Ooooeeeer, these leather thongs are really starting to chafe…and I refer here to the leather straps that hold my winged helmet securely in place on the mantlepiece. What worries me most is that as leader of all I survey, I am, in fact immortalised as an opera! Lembitu-The Opera! What ever next?…I can’t even sing so what’s that about?
(Press play for a medieval Estonian ambience to enhance your read)
You’d think being leader, King of Sakala County and what not, I would be afforded a life of relative peace and luxury with pleasant walks in the forest, fine wining and dining and general luxuriating while my Estonian lands provide for me…having established this Lehola stronghold…and all…
…no such bloody luck…
…those German Lavonian Brothers of the Sword…bane of my life, I tell you!
…everyone seems hell-bent on having a piece of my action…unbelievable
So What’s All The Fuss About?
I think that as fuss goes, this title may have flown under the radar. Until I saw the Box of Delights run-through, I didn’t even know it was published by 2d6 Games (despite following them on Twitter)…so the world is a truly a tiny object after all.
As foreign game designers go, 2d6 Games are probably not getting the exposure they rightly deserve over in my part of the world. They are a very friendly, accommodating company that have a growing catalogue of very good titles. Lembitu is where my fuss is focussing. It is a co-operative title set in the early stages of the Middle Ages (really covering a period from 1208-1345) where all players have a singular goal of preventing enemy forces reaching and taking by force, Weissenstein.
Immersion or Subversion?
Arguably this is not the most immersive game thematically as the general gameplay is akin to a tower defense game…any theme could be plastered over it. But, and here I will counter argue that school of thought, this isn’t trying to whisk us back to 13 hundred and frozen stiff. It is using some refreshingly simple mechanics to, in a somewhat abstracted fashion, retell the upheaval of Estonia at that period.
There is no need for hundreds of lavishly illustrated cards, ridiculous volumes of plastic miniatures. It is not role-play, it is not a war game, it is not a worker placement…but at the same time it does touch base with all manner of game styles. For me, at its heart, this game is a stylised representation of the complex political and military conflicts purified down into an elegant solo game. It is not burdened with over-complexity, modifiers, upgrades…it simply abstracts the military planning into a seriously brain melting puzzle. As the Estonian hope, Lembitu, we have to predict an unpredictable growing enemy force, deploy limited resources to keep them at bay and above all keep the Weissestein free. As a cooperative game it is a one win all win game…but even solo, though there is not as much discussion with oneself regarding tactics, there is still scope for some difficult decisions to be made.
As an overview to the game, a large pawn is moved around the board edge from square to square. Each square has a blank (indicating player turn) or warrior (indicating AI enemy turn). And so turn order is established passing between us and the AI. Within that sequence, the player/s decide amongst themselves who activates first completing their alloted actions…(in my game I used two pawns so each gained six action points) …when the players have all acted, the game-turn pawn advances and, if a warrior image is landed upon, the AI takes a turn. Custom die in three colours are rolled and the faces indicate the number and appearance location of the corresponding enemy force and corrisponding location on the map. Each of the three forces has two points of entry and the square or circle icon on the die face dictates who goes where. Paths are highlighted along the map all heading towards Weissestein but although the route is predictable, the random element of dice throwing makes it difficult to predict which of six lines of attack are likely to be the most dangerous. And here lies the challenge. There is an ever-growing tide of enemies but we, the land’s defenders, must move our pawns about the board battling, generating uprising and keep the invaders at bay. Our actions are simple. Move, battle create uprising. We can move along major routes or sneak by through forest tracks, combat is simple presence =elimination. You land on an enemy cube, you remove it. Enemy cube lands on you, you are out of the game…and have to watch, dismally from the sidelines…or, in solo games, as we operate all the pawns, it means that a huge percentage of our actions have just gone up the chimney in smoke.
Uprising markers are the greatest arsenal in our tool bag. These tokens can slow the advancing enemy down…but although the slow them, enemy cubes are added to a siege pool which, if certain game circumstances flip uprising tokens into fortifications, this growing pool of Siege tokens can blast right through otherwise impregnable strongholds.
There are a number of small additional bonuses/alternatives to both sides that give scope for another level of planning, so, although the game looks and plays quite simply, there are subtle levels of complexity within, especially manoeuvring our pawns…or, as is often the case, legging it away from the enemy!
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
The components are simple but well made. The cubes are big…no faffing about with tiny 6mm things, flirting off the table and choking the cat. The plastic pawns are surprising ly robust, weighty things, perfect for racing about the board…unlike the plastic tat one can find in cheap Christmas crackers. Custom dice are well made and of a pleasant “shake in the hand before chucking” weight and the board and artwork are well produced.
From a distance the artwork looks rather uninteresting and plain but don’t be deceived. Up close and personal from a players level it is rather more detailed than expected and hints at a time of antiquity…seeing as the timeframe for the game is mid 1300’s Estonia…without actually replicating medieval maps. It is as if “ancient contemporary” were a style…I will nab the rights to that one if it doesn’t already exist!
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Aigar Alaveer
- Artist: (Graphic Design) Tuumik Stuudio
- Game Publisher: 2d6EE Games
- Boardgamegeek Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/147251/lembitu
- Playtime: 1 hour+ (although my solo games play out in less than this)
- Gangs of One: 1-4 players
- Age of Consent: 10+ (no 0-3 yrs)
- DOB: 2015
Fundamentally a co-operative venture set at the dawn of the Livonian Crusade with Valdemar the Great in the West, Bishop Albert in the West and Vsevolod, Prince of Novgorod coming up from the South. Players work together to win or lose as a team. This obviously means that we, the budding soloist, can also take the reigns as Lembitu, the only hope for all Estonia. As a solo player we have to play at least two pawns (but all that means is we have two sets of six actions at our disposal…the game scales nicely depending on the number of pawns the soloist wishes to employ as, ultimately there are 12 action points available divided equally between each pawn.
Gameplay, even though it is a co-op, works really nicely for the solo player. There are no binds operating the AI enemy forces and the structure of the game means it is full on all the time. I have only used two pawns in my games but will try the four pawns and only three actions each. This scaling has its advantages and disadvantages…yes, there are pieces that can face the enemy at more points on the map…but each is limited to what it can do (and getting out of the way of the invaders becomes a more perilous option)
(Press play for a second helping of Estonian ambience)
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: Hmmmmm! I have won the game but goodness me it is tricky to beat. The enemy is just spilling out of the woodwork and there just isn’t enough time or actions to get everything done. A very cleaver game really, in that it is simple to learn, fairly simple to play but does give that all needed mental stimulation with the puzzle solving…and no two games will play out the same.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: At first glance it looked a rather large booklet for the nature of the game but …hold up… it is actually split into five different languages. The actual rules, with pictorial game situation examples, amounts to four pages… and one of those is some interesting background information about the period of time in which the game is set. The complexity of the game is low and so the rule set is very easy to comprehend. It has been translated well and succinctly explains how the game works. I did find a couple of diagrams a little misleading at first but this doesn’t prevent understanding the ruleset for the game. The Heavy Cavalry Expansion is only an additional page of rules, and again, straight forward but it does add another superb layer of cunning tenacity on behalf of those relentless enemy forces in the form of new pieces with their own movement rules
- Lucky Beggars: There is dice involved but they are custom engraved placement dice and without their unpredictable nature, we would know exactly where our foe would be and have no challenge what so ever…so, random luck yes but it is vital to the game. As for the players. Any mistakes are purely down to them as luck plays no part in their actions.
- Ups and Downs: The period this title is set in evokes feelings of brutal oppression, rebellion and conflict but, as the game is an abstracted form of that conflict, the real depth of negative emotion has been shielded from us. The game is tense but retains a distinct upbeat feel, in part to the nature of the illustration/colour pallet used.
- Footprints All Over Bothsides of My Table: This is a decidedly handy sized gameboard and little else to take up space on your table…56cm x 40ish is all that’s needed. I even store the spare tokens and cubes in small pots on the board which makes this a perfect game for small spaces such as camping tables or on holiday in a caravan…least ways that is what I do.
- Build It Up Just To Tear It All Down: This has plenty of components…cubes, pawns and card Chits but as setup is fairly simple requiring us to simply add our pawns and the card Chits, any other gamepieces are added as part of play so we can jump straight into the thick of the action…which is always nice not having to spend a week and a half just setting up. Obviously packing up is equally quick and ensuring the three sets of cubes are kept separate, future set up will be super quick too.
Me, Myself and I:
At first I wondered if this really would suit me, not being a fan of the traditional tower defence style of games, and thought that the over all concept slotted into this nature of games …but… and it is a sizeable BUT, I really enjoyed it! There was, of course the ensuing arguments with myself about strategy and Me got very stressed about the growing threat to the East whilst Myself insisted we tackle the threat from the south. I imagine this would give opportunity for co-operative players to engage in tactical discussions but as a solo player, those are left for me, myself and I. It is engaging and a thoroughly enjoyable light game…ah! I must be careful using this term…. not ‘light’ as in pointless time filler… no, this is more a reduced burden on the complex rules/excessive component/fiddly rules side of things. A perfect solo-games-itch-scratcher. You fancy yourself a fairly quick, easy to set up/teardown game with a fairly small footprint that still makes you think? Well then, this is definitely the one for you!…and it has inspired me to research further, into the turmoil of this point in Estonian history…a country, prior to exposure to this game, that I knew nothing at all about.
I improvised some Heavy Cavalry markers for the purposes of my playthrough but the official expansion comes with custom meeple shapes…also wooden upgrades to the double-sided uprising/fortification tokens. These Cavalry are a ‘must’ addition to gameplay as in the base game, certain faces on each enemy placement die are blank giving us a moment or two of respite. However, rolling pairs or three blanks no longer act as a “lull” turn but force Cavalry charges to the front of each enemy advancing column. These chaps are not threatened by fortified locations and laugh in the face of danger, the reckless lot!
Yay or Nay?
D’you know this is such a great little game I don’t know why it has not received more exposure than it has. With the Heavy Cavalry expansion (which I highly recommend is used) we have a low complexity, high brain mangle game. It is fun, takes planning but is not an overburden like some monster Euro game can be. Lembitu marches his way into a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7).
…as if that is going to help me out. I have an unenviable task now of uniting the Estonian people to ward off these invaders, and me only in my Sunday slippers and corduroy open toed dressing gown…still…at least I feel confident about the approaching Battle of St. Matthew’s Day!
…what’s the worst that could happen?
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Something For The Weekend, Sir?
- Follow 2d6EE Games on Twitter
- 2d6 Games website
- Box of Delights plays Lembitu
- GambitTV-Lembitu Wideorecenzja