Lewis and Clark – Ludonaute – Review

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"Lewis & Clark literally takes you on a trip up a river"

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Theme and What is it?

Lewis & Clark literally takes you on a trip up a river. You and your merry bunch of Native American friends traverse the rapids and scale the mighty mountains to reach the final goal, the ocean… just like in the original stories. However, you aren’t alone in this mission; you’ll be racing up to 4 other groups of intrepid adventurers to get there first! 

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Gameplay Mechanics

The game uses a mixture of worker placement and deck building mechanics to start building a viable engine that will get you up the river as quickly as possible. Each card has a Native American value as well as a resource type as well as its own unique ability. This gives you a number of choices as to how to use your cards at any given time. 

Do you want wood to build canoes? Use a gather wood card and designate Native Americans to that card to gather the wood for you. You can allocate up to 3 Natives to the task. You’ll then receive that number of wood multiplied by the amount of wood symbols currently on display (this includes other player’s wood symbols)… 

So, with this in mind you have to play tactically waiting for the right time to gather resources to maximise the amount you will receive. However, be careful, as your canoes can only hold so much material and so many Natives. Managing your cargo becomes key to victory.

There is a pool of new cards to purchase and each card adds something new to your deck. Every time you move up the river and camp you get all of your used cards back for you to then use in a different order. Your engine changes constantly depending on your new cards and the given situation.

As well as your cards, you can also accumulate Native meeples that can be used in locations on the board in a standard worker placement style. These Natives are like hired help and after using them they could be stolen by another player. Play them on the board when you really have to but save them for posting your cards strength and you can potentially keep them forever.

This all might sound quite complicated but 2 turns in and you can clearly see what you need to do to move your canoes up the river and you start to get an idea of how to build your engine. 

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Initial Impressions

Lewis & Clark can be quite daunting to begin with. There are a multitude of actions that can be taken at any given time and each is as powerful as the next… where the magic lays with Lewis & Clark is the timing. When do I play that gather card so that it goes from collecting 3 stone to 9 stone based on the cards played around the board? That one manoeuvre could set you up for several turns or if you haven’t planned it right could be a waste of an action.

Moving your canoe up the river can seem gruelling at first but as you build your card collection and troop of Native American workers, you soon start to get momentum and your engine starts to come together. It’s a satisfying feeling when you can gather the required resources, build some canoes, move up the river and camp with in 4 turns like clockwork.

A minor issue with this game would be the lack of player interaction. For all you maybe in a race with the other players, the only time you really interact is if a player tries to end their turn on your spot on the river. This is a big no no, these adventurers don’t like to share forcing the player is moving this turn to be pushed forward one space up the river/mountain. A clever player can use this to their advantage and skip spaces… apart from that this can be quite a lonely trip up the river. 

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Game Build Quality

Strangely, Lewis & Clark opted for a more abstract representation of the materials used on your travels. The designers have chosen to use hex shaped wooden pieces in different colours to represent wood, stone, leather, canoes and horses. 

There is a logical reason for this and it boils down to the way the resources are managed on the player boards. Remember how I said players would need to balance their resources carefully, these hex pieces display your canoe space very well.

The Natives are represented by little red meeples which almost look like cave painted stick men which I personally thought was a clever touch.

The card stock is excellent throughout and this includes the playing cards that make up your engine. 

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Artistic Direction

The colours used in Lewis & Clark are one of the biggest draws for me. Considering this is based in a fairly bleak and drab time in American history, they have done a fantastic job of brightening it up for the sake of the gamers. This doesn’t have to be glum trudge up/down a river, it should be an adventure filled with interesting looking characters accompanied by a beautiful countryside.

As always the art style may not be for everyone and there may be some folks out there that would prefer to see this type of theme more realistically represented. I’m personally not one of those people. 

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Fun Factor

Lewis and Clark mixes so many of my favourite mechanics together and turns it into a race rather than a countdown to finish. Creating your engine, using your workers and navigating the river is endless fun that I’m sure I will enjoy over and over again. 

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Age Range & Weight

The box recommends 14+…I would imagine this is more based on the games complexity level rather than any other factor. There isn’t any violence or bad language for us to consider so it’s really just making the decision as to whether a child of 14yrs old would grasp the many options given to them per turn?

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Conclusions

Lewis & Clark meshes worker placement, card drafting, hand management and Engine Building together and then uses these mechanics to drive you through the core purpose of the game which is to win in what is, essentially, a racing game. 

For some, this many mechanics mixed with the overwhelming options for actions per turn could very easily switch some players off and disengage those that struggle with analysis paralysis.

 But… if you can take the bull by the horns and immerse yourself into every single cog that is turning to keep this game moving you will find yourself building an engine that will help you make huge pushes up the long winding river and great strides across the mountains with ease. 

This can give you an intense feeling of satisfaction as the goal gets closer and closer and you push ahead of your opponents… On the flip side of that though, if your engine fails and you find yourself stagnant at the starting camp as your opponents push ahead you can easily become demoralised and disengaged… lets opt for the good engine building. Good luck adventurers.