Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 3 August 2018

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Lowlands

Game: Lowlands

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Designer: Claudia and Ralf Partenheimer

Year: 2018

We first saw Lowlands at the UK Games Expo - we walked past a table and honestly just thought it was an Agricola clone - the boards looked so alike. It wasn't until after the show that we started to hear some more about the game and found out that it had a semi-cooperative element thrown in. Our interest was immediately sparked! 

We enjoy Uwe Rosenberg farming games, and own a few of them, but find them hard to get to the table and quite similar to each other. In spite of the thematic and visual similarities, this game is not an Uwe Rosenberg game, however "cartoon Uwe" in the instruction book will tell you that he has endorsed the game and was involved in the development.

Lowlands is a game of rearing sheep and making sure they don't wash away in a flood, for 2-4 players. Each of the three rounds is split into phases, during which you'll get two opportunities to place your workers, take actions and breed sheep. There are only 5 actions on your player board so there's no competition with other players over worker placement spots. You'll take the action powered to the level indicated on the worker you choose. You can build buildings on your player board, move fences to contain sheep, draw resource cards, buy or sell sheep, or contribute to building the dike that will hold back the flood. At the end of each of the three rounds, you'll assess whether the dike holds and that will determine whether the player who contributed the most to the dike gets coins or whether the player who contributed the least gets dike breach tokens. Money is points and the building you build might also get you some points, but otherwise end game points are available for sheep on your board and your position of the dike track. If the dike holds all game, dike points are worth nothing, but if the dike breaches every time, then sheep points are almost worthless too, so the game is really about striking a balance and compromising to ensure things go in the right direction for your strategy.

There's a lot of small interesting features about this game; the workers each having a different number of actions they can take, the variable value of sheep and dike building at the end of the game and the unlocking of different boots on your player board as you build buildings or fences, to name a few. However, probably the biggest hook is the dike building. Building the dike is cooperative, but depending on your strategy, you may be more or less keen to see it built, or alternatively to see the fields flood. Being ahead on the dike track is great during the game because you either get coins or avoid dike breach tokens. However, being behind might not be that bad because dike breach tokens mean nothing if the dike holds at the end of the game and you can focus on other strategies while your teammates work to protect your sheep. If the dike holds every round, then working hard to build the dike is a bit of a thankless task, since your position on the dike track won't be worth any points. There are lots of complex reasons why players may or may not want to work on this combined effort and it's lovely how you can try and read people's willingness through reading their overall game strategy. The opportunity to ask other players for help is also an interesting test of how well you can read other people's intentions and in a 4-player game you can easily find yourself splitting into two groups with different intentions. In a 2-player game this is slightly less fun as a mechanism, but it doesn't really detract from the game for me.

The simple but lovely wooden pieces give a really clear visual indication of whether the dike is breached.
My other big satisfaction in Lowlands is how simple it is to build a strategy. You're likely to only buy 4-6 buildings throughout the game, so it's quite easy to pick a strategy early on, where you can work towards the end game points of one or two buildings without being overwhelmed by choice like you might be in other similar games. My whole strategy for a game might be sheep and not putting fences around my trees and that can dictate my whole game, including how invested I become in the dike building and what other building I choose to buy to complement my strategy. There's enough variety in the buildings to keep me picking different strategies although 'all of the sheep' is a firm favourite at the moment.

Overall, Lowlands is a really fast game in the category of farming euro games. It's also pretty unique in that it is streamlined and focused on one main thing - breeding sheep and controlling the flood to decide whether to stockpile or sell those sheep. It would be a stretch to call this a semi-cooperative game, but building the dike together creates some really cool moments where players' strategies interact. Mixing this with the different directions you can take with the buildings on the board creates really diverse experiences from game to game and is a really refreshing interactive euro game experience.

For the Yellow Meeple, Lowlands is a 7.5/10.
Lowlands was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available for an RRP of £64.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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