Even today, the colonization of the Pacific Islands by the Polynesians remains a great mystery — and yet it is aboard their hand-crafted boats that the Polynesians colonized the greater part of the islands over several thousand kilometers.
In Blue Lagoon, each player manages a group of settlers that spread out on the islands of this new archipelago to discover its wealth and build villages. Smart placements and anticipation are needed to win.
Set Collection, Route Building
Blue Lagoon is a return-to-basics for renowned designer Reiner Knizia. In the spirit of two of his classic games, Blue Lagoon is a great choice for kids and adults.
Blue Lagoon is the newest game from Reiner Knizia, one of the most prolific designers of all time. The game’s publisher, Blue Orange, primarily creates products aimed at a younger audience, but they usually put out one or two “gamer’s games” per year, such as New York 1901, Photosynthesis, or Kingdomino. This year, like every year, I was interested to see what their big release would be, and when I heard it was a Knizia design, my excitement level jumped.
Blue Lagoon is played on a hex grid board, which shows eight islands divided by water. Each island has spaces for resource/statuette markers, and at the start of the game, these pieces are mixed together and randomly distributed in these spaces. Each player receives a number of “villager” tokens and five hut pieces in his color. When the game is all set up, it will look like this:
The game is divided into two phases: Exploration and Settlement. In each, players take turns placing their villagers on the board, either on land or on water. The gameplay is similar in both phases, but with some minor differences.
During Exploration, players may either:
- Place a villager on any open water space, or
- Place a villager or hut on any land space, so long as it’s next to one of their existing pieces. As an example:
In this image, the villager on the water space was placed on a previous turn. Now, another villager can be added on land, since it’s adjacent to an existing one. The player adds the piece to the board, and also takes the yellow resource marker.
In this way, players will form “chains” of villager tokens around the board. As play continues, players will collect statuette markers (brown) and resource markers (white, yellow, green, or blue), as shown above. During the scoring rounds, these items can earn the player points. After a few turns, the board will look something like this:
Players continue to place villages/huts until either:
- All villagers and huts have been placed, or
- All resource tokens have been collected (brown statuette tokens may still be left on the board)
When one of these things happens, the game has reached its midpoint, and a scoring phase occurs. Players can score points in multiple ways, including:
- Having their pieces on seven or eight islands
- Having a continuous chain of their pieces that connects multiple islands
- Having the most pieces on an island
- Collecting sets of like resources
- Collecting sets of all four resources
- Collecting statuettes
That may sound like a lot to keep track of, but the scoring system is actually quite straightforward and it moves quickly.
Once scoring is complete, players clear the board of all pieces except huts. At this time, the board is reset, with all resource and statuette tokens being redistributed on their starting spaces. The board will look very similar to setup, only now with huts already in place.
Players then begin the second phase of the game, Settlement. This works a lot like Exploration, except now, players may only place villagers next to their own pieces. To put another way, in the first half of the game, players can hop around the board, putting villagers on any open water space. In the second half, this is no longer allowed; the huts now act as starting points, and chains of villager tokens must always trace back to a hut.
The Exploration phase (and the game itself) ends the same way as the Settlement phase: all villagers are on the board, or all resource tokens have been claimed. When one of these triggers occurs, there is another scoring round, and the player with the highest total score wins.
Knizia has created dozens of amazing games throughout his career. His designs always manage to offer surprising depth with minimal complexity. Blue Lagoon is no exception. This game feels reminiscent of two other Knizia classics; it mashes together the route-building of Through the Desert with the two-act structure of Amun-Re.
For such a simple game system, Blue Lagoon has a fair amount of strategy. The turn sequence is little more than “you place a piece, I place a piece,” but players constantly find themselves torn between multiple desirable goals. Is it better to nab resource tokens before others get them, or try to get on all eight islands? And what about huts? What is the best way to place them during the first half to maximize the outcome of the second half? None of the decisions are excruciating on their own, but together—trying to balance resource collection, area majority, and route building, all while working to prevent opponents from doing the same—every move feels like it matters.
I enjoyed Blue Lagoon. Clocking in at around a half-hour, it moves along at a nice pace. The game scales well between player counts, but I prefer it with three or four; more players means a tighter game with a more claustrophobic board. It also has an attractive visual appeal, particularly the wooden resource markers and huts.
All told, Blue Lagoon is a fun outing in the family game genre. Younger children might struggle to grasp its strategy, but kids over, say, nine years old shouldn’t have a problem with it. It really encapsulates Knizia’s design style, and coming from me, that’s high praise. I recommend giving this one a try, preferably with the Moana soundtrack on in the background.
A review copy was provided by Blue Orange Games.
+ Provides meaningful strategy with a simple rules set
+ Great production quality
+ Though scoring system sounds cumbersome, it's simple and straightforward
+ Quick play time
- The two-act structure can be a bit hard to explain to first-time players