See the line where the sea meets the sky? It calls me… and you, too. Sail into this Blue Lagoon and play out your dreams of being Moana, exploring a new archipelago and establishing villages.
What Is Blue Lagoon?
Blue Lagoon is a game for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 30–45 minutes to play. It will be released at Gen Con this year, and will be available in stores and online in early August for a retail price of $29.99. The game is fairly easy to teach and has two (slightly different) modes of play, for beginners or experienced players, so I think the age rating is fairly accurate.
Blue Lagoon Components
- Game board
- 24 Wooden Resources (6 each bamboo, coconuts, crystals, and water)
- 8 Wooden Statuettes
- 20 Wooden Villages (5 each in 4 player colors)
- 120 Settlers Tokens (30 each in 4 player colors)
- Resource bag
- Score pad
The components for Blue Lagoon are a mixed bag—mostly pretty good, but with a few concerns here and there. The settlers tokens are cardboard punch-outs, pretty easy to punch and a good thickness, but for whatever reason, they tend to shed little bits of cardboard fuzz, which is evident in the box insert and on the table after I play. I’m guessing perhaps it’s the quality of the cardboard itself, though so far the tokens themselves seem to be holding up fine.
The tokens themselves depict the Polynesian explorers engaged in various activities: the front of the token shows them on land, and the back of the token shows them on a boat in the water. I like that each player color has four variations on the fronts that are unique to that player color; on the backs, there are shared illustrations between some of the colors, which wouldn’t have bothered me at all except that the fronts are unique. In truth, it doesn’t even really matter that one side has a boat, but it just makes scoring the islands a little bit easier when you can ignore the boats at a glance.
Speaking of the Polynesian theme, I do think it’s worth raising the issue of cultural appropriation, which has been spurring more discussion in the board gaming world lately. As in any entertainment industry, it’s common for certain foreign or “exotic” settings to crop up, often in games made entirely by people outside of that culture. In this case, the game is designed by Reiner Knizia (German) and illustrated by Tomek Larek (Polish); I didn’t see any mention in the acknowledgments of the rulebook that any Polynesians were consulted in the making of the game. That said, the gameplay itself is fairly abstract (as you’ll see below) and it certainly does not present very much of Polynesian culture, good or bad, except for the idea that they sailed from island to island. I don’t have any strong objections to the use of theme in this instance, but I would love to see more cultural consultants involved in games in the future.
The village tokens are small wooden huts, with the roofs painted to match the player colors. They almost look like tops (but they don’t actually spin like them—I tried), and the base has a little arched doorway carved into it, which is a nice touch. Though honestly because of the way the roof overhangs, you don’t even see the doorways generally when you’re playing the game.
The wooden tokens are all custom meeples, shaped like the various resources they represent: bamboo, coconuts, crystals, water pots, and wooden statuettes. They’re fun to play with and easily distinguishable. The only odd thing is that you throw them in a bag and draw them out randomly to set up the board—which means that you could feel around and tell what you’re drawing out—so there’s an opportunity for shenanigans there. But if you’re playing with people who would rifle around in the bag during setup, then maybe just assign that task to somebody more honest.
The bag itself is a nice quality bag, with the logo and silhouettes of the resource tokens screenprinted onto it.
The box insert is nicely done: four slots hold the settler tokens securely, and two larger wells store the bag of resource tokens and the village tokens (covered by the scorepad in its inset well). The board is held in place as well by the molded corners. Unfortunately, I forgot to keep the cardboard after punching the tokens, so you can see the top of the insert doesn’t quite reach the top edge of the box, but I haven’t had any trouble with tokens sliding around inside.
How to Play Blue Lagoon
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points after two phases of play, Exploration and Settlement. Points will be scored for reaching lots of islands and linking them together, gaining majority on islands, and collecting resources and statuettes.
Place the board in the center of the table. Put all the wooden resources and statuettes into the bag, mix them up, and then randomly place one token onto each of the stone circle spaces on the board.
Give each player a set of settler tokens and villages—depending on the number of players, you will remove some settlers and return them to the box. Youngest (or least experienced) player starts.
There are two phases, Exploration and Settlement, which are fairly similar except in setup.
On your turn, you play either a settler or a village onto the board, following these rules:
A settler may be placed boat-side-up anywhere in the sea if it’s not occupied.
A settler (land-side-up) or village may be placed on any unoccupied island space next to any of your own pieces. Resources and statuettes don’t count as “occupying” spaces, and if you place a settler or village there, you also claim that token into your supply. (Note that villages in stone circle spaces will be discarded before the Settlement phase, so it’s generally not recommended.)
The phase ends when all of the resources (not counting statuettes) have been collected, or when all players have placed all of their settlers and villages on the board.
Then you score the first phase:
- If you have a piece on all 8 islands, you score 20 points; only 7 islands scores 10 points.
- You score 5 points per island for your chain that links the most islands. (In the photo below, blue managed to link 7 islands together, and scores 35 points. Orange linked 5 islands and scores 25 points.)
- Each island has a number near it; if you have the most pieces on that island, you score that value. For ties, players split points evenly.
- You score points for resources:
- 4+ matching resources = 20 points
- 3 matching resources = 10 points
- 2 matching resources = 5 points
- All 4 resource types = 10 points (one-time bonus)
- You also score 4 points per wooden statuette.
The Settlement phase is very much like the first phase, with a few exceptions. Clear off all of the settler tokens from the board and give them back to the players, leaving only the villages. (Remove any villages that are in stone circles and return them to the box.) Remove any remaining statuettes and resources tokens. Re-seed the board with statuettes and resources as in the initial setup.
Play continues clockwise from where the first phase ended. The rules for placement are similar, except that now you may only place pieces adjacent to an existing piece, so you will start from your villages and expand outward, and you may not start in any water space as before.
The Settlement Phase ends and is scored exactly the same way as the Exploration phase, and the highest total score wins.
For a learning game, you can play just the Exploration phase, adding in the Settlement phase after players are a little more comfortable with the rules and scoring.
Why You Should Play Blue Lagoon
Reiner Knizia is a very prolific game designer with hundreds of published games in various genres, and although I’ve only played a tiny fraction of those, the thing they tend to have in common is a bit of a mathy feel to them—victory can hinge on your ability to figure out how a choice will affect your score. There’s a little bit of that in Blue Lagoon: do you try to link one more island, or grab a statuette, or go for that last bamboo? In many cases, you’ll be able to reach one but not the other before your opponent, and so you’ll have to make some tough choices (or quick calculations).
The upside of this is that your choices are meaningful: the directions you explore, where you place your settlers, whether you form lots of small chains or try to go for one massive octopus, all have an impact on your final score (and your opponents’). The downside is that if you have players who are prone to analysis paralysis, you might want to set a timer so that they don’t spend every turn calculating all possible outcomes before they make a move. This can be true in many games with set collection when you’re trying to decide which thing to collect, but it seems to be compounded here because you have to figure out how to build a path to the resource.
One thing that surprised me, though, is that there are times where Blue Lagoon reminded me of Go—or at least the way I play Go, since I’m admittedly a beginner at it. Because there’s a fairly big bonus for connecting many islands with a single chain of settlers, there will be a lot of races to create links. In addition, I’ve seen players place settlers along the edge of an island to prevent another player from gaining access to it. Both of these, with players trying to figure out a direction and counting off spaces to see if the outcome is inevitable, remind me a bit of trying to figure out whether it’s worth placing a stone in Go. In some instances, you can see that it’s not going to pay off, so then you might as well save your energy (and settlers) for another direction.
There are several ways to earn points, but not too many. The wooden statuettes are worth more individually than the other resources, unless you manage to collect many of the same thing, or get the bonus for having one of each type. Sometimes, you might pick up a resource more to deny another opponent rather than because it really helps you. While I don’t think you could win without picking up some resources or statuettes, you can’t underestimate the islands, either. Managing to connect a lot of islands can be extremely valuable, and so is getting a presence on every island. But it’s hard to make long chains and maintain control over islands as well.
With each player placing just a single piece every turn, the game can move pretty quickly, which is nice. I also like the two phases of the game. Even though they’re extremely similar, I like that the Exploration phase has that extra element of setting yourself up for the Settlement phase. The first phase is easy because you can start on any water space, and jump around—it makes it easy to get the 8-island bonus, and it’s easy for players to jump to locations near resources. But the placement of your villages is crucial for the second half of the game because you’re restricted to building out paths from those locations. Clever placement can help you get to resources before your opponents, or give you access to crucial waterways to link islands together. I haven’t seen this sort of build, reset, build again sort of thing much before, and it’s a subtle difference that does add a bit of depth to the strategy.
Overall, I enjoyed Blue Lagoon. While the game doesn’t dive very deeply into the theme, it also doesn’t feel pasted-on, the way I’ve felt about some of Reiner Knizia’s other games in the past. And, of course, with my family’s love for Moana, there’s already some interest in the theme (and I don’t imagine that connection is lost on the designer and publisher).
Watch for Blue Lagoon in stores and online in August!
To subscribe to GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.