Designer: Reiner Knizia

Artist: Tristam Rossin

Publisher: 25th Century Games

Lost Cities: The Surf Edition? (Photo credits: Chad Elkins@BGG)

Let’s get this out up front: Longboard is a Lost Cities/Keltis spin-off. Along with a dozen other games that feature the ascending/descending set collection mechanism, Longboard uses the same mechanism plus a few tweaks to make the game fresh enough to cater to the newcomer, yet familiar enough to entice the hard core fan base. It’s like comfort food with a new flavor or a McDonalds happy meal with a new toy. Same difference with a twist.

In some ways, Longboard plays like a simplified multiplayer Lost Cities in that everyone is collecting sets of cards in ascending order. In this case, there are four suits, each of a different color representing the different types of longboards that can be assembled. Unlike Irish stones in Keltis or exploration treks in Lost Cities, everyone is adding cards of different numerical values to their longboards to increase the length. Only cards with same or higher values can be added to the set and the goal is to collect a healthy number of cards in each of your set to score points. Here, the rules for set collection is less harsh: you need at least four cards in each set to avoid a penalty and even then, the penalties are mild with one or two points deducted from your end scores. Points are scored not on the number of cards collected for each set, but for the number of stickers present on the completed surfboard. Importantly, not all cards have equal number of stickers and wildcards have none.

Unique to Longboard, the game features a personal supply area where cards that are drawn are first placed before they are eventually played onto each longboard build. This supply area is where the innovation comes in. Cards in the supply area can be swapped with other players. To swap, you just need to give a card or cards of higher value than the card you want. So if you want a yellow 7 from Tom, you can pony up a green 6 plus a red 2 from your own supply. Swaps are automatic and cannot be turned down and cards that are swapped get added directly into the builds. This is the new flavor that differentiates Longboard from the rest of the family.

The supply area by itself is no big deal. Lots of card games feature a staging area. But it is unique as far as the Lost Cities family of games is concerned. I don’t recall any spin-offs where players get to swap cards directly. It definitely makes you think a little harder. For one, it is apparent that the game can take a “mean” turn. The game ends when a certain number of long boards are completed depending on player count, of which one of the boards must be at least 7 cards long. Imagine I am waiting for a 6 or 7 yellow while my staging area has an 8 yellow. That 8 yellow is vulnerable and ripe for the picking. You need that 8 yellow to cap your longboard and reach 7 cards and losing it can prevent you from triggering the end game. All this information is out in the open and allows players to swipe and steal from each other. Still, swapping high value cards requires you to sacrifice a high value card or a combination of cards from your personal tableau – likely cards that you may need for yourself. The decisions aren’t as simple as it looks and actions are valuable and in short supply.

Oddly enough, the card swapping mechanism together with the open information for scoring ought to mean you have easy access to the number of stickers on each longboard for everyone. That is not the case because cards are stacked on top of each other in a way that hides the stickers on each card and thus, the actual scores. Unless you splay the cards or have excellent memory, most players won’t know how many points they have on each build. This is the sort of “hidden trackable” scenario some people despise. The rules specifically state that the scores should be kept hidden, but I suppose you can play with open information by splaying the cards. I don’t know yet if playing with open information makes the game better, but I think it might.

For me at least, the most un-Knizian part of the game happens to be scoring. Besides counting stickers on your longboard builds, bonus points are awarded for longest board and highest value board – which is quite acceptable. But then, 4 additional random scoring cards are drawn from a larger deck to supplement scoring. These are the types of scoring which distracts from the game. Under the guise of “enhancing variability for repeated plays”, these scoring categories often allow players to rack up points if you happen to satisfy some randomly predetermined criteria. For example, all even cards in your long board or no wild cards on your boards, etc. I feel they dilute the core of the game by taking away the focus on the main scoring objective. If there is but one way to score points, everyone will be fighting tooth and nail to gain an advantage. If you score this and that followed by here and there, then players can be free to pursue other scoring objectives and the incentive to compete for those hard earned points is gone. In a more extreme example, these multi scoring opportunities turn a highly interactive game into a take-and-make with individual scoring affairs. Thankfully, this is easily remedied in Longboard by simply putting away the additional scoring cards. I can safely say that the game performs just fine without them. I honestly don’t begrudge these scoring cards because I know a substantial number of players love them. They do bring variability to scoring, but not in a way I enjoy them. The base game is plenty fun and family friendly and why not let players try them first? I am curious why publishers don’t just add them in as a scoring variant to give players a chance to enjoy the basic game? Also, it is possible to play with fewer scoring cards. Try one instead of four per round.

It’s not yet clear to me if Longboard is better than the other Lost Cities spin-offs. I just haven’t played enough. I can tell you that it feels more interactive than Lost Cities: The Board Game as your supply area is under constant threat from exchanges. This is neat. I like this part quite a bit. The tension comes from deciding whether to add cards to your build now or to hold off. Unlike Lost Cities where the tension comes mainly from the game ending, here, card swapping is a bigger threat. Nothing feels more threatening than seeing your opponent having 3 cards of a particular build, with you holding a high value card of the same color that can be stolen to complete their hand. Overall, Longboard is a decent entry in Knizia’s ludography. I enjoy it and so does my family. However, given the lack of hype, I am afraid this game may fade into obscurity. I wonder if Longboard would be better served under the Lost Cities/Keltis label which at least has some name recognition.

Initial impression: Good (but the jury is still out)

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