Land of Marginally Better Moves
Lagoon: Land of Druids would really like you to settle in and be a druid for the evening. Which is pretty cool, right? There aren’t many board games that cast you as a druid, or that are set in such a pleasantly drawn world full of peculiar floating edifices, tiny glimmerwisps playing ball with conifer cones, and day-glo mushrooms, shrines, and caves. Which is to say, Lagoon is a gorgeous game, painted with vibrant strokes, colors popping like a drive down the Las Vegas Strip at midnight.
But is it any good? Well… let’s talk.
Okay, so we’ve already established that Lagoon is utterly gorgeous. Its cardboard hexes are wonderfully thick too, just in case that’s the sort of thing that determines whether you’re interested in a game.
It’s also very simple. The land is built from three competing energies called elemeen, vowelon, and deonin, though my group refers to them as “yellow cones,” “red helicopters,” and “blue nuts” respectively, because I can’t imagine saying the word “elemeen” unless I’m using it to make fun of someone who just said the word “elemeen.” Anyway, these three energies are in competition, and it’s up to you to lead your hit squad of druids to explore the land for new sites, summon more druid pals, and eventually determine which of these three energies will determine the destiny of the emerging world.
Everything comes down to those chunky site tiles. When you explore one with one of your druids, you pull it out of a hefty draw bag, pick which side you’re more interested in, and connect it to the expanding world, nabbing a matching energy seed in the process. In addition to your basic actions, each of these bears an option for your druids to invoke. After a couple explorations, you can position your druids and/or spend seeds to unravel sites (read: “remove them”), placing them in your private stash alongside your collected seeds. At the end, whichever energy is most abundant determines the destiny of the land, and you get points for the matching seeds you collected and the non-matching sites you unraveled. Simple enough.
As such, the map is constantly shifting as sites are explored, exploited, and unraveled. Druids pop into existence at havens, move around, invoke sites, and disappear when they unravel something. The strategy revolves around carefully amassing a collection of the right seeds and unraveled lands, protecting the dominance of your chosen energy, and carefully positioning any newly-explored lands of your preferred energy in such a way that they cannot be unraveled. This is also easy enough to determine, as the land can’t be split in two. So while a long corridor of sites is safe, a group of sites clustered together is ripe for unraveling.
All in all, it’s functional, inoffensive, and sports a nonviolent theme — unless “unraveling” an entire section of countryside sounds violent to you, in which case I’m sure the druids are very gentle and kind when they drop their druid-nukes. For everyone who didn’t consider that image, it’s nonviolent. And as I said, it’s very pretty to look at.
Unfortunately, Lagoon just doesn’t often manage to be interesting in addition to being functional. In fact, it frequently commits the cardinal sin of boardgaming: Thou Shalt Not Be Boring.
The first problem is that the sites aren’t often particularly exciting. Sure, there’s the occasional useful “Presence of Lagoon” or “Moon Gate,” and a handful of sites that let you explore more than once per turn or make unraveling easier; but most of the sites merely offer slightly punched-up versions of the same actions your druids take the other 90% of the time. Say, by letting an exhausted druid move two spaces or discarding a seed to swap druids on sites of that seed’s color. When you discover a “Cairn Colossus,” it really has nothing to do with a cairn or a colossus; it’s just one more way to move druids around, and not usually a very advantageous one at that.
This feeds into the second problem: since there’s very little connection between the name/illustration and effect of most of the tiles, and since your opponents’ multiple explorations and unravelings can completely transform the face of the landscape before it comes back around to you, most turns are riddled with an overabundance of all-too-similar options, all of which must be read, parsed, and analyzed to determine which is marginally more beneficial. The downtime is killer, and it isn’t that rare breed of good downtime where a rival’s move has a worthwhile impact on your plans — mostly, it just jumbles the board up some more. A player bent on victory will be the guy puzzling over each of the board’s slightly-more-optimal moves while their friends suffer death by abject boredom.
Which isn’t to say it’s going to be a bad purchase for everyone, or always dull. There’s a particular thrill when you realize you’re within reach of unraveling a key territory, one that will shift the balance of the land into your favor. Or when you explore one of those rare ultra-cool tiles. Or… nope, that’s all I’ve got, because the rest of the time it’s as mind-numbing as a shot of novocaine straight into the occipital lobe.