Designed by Jonny Pac | Published by Bellwether Games
2-4 Players | 30-60 Minutes
King Croesus of Lydia has decided to implement the first coin-based economy system by minting gold and silver coins from the Pactolus river. With the end of the traditional barter system in sight, it’s up to you to race to trade your resources in an effort to increase your landholdings. Soon the wealthy Lydian merchants will arrive bringing gold, and its unparalleled wealth into circulation. Flip your property for the coveted coinage to establish yourself in this new financial world.
In Lions of Lydia, you’ll be drawing merchants from your personal bag and using them to create an engine worthy of building influence and gaining wealth. Carefully balance your resources and merchants purchase and develop properties, increase their value and gain wealth.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Lions of Lydia is an economic engine-builder that keeps on giving. The base game involves each player receiving a merchant board and working to manipulate the city gates and town center. In addition, Lions of Lydia adds 8 additional expansions readily available to spice up and adjust the game to suit your preferences. We’ll discuss the base game and then break down how the expansions affect gameplay.
During the game players will take turns drawing a merchant from their bag and putting them to work on the board. You start with 4 merchants, each reflecting a unique resource color and you’ll end the game with 4 merchants – always drawing 1 and then placing 1 back in the bag. Over the course of the game, players will acquire properties and eventually develop them earning additional benefits and increasing their value. The game ends when one player reaches a certain number of developed properties contingent on the number of players.
On the typical turn, players will draw a merchant from their bag and choose to place that merchant at one of the 4 town gates or at the fountain in the town center. They will then select a merchant of their choice from the fountain and place them into their bag.
Each gate features a unique color that relates directly to one of the game’s resources (cattle, wheat, stone and pottery). When a merchant is placed at a gate, the player receives resources equal to the type of color of all that gate’s merchants and the gate’s color. If you happen to place a merchant at a gate with a merchant of the same color, the two merchants will travel together to the town fountain after the resources are gathered.
Playing a merchant at the fountain will allow that player to purchase one of the game’s available properties. The number of properties available for purchase is determined by the player count, but are never refilled… once they’re gone, they’re gone!
There are 3 different types of property cards: gold, silver and purple. Each type of card features a cost to purchase that property. In addition, each card provides the purchaser a bonus earning you additional resources when you play merchants, end game bonuses. Gold cards will integrate gold merchants into the game which can be used to gain coins when placed at the gates. End game bonuses typically revolve around multiplying sets of colored cards or certain resources still available on your player board.
Each property card also carries a value that will count towards your final score. Developing that property will be the same cost as purchasing it, but will increase the overall value as well as enhance the bonus available.
Players will gain and spend resources as the game progresses. No player may have more than 6 of any 1 resource. Maxing out a resource gives you the option to develop a property or increase your influence track.
Increasing the influence track will earn you bonuses, but more importantly increase the number of properties you can have in your possession. As you continue to progress you’ll eventually be able to translate influence into endgame wealth.
Each expansion brings unique choices and opportunities as well as complexity to the game. While you could go wild and play with all 8 expansions, it’s only recommended to add 1-4 at a time. I’ll list the expansions and briefly describe each below:
1) King Croesus: This expansion creates a rondel mechanism within the gates. If you play at the gate housing the king you take one additional gate-colored resource and then move the king to another gate.
2) Waters of Pactolus: This expansion introduces 4 fountain property cards. These cards play like standard gold cards, but allow players to gain coins by playing at the fountain.
3) Artisian’s Guild: This expansion adds 4 artisan merchants to the game. These merchants sit on your influence track and when achieved enter the game at the fountain. They essentially act as a wild, matching a particular merchant color when played at a gate.
4) Courtyards: This expansion adds 4 courtyard tiles. Playing on your courtyard tile allows you to reserve this merchant for a future turn.
5) Alyattes’ Tomb: Tomb tiles can be purchased and effectively put to “death” a specific resource color. You can no longer receive that particular resource, but when you do, you will receive gold coins instead.
6) Royal Architects: Architect tiles attach to each gate of the main board. Playing here earns you access to property in the two adjacent sections as well as a bonus.
7) Chariot Races: Whenever two matching color merchants meet at the gate, one is placed in the fountain area while the other moves to the Chariot Race board. As additional merchants are added to the board, players may spend a certain number of resources to gain gold or influence.
8) Estates; Estates sit under gold cards and can be purchased after the gold card has been removed. Estate tiles are then placed on top of developed properties. They remove that card’s bonuses, but add a value multiplier for the end of game scoring.
Lions of Lydia has a nice mix of quality components. Each player gets a nice quality drawstring bag. The resource tokens and merchant meeples are pretty standard. The die-cut player resource boards and primary board are all really good quality along with all the expansions tiles. Property cards are the smaller size cards, but they feel great – no complaints. While the game’s coins aren’t metal, they are much nicer than your typical cardboard coins. Overall, everything has a nice presence and feel.
Darryl T. Jones does a fine job with the artwork throughout. The Lydian merchant on the box cover is engaging. All the property cards and game boards have a great, consistent vibe to them. Overall the game looks really cool – it should make you want to play this.
As I write this I have just finished reviewing Merchants Cove which was developed by a trio of designers including Jonny Pac who just happens to be the sole designer of Lions of Lydia. I’m not entirely sure what role he played in Merchants Cove, but I really enjoyed it and was looking forward to this. Jonny has a great track record with games like Colombra, A Fistfull of Meeples and Sierra West under his belt, so it’s not that crazy to have high expectations.
The basic actions in Lions of Lydia are pretty simple. The game revolves around playing a single meeple, managing your resources and growing your collection of properties. While it doesn’t break too much ground, I did enjoy the economic process behind Lions of Lydia. The turns are smooth and clear, leaving your decision maker to do the heavy lifting. Gameplay isn’t too intense, but it does have some tension-filled moments.
For me, Lions of Lydia baby-steps it way forward for most of the game and then just before it’s over, races forward in a wild grab for the remaining goods. I found it difficult to develop a strategy since you’re often at the mercy of the other player’s actions. Despite the ever-changing options at the gates and fountain (or even after that card you had your eye on gets snatched), there isn’t too much analysis paralysis when choosing your next play.
There’s never a BIG play where you feel like everything is coming together. The game is really a series of smaller victories loosely chained together.
Despite your opponents meddling in the same pot, the game is fairly solo-based. I typically don’t mind that, but that is something to consider. The option to play defensively is out there, but I found seeking to play defensively can often hurt you more than your opponent.
Where I most enjoyed Lions of Lydia was working to balance my resources while keeping up with the property trade. Should you wait to max out a resource early and increase your property hand limit or dive directly into purchasing a property the moment you’re able? I’m very conservative with my finances in real life… which doesn’t always translate to victory in a game like Lions. There did seem to be a bit of a rush early to gain property cards providing benefits that might compliment your starting card or goals. Of course you’ll hit a wall if you’re unable to add additional property cards, so quickly seeking to upgrade your influence track soon follows. Here’s the rub: Taking too long in your resource pursuits will give your opponents the opportunity to snatch those coveted property cards right out from under you. You must walk the line carefully.
Once you’ve purchased that property card you now have the opportunity to upgrade it and earn extra bonuses. But… is that really what you want to do? Sure, upgrading your properties earn you more points (which is how you win the game) and bigger bonuses, but perhaps those resources or money might better be spent on an additional property card helping you keep the pressure on your opponents. There are only so many property cards to go around. After just a few games, I realized victory could be had by taking multiple approaches. You’ll definitely be able to pull out a win without upgrading your developed properties or even having the most properties. I appreciated this flexibility.
With only so many property cards available for purchase, you are a bit at the mercy of the cards available. Sometimes this works to your benefit… sometimes it won’t. The sooner you can identify what’s available and put some contingencies in place, the better off you’ll be. All this to say there are some interesting decisions throughout.
Integrating the expansions into the game do provide some variation. The changes to the game aren’t terribly substantial, but they do provide some interesting wrinkles that can factor into your success (or failure). While I found the expansions to be fun, they weren’t essential to my enjoyment of the game. In fact, I think I would have preferred (at the risk of making the game more unnecessarily complex) 2 or 3 of the best expansions to be tied into the base game and developed a little more. Again, not to say I didn’t appreciate the expansions… they’re nice and extend the life of the game… just not essential for me.
Coming into the game, I was pretty excited about the theme. The artwork and components tie in nicely to the theme, so I expected to be fully immersed in this period of economic change. Unfortunately, I just didn’t feel it. This is my major point of contention. While the process makes sense thematically, it never felt fully engaged. I really wanted to build my influence in society earning me more sway in purchasing properties. I wanted to feel the value of these life-altering coins… but I never really did. I just continued to play my actions, working towards my goal of having the most points.
At the end of the day, Lions of Lydia felt more like a racing game than an economic engine-builder. You’re a bit at the mercy of what’s available on your turn (at the gates or property-wise) so you’ll need to be able to think on your toes. I generally get more satisfaction out of being able to properly plan my actions, but the reactive decisions create a frenzy that any player can appreciate.
Lions of Lydia is a solid, euro-style game. I enjoyed the game’s process and a lot of the decision making. The theme didn’t quite pan out, but the production and artwork are solid and they give the game a decent amount of flare. I wanted the expansions to elevate the gameplay a bit more, but I like that there are 8 different options you can mix and match to create a slightly different experience each time. I think a seasoned euro-gamer might potentially find the game a bit tedious, so I’d recommend this more for the player looking to get into euro games (it’s a gateway euro). The gameplay is smooth, easy to learn, pretty quick to play and has a number of interesting decisions. My initial plays were fun, but because of my issues with the theme, I just don’t know how often Lions of Lydia will make it to my table.