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Lions of Lydia Review

Quick Look: Lions of Lydia

Designer: Jonny Pac Cantin
Artists: Darryl T. Jones
Publisher: Bellwether Games
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+

Find more information on Board Game Geek.

Lions of Lydia is set in the dawn of the age of currency. You play the role of a wealthy aristocrat, hiring merchants to do your bidding at the city's gates. It begins with your merchants trading resources through traditional means of barter, but everything changes once the Lydian merchants arrive.

These merchants introduce the world's first coins, minted from gold and silver from the Pactolus River. Now, you must leverage the power of the coin to become the most prestigious aristocrat of your time, with your name going into history books.

The setup for the game was easy and only took about 5 minutes to do. The majority of the setup is placing a handful of pieces onto the boards as instructed and then also setting the cards around the city board in a specific pattern. The worst part of the setup is separating and shuffling the cards into piles of the three types. You could do this after each game of course, but some of us are "I'll worry about it later" type of people and push it off. Either way, it is something you will have to do. 

However, this is just a small blemish on an otherwise effortless setup and not a real knock towards the game. If organizing the cards is the worst part (which is something that we as gamers should be used to by now), I think we will be okay. As far as setting up the different boards though, your individual player pieces are stored in drawstring bags so it made simple to pull the pieces out and place them where they need to go. The city board is also just placing a few pieces on it. In the end, like it or not, the setup of a game plays a part in its replayability. Blemish aside, Lions of Lydia had such a simple setup that would make it easy to get back to the table.

Learning to play the Lions of Lydia was pretty straightforward. The rulebook was thorough and clear in its explanation of the game. There aren't a ton of rules to learn, but the simplicity will make it accessible to many different people. I'll summarize the gameplay to give you an idea of how to play, but it is by no means a full rules explanation.

On your turn, you will draw a merchant from your bag and place it in one of five available locations (4 different colored gates and the fountain). Placing a merchant at a gate will gain you a resource matching the color of the gate you just placed at and a resource matching the color of each merchant also present there (including the one you just placed). For example, if you placed a yellow merchant at a yellow gate and there was a red, green, and blue merchant also there, you would gain 2 yellow resources (one for the merchant you placed and one for the gate), a red, green, and blue resource. After you collect your resources, if there are two of the same colored merchants at a gate together, move them both to the fountain.

There is also one other type of merchant you can use. The Lydian merchant, the golden one, and they introduce currency in the game. When you collect your resources from placing any merchant at a gate, if there are any Lydian merchants present at that gate, whether you placed the Lydian merchant there or not, you may sell all of your resources matching the gate location you are at. If you sell those resources, you get one coin for each resource sold. The coins will come in handy because they can be used in the place of any resource while buying or developing properties.
If you place your merchant at the fountain, on the other hand, you will be able to buy and/or develop property cards using either resources or coins to pay for it. The property cards can be one of two things, either they will give you bonus resources whenever you place a certain colored merchant at a specific gate (according to that individual card), or they will provide some type of end game scoring opportunity for you. You can then also develop the cards to make to produce more resources from the bonus and make the property worth more victory points during end game scoring. 


After placing your merchant at a location (gate or fountain), you will take a merchant from the fountain and place it in your bag and then play continues with the next player. You will continue to take turns until one player has developed a number of property cards (8/7/6) depending on the player count (2/3/4). Once a player has developed the specified number of property cards, all other players will get one final turn. Add up the victory points on your grey and gold property cards, the victory points at the space your token occupies on the bottom of your player board, and the calculated value of your purple cards. If you were the first player to develop the number of properties to trigger end game, you will also get points equal to the number of coins you have. The player with the most victory points wins!

Theme and Mechanisms:
In Lions of Lydia, you play a wealthy aristocrat, hiring merchants, while the world is first beginning to use currency as a form of exchange (replacing traditional barter). Your goal is to be the most prestigious of all aristocrats. You achieve this by managing your pool of merchants and placing them throughout the city in a way that gains resources most efficiently. When the time comes and coins are introduced, you will try to convert your resource income into coins. You then attempt to use the power of coins to buy and develop the best properties, giving you the advantage against your adversaries. The mechanisms and overall feel of the game fit the theme pretty well, in my opinion. It seems to be well thought out and it shows with some of the gameplay.
The game, at its heart, is a worker-placement engine-building game. What makes Lions of Lydia different though, are a few interesting twists to the mechanisms and how they all work together. Your pool of workers will always be changing and a huge part of the game is managing the build of your pool, always maintaining 4 merchants in your bag. The problem you have is that you don't get to pick which merchant to use on a turn, which is determined by randomly drawing a merchant from your bag. So it is your job to find a balance of which colored merchants to have in your bag at that time. The type and amount of resources you will get by visiting each location changes throughout the game as well. This will often leave you with a choice of getting the resources you need and getting other resources because you can get a lot of them. What ties all of this together is the engine-building. You must create synergy with the merchants you are employing and the properties you have built to maximize your efforts so that you can build the best engine to turn resources into coins.

Artwork and Components:
You can save me the "art is subjective" talk, the art in this game is well done. It looks nice, it fits well with the theme, and the art on each card tries to fit the purpose of that card. I appreciate the work and thought that goes into that. The one thing that stood out to me the most though, was the graphic design and how good it was. It's easy to overlook good graphic design because it is doing its job. For the graphic design to work well, it has to be simple and effective. Both of which are achieved in the game. You look at an icon and it just makes sense to what it does. This held true for the components as well. Everything was well designed and produced to bring the best experience to the players and that shows.

The Good:
The mechanism that packs more punch, for what it is, than any other is the bag management. I'm not saying that this is the best or most important mechanism, but it is just one decision at the end of your turn that impacts so much. You have to decide which merchant to place in your bag from the fountain.  All of them are useful to some degree, but at different times during the game, some will be more useful than others. When deciding which merchant to place in your bag, you have to consider, not only what you need, but what property cards you have (so that you can better use your bonuses), and also what merchants are at which gate so that you can get the best bang for your buck when placing. Of course, there is no guarantee in drawing the merchant you want. You are going to draw what you draw and it isn't always going to be what you need that turn. This means that you have to be able to adapt because your plans will change quickly.

In my plays of it, one thing seemed to ring true for most of the games, it was very close until it wasn't. There seemed to come to a point late in the game that one player just started to pull away from everyone else. Up until that point, it is a tight back and forth between the players. The tight back and forth created a feeling like you were racing the other players which caused a nice tension in the game. Then someone pulls ahead and you are trying to make big moves to catch back up.

The Other:
On your turn, there are only 5 locations to place your merchant; the yellow, blue, red, green gates, and the fountain. It doesn't seem like a lot, but it can be daunting and cause analysis paralysis to some players. It causes you to run through the resources gained from placing a merchant at each gate, and how it will help them in the big picture. The property cards can complicate this thought process as well by simply adding more variables into the mix. You also have to weigh this against placing a merchant at the fountain to buy/develop properties and which of those you could (and should) go after. In the end, there may be no right answer on what to do, so you just have to make a choice and live with the ramifications.

One of my biggest hang-ups in the game was the final turn I took was often trying to "game the game" and min-max it. I would look at all of my options and think, if I did this action it gives me 18 more points, this action 15 points, and this action 10. Then I would do that action to give me the most amount of points and base my decision off of that. Obviously, the goal of the game is to get points, but it takes you out of the "magic" of the game when thinking about it under those circumstances.

Final Thoughts:
I enjoyed almost every play I had of this game. To me, it felt almost like I was trying to figure out a puzzle, but also racing to get stuff done quicker than my opponents. I'd be excited to show the game to more casual gamers or play it with people who like a light-medium weight of game. It is something I would definitely play again if asked, but I am interested to see if it holds up over time. Am I going to push to get it played more? It is a solid game and everything works well in it, but what is it's replay value? The variability of the game no doubt helps with that. What happens if/when I figure out the puzzle aspect of it? I obviously like it, but will I want to play it more? That seems to be my burning question. Only time will tell, I guess.

Players Who Like:
Lions of Lydia is a light-medium weight game that is easy to learn/teach, is accessible to many, and has straightforward gameplay. It will cause you to quickly adapt to the changing game state, make you feel clever when you pull off a smart move, and has great components. If any of that sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend you check out Lions of Lydia.

Check out Lions of Lydia on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/289550/lions-lydia   http://bellwethergames.com/  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1839615594/lions-of-lydia-a-strategic-game-of-ancient-prestige?ref=bgggamepage  https://www.facebook.com/bellwethergames/   https://twitter.com/bellwethergames?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor   

Eric Schevenius - Reviewer

Full-time father, part-time nerd. When not spending time with my family, I try to fill the rest of my time playing tabletop games. Some call it an obsession, I prefer the term passion. Either way, I will play any game, with anybody, at any time.

Find Eric's articles HERE.
Lions of Lydia Review Lions of Lydia Review Reviewed by Eric Schevenius on April 07, 2020 Rating: 5

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