Reviewed by Chris Wray

BLUE LAGOON (Blue Orange Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $29.99)


Blue Orange is becoming a darling of Gen Con, developing a reputation for well-produced, family-friendly games.  This year they released Blue Lagoon, a game from Reiner Knizia that harkens back to his hit classic Through the Desert (reviewed under its original title Durch die Wuste in the Winter 1995 issue of Gamers Alliance Report).  The game was a critical and commercial success at the convention, selling hundreds (if not thousands) of copies and earning a spot on most “hotness” lists covering the convention.

In Blue Lagoon, players are the chiefs of their tribes, exploring and settling along an archipelago of eight islands.  With vibrant blues and greens splashed across the gameboard and resources like bamboo and coconut, the game feels like it is set in the South Pacific, though the rulebook never specifies.  

To start the game, each player receives 5 wooden villages and 20, 25, or 30 cardboard settlers, depending on the number of players in the game. The goal is to spread the villages and settlers across the archipelago, connecting the islands and gathering resources along the way.

Blue Lagoon is extraordinarily simple to play.  Gameplay proceeds in two intuitive phases.  During the first phase, called the Exploration Phase, a player takes his turn by placing either a village or a settler on the board.  A settler can be placed on any open water space but, when placing settlers or villages on land, they must be placed adjacent to another piece belonging to that player.  

The board has several spaces where resources/statues were randomly-placed at the start of the game, and if a village or settler is placed

The exploration phase ends either when (a) all players have placed all of their pieces or (b) all of the resources on the board are taken.  At that point, the first round of scoring is triggered. Scoring has a point-salad feel. First, players earn 10 or 20 points if they are on 7 or 8 islands, respectively.  Second, they earn 5 points per island in their longest chain of continuously-placed pieces. Third, each of the 8 islands is scored for majorities, with players earning 6 to 10 points for having the most.  Next, resources are scored. The game has four in game resources – bamboo, coconuts, precious stones, and water – and a set of 2, 3, or 4 of one kind is worth 5, 10, or 20 points, respectively. Having a set of all four kinds is worth 10 points.  Finally, some of the resource spaces are filled with statues, which don’t count for any of the combinations above but they are worth 4 points each.

After the first scoring, the settlement phase begins.  All pieces except the villages are removed and the resources are put out again randomly. During this phase, players can only place next to their villages or an already placed piece.  In other words, during the exploration phase, players need to have strategically placed their villages to set them up for the settlement phase.  

Like the exploration phase, the settlement phase ends when all pieces are placed or all resources are exhausted.  At that point, another scoring is triggered, and the second scoring mechanic is identical to the first. The scores are tallied, and the highest score wins. 

The game is easy to learn and a rules explanation takes only a few minutes.  The rulebook is a mere four pages. I’m disappointed that the publisher did not include scoring player aids – given the “point salad” nature of scoring they would have been nice – but there is a thick pad of score sheets that can be handed out as reminders. 

Play is fast.  Very fast. Because a player’s turn involves simply placing one piece on the board and because they often have a feel for which space they want, turns around the table can take only a few seconds.  In total,  the game box says Blue Lagoon takes 30-45 minutes but that seems high to me: we’ve been playing in 20-25 minutes.  

I’ve played Blue Lagoon nearly a dozen times and I find it remarkable how many different strategies emerge from such a simple game.  Players can rack up points from gathering resources, spanning the archipelago, or playing for majorities. The game can be a bit cutthroat; there’s always somebody trying to block off portions of the map but in a manner that is more friendly than confrontational.  

As I mentioned in the introduction, Blue Lagoon reminds me of Through the Desert.  I prefer the latter – I think it is the deeper game – but what Blue Lagoon sacrificed in depth, it gained in approachability.  This is a game that just about anybody can play. 

Overall, I’m highly impressed. I’ve tried more than 25 titles from Gen Con 2018, and Blue Lagoon has emerged as my favorite title from Gen Con 2018 and one of the few that will stay on my shelf. This game will work with a wide variety of different audiences, most notably family gamers, but while Blue Lagoon is simple, it is also fast-paced and tense with enough depth and interesting choices to intrigue serious gamers. As is often the case with Blue Orange’s games, the production value is stunning.  Combine that with Reiner Knizia’s clever gameplay and Blue Lagoon is sure to be a hit in the coming months.   – – – – – – – – – – – – Chris Wray

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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