Tile laying to complete territories on a shared map for points………sound familiar? Well, friends, this may look, feel, and play like Carcassonne. But Land Vs Sea brings a new interactive element to the spatial puzzle table, and we are having a blast!
Primarily a 2 player game (although there are options to play in 3 or even 4 player modes), one person plays Land and the other is the Sea. Each player’s goal is to gain as many points as possible which are awarded when areas of their particular territory are enclosed.
Now, Land Vs Sea is one of those games that straight up deceives you. It’s so easy to learn. On your turn, you place one of two tiles from your hand onto the shared map space. If you complete a territory, points are awarded. You then choose a tile from the stacks to refill your hand. That’s it.
But it’s not it. Not at all. You see, this game sneaks a boat load of strategy into every decision.
Whilst you gain points for completing your own territory type (basic scoring being 1 point per tile comprising the enclosed area with additional bonus points for “X marks the spot” spots!), you might want to complete one of your opponent’s areas on a turn instead. “Why?” I hear you cry! “Why would I give that Land Lubber/Salty Sea Dog points??” I know it is tempting to try and keep their areas wide open, whilst simultaneously trying to close your own ones down. But bear with me.
Firstly, if you enclose one of their areas whilst it is still small, you’ll stop them building up a gigantic point-plenty ocean/island that will see them rocket along the scoring track later in the game. But, if you complete an area for them and it contains X marks, you will get those bonus points rather than your opponent. They’ll still get the basic 1 point per tile, but the added extras become yours! Hmmmm…..what to do is not so simple now, eh?!
Some of the tiles themselves also let you do sneakily strategic things too. Because each one is double sided, your opponent can only see what is on one side of yours and vice versa. It’s a snippet of open information, but it’s not the whole story. On that basis, you can predict where they might place next, but your prognostications will only take you so far.
And each tile has a different combination of land and sea edges and X marks. But some also have compasses or swords on them. Compasses are handy as they let you place both your tiles on a single turn. Swords are indeed sharp because they allow you to steal one of your opponents tiles ready to place next turn (although you can never take their final tile). You’ll only know what’s on one side, but pushing your luck on a pick could be enough to thwart their placement plans!
Plus to up the challenge even more, there’s also a special Volcano/ Whirlpool tile that will award mega bonus points if a player creates a hole with the same territory type on each of the six open hex sides. Plus there are additional optional scoring objectives (Mountains and Coral, Caravan and Ships, Waypoints) that will have your brain diving below the depths when trying to achieve optimal placement each turn (for more on these, check out the How to Play blog!).
We are absolutely loving Land Vs Sea. It was so easy to learn that we thought we might have missed something. But the ease of play belies half an hour of sand-in-your-socks crunchiness that is definitely our jam! Each tile you take and each one you place is an I could-I should-should I? moment. Knowing whether to go for completing your own area, blasting an open hole in your opponents, or profiting from their hard work is just the start of the consideration process. Being able to play two tiles can feel like a win, but miss something on the board and you could be leaving yourself vulnerable. And that’s before you’ve even considered what other players have on the underside of each tile in their hand!
The tiles themselves are also brilliant. Each one contains illustrations that have us giggling and pointing. From bottom trumpet tooting rabbits to dragons and mermaids with two tails not to mention all the differently designed ships and cultural references, the efforts that have gone into making this game visually charming are off the chart. They’re also nice, thick hexes, and the box (which doubles up as the scoring track) is bright and colourful and fun.
Personally, playing as the Sea somehow feels more challenging. This could be psychological. The sea seems more open and expansive and untameable. Land also goes first (although that’s not always an advantage in the end). Or it could just be down to colour contrast/preference. The composition of the tiles in terms of edge types looks pretty balanced but my scores are definitely lower when riding the watery waves.
Whatever the reason, I am loving Land Vs Sea. 2 Player is definitely the sweet spot for us. The Cartographer (3rd player) is an interesting dynamic with their focus on mountains and coral reefs, and we haven’t played the 4 player team mode yet. But I’m in no rush as there is so much sea to tame and land to scour that we will be happily half-hour hate drafting each other out of points for years to come!