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Land vs. Sea (Hex Tile-Laying Game)


Wife and I finished first game with official rules last night:

The game is elegant and beautiful and quite a lot of fun.  Think Carcassonne without meeples!  Simple summary:

* Players maintain a hand of 2 double-sided tiles and take turns placing a tile. Some tiles allow a player to take 2 turns (like the builder) or "steal" a tile from their opponent's hand.
* Players score 1-point/tile when their type of area (Land or Sea) is completed.
* The player who completes an area scores 1-point for each "X" in the area. (Like trade goods except immediate points.)
* The Sea player scores 1-point per connected coral tile when either player places a tile with a coral edge that joins another coral edge.  Land scores for connected mountain tiles.
There are also optional rules for Ship/Caravan and Waypoints, but we didn't use these.  Interestingly, when these rules are omitted, the final board position contains all the information to determine the score [Edit: this is wrong; see reply]!

Tile Description & Distribution
There are 60 double-sided tiles in the box, with 58 tiles placed in two stacks for "drafting" into the players' hands.  You can see the top side of tiles in both stacks when drafting, so you have partial information.  Players must keep their tiles in front of them with that side face-up, but they may look at the back side.

The two non-drafted tiles are:

* Start Tile: this is a LLLSSS tile on both sides.  I thought it would have been more clever to put a LSLSLS tile on the reverse side, to allow a choice of beginning conditions, particularly because there is no LSLSLS tile in the game!
* Vortex/Volcano Tile: this is the only LLLLLL/SSSSSS tile in the game and it is placed automatically any time a player creates the corresponding hole.  I thought this was clever and novel and might be an interesting Carcassonne variant, perhaps with the Cathedral and a RRRR cloister.
There are 14 ways to place two edge types on a hexagonal tile.  Here is the distribution, showing both sides of the tiles, as well as the total number of each of the 14 combinations.  The non-drafting tiles are omitted, so there are a total of 116 = 2*58 combinations:

I made this figure before playing the game, hoping to get some insight.  But it turns out that it didn't seem to matter very much during play.  You have four tile sides to choose from on most turns, and my crude "probability of getting a matching tile" analysis showed that the odds are generally very good, so having the right tile is not nearly as important and exciting in this game as it is in a typical Carcassonne game.  At least as far as I can tell so far [Edit: this is misleading; see reply]

Notes on 2-Player Game Play

* Upon reading the rules, I really disliked the two-tile hand.  Experience with Carcassonne suggested that this could slow the game terribly, particularly with a few members of my extended family with whom I might try to play the game.  I also just thought it was inelegant and unnecessary.  I was wrong.  I discovered through self-play testing that without the two-tile hand, areas are too difficult to close and the game devolves to a battle to close one huge area.  So, we played official rules, as noted above.  It turns out that often having the tile you want actually allows play to move plenty fast.
* The "X" rule is great.  You can often complete an opponent's small area to minimize a loss, or even score a small win, because some tiles have 2 or 3 X's on them.  Note that 5X's represents a 10-point swing in relative score.
* Although the Coral/Mountain rule is optional, it is really essential.  Building a Reef/Range really racks up points: in the game shown above, Sea scores 2+3+4+5+6+7+8=35 points total for the 8-tile Reef, while Land scores 2+3=5 several times for Ranges.  The threat of a massive scoring run should compel an opponent to block a growing Reef/Range, leaving a player time to complete a large open area, particularly if they get a "Play Again" tile.This last point and many others are in an amazing post on BGG, by someone who is somehow associated with the game.  In addition to a nice summary of tactics and strategy, the post says that a strategy book is in development as well.

Multi-Player Variants
I haven't tried the asymmetric 3-player game yet, nor the 4-player team version.  Since I strongly prefer to play Carcassonne as a multi-player game, I'm really interested to see how this goes.

I know a lot of folks on the Forum prefer Carcassonne as a 2-player game, and I think many of you would really enjoy Land vs. Sea as well.


Oops!  A couple of important mistakes in the original post.

--- Quote ---There are also optional rules for Ship/Caravan and Waypoints, but we didn't use these.  Interestingly, when these rules are omitted, the final board position contains all the information to determine the score
--- End quote ---

If you connect two coral tiles with another coral tile to create a 3-tile Reef, you only get the 3 points for that turn.  So, the sequence of placement of tiles matters for the Reefs and Ridges: the final landscape does not tell the whole story.  I think in our game it was close to the right score when I checked, so I jumped to this conclusion.   :-[

--- Quote ---...having the right tile is not nearly as important and exciting in this game as it is in a typical Carcassonne game. 
--- End quote ---
This is very misleading!  In (base game) Carcassonne, if you are get the RCCx tile you are waiting for, you will always connect the two city edges.  So the excitement is mostly about whether you get the tile before someone makes it a RCCF hole that you can't fill.  That kind of tile-type tension is not nearly as exciting in Land vs. Sea.  Occasionally, we had interersting 4-sided or 5-sided holes develop, but the much more common tension centers on dividing neighboring same-type features.

In other words, suppose there is an SSSxxx hole and you want to connect two of the "S" sides but isolate the other one, because the two edges complete a Sea area, but the one edge leads to a huge and likely unfinishable Sea.  There are plenty of tiles that do this, but no guarantees.  Unlike Carcassonne, there is no trapped meeple, so you are only waiting to ensure that you get your points.  I think that is a favorable difference for players who don't like "trappy" play--the consequences of incomplete areas are less bad in Sea vs. Land.  But the other player can still place a tile that joins all three edges and foils your plans.   >:D

So, there is tile-drawing tension, but my edge-combination analysis doesn't really help you understand it.   ::)  There is more work to do...


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