Llamaland is the brand new tile placement board game from publisher Lookout Games. Designed by Phil Walker-Harding, utilizing polyomino shapes, the game sees 2 – 4 players expanding their hills and mountains, feeding llamas and getting help from the locals. In around 45 minutes players will have harvested corn, cocoa and potatoes and placed llamas around their built up hills – all in the aim of scoring points. However, is it a joy to be surrounded by llamas? Let’s find out!
Each player starts with a 4 by 4 starting tile. These are double sided, with players free to choose between either. A market of 5 characters are added to the middle of the tables, alongside stacks of polyomino tiles – sorted by their shape. A range of objective cards are also selected at this point, with the opportunity to use basic purple or advanced golden objectives with the always used blue objective cards. Randomly deciding who goes first, players gain coins based on how many turns are taken before theirs. Then, Llamaland is ready to play!
On a turn the player must place a tile, and then they have the opportunity to feed a llama. Choosing the top tile from any of the different shaped piles, the player adds a tile either extending or building their estate. Extending means to place it adjacent to any of their current tiles on the same height as their starting tile – which is level 1.
When a player does this they are allowed to either place one of their scoring markers on the scoring cards in play or move a previous placed one. At the end of the game if the player has achieved that objective, such as having two llamas on tiles at a height of 4, they will get the points indicated on the objective card. The trick is that for the standard purple and blue objectives they give more points depending on if you’re first, second or third to say you’re going for a specific objective.
Instead of building out players can build up. While they won’t get to place or move their scoring markers, covering symbols will gain them resources, coins and characters. When building up the tile cannot be perfectly placed over another tile of the same shape, and there cannot be a gap below it. To help players though they have access to 3 foundation 1 by 1 sized tiles, which can be used to fill gaps.
After placing a tile the player has the opportunity to feed a llama, though they are forced to if they reach 10 resources. Each llama is worth points and costs 4 matching resources – though 2 coins can be discarded as a wild resource. Depending on if the player spends 4 cocoa, potatoes or corn they take the top most (highest scoring) llama card of that type and a llama meeple. Llama meeples must be added to the green empty spaces on the tiles, and their placement may help the player score points based on the objectives they’ve chosen to score.
Character cards are there to give players small placement bonuses or the ability to make a trade. Those that give bonuses show which symbols a player must cover in a single tile placement in order to gain the bonus. For example, this could be covering two potatoes to gain a third bonus potato resource. The trades may be activated once a turn at any stage, often allowing a resource to be swapped for a coin or vice versa, or a resource for one of a denoted other type.
Once a player has had their turn play moves clockwise around the table. The game end is triggered when there are only 4 land tiles available in the middle of the table or only one type of llama card is available. At this point the current round is completed, so all players have had the same number of turns. Points are then counted based on llamas fed, objectives completed and resources/coins remaining. Whoever has the most points wins, with ties split via llama card points.
For those that have played other polyomino shaped games, Llamaland feels like a cross between Phil Walker-Harding’s Barenpark with NMBR 9. There is the vertical puzzle aspect of making sure the tiles can build over the top of each other as in NMBR 9. This is then combined with the objectives of Barenpark. This is quite obvious as one objective is to have two llamas 11 spaces apart, which is extremely reminiscent of the distanced toilets objective in Barenpark.
Llamaland is it’s own game though and has a few unique twists. The llamas aren’t just there to be fed and provide cute meeples. These slowly add to the puzzle, blocking off bits of the board from being built on. Not only do you have to consider their placement for a lot of the objectives, they become obstacles to work around as you build up to gain future resources. This adds to the conundrum of when to feed a llama. Do so early and you’ll get a more valuable one. However, on top of the limitation to work around for the rest of the game, most objectives look for llamas on higher levels.
While the golden objective cards don’t massively change the way the game is played they do make it a more directly competitive one. Rather than offering the most points to whomever placed onto a scoring card first, they award the most points to whoever has a scoring marker there and best satisfied the objective. For example, rather than scoring for having 4 corn fed llamas it’s whoever has the most corn fed llamas. This feels like the difference between the blue and green objectives in Wingspan and each group may have a preference between having distinct goals to reach or competing until the end to have the most.
Being a language free experience, past the rulebook, the tiles and cards feature a decent amount of iconography. Thankfully, a lot of it is repeated and the rest as very simple arrows that show trades and such. The tiles, which just about squeeze into the included plastic bags, are of good size and quality – meaning there’s nothing fiddly about extending or building up. For what is effectively just polyomino shapes and some cute llama meeples, Llamaland looks decent on the table. The meeples and the general bright colours do catch the eye and allow the otherwise pasted on theme to draw people in.
Llamaland could be a polyomino tile placement game about anything. Still, the production will certainly catch the eye of potential players, and the llama theme has allowed the game to look decent when it hits the table. When there, the intriguing puzzle of which objectives to go for and how best place tiles to maximise resource gain will keep players invested. Each choice feels like an opportunity to strive towards points – be it via feeding a llama or just building upwards to prepare for an objective. Phil Walker-Harding seems to have done it again, Llamaland is simple to teach and yet will hit the table over and over again thanks to the choice filled gameplay!
(Editor’s Note: Llamaland was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. It is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)