Great Plains is the brand new area majority board game from Lookout Games. Designed by Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert, the game sees 2 players taking control of either the fox tribe or the snake tribe who are attempting to control the grasslands and natural springs. Playing in around 15 minutes the plains are made from a modular board, featuring a hexagonal grid. However, is this a great game or is it a bit plain? Let’s find out!
Setup is over in seconds, as long as the two players don’t argue over who is the foxes and who gets to play as the snakes. Each player takes the 20 tribe member meeple of their chosen side, along with the 3 cave tokens in matching colour. The animal tokens are placed within reach and the 7 double sided map tiles are randomly joined together to form the central board. The game is then ready to play, starting with phase 1.
Phase 1 sees the two players place out their 3 cave tokens, one at a time. These must be placed onto specific cave spaces and with 7 such spaces on the board the final space is left empty, meaning there is always at least a choice between 2 placements. Whichever player places their final cave token last starts phase 2, which sees the board slowly flooded with tribe meeples.
On a turn the active player gets to place one of their tribe meeples into any empty lowland hexagon, that’s adjacent to either one of their caves or an already placed meeple. The lowlands are split into two types, grass and animal lowlands. As with any game the aim is points and these are gained by having the majority in grass regions across the board at the end of the game. However, placing onto any of the animal lowland hexagons gains the player the denoted animal token.
There are three animal tokens, horses, eagles and bears. Each allows the players to break a movement rule by discarding the associated animal token back into the reserve. The horse allows the player to place a meeple 2 spaces away from one of their caves or already placed meeples, instead of adjacent. This can be through spaces blocked by opponent tribe meeples but not across mountains. Eagles are similar, allowing a player to again place a meeple two spaces away from a cave or meeple but it must be a straight movement across a mountain.
Bears add a little bit of aggression and conflict into the mix. A bear allows a player to effectively shove an opponent’s meeple. In a straight movement the player places a meeple adjacent to one of their caves or meeples but onto an occupied space. The opponent’s meeple on that space is pushed backwards in a straight line to the next space. If this is into a wall or off the edge of the board the meeple is simply removed from play, else it ends up in the adjacent space.
Going back and forth between the players the board will slowly fill out with meeples from the two tribes, one at a time. When both players have placed all 20 meeples then it’s time to score. Importantly, there is no bonus awarded for animal tokens so there is no point in holding onto them. To determine points, for each region of grass the player with the majority is determined. That player gains points equal to the number of hexagons of grass in that region, plus a bonus point for each spring. If there isn’t a majority neither player gains points, and whoever gains the most points wins.
While some turns of Great Plains are quick and snappy others present real conundrums. When you can be first to get to a section of the board it may be an easy choice, but that might leave another space open for your opponent. There might be a simple beneficial space adjacent to a cave or tribe meeple, but could using that horse or eagle be even better in the long run? Great Plains perfectly lets players get tunnel vision on one section of the board and lose out massively on another, and that helps the area majority to flourish.
Without the special abilities Great Plains would fall apart, or at least be a far less compelling back and forth game. They might be little additions to movement, breaking the normal rules, but they massively open up the board. What otherwise would be a blocked path can be circumvented. An area where someone has the majority could change hands with the right bear action, shoving or squishing an opponent off a space. There’s also the extra choice of when to use these one time abilities.
Due to the game being a small quick experience there are sometimes the thoughts of wanting there to be a mini-expansion or a variant that could add in a 4th movement animal to collect or something that utilizes the mountains. This would allow for the game to stay at the table for longer, though it would detract from the speed that Great Plains hits the table and is instantly going. There’s also something special with the design that enables it to offer a quick area majority battle and be packed away again within 20 minutes and yet plenty of choices have been made.
Just like on the box the tribes of foxes and snakes are brightly coloured. Placed across the modular board the game certainly catches the eye and more importantly is incredibly legible when playing. The modular board is put together in seconds, so it doesn’t hold up the game getting to the table. When one game finishes you can spin a couple of tiles, flip a couple of others and the regions to fight over are completely different. The game would work well with a fixed board, but the way different sized regions occur, the cave starting locations change and the way the mountains carve the board into bits differently each time adds to the experience.
Great Plains ticks a lot of boxes. Coming in a small box it’s relatively portable. Being fast to setup and play it can be a filler when two of you are waiting for others to arrive at a game night or it can stay on the table for multiple players in a best of 3. The rules are super easy to teach and yet each decision feels important in your strive to out majority your opponent. It could definitely be a game that a couple or friends keep returning to and every time it hits the table it’ll look brilliant too!
(Editor’s Note: Great Plains was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. It is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)