1-4 players, Competitive, City Rebuilding Political Management
Designer: Vital Lacerda
Artwork: Ian O’Toole
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
Release Year: 2017
My first foray into designer Lacerda’s games was with his most recent release, On Mars. I had previously heard that his titles were on the more complex side of gaming but at the same time from the people that played them, they walked away VERY impressed. After I went through a few games of On Mars I couldn’t agree more. I started delving into his other titles noticing a trend of vastly different themes with each. Now, as someone that adores theming in games and to be honest prefers an interesting theme as it enhances my enjoyment, this piqued my interest. One in particular, Lisboa, sounded just amazing with the theme incorporated into the gameplay. I mean I’m not gonna go into super details on the actual city of Lisboa (Lisbon) and what happened but I encourage you to just peruse through the Wikipedia article of it. It. Is. INSANE. In any case, read on to find out my thoughts on this super deep, super thematic game!
Overview of Gameplay
Ok, I’ll tell ya a little bit about the city. Basically, there was this MAJOR earthquake off the coast back in the mid 1700’s that decimated the entire city. Beyond the damage from the quake there was, of course, a tsunami that flooded most of the city and fires raged for three days destroying most of what was left. NOW, it is the player’s job to rebuild!
Now, the complexity of the game doesn’t lie in the typical turn per say. On a players turn you simply play one of the five cards in your hand to take a particular action, then play passes to the next player. Where the complexity lies is within those actions. First, players will need to determine WHERE they want to play their card, you can either play it to your player board to receive some kind of resource/benefit plus potential ongoing benefits OR you could play it to the game board to take one of the heavier actions of building up the city or improving your potential end game score. Suffice it to say there are many more things to be taken into account with this monumental decision such as: how much money you have to spend, your political standing with each particular noble house, the resources you currently have on hand and many more mostly depending on your current state of play.
So, let’s break this down a tad. Depending on where you play the card determines which of the 4 actions you can take. Playing a card to your player board allows you to sell goods OR trade with the Nobles. Now if there are no ships in play then you cannot sell goods so that makes it easier. Trading with the Nobles allows you to spend your resource tokens to take 1 or 2 of the Nobles side actions. If there ARE ships in play then alternatively you could spend those resources by setting them on the player board of the person that owns a ship (if the ship has cargo space left) and then collect the amount of money the resource is worth. As a side note, once a ship’s cargo hold fills up, that player’s ship sets sail and gains VP’s based on how many pieces of cargo it is holding.
On the other hand you could choose to play a card to the main game board. Doing this unleashes the other 2 actions you could take: Visiting a Noble’s office or Sponsoring an event. Visiting a Noble’s office is the meat of the game and where much of the action takes place over the entire board. Firstly, you have to play the appropriate colored noble card of the Noble you want to visit. After that you can take one of his offices side actions for free and then you MUST take his main offices action. This action can get pretty deep as you really need to make sure you can afford to do the action BEFORE you take it or you can get most of the way through it and realize it’s not possible. The first action is building up a new store which allows you to clear a bit of rubble from the building part of the main board and slap down a new building token…..for a price. You can make some serious points from building stores if positioned correctly with public buildings which I’ll talk about in a sec. The second action is simply to take a Decree card. These cards are immensely useful for enhancing your endgame score based around other actions you take throughout the game. Finally, the third action is to open a public building. This is basically putting those buildings to work by making them stores and driving traffic to them, also a big point maker IF positioned correctly. Once you have completed your turn each other player may “follow” that turn by doing the same action if they can afford the influence cost and sacrifice one of their Royal Favor tiles of that particular color noble.
Lastly you could choose to Sponsor an Event which basically allows you to play a card to the main board and take the cards action by paying the current treasury value amount. This is an easy way to do one of those main actions without having others follow you or even gain a few resources. Players will continue taking turns doing this until the halfway point of the game where a few points are gathered and some cards reset. This triggers once a player has either gathered two full rows of rubble or three of the draw decks have run empty. Then new cards will come out representing movement forward in time. Once again players will take turns completing actions until a player has 4 full sets of rubble or another three draw piles run out, at which point you finish the current round, play one more round and then calculate score. Whoever has the most VP’s wins!
NOTE: I have the Kickstarter Deluxe version which has a few additional pieces which I’ll point out.
Even though I have the deluxe version (which I think is worth the extra cost) I would say the basic retail components don’t suffer from any lack of quality. You are primarily seeing more custom shaped wooden pieces with the deluxe set to make them just a little more thematic. That being said I REALLY love the deluxe meeples! There are specific shapes for each of the different styles of meeple you will use for different actions in the game such as the official meeple used for garnering influence in the noble’s houses. There is also a cool little red Cardinal (not the bird) meeple to track the church progress. The deluxe treasury token is really neat as well being a little white state building.
Beyond the meeples all the cards have a nice linen finish and feel premium and even all the other cardboard tokens in the game are SUPER thick to give them that premium feel. The player boards are super awesome! Let me just say one thing right fast before I start going on about them, they are HUGE and so is the game board. SO, you WILL need a pretty good sized table to accommodate a full four players. I have a 6ft x 4ft table and it fits nicely on that with four players taking up just a tad more than half the entire table length-wise, width-wise it takes up it all. Anyway the player boards are so good, they are double layered so you can easily set the official meeps, rubble cubes and houses in their respective spots with no movement from bumping. The player boards are also unique in the fact that there is a large opening on the top and bottom to place the cards you would play to your player board. On top of that there is a groove under the boards to catch the cards you slide in those spaces. Overall I am very impressed with the components and game board!
The box is rather large but fits perfectly fine in a standard Kallax shelf, it also looks really nice with an old style stone motif. The insert is great overall with a clever use for the separate inserts that hold the player pieces. On the very bottom of the insert you place the large player boards and then on top of those sit the two removable inserts that hold the four sets of player tokens. There are also other storage sections to hold the rest of the components but these are kind of up to the player on how they want to store everything. The spots that hold the cards are nice as well with easy access to them. There is a lid that sits atop everything to make sure nothing goes spilling out when tilted. I can say it works pretty good save for a few of the smaller cards tended to escape but those were easy to sort.
Visual Appeal /Theme
The theme is outstanding and it really shows through the gameplay. Everything you do in the game lends back to the theme from vying for more political influence from the noble’s houses to removing rubble so you can build stores. When you buy a new ship you increase the treasury value because more ships equal more money. I mean the way the gameplay is integrated into the theme here is just mind boggling. There are even interesting tidbits about the rubble and other items of interest from that time period when all this was going on in the rulebook you can learn! To see that what you are doing in the game lends itself so thoroughly to the actual Lisboa times is incredible.
Visually the game definitely stands out. It has this almost classical vibe to it using a lot of blues over the board. It is a very busy game board for sure with lots going on over all aspects, but it meshes together really well. I like it a lot mostly because I have seen nothing like it before and it’s for sure an eye catcher when fully set up.
I love this rulebook EVEN THOUGH I felt like I spent a TON of time in it. Let me just put this out there, this is a COMPLEX game. To date this is, for me, one of two of the most complex games I own the other being fellow Lacerda game On Mars. Now, that said, the rulebook is VERY well written and formatted and edited in such a way to make it very easy to read and digest. Well as easy as it can be. Every section is explained well with certain things bolded or colored differently to bring your attention to important points. There are side bars showing full examples with pictures for everything explained. There is a full picture rundown of all the components and numbered section for the setup with a picture of the board. There is a nice table of contents to the different sections so you can easily find what you are needing. Heck, beyond the rulebook there are 4 individual player aids that each player WILL want to hold onto that easily walk through every action, icon and token. These player aids are VITAL because until you have played through the game 4 or 5 times and have memorized EVERYTHING, I suspect you will need these to remember all the finer points and keep the game running smoothly.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
The player interaction is one of those where you will be competing with other players for those delicious cards and spaces to build in the city. As such the interaction is mostly indirect and it’s all first come, first served. Now, you can utilize other players ships they bought to sell your goods, making you money….BUT doing so only goes to help THEM get those precious VP’s (oh yeah, in this game they call VP’s “wigs”, which is again thematic). Placing stores and public buildings are also tricky because you could accidentally supply other players with VP’s as well if you’re not careful based on their building locations. You can also see this in the Noble’s offices with the amount of official meeples other players have visiting. The more meeples other players have, the higher the cost of influence when you follow an action. So, you are never really directly attacking players BUT there are SO MANY ways to indirectly affect them.
As such I have a pretty good time playing. Let me tell you though this is not one of those games you are gonna just pull out and have a nice hour game and run along. This game takes a lot of thought and time to play effectively. The setup will take a bit and even then once you start to play for the first time you will just sit there in a stupor on what you should even try to do first. This game is not for the squeamish and the first few games WILL be strenuous for all players involved. There will be lots of looking through the player aids and then the manual to confirm the small parts. You might find yourself getting all the way through building a store only to realize you don’t have enough money or need to build somewhere else. The public building and store scoring scheme particularly took me awhile to get straight and then once you finally grasp it, trying to plot out a strategy on exactly HOW to place those individual pieces to maximize your points is mind numbing.
This is a game where you will want to find a group and KEEP that same group to play again and again. Because once you have a nice group of people trained up on this one, you will have a BLAST. Going through the motions of playing a card and already knowing what you can and can’t do and seeing what each other player is up to and how their turn will affect your upcoming turn is great.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
Personally, I think four players on this one all the way. The board state changes so much with a full four players and all the variables they bring to the city is neat to behold as the game unfolds. That said, it does also play well with less, limiting the amount of ships to purchase for example to keep the game tight. There is also a dedicated solo mode which, sadly, I have not played yet so cannot comment on that piece other than you are playing against an AI player that you control as well.
The replayability comes not from asymmetric playable characters but from the immense amount of possible choices you can make to rebuild this city. There are also cards that are never even used in each games based on what is dealt and the deck of Decree cards is massive and highly doubtful players will get through all of those. What this means is that with each game, different methods of gaining points will arise based on what you are dealt.
Positive Final Thoughts
I typically don’t like games that are overly complicated but this one has surprised me! I enjoy working my way through the actions and I think that mostly has to do with the theme that is attached to them. The game is a wonder of gameplay elements intertwined with the theme. It excites me to build a store and collect the rubble which then goes to improving my player board and how many cards it can hold. The interesting way the stores and public buildings work together with points is both intriguing and maddening. I can say though this is my favorite complicated game!
Negative Final Thoughts
The game is complex! This is not a game for everyone that is for sure. I always keep my player aid with me at all times when playing as there are just so many steps when completing some of the actions. And the actions run deeeeeeeeeep, so deep you will probably forget a few things. There are so many different icons and things emblazoned on the game board that are meant to help understand the game better….and they do! But at first you will just stare at them with a slight twitch in your eye and a bit of drool leaking from your lips.
The Bottom Line
If you are ready and willing to commit some serious time to learning this one, I think you will end up loving it. I don’t usually rate overly complicated games very highly as I like to sit back and enjoy the time I put in them without being mentally exhausted afterwards. But with Lisboa I can say the mental dexterity it puts me through is refreshing! After playing I sit back and take in the final board state contemplating just how I plan on rebuilding the grand city of Lisboa again.
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