Game Buzz: Lewis & Clark

Today, we look at a game that came out at last year’s Essen, but has just recently gotten its domestic release:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Lewis & Clark is a 1-5 player game designed by Cédrick Chaboussit. It was published by Ludonaute, and released in the US by Asmodee. The game is a race as players are trying to make their way from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, and trying to be the first. It features elements of worker placement and deck-building. I’ve had a chance to play this once, but as I’d really like to play more before doing a full review, I’m just keeping this in the overview format with some impressions at the end.

image by BGG user Chabousse
image by BGG user Chabousse

The game comes with a board, 5 scout figures in pastel player colors, 5 expedition boards, 5 camp tokens, 100 resource hexagons, 8 resource multiplication tiles, 12 boat tiles, 84 character cards, 18 Native American figures, 10 route change tokens, and 8 resource badge tokens for solo play. At the start of the game, each player gets a set of six starting cards – four resource cards, a powwow card, and a captain. These make up your starting hand – there’s no deck to draw from, only a hand of all cards you haven’t yet played. Additionally, everyone gets one fur, one food, and one equipment for their expedition board. This board has three boats that can carry goods, and two boats for Natives. Five cards are drawn from character deck and placed in a face-up line on the board. Each player’s scout goes on the St. Louis space of the river, and their camp token goes next to the river.

Lewis & Clark is turn-based. On your turn, you must take an action – use a character card from your hand, or send a Native out to one of the villages on the board. You can also recruit a character and/or choose to set up camp. You can take your turn in any order you wish. Let’s look at the actions a little closer.

Character Cards: Take a character card from your hand and play it face up in front of you. This in itself does nothing unless you activate the card. There are two ways to do this. Each card in your hand has 1-3 Native symbols on its back. You can choose to play one of these cards face down to activate the face up card as many times as you have Native symbols. You can also choose to place Natives from your boats on the cards to activate them instead of using a card, or even in addition to using a card. Once a card has been used, either as a character or activation, it remains in front of you until you make camp.

Each character card you play will do something different. They generally allow you to collect or trade resources, move your scout on the river or through the mountains (never landing on the same space as another scout), or give you discounts on various other tasks. The interpreter cards in your starting hand will also allow you to collect all Natives that have activated spaces on the board in the powwow area, then take as many as you want onto your boats.

Place Natives: If don’t play a card, you must place a Native somewhere on the board. There are spaces where you can get resources for free. There are spaces where you can trade in wood for canoes or three different resources for horses. There is a space where you can pay three wood to take a new boat – either one for resources or one for Natives. There is a space that allows you to pay a food to use any face up character’s ability one time. You can also use a Native (plus 0-3 cards from your hand) to wipe out the face up character cards for a fresh slate. Once used, Natives will remain on the board until someone calls a powwow and claims them for themselves.

Recruit a New Character: You can do this during your turn, but it’s not a mandatory action. To recruit a new character, simply pay the cost on the card. Each card has a level 1-3, and that’s how much equipment you’ll have to pay. And depending on where the card is on the track, you’ll also have to pay 1-5 food. So, the longer a card remains on the track, the cheaper it will get foodwise – the equipment cost is always the same. Once a card has been recruited, put it directly in your hand.

Set Up Camp: If you choose to set up camp, you will first take back any Natives used to activate cards (those on the board are lost). You will then take a look at where your scout is along the river. That is where camp will be unless you have to pay any penalties. Each card remaining in your hand will push you back one space. If you have any goods on your second ship on your player board (i.e. more than three goods), you have to go back one space. If you have any goods on your third boat (i.e. more than six), you have to go back one space per good on that boat. If you have any Natives on your second Native boat (i.e. more than one), you go back one space per extra Native. If you have extra boats, you may be able to make these penalties less severe. Once you have adjusted your scout, place your camp marker where it now stands. You may now take all cards in front of you back into your hand to play again.

The game continues until one person has set up camp on or past Fort Clatsop. They win.

As I mentioned, I have played this game once.  I really enjoyed it – it’s a very interesting take on worker placement and deck-building games.  It uses your cards as workers to an extent, needing to use them to activate cards.  You also have actual workers in the form of Natives, and using them on the board means you don’t control them anymore.  The deck-building aspect is there as you add new characters to your hand, but the luck is completely taken away by your entire deck being available at all times.  This means thinning is important, or it’s going to take you longer to get what you need.  There are 54 different character cards, and while several of them are similar, they are all unique, so there’s going to be a ton of different strategies to explore.

The race aspect in the game works very well as players are trying to make it to the Pacific.  You have to plan ahead, as you need horses to get through the mountains and canoes to get up the river.  So if you hit the mountains without horses, you may be in trouble as you try to acquire some.

I really only have two knocks against this game so far.  First, as a turn-based game with some pretty deep decisions, which means that AP-prone people are really going to drag it down.  I would not suggest playing the game with five players when most of them are new (as in my game) – probably three is the best number.  The other knock is the Natives, called Indians in the rulebook.  On top of using an archaic and really stupid name (Columbus thought he was in India), the meeples used are red with feather shapes sticking out the front.  Maybe I’m being overly-sensitive, but it’s bad enough that we’re making them do all of our dirty work – do we have to use the stereotypes too?

Apart from that, I think it’s a really good game and I look forward to playing again sometime.  Check it out if you get a chance.  Thanks for reading!

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