LIONS OF LYDIA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

LIONS OF LYDIA (Bellweather Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, 30-60 minutes; $39.99)

 

Anyone who has ever seen Cabaret knows that “money makes the world go around”. But money wasn’t always a thing. For a long period of time, bartering – trading goods or services for other goods or services – was the basis for an economy. Since bartering is an inexact “science”, the need for something universally valued and accepted paved the way for the rise of currency. In Jonny Pac Cantin’s latest design, money, minted with the heads of lions, comes into play as players deploy their merchants and purchase and develop property while generating the currency that will help them win in Lions of Lydia.

The game comes with a relatively small city board where the four gates of the city (in red, blue, yellow and green) occupy the corners.  A fountain token is placed in the center of the city along with four “merchants” (meeples) of red, blue, yellow and green. Players begin with one of each color meeple in their draw bag and a player board to track the four resources of the game (ostensibly wheat, meat etc. but it’s easier to just go by their colors, also red, blue, yellow and green). An influence tracker is placed at the bottom of that board as well as a “Lydian merchant” (a “gold” meeple) put on the first space of that track. Depending on the specified color of the player board (either red, blue, yellow or green), that player gets the Starting property card of the matching color. 

Property cards come in three types: Gold, Silver and Purple. Each deck is shuffled and 1 Gold, 3 Silver (only 2 with 2 players) and 2 Purple are placed on each side of the city. One Lydian merchant meeple is placed on each Gold card. The starting player is randomly chosen and turns begin. 

On a turn, the active player draws 1 meeple out of his/her bag. This “merchant” may be placed next to any of the four gates OR placed in the fountain area. 

Players gain resources when a merchant is placed next to a gate, the amount depending on the color of the gate AND how many meeples are present there. For example, if placing a green merchant at the blue gate where a red and blue merchant are already present, 1 green, 1 red and 2 blue resources would be gotten. Resources collected are tracked on your player board. Six of each resource is the maximum that can be kept.  If two of the same color meeple are at the gate, that pair is moved to the fountain area. Should a “Lydian Merchant” be placed at a gate or already be there when you place your meeple, a Gold Coin option is triggered. Rather than taking resources in the color of the gate, you can take that number of generated resources as gold coins. This can be especially useful for two reasons: first, when you are holding close to 6 of that particular color, any excess is lost and second, gold coins are WILD; they can be used as ANY resource when buying or upgrading property.

Placing a drawn meeple into the fountain area allows a player to buy or upgrade property. Silver and Gold properties cost various resources and will produce bonus resources when specified meeples are placed at specified gates. (Buying a Gold property moves the Lydian merchant found there to the fountain area.) Purple properties require gold for purchase and offer end game conditions that will produce Victory Points. A player may buy any or all of the properties found on ONE side of the board. You are limited as to how many properties you can hold based on your position on your Influence track but, subject to that restriction, may buy as many properties as you like provided you have the resources to pay for them! Similarly, properties already held may be upgraded instead by spending the amount of resources used to buy the property in the first place once again. The now upgraded property is flipped to its other side where it will either generate twice as many resources or, potentially, twice as many Victory Points at the end of the game. All turns end by choosing a meeple from the fountain area which is tossed into that player’s bag so that there are always four meeples available to be drawn the next turn. 

Hitting the 6 resource mark on your player board will grant you an immediate bonus. As a bonus, the player may move their Influence Marker one space further to the right. This increases the number of properties a player may hold; it may also provide some coins too. Go farther along the track and you will gain VPs (as many as 18!) and, if you get to the end of the track, be able to use your specified color resource as ANY COLOR! Alternatively, if you prefer, you may use your bonus to develop one of your properties for FREE!

Play continues until a player has DEVELOPED a certain number of properties (from 6 to 8 depending on the number of players). The player that has reached that mark, takes the fountain piece! All others get one, last, turn and then points are totaled.

Victory Points shown on the bottom of each Silver and Gold card are added. To that is added any points from the Influence track along with VPs earned from Purple cards. Finally, the player with the fountain gets 1 VP for each coin they have. (There is a maximum of 12 coins that may be held.) The player with the highest total wins!

Although using a bag to draw from is a main mechanism, Lions of Lydia is not a bag BUILDER (such as Orleans or Altiplano). The number of meeples in your bag never varies from four so there is no “building” per se. Rather, it is the placement of the drawn meeple that powers the action. Placement by a gate generates necessary resources; placement by the fountain enables building/upgrading – but the two can dovetail. Earning up to 6 resources will grant you a bonus of movement on the Influence track or developing a building for free, both worthy bonuses, especially attractive when you only have a handful of resources in a color (less so when you already have 4 or 5 and resources past 6 are lost). 

The game has a rapidly accelerating pace. Over the first few rounds, players will attempt to get resources but soon, once properties are purchased, things speed up. Since there are more Property cards than needed in the game, the mix of cards appearing from game to game (and the resources required) changes each time making requirements for purchase and development slightly different, helping to keep the game from getting stale. Unlike other games where everyone has the same number of turns, once the required number of properties are developed, all other players get one final turn. This last turn can be worthless if a player does not have needed resources to buy or upgrade. Generating more resources at that point is pointless! Keep an eye on what your opponents are doing and be prepared to use resources on your last turn.

Since the theme of the game centers on the value of gold, the ability of gold to act as any resource (a Wild) becomes extremely valuable in property purchase and development so using your merchants to generate gold must be considered. As Gold properties are bought, more Lydian merchants become available. Lydian merchants (those gold meeples) do not generate resources themselves but allow you to convert generated resources at a gate into gold. Taking resources or converting to gold can be an interesting choice as the Wild value of gold is a counterpoint to the bonus you can get if the goods received at a gate pushes you to the 6 level on that resource; a subtle choice that can greatly impact your success. (Although the Lydian merchant is gold, the Lydian merchant meeple looks more like SILVER on the cards! It might be to avoid confusion with yellow but it was a little confusing anyway when trying to look for a silver meeple!!!) And speaking of meeples, remember to take your fourth meeple from the Fountain area! You can be so fixated on your moves that you may forget!

To add to the variety, the game comes with 8 “expansions” (additional properties, a “racing track” etc.), little add-ons that add a wrinkle or two to the basic play without any significant changes to the game. Use them or not according to your own tastes. 

Lions of Lydia is not deep. Rather, it is a game filled with simple choices: gate or fountain, goods or gold, buy or develop. But these decisions combine for layers of decision-making, particularly as the game is a sort of “race”, jetting to its conclusion very quickly. Significant decisions to make coupled with quick play make for quite a satisfying session at the gaming table. — – – – – – – Herb Levy


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

 

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