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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • A novel way of collecting resources
  • An easy teach, with easy-to-understand iconography
  • Variants are included to increase complexity

Might Not Like

  • How cutthroat it can be
  • There’s still a bit of luck involved in the card draw
Find out more about our blog & how to become a member of the blogging team by clicking here

Lofoten Review

lofoten

Pearl Games have brought the board gaming world some of beloved titles, such as Ginkgopolis, Troyes and The Bloody Inn (and Lofoten).

A Pearl Of Wisdom

Sadly, as of March this year, the studio is being closed by Asmodee. In a statement released at the end of January, Sebastien Dujardin (founder of Pearl Games) suggested that Asmodee, who have owned Pearl since 2014, felt the studio couldn’t keep up with the exponential growth of the board game industry. Dujardin added that everything was being done to secure the catalogue of games and brand he’s built since 2010.

There is a tinge of sadness to this review. Lofoten could very well be the last new release to possess the Pearl Games branding. A two player game designed by Dujardin himself, players are battling to become the most powerful Jarl in the Nordic archipelago. This is done by sending longships to retrieve merchandise and store them in warehouses. The Jarl who does this most effectively is the winner.

As someone who actively seeks out two player games, I was keen to give Lofoten a try. Immediately I was drawn in by the box art, a beautiful shade of blue evoking the clear crisp water of the Arctic Circle. The rulebook was very clear and concise, as well as giving clear examples for turn structure and merchandise collection.

Ready, Steady… Archipela-Go

In the centre of the table is the market board, which contains tokens of the four types of merchandise: mead, dried fish, sheep and coffer. These all have values attached to them, ranging from 1-3 points. Each player has a fleet wheel which, once the longships have been added, represent the fleets. Each player also has three order cards, which should not be shuffled or moved when they’re dealt to you. You also take two different order cards which are slid into the longships on the left and right of your fleet wheel. Finally, the starting player takes two coins, and the second player takes three. You’re now ready to start fulfilling those orders!

I mentioned briefly that once you have your cards in your hand, you’re not allowed to move them. This is because the action you do when playing a card from your hand is decided it’s location. For example, if you play the left or right card from your hand, you’re using its movement value. The centre card represents an order that you’re sending a longship to retrieve from the market, as well as a bonus that’s activated when placed.

Each order card has a movement value of 1-3. Using the left card means spending movement points either moving the fleet wheel to the left a market space at a time or spinning the wheel anti-clockwise ninety degrees. The right card means moving to the right or spinning the wheel clockwise. The spinning action can be initially confusing, as it feels counterintuitive at first to spin the wheel anti-clockwise. Once you get used to this (and there are reminders on the market board to help) it becomes an interesting core mechanism of the game. Resource collection is quite a dry mechanism, so having this spinning option somehow feels fresh and novel.

If you have a longship with an order card facing the market space with its matching merchandise, you then load it onto your boat. You can only load one market tile onto a longship. When a full longship has been rotated and facing you, you unload the merchandise and place it into a warehouse. In the base game, each warehouse is worth a different amount of points for the person who stores the most merchandise there. If you complete an order and there’s already a warehouse containing that merchandise, you must also store your merchandise there.

At the end of the game (which is triggered by not being able to restock the market board) each player adds up their resources and scores the warehouses accordingly. The person with the highest score at the end is the winner.

A Slow Burner

On first play, I was a little disappointed. Was the novel way of collecting resources masking what was actually quite a dry and uninteresting game? No. There is reward in persisting with Lofoten… let me tell you why.

When I played Lofoten for the first time, I didn’t appreciate how cutthroat a game it could be. As I mentioned earlier, playing a middle card to your longship activates the card’s bonus. What I forgot to mention was that if you place an order card for merchandise that you already have in your warehouses, it makes the bonus stronger. For example, placing a dried fish card in your fleet wheel allows you to spin your wheel ninety degrees in either direction. However, if you have already completed three dried fish orders, you can do this action three times! You could effectively collect an order and deliver it in one turn! Another example is the mead card. When placed, they allow you to remove merchandise from the market. Being able to discard what your opponent is trying to collect is a very satisfying feeling, and that is coming from someone who isn’t normally a big fan of take that as a mechanism.

I’ve also not mentioned the coins. The coins can be used at any point during your turn, either to move your fleet wheel extra spaces, renew your hand or to just immediately take another turn. If you play a coffer card into your fleet wheel, this allows you to pick up coins. If there are no coins available, you just steal from your opponent! This is just the base game too, there are other variants that allow players to form alliances with other Jarls, upgrade boats or play with warehouse cards which add extra complexity to scoring.

A Perfect Lofo-ten

Once I understood what Lofoten was, I then started to play differently. Sometimes I would play order cards simply for their bonuses, especially if it was to the detriment of my opponent. I would think more carefully about where I was placing a newly drawn card into my hand. You can only place them on the left or right, which as the game gets tighter feels like a bigger decision. Do I want movement? Do I want bonuses? Do I want to just be mean? My first play of Lofoten was very one-sided, but my second play ended up coming down to the very last order being delivered. It was probably one of the tensest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Lofoten feels like more than a game. It feels like Sebastien Dujardin has poured all his expertise into this game and decided that if Pearl Games are going to be no more, at least they’re going out swinging. Maybe Lofoten is a current representation of the board game industry: something that on face value is simple and enjoyable, but also merciless. I for one certainly hope this isn’t the last we see of Pearl Games, and I know many, many others will agree with me.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • A novel way of collecting resources
  • An easy teach, with easy-to-understand iconography
  • Variants are included to increase complexity

Might not like

  • How cutthroat it can be
  • Theres still a bit of luck involved in the card draw

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