L.L.A.M.A

Reiner Knizia

Publisher: Amigo Spiele

Llama Llama pajama…..is this Knizia’s answer to Good Night Moon?

A Knizia entry for 2018 SDJ. However, I doubt this one will win the award. LAMA is a really light filler that sits right the border of acceptability for gamers. It gives enough game to tease you of the possibilities but then yanks you back to reality after each game. In truth, there aren’t many meaningful choices you can make each hand. You usually play cards to the pile in the middle if you can. I can’t see any exceptions to that rule even if you have bunch of cards with similar values because really, you just want to shed those cards. You could bluff your opponents into thinking that you have more cards in your hand and couldn’t possibly exit early, but the reality is, if you don’t play cards, you have to draw cards and that could royally screw you over.

The decision in the game really boils down to, when should you quit. If you don’t quit, you are forced to draw a card. So, do you quit or continue? That is it. That decision can have some angst depending on your relative position in the game and how close you are to winning (or losing). Otherwise, there is not much else.

As a Knizia, you always think there is a twist to the game and there is more than meets the eye. As a light family game, LAMA does a decent job of distracting your attention for 20 minutes. As a gamer’s filler, LAMA does have that twist and that ever so subtle angsty feeling (particularly when you decide to quit or after you play your LAMA card) but I feel it is one or two elements short in game play that compels you to seek out the game for your collection.

12/2019: This game does shine with family members who are casual gamers and a younger crowd. LAMA is perfect for the beginning gamer and folks who prefer a lighter touch. I think this game just cannot be lumped together in conversation with Terra Mystica. Take it with a few grains of salt if you must, but this is still Knizia through and through and thus worthy of your time.

05/2020: Repeated plays with more than 2 players have really improved my impression of the game. This game clearly shines with more players, probably optimal with 3-4. Maybe even 5 which I have never tried. With more players, the decision is not just that you exit but how your exit draws or impact others. At some point, I realized based on chip count, that each player in a 3 player game had different objectives. Being in the middle of the chip count, but lagging from the front runner, I wanted to trap my kid who was the leader, but didn’t want my wife to lose as the game would end. My kid wanted to end the game and so was intent to trap my wife. Meanwhile, my wife being the closest to 40 points, didn’t really care who she trapped so long as she could exit the game with little to no chips. It dawned on at that moment, how incredible this little design was and how different the game played with different player counts. With 2p, this scenario would never be possible. Revised my initial impression.

Initial impressions: Good

Kid’s Corner

5 years and 5 months: LLAMA didn’t really shine until we played as a family. I suspected my kid could play the game just fine, but lacked the ability to integrate the next level of information necessary to play well. The rules are simple to the core, but the game hinges on when to fold depending on game state and who is in the lead. Moreover, an action of folding from one person can induce the next person to fold even sub-optimally because it potentially traps the last person going out. This is critical either to force a premature end to the game or to starve off ending the game, depending on circumstance. The nuances are totally Knizian. True enough, my child played as well as she could and in some instances, won several hands, though I doubt she could explain the circumstances. At times, I could see the wheels turning in her head, but the cogs aren’t completely linked up just yet. Since this game is fun for all, we will continue to play as long as she enjoys it, and hopefully I will get to see when all the cogs in her head lined up and cranking in unison.

One more note: LLAMA is just the sort of game I am looking for. My child can now play games with “obvious” choices. This does not mean our games feature no choices, rather the choices present a clear output that is immediately visible on the board. In other words, a clear visible indication of whether the decisions are in her favor, or not. Not many kids games feature a secondary layer of thinking which involves an abstract process of deciding how a decision could impact her or others beyond the obvious. For a kid’s game to work at this stage, the rules would have to be dirt simple. LLAMA is just that. The rules are so simple that a child that knows how to count from 1-6 can play. I can understand gamers giving this filler a pass, but for a kid’s game with depth, I urge parents to give this game a try. Besides, the game is actually fun for parents too.

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