Tabletop Review: ‘Land vs Sea’
One of my top finds at PAX Aust 2021 was the tabletop game Land vs Sea; which, in itself, was quite an achievement since the event was completely online. Not an easy event for tabletop designers but Land vs Sea stood out in the Tabletop Simulator area. This game is easy to learn, easy to play, and easy to adapt to whatever setup you want. Looking to play a quick intimate one-on-one game? Land vs Sea works. Need to entertain the kids with a wee bit of team-up? Land vs Sea is ready to go. How about some strategic manipulation between 3-players? That’s easy. For such a small yet beautiful game to achieve so much (and at a decent price) is a tabletop miracle. Let’s check it out.
What is Land vs Sea?
Land vs Sea is a new game from Jon-Paul Jacques and published by Good Games Publishing. It is a tile-placement game that plays like a competitive puzzle-map. Each player starts with two (2) double-sided hexagonal tiles featuring various blends of land and sea. One side is revealed to everyone while the other side is only revealed to the player who possesses it. If you are playing on the ‘Land Team’, you want to place tiles to create as many landmasses as possible. If you are on the ‘Team of the Sea’, you want as much of the blue stuff as you can handle!
The winner is determined by points calculated during play and at the end of the game. The game finishes when you run out of tiles. There are rules for 2-player, 3-player, and 4-player. The age recommendation is for 14-years and over but in all honesty, this is one of the easiest games to learn and it is super-adaptable for kids of almost any age. Depending on how hard you want to go on the strategy element, I have played this game with all three spawnlings: 8-years-old, 12-years-old, and 15-years-old. If your kid likes puzzles (and being a pain in the neck to mom’s great strategy), then they are going to love this game.
Puzzle vs Game
Part of the magic with Land vs Sea is the playable art within the game. As you play, you are creating a map filled with islands, reefs, lakes, mountains, and caravans of characters dancing across your table. Every time you play, you are creating a new map. You might even notice new images on the tiles. It’s all part of the magic.
Each tile is double-sided with varying ratios of land to sea. Players take turns placing tiles on the play area, creating a map together. Like a puzzle, you must align land edges with land edges, sea edges with sea. You may think you could simply create the largest landmass or ocean possible but you only receive points for the land or sea when you complete it. That is, you must close it off. As an example, my darling 8-year-old daughter learned very quickly if she keeps expanding my land regions, I won’t be able to complete my section before we run out of tile, thus losing a LARGE chunk of points. Seriously? She takes after her mother.
There are also bonus points featured on some tiles, along with special actions to ‘Steal’ or ‘Play Again’. These add an extra challenge to the game, encouraging players to pay a little more attention to their opponent. For example, the Land player may complete the Seas area knowing they are keeping it small AND gaining the bonus points featured on that section of the map. There is also a single Volcano/Whirlpool–the only six-sided land or six-sided sea tile in the game (depending on which side you use). And of course, it comes with bonus points.
What’s In the Box?
For something with so much flexible play, it is amazing to see it fit so neatly into a small box. This game scores high on my ‘Travel Game’ list. The box includes:
- 1x Starting Map Tile
- 1x Volcano/Whirlpool Tile
- 58 double-sided map tiles
- 2x double-sided player aids for scoring options
- 1x scoreboard, printed on the box insert
- 7x wooden discs
- 3x discs for land (1 for scoring and 2 for Waypoints during 4-player games)
- 3x discs for sea (again, 1 for scoring and 2 for Waypoints during 4-player games)
- 1x disc for the Cartographer during 3-player games
The quality of the components is quite lovely. Each tile is made of thick sturdy cardboard with a linen finish. The tokens are made from solid wood. Packing away the game is easy with a great box layout and just the right amount of room to fit everything in. Not too small for it to spill out; not too great for pieces to be rolling around and damaging in the box.
A quick note on the aesthetics: I absolutely adore the medieval mix of artistry in the images. It has a real Monty Python’s Holy Grail feel to it, with quirky animal characters like rabbits blowing trumpets from their butts. Weird thing is, a lot of real medieval art is even stranger than that! This is just a funny absurd touch for both kids and adults.
2-Player and 4-Player
Land vs Sea naturally fits as a 2-player game and has the capacity to be played as a 4-player game with two people on each team. As detailed above, the game is played in turns with competing sides between land and sea on the map. In this basic form, the game is really simple to learn and easy to play. When you close a section of land/sea, you gain points for each tile used for that particular section. For example, if you are playing for Land and you complete an island with your map, your base score equals the total number of tiles used within that specific island. If there are bonus points marked on any tiles, you will also include any points marked on the land sections. If there are any bonus points on the same tiles but in the sea, those points go towards the Sea team.
When playing with 4-players, there is an additional feature called the Waypoints. They act like bonus points you can place and later score during the game. Essentially, you can place a Waypoint on the matching section of any tile in play. Waypoints are returned to their respective teams when either the land/sea area containing the Waypoint is completed, or a tile containing a Waypoint is surrounded by six tiles. Even if you are returning an opponent’s Waypoint, if you are the one who completed with that marked tile, you get the point.
While the Waypoint can be used during any game, it really works best during a 4-player game where it can be used as a form of communication between players. The suggested play is to restrict discussion between teammates in placing tiles. Instead, players can place the Waypoint on a tile to encourage their teammate to focus on THIS area of the game.
Different Ways to Play Land vs Sea
Once you have the hang of the basic gameplay, there are two additional scoring systems available with Land vs Sea. You don’t have to include them in your game; it is purely your choice and are more like expansions. They are simply there to add a challenge for more experienced players, and it’s recommended to try them before playing 3-Player because they are included in the 3-player rules (more on that shortly).
The first addition is Mountain & Coral: Some tiles contain Mountain sections, some contain Coral sections, and some may contain both. The extra features on the tiles award bonus points for their relating team. The same general tile placement rules and scoring applies, however, when a Mountain edge of one tile connects with a Mountain edge of another tile, Land immediately scores 1 point per section in that whole chain of Mountain ranges no matter who places it. Same for Coral in connecting coral reef scores for Sea. You can also block the score by placing a mountain-less land or a coral-free sea in the same chain.
Caravan & Ship: Again, some tiles contain Caravans or Ships. These can award points both during and at the end of the game. During the game, whoever places a Caravan or Ship tile connected to another Caravan/Ship tile immediately scores two points. Adjacent tiles with Caravans and/or Ships create Trade Routes. At the end of the game, whichever has the majority in each Trade Route receives the bonus points to the related team: more Caravan in the route gives Land 1 point per Caravan and/or Ship; more ships gives the points to Sea. If it’s a tie, there are no bonus points.
And Now For Something Different: 3-Player
This is my favorite because it is such a unique and asymmetrical way to play the game. I don’t know of many games which allow such a strategic way of playing with three people. Before you attempt to play 3-player mode, it is worth familiarizing yourself with the additional scoring mechanisms mentioned above.
The difference between 2P/4P and 3P is the third person who is manipulating both Land and Sea. They are the Cartographer but you can definitely consider them a Loki-variant. The game is still a turn-based tile-placement puzzle game, and Land/Sea still have the same agenda. The Cartographer, however, depends heavily on the bonus points in each section.
The Cartographer also scores for all chains of connected Mountain and Coral sections placed by any player. Land and Sea do not score in these sections for themselves. All three parties can still score with Caravans and Ships but there is a twist: the Cartographer wants a tie to score the bonus points in each Trade Route. This is the best part because one minute you will have the Cartographer helping out Land with a few Caravans, the next minute there’s a few extra Coral thrown in the mix. This isn’t just a standard 3-person game with a race to the finish line. This involves some heavy-duty manipulations between all players! I haven’t seen this level of mind-bending gameplay since Antidote! (You can see my review for Antidote here)
The Perfect Family Game
Land vs Sea has been a huge hit with our family! It is one of the few games which is genuinely playable across ALL members of our family. Just to remind you: 8-year-old, 12-year-old, 15-year-old, and two adults. This is a game I can trust all three kids to play easily together without drama or consternation. I can play with all three kids. I can play with one kid or two kids. EG Dad and I can play with the additional scoring systems, and we can play with the older kid who loves the extra challenge with strategy. We can adjust the scoring system to suit whichever kid is playing. Like, WOW! This is the most versatile game for every family!!
Best of all, it is extremely well-priced for what is on offer. There are at least six different ways to play the game for the average shop price of USD$30/AUD$40. I’m planning to buy a few of these as gifts for various friends and family.
Seriously, though, I think this is one of the best games for families. It is entertaining, it is beautiful, and it is adaptable to almost every scenario. I almost wish there was a larger version for families with more than four people but I think it would be absolute insanity managing both the size and the time for game-play. In the meantime, Land vs Sea has been played almost every day over the last two weeks and my kids are still learning new things each time. It’s an evergreen game that has spent more time on the table than the shelf. And that’s a huge win in my book.
For more details, check out Good Games Publishing here.