Review – Lotus

Every year, Gen Con is filled with so many games that I always end up missing some of the titles that I’m interested in.  A lot of the time, this can mean waiting months to get my hands on a copy of the games I missed.  Sometimes, those games are worth the wait.  Other times, I’d find I dodged a bullet.  This past Gen Con was no different.  There were several games – and publishers – I had my eye on that I simply did not have time to take a look at.  This year, one of those missed games was Lotus, designed by Jordan and Mandy Goddard and published by Renegade Game Studios.  I was recently able to attend a launch party for the game, hosted by Jordan and Mandy at Family Time Games here in Indianapolis.  So, was Lotus worth the wait?  Let’s look at how the game plays and I’ll share my thoughts at the end.

The Setup

To set up a game of Lotus, each player (the game plays two to four players) will take one of the four colored decks.  The cards in each deck are identical – except for the color on the back and a Guardian symbol in the upper left corner that identifies which deck the card belongs to.  Also give each player two Guardian Insect tokens to match their selected color of deck.  Each player deck then needs to be set up according to the number of players.  If there are two players, each player will use their entire deck.  If there are three players, each player will need to remove one petal card of each flower type (ensuring that none of the cards with two Guardian symbols are removed) from their deck.  If playing with four players, each player will remove two of each petal type (again, ensuring that you do not remove any cards with two Guardian symbols).  Once the appropriate number of cards has been removed, each player shuffles their deck and places it face-down in front of themselves.  Then shuffle the Wildflower deck (the cards with the gray backs) and draw the first four cards, placing them face-up within reach of all players.  Also set aside all four of the silver Elder Guardian tokens, the Special Power tokens (separated by type into three stacks), and all of the Scoring tokens.  Make sure to leave the center of the table empty to serve as the play area.  All players will then draw a hand of four cards from their deck to begin the game.

The Gameplay

On your turn, you will select two of the following actions to perform: play petal cards, exchange petal cards, or move a Guardian.  You must take two actions on your turn, and you can take the same action twice.  Let’s take a closer look at the three actions available to you.

Play Petal Cards

When playing petal cards from your hand, you can play up to two petals on the same flower for a single action.  We’ll take a closer look at the cards themselves a little further down in the review to help you better understand the specifics of how the petals are played, but for now just know that the played petals will be used to either start a new flower or added to a flower already on the table.  There can never be more than one of each type of flower on the table, so there will never be more than five flowers being grown at any given time (because there are five different flowers in the game).  As mentioned above, you can take the “play petal cards” action twice, so you could play a total of four petals on a single turn.

Exchange Petal Cards

If there are cards in your hand that you don’t currently have a need for (or you want to push your luck a bit to get cards to add to flowers already on the table), you can choose to use an action to exchange up to two of them for new cards.  To do so, place up to two cards from your hand on the bottom of your deck, and then draw the same number of cards from the top of your deck.

Move a Guardian

The third action available to you on your turn is to move one of your Guardian tokens.  You can move a Guardian token from your supply to any flower on the table, placing it on one of the petal cards – even if you have not added one of your own cards to the targeted flower.  You can also choose to move a Guardian that is already on a flower to a different flower.  Your Guardians help you to gain area control on the flowers they are on, which is important because controlling a flower when it is completed gives you the option of selecting bonus points or one of three Special Powers.

Once you have completed your two actions, you’ll check to see if you completed any of the flowers on the table.  If so, you “pick” that flower (or flowers) and will score points for it/them at the end of the game.  If not, play then continues to the left.  Either way, at the end of your turn, you will draw back up to a full hand of four cards.

When you draw back up to your full hand of cards, you can take all of the necessary cards from the top of your own deck, or you can draw any of the face-up cards from the Wildflower deck.  The Wildflower deck allows you to choose which petal cards you want (instead of drawing random petals from your deck).  However, cards drawn from the Wildflower deck do not have any symbols on them.  Therefore, they will not help you when determining control of flowers.  You can split this card draw any way you’d like.  For example, if you need to draw three cards to get back up to your hand of four, you could choose to draw all three of these cards from your deck, all three from the face-up Wildflower deck cards, or draw two from one deck and the third from the other deck.  Any face-up cards drawn from the Wildflower deck are replaced with a new card from the top of the deck, so there will always be four Wildflower cards available.

Completing and “Picking” a Flower

A flower is completed and ready to be “picked” when it has a number of cards on it equal to the number of petals required to compete it.  This number is shown in the upper left corner of each card (except for on any Wildflower cards used in growing the flower).

When picking a completed flower, the first thing to do is to determine who has control of the completed flower.  To do this, count up the total number of Guardian symbols of each color on the cards used to grow the flower.  If there are any Guardian tokens on the flower, each one counts as an additional symbol for that player/color.  Whichever player has the most of their symbol/tokens on the flower has control and, as a result, will get to choose to receive one of their three Special Power tokens – unlocking a new ability for them to use for the rest of the game – or a single Scoring token – which will be worth five points at the end of the game.  If there is a tie for control, the tied players each get the choice of reward.

Once control of the flower is determined and resolved, the player who played the card that completed the flower will take all of the petal cards that make up that flower and place them into their own scoring pile which will be counted at the end of the game.  Any Guardian tokens on the flower are returned to their owners and are not kept by the player who completed the flower.  Let’s look at the Special Powers that are available to you.

Special Powers

Each player has three Special Powers that can be unlocked throughout the game.  Once unlocked, a power is active for the remainder of the game for the player who unlocked it.  The three options are: Enlightened Path, Infinite Growth, and Elder Guardian.

Enlightened Path allows the player to have a hand size of five cards (instead of the standard four-card limit).  Infinite Growth allows the player to play three or more petals on a single flower as a single action (instead of only being able to play up to two).  Unlocking the Elder Guardian gives the player a third Guardian – this third Guardian counts as two Guardians when placed on a flower, helping the player achieve control when completed flowers are picked.

Each of these powers can only be unlocked once per player.  If a player has unlocked all three of their powers, they will automatically gain a Scoring token each time they have control of a completed flower.

The Cards

The petal cards in each player’s deck have a few symbols on them.  In the upper left corner of each card, you will find the player’s Guardian symbol and color (a yellow butterfly, blue dragonfly, red ladybug, or green caterpillar) along with a number.  The number on the card indicates how many petals are required to complete that particular flower.  The smallest flower (the Iris) requires only three petals to complete, while the largest (the Lotus) requires seven.  Other cards require four (Primrose), five (Cherry Blossom), or six (Lily) petals.  You will also notice a light outline toward the bottom right corner of each card.  This outline is there to show you where to play the next petal card for that particular flower.  When playing a petal on an already started flower, play your card so that it lines up with the outline on the previous card.  You’ll be playing cards in a sort of spiral pattern.  This creates a visual representation of the flower being grown.  When the last card is placed (for example, the seventh card on the Lotus), you will see a complete flower.  The cards found in the Wildflower deck have this same outline and petal art.  However, they do not show a Guardian symbol or number in the upper left corner.

End of Game and Scoring

The end of the game is triggered when one player draws the last card from their deck.  When this happens, all players (including the player who just drew their last card) will each take one more turn.  Once these final turns are taken, check the flowers on the table (they will all be incomplete) for control.  The player who controls each incomplete flower will gain the petal cards for that flower.  In the case of a tie, the players divide the petals up as evenly as possible, discarding any leftovers.  Players will then total their points, and the player with the most is the winner.

When counting points, each petal cards is worth one point (the number in the upper left corner of the card is not a point value).  Add any Scoring tokens – worth five points each – to your petal card points to determine your final score.

My Thoughts

Let’s get the obvious out of the way right out of the gate.  This game is BEAUTIFUL!  The artwork is simply stunning.  What I like most about the art is that even though the petals themselves all belong to the same flower, the artist took the time to make each petal individual.  There are different shadows, some petal edges are folded over and beginning to curl, and the flowers are drawn to appear to have texture.  The flowers really come alive.

As for gameplay, the mechanics are very solid.  The game is very easy to learn and plays quickly – roughly 20 minutes – at any player count.  It is a very light game, so I can’t see it being the anchor of your game night.  However, it is a fantastic little filler game and provides enough strategy to not feel like a “kid’s game.”  There is a luck aspect to it, which can limit how you strategize (since you’re limited by the petal cards that you draw each turn).  I know some people are turned off by games with a luck mechanism.  However, with Lotus, the ‘luck of the draw’ is offset by the area control mechanic.  By adding this mechanic to the game, the designers have put control back in the hands of the player.  How will you play your Guardians?  Does it make sense to take petals that you want from the Wildflower deck (eliminating the random draw from your own deck) even though it means sacrificing some of your area control potential?  Once you achieve control of a flower, do you take one of the Special Powers?  Or do you ignore the powers and simply take a Scoring token each time?  Having these choices allows different paths to victory, and can provide some extra replayability by allowing you to entertain different strategies with each playthrough.  I do have a slight concern that the game could get stale after several plays.  However, that concern is a very small one.  And the art makes me want to play it again and again each time I see it.

So, would I say Lotus was worth the wait?  Absolutely!  If you’re looking for a light game you can play with your family (even the kids will love this one), but want something with enough strategy and depth that you could break it out at game night, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Lotus.  It is available now and can be picked up at your FLGS for $30.  It’s well worth the price, and you’ll defintely be getting your money’s worth.  I look forward to seeing what Jordan and Mandy do next.


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