and the graphic design on the cards and player boards is clear and easy to read.
Turning to the gameplay, the first thing that really sticks out is that Lions of Lydia requires a decent bit of planning and strategy to play well. You will need to synergize your buying and selling to what your purple building cards give you. At the same time, you have to avoid dead turns — because you are essentially in a race with the other players to buy the cards available in the market.
The next good note is despite needing to have a plan the game is very easy to teach. The player actions are not complicated or convoluted to really any degree. Bellwether Games excels at publishing games that are not complicated for their own sake, but instead have intuitive play that rewards strategic thinking. And the game does not punish you for having to make sub-optimal choices. All resources are useful even if it is just to gain the free upgrade at the end of that resources track. Of course, winning the game requires discovering the optimal choice each round!
The third good point is the game is fast. Most of our playthroughs were an hour — that’s from taking out the box, to playing the game, all the way to putting away the components back in the box. That is a definite plus in my book.
Jonny Pac has a knack for combining fun systems in new and interesting ways, and Lions of Lydia is another great example. I like bag building games, but I especially like the way Jonny kept the meeple count low in the bag. There are ever only four meeples in your bag at any one time, and that low census helps players with a little analysis paralysis speed up their decision making a lot. That conscious decision keeps what could be a complicated game in another longer design frame firmly in the gateway territory, while still leaving plenty of decision space.
I also enjoyed the tension that builds up during the game, even though the play time was less than an hour long. Seeing those tableau cards disappear quickly during some key stages in the game heightened the tension. I’m also a fan of the iconography — the graphic design of the cards and and symbols is well done and intuitive.
But, I think my favorite part of the game is the smoothness and elegance of the turns. Draw a meeple, place a meeple, gather the resources, and then make the big decision of the turn. It is breezy yet each choice (well, except for the drawing part!) feels meaningful. And when you can pull off a slick move in your placement of the meeple at a certain gate at just the right time — that makes you feel clever.
So What Could be Improved?
Lions of Lydia is solid, but there is always room for improvement. The one area I am going to hit hardest is the theme. There is a neat theme here about the emergence of coin currency, but I cannot say it comes through strongly. One could argue that the game could be reskinned to half dozen other themes and not change anything about the function. On the other hand, the differentiation between the Lydian merchants certainly helps, but it is not as thematic as Jonny Pac’s other games, such as A Fistful of Meeples.
Secondly, we wonder if it may have a potential runaway leader problem. The fountain coins give only one player points for the coins produced in the game. As an example, in our very first play, the winner was approximately 25 points ahead of the next person, and we were actually worried at one point during the game about triggering the end game, let alone being the winner.
The last two notes are more personal issues. Lions of Lydia is a pure euro style game, without much in the way of interaction, much like multi-player solitaire. I understand some people really like this style but personally if the game has no player interaction, I need strong theme or something mechanically to keep me coming back.
The other personal gripe I have is their choice of red and green. I have protanomaly, and unfortunately, the red and green colors chosen for the respective workers look nearly identical. Hopefully, this is something that will be addressed during the campaign.
Sure, I’ll agree that the theme is a little thin. But, the fact that the theme does not quite translate over is not a deal breaker in my book. The colors are a little more serious for the 10-18% of gamers that have colorblind problems, but hopefully this is something that can be considered in the project. I’ll note here that the two previous euro style games I’ve purchased from Bellwether were both very thoughtful in that regard. My understanding is that these are just prototype colors and they will definitely be addressed in the project, so that puts my mind at ease.
Bryan’s Final Conclusions:
Overall I do like Lions of Lydia. The game does more things right than it does wrong in my opinion. I like quick games that are easy to teach because they fill those times when you are waiting for more people to show up for game night, or just don’t feel like being involved in something heavy. I do think players need to be aware of the issues I mentioned because they are important points to look at before purchase.
On that note though, if you are looking for a quick, easy, city/engine building game that has some strategy, this may very well be the game for you. On the other hand, if you are looking for the next heavy game, or really enjoy player interaction then this game will most likely be a hard pass for you.
BJ’s Final Thoughts:
I like straight euros a little more than Bryan does, and anytime a designer finds a unique twist to a theme, I’ll always be interested. I did not know much about the history behind Lydia (despite 43 credit hours of history courses many moons ago!), an ancient civilization that apparently gets overlooked a lot by our modern world. The fact that Jonny Pac found an interesting theme to go with his essentially abstract mechanism intrigued me. I agree with Bryan — the theme could be a little stronger for broader appeal, but on the other hand, if the mechanics are tight (think Azul or Sagrada), a good euro is fun with or without an overarching storyline.
So let’s talk about those mechanics. I loved, loved, loved, the way that the workers come out of your bag and, with a quick scan of the board, turn into optimal resources. That is the kind of instant gratification I enjoy in a quick playing game such as this one.
Also, most abstract / engine builders that are worth anything make the player feel clever, and in this case, there were so many opportunities to do so. It felt like a light bulb turned on the first time I realized how much playing a meeple in a certain spot can affect my turn and the plans of other players.
Even though so much of the game seems like it should be out of your control (the exact meeple that comes out of the bag, or what your opponents did when they played their meeples before you), the game has the illusion of control. (Or maybe Jonny Pac would say the illusion is that there is luck, when in reality, you control your own destiny through mechanics and mitigation). I was constantly fiddling with my bag, mulling over the options as play went quickly around the table, because I really felt like I could plan out my turn ahead of time and execute that plan.
Speaking of quickness, long time readers of the blog or viewers of Gumbo Live! know that I love breezy games, games without a lot of downtime. Lions of Lydia is truly one of those “one hour wonders” or “power hour” games, or what I like to call “It’s Your Turn” games.
Bellwether Games deserves its reputation for well-produced, beautiful games that are approachable yet have a depth underneath the hood that rewards multiple plays. Lions of Lydia looks worthy of that reputation, although it is neither as substantial in length or in depth as Coldwater Crown or Freshwater Fly.
I am looking forward to the campaign to see what the project does to ‘plus’ up the game (to borrow a phrase from Walt Disney). Anybody that has ever purchased a box from Bellwether knows that you get your money’s worth — from the sturdy and beautiful box covers to the elegant components, their productions are all top notch.
As for the game play, I cannot say that this is my favorite Jonny Pac game of all time, but it is definitely one that we enjoyed. Lions of Lydia feels like one of those classic euro games that you can pull out with many different groups, and will reward multiple plays depending on how the cards come out. If your group likes playing “one hour wonder” style euros, where the rules can be taught in five minutes, and from set up to break down you can easily fit the entire game in an hour’s time, then you should definitely check this out.
The Kickstarter project went live on March 11. Let us know what you think about the game in the comments below. I’ll have it in my bag with me at Southern Board Game Fest (April 4-5, Lafayette La) if you want to try! Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo
Always remember to have fun!
— Bryan @bryanbarnes19