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LANDER Kickstarter Preview


Quick Look: LANDER

Designer: Daniel Alexander (II)
Artists: Elias Stern
Publisher: Intrepid Games
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 20-50 minutes per player (depending on chosen variant)

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

LANDER is coming to Kickstarter on March 3, 2020. You can also Play Before You Pledge! Check out the map of where a high-quality prototype is available to play in your area. 


Review:



Crashlanding on an unexplored planet has its challenges. For starters, not all of your people wake up from stasis after the brutal impact. And then there’s the part about needing to explore the nearby sectors and create a habitable landing site for when your larger settlement ship arrives. Of course, working together would be most beneficial, but since it’s corporations coming to start up the new planet, it’s every corp for itself.

Lander is a strategic game for 2-4 players (more with the expansion) in which players must collect resources, expand their reach, upgrade their sectors, and otherwise find ways to complete missions for points before the game ends. There’s a lot of strategy to think about in regard to upgrading crew (or “downgrading” them), stealing resources from your rivals, and finding ways to out-hustle the others. Of course, events will either help or hinder your work on the planet and as you progress from a lowly crash survivor to a strong corporation, everything you do leads toward one thing: being ready for when the others arrive.

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I was immensely impressed with Lander from the moment it arrived at my doorstep. The prototype I received was in shrink! After opening it, I found the components to be of very nice quality. If this were the final version, I would not be disappointed. I will admit that when a publisher puts out a prototype of that caliber, it’s obvious they mean business. But would nice components and fully finished art mean the gameplay was good, or was it all just a cover?

I am here to tell you that the gameplay is the real deal. A fun, thoughtful strategy game that feels extremely well balanced, Lander is exactly what I hoped it would be: good. Great, even. I’ll dive into more of the specifics in a moment, but I do want to take the time to discuss the game as an overall product. (And, if you want to play the game before you back it, check out the map and find a venue near you that has a copy available to play. More on that at the end of this review.)

The depth of decisions and rules is, at first glance, intimidating. That’s a fairly thick rule book, for one thing, and with all kinds of actions, there’s a lot to remember. However, it only took a round or two before we were cruising right along. When a game can deliver a multitude of options in an easy to remember and natural way, it makes me all kinds of happy. The rule book teaches the game well, and while it’s organized in a fairly different way than other rule books, I think it works well.

Generally, a rule book will describe each aspect of the game as it comes—phase one, step two, and so forth. Lander, on the other hand, has one page for the general flow of the game and then an in-depth appendix in the back where you can look up more detailed questions when they pop up. Most (if not all) of the actions are fairly straightforward, although the effects (depending on what is being done) can be a little more involved. The appendix is very helpful in finding the needed answers as they become applicable. While I did have the rule book out for the duration of the first game, we only had to check it a few times for specific clarifications.

To get a better sense of the game, I’ll now break it down into segments, starting with setup and finishing with some aesthetics. Ready for a crash course on landing on a new planet? Here we go!

Setup:



Setup is described in a separate booklet specific for the module being used. There are four different ways to play Lander: Basic Simulation, Early Arrival, Planned Arrival, and Teams. I did not play teams, so I won’t discuss how that works, although I will admit that I would like to play the Team variant, as it sounds like a good time.

Anyway, each setup booklet provides specific details on how that particular module is to be set up. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty here, but setup entails building the starting board, distributing starting crew, claiming initial sectors, and otherwise readying the other decks of cards.

The board is brilliant. Each triangular sector snaps together and stays together, even if the board gets bumped or moved (see above image). Other games that utilize variable setup with tiles can break apart, making the aesthetic a bit wanting, not to mention disrupting the gameplay. Not so with Lander; instead, each new sector added becomes part of a whole, and if you need to slide the board around, it’s all coming together. I like that a lot.

Once you’ve followed the instructions in your specific module’s booklet, you’re ready to play.

Gameplay:



The game is played over a series of rounds, with each player taking one turn per round. The “year” ends after all players have passed (or are forced to pass due to lack of resources). Some game modes play to a certain number of points. Early Arrival, for example, plays until one player has reached 10 points, after which they finish the year and the game ends after that. With Planned Arrival, however, play continues for a total of five years (although I’m sure you could prolong the magic if you so desired), and the player with the most points at the end of five years is crowned victorious. While Early Arrival is supposed to be shorter than Planned Arrival, we have had games of Early Arrival end after the fifth year anyway, so it ended up being about the same. 

At any rate, the gameplay is relatively simple, considering all the options available to you. Resources are at the heart of what you can do. Without resources, you can’t do much at all. There are three types of actions available to players: Anytime actions, Free actions, and Official Orders. 

But first, each round consists of a preparation phase in which you prepare for the coming year. During this phase, Event cards are drawn and, depending on the event, the first player will make a decision that will affect all players for that year. Some events don’t give room for a decision and simply tell you what’s about to happen (i.e. you don’t get as much food when gathering resources). Once the first player makes the decision, each player, starting with the first player, draws a random sector tile, places it wherever they want, and then adds a building to a sector adjacent to one they already control. There’s a good bit of strategy involved in this step, even if you draw a tile you have no use for whatsoever.

Once everyone has done their placement, resources are gathered according to each sector’s output that you control. Upgrading sectors during a “year” will (generally) give you more of that resource at the start of the next year. And the more resources you have, the more you can do. Once resources are collected, each player is dealt two Action cards, a Tool card, and a Training card. Play begins with the starting player.

As mentioned above, there are a number of different actions players can choose from on their turn. Anytime actions happen at literally any time during the game, even if it’s not your turn. As long as the condition is met (and it states it is an Anytime action on the action card), you may perform that action.


Taking control of an Accolade is an Anytime action. As long as you meet the requirement, it's yours to control.
Free actions take place before your Official Orders. You can do these actions as many times as you’d like. These include converting resources and upgrading your crew with training and tool cards.


Playing Tool and Training cards on characters is a Free action.
You get one Official Order per turn, and this is the meat of the game. These orders include playing action cards, exploring, upgrading a sector, bartering, completing missions, and more. Because you can only take one Official Order on your turn, you really need to plan ahead and make sure you’re being as efficient as possible. 


The board grows as the game progresses, allowing players to spread out and collect more and more resources.
And that’s it! The game continues, turn by turn, round by round, and year by year in this manner. However, if you would prefer to remain in a round but would also rather not take an action, you may Observe. You have a limited number of Observe actions each game (not round or year), so once you’ve used all of them, you’re out of luck. Observing is essential passing your turn to see what other players will do, allowing you to jump back in and take another Official Order before ending the year for yourself.


Resource cards.
When you do end the year, you’re forced to discard down to five resources and five Activity cards (i.e. Training, Tools, and Action). Then you watch as the other players finish taking their turns. Generally, the year will end very quickly after the first person prepares for the end of the year (i.e. passes completely), so there’s not a lot of wait time, which is good. Once everyone has finished their year, the first player marker is passed to the next player and another year starts by adding another sector and building, gathering resources according to sector outputs, and getting new Activity cards. Play continues in this manner until the game-end condition is met. 


The three types of Activity cards.
While it may look intimidating at first, Lander is streamlined and balanced in such a way that taking actions is easy. Of course, those who suffer from analysis paralysis will still suffer, but hey, what did you expect?

Theme and Mechanics:



The science-fiction theme is obvious from the box art to the gameplay. The mechanics work well with the theme (even if you can cannibalize crew), and everything from the missions to actions to tools and events help suck you into the theme. 

I like how each player gets one main action on their turn—that's it. It makes you think harder and plan ahead for what you really want to accomplish. Free actions are nice since you can save and build up before you start your turn and take your action. That also can keep other players from stealing what you've worked hard to accomplish. 

The missions work well, and as your engine grows, you are able to accomplish them faster and faster. The game definitely speeds up as you get going.

Artwork and Components:



The artwork is great. The sectors are basic icons, but the middle of the board shows a detailed crash site, which is wonderful. The card art is done as realistic, and I’m pretty sure they used real people’s images for the crew cards. The crew looks like real people, and it can be somewhat jarring at first. But you get used to it.

As this is a prototype, I’m not sure if I can speak for the components. However…

They’re great. Amazing, even. I have professionally published games on my shelf with poorer-quality components. I don’t know if they’re going to be upgraded or what will happen, but I can say that if this were the final product, I’d have no complaints whatsoever. And when a publisher takes that amount of effort in their prototype, you can bet they’ll be just as dedicated—more so, even—to the final product.



The Good:
  • Despite a lot going on, it’s easy enough to learn
  • Because the sectors click together, the entire board can move as one without losing pieces in the process
  • Strategic to the core
  • Clever use of rule book
  • Step-by-step guidance for setup
  • Multiple game variants for preferred playtime

The Other:
  • There’s a lot of text on the cards (which isn’t inherently bad), and that can slow things down for new players
  • Some people might not like the card that lets you kill one of your crew to gain food resources (with the card image being that of a delicious-looking steak 🥩 ). 
Final Thoughts:


Not only is the game great, but the insert is actually really good! Keeps everything organized without spilling everywhere, which makes for easy setup for your next game. 
When I first opened the box, I was afraid it would take countless hours to learn, and that I’d be spending the entire first game (or more) with my nose in the rule book trying to figure everything out. Instead, learning the game was simple enough, and I only dove into the rule book for the rare question. Everything about Lander is streamlined and polished. It’s ready for the world, and the world should be ready for it.

Let’s just say that if the proverbial Lander (in the game) was as mechanically sound as the game’s mechanics and gameplay, it never would have crashed. Fortunately, it did, because now we have Lander, a game that is full of strategic decisions and delectable outcomes. I love how smooth it plays and the feeling of progression as the years tick by.

Players Who Like:
Fans of strategic choices and themes of hard sci-fi may very well be the target audience of Lander. With an exploration aspect, along with a bit of survival and a small amount of take-that, Lander is a game with lots of moving pieces that can work its way into practically any gamer’s shelf of highly played games.

Play Before You Pledge
I’m sold on Lander, and if you still have questions after reading this review, fear not! Intrepid Games has shipped over 100 copies of the game to 130 board game venues (i.e. FLGS, board game cafes, etc.) in over a dozen countries (including nearly every state in the US—sorry Alaska and Hawaii!).

Check out their map here to find a venue near you where you can play before you pledge!



Check out LANDER and Intrepid Games on:

                 




Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.


See Benjamin's reviews HERE.

LANDER Kickstarter Preview LANDER Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on February 21, 2020 Rating: 5

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