How much wood could a worker placement chuck if a worker placement could chuck wood? After a session of Lignum I'm here to tell you!
In Lignum (the Latin word for wood), players take the role of 19th century logging industry tycoons. The game spans two years and eight seasons. In spring, summer and fall of those years, the players race around a supply track picking up resources, tools and workers, to help them grow their wood working enterprise. In winter the players have to feed their families, heat their cabin and do a little bit of work on the side. No big deal when it's 40 below zero outside, right?
Photo by David Donaldson, used with permission
In terms of mechanics, Lignum isn't reinventing the euro wooden wagon wheel. Nevertheless, it repackages some ideas differently enough to create a new playing experience. If Caylus and Agricola had a baby that was fostered by a Lumberjack, you'd have Lignum. No, that doesn't have to make sense...to make sense. Moving along!
At the beginning of the turn, one or more placement cards are revealed, which add wood to the cutting areas. This can result in some areas having a lucrative payoff while others are almost barren. Which brings me to my favorite part of the game; the race along the supply path. If you and one or more other players all choose the same area to cut wood you have a tough decision to make. You'll need to pick up bearers and woodcutters along the way to cut and carry whatever wood you get.
However, each stop on the supply path is a chance for your opponents to move ahead of you. The first player to the end of the path gets to cut wood first which means that lucrative forest you were going to clear cut may be empty by the time you finally drag your flannel wearing butt there. Luckily you can pay 1 dollar to move to another area, but that's cold comfort if you bought 4 woodcutters and the next best area only has two wood. Don't worry though, it's not like your family will go cold and hungry through the dead of winter if you screw up...
The tried and true
Each stop on the supply path is a chance for your opponents to move ahead of you
Lignum takes planning. Seriously careful planning. It's unforgiving in this respect. If you blindly race around the supply path you can easily run out of money to do everything you need to do.
Like any euro game worth its salt however, Lignum does provide a number of different strategies to win. You can use less efficient bearers to carry your wood but race more quickly to the best cutting areas, or you can stop off and pick up wagons and rafts to move wood more cost effectively.
Where the careful planning lets you maximize your potential is through the planned work cards. When you take one, its effect isn't immediate. Instead if you satisfy a condition in a future turn you'll get that bonus, which can be substantial. The rub is that you have to choose which future turn that condition is met. To maximize its potential you have to be meticulous about what you do in earlier turns to secure the payoff. Task cards on the other hand, have a huge end of game point payoff. The trick here is that wood used for tasks can't be sold nor can it be used to heat your home in the winter.
From the Box Lignum (2015) 2–4 Players, ages 12+ Playing Time: 60 - 120 minutes
Designer: Alexander Huemer
Artist: Christoph Clasen
Published by: Capstone Games
Who Needs Theme Anyway?
A euro that doesn't mention the word merchant once... 'Honey! Burn all the cloth and spice! We're celebrating.'
All kidding aside, the wood mill theme is something I've never encountered, so it's a refreshing change. Does Lignum do a good job of integrating its theme and mechanics? Yes and no. On the one hand I think the different means of transporting wood capture the theme, particularly if you're using rafts to transport a motherload of wood down river and have to wait a season for it to arrive versus your guys just throwing a log on their shoulder and marching out of the woods.
Sometimes though, Lignum felt a bit too linear. Cut wood, transport wood, saw wood, sell wood. Once you hit the end of the supply path, you're largely going through the motions. Not exclusively, but enough to diminish the thematic flare.
Visually, Lignum leaves something to be desired. You're swimming in tans and browns because all the resources revolve around different types of wood. Even the other resources and meeples are bland colors that don't juxtapose against the wood theme. The only exception is the green food tokens.
This isn't to say the game board, cards, or pieces are ugly. They all hold up. But you don't throw Lignum on the table and remark at its good looks. There's some pop that's missing.
If your playing group enjoy thinking out multiple turns, trying to plan and string together strategies, then you'll enjoy Lignum. It's the type of game that gets better with multiple plays as new paths to victory reveal themselves. Lignum shines with more players as the likelihood of getting into fights over resources escalates. I'd stick with 3 or 4 players and pull out a different title if you're looking for a great 2 player game.
If your playing group enjoy thinking out multiple turns, trying to plan and string together strategies, then you'll enjoy Lignum.
If you enjoy more tactical experiences, reacting to new situations each turn, Lignum isn't your best bet. There's so little room for mistakes and minimal mechanics to help a player adapt if they fall behind. It means the game is particularly tough for new players who are likely to punt their first 1 or 2 turns.
But if you're willing to put in the time investment, Lignum has a lot to offer. Overall I give the game a rating of 3 out of 4 stars.
Photo by David Donaldson, used with permission
About Our Guest Contributor David Donaldson
David is the author of the sci-fi thriller We Follow the Dying Light, released November 2017 and available on all major online retailers. The sequel In the Starless Dark is scheduled for release May 2019.
Formally educated in economics, finance and business management, David also has significant experience writing non-fiction. For several years he authored the website the Dismal Scientist. In addition to writing, David has self-published two board games 'Frontier Tycoons' and 'Mice in the Middle' both slated for reproduction in 2019. He continues to lend his creativity to his personal and professional life. Originally from the Canadian East Coast he now lives with his family in Toronto.
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Check out our Geeky Goodies interview with David about his book, We Follow the Dying Light.