Lignum is a strategic optimization game that portrays the logging industry in the 19th century. Each round, players travel to the nearby forest, picking up tools and hiring workers along the way. After felling timber, players must decide how to transport their wood to their sawmills and if the wood should be processed or sold immediately, all the while optimizing their entire processing chain. (BoardGameGeek)
Action / Movement Programming
Area Control / Area Influence
Designer: Alexander Huemer
Artist: Christoph Clasen
Publisher: Capstone Games
Category: Economic, Environmental, Industry / Manufacturing, Transportation
Price: $60.63 Amazon
Lignum is a heavy game of logging and logistics for 2-4 players. This year, Capstone Games reprinted Lignum as a second edition which includes the Joinery & Buildings expansion and various art and component upgrades. Lignum is designed by Alexander Huemer whose original design for Lignum was published by Mucke Spiele.
Capstone Games is a board games publisher owned by Clay Ross. Capstone has published a slew of excellent titles, typically focused on heavy and involved gameplay. Some of these include Three Kingdoms Redux, Arkwright, The Ruhr, and more. Capstone has recently launched a line of games called Simply Complex, which combine simple rulesets with depth of complexity. The first in this line is The Climbers.
Few games evoke their theme well enough to be practically recognizable, and fewer games do it well enough to make players decide abruptly, “this is not a career path for me.”
“Yes,” I thought to myself after my second game of Lignum, “I’ll not be pursuing a small business in logging anytime soon.” This isn’t because halving trunks and price-dependently selling them to the appropriate buyer is lacking fun. In fact, pulling off a successful strategy three rounds in the making is quite satisfying. Playing a game of Lignum is sometimes less a game, and more akin to developing a mental spreadsheet. One prepares his finances for the worst, and pools all of his hopes, dreams, and cash on executing the most timely of strategies. Failure reveals both inexperience and lessons to be learned for the following game night where Lignum hits the table.
Lignum is a game of precision and excellence. A game which rewards cunning and smart pacing. A game for the initiated, and painfully challenging for those not in the know. Like all games which possess a high skill curve, this one gives a sense of accomplishment while it sits and stews in the minds of those gathered around the table.
Players are tasked with becoming the wealthiest logger at the table over the course of two years. This is done by creating a robust engine that can modify itself to meet the current needs of each round. Players cut down different types of trees, hire many different workers, gather specialized equipment, and fulfill orders for big end-game points. Not only is money critical for final points, but precious currency is needed to pay for staff and other essentials. As if pocketbooks weren’t already stretched thin, players are constantly preparing for the winter seasons. Each fourth round of the game will require players to pay both food and firewood to keep their families full and warm for the darkest time of year.
Split into 8 seasons, players spend the first section of a round deciding on one of six cutting areas to chop wood in. These areas are replenished each season, but provide a place for competition, as players deciding on same location will result in a race to chop first. Second place might not have any wood left to cut and might need to pay their workers to vacate to a new location. In addition, the woods provide food cubes, but might give none if multiple players choose the same spot. This provides a round of hidden information that can startle and disappoint, or provide outrageous excitement for those who chose an empty canvas. In our games, no one wanted confrontation, so we avoided high profile cutting areas, only to accidentally all decide on the same middle ground location.
Next, players walk their foreman down a long path, similar to dropping worker cylinders in Francis Drake. Upon choosing a location on the path, the current player takes whatever action or token. These provide opportunities for hiring limited supplies of specialized workers, planning ahead for enhanced actions, selecting order cards for end-game points, gathering crafting supplies for special hut actions, and collecting transportation tokens to move the wood that will be cut.
Finally, once all players have traveled their individual foremen back to the forest, players cut their wood depending on the number of woodcutters they’ve hired. From here, players travel down a chain of events depicted at the top of the board. Here is the meat of Lignum logistics. Players will send their chopped wood from their woodpiles to their sawmills in a variety of ways. One could send all of their chopped wood via a raft, but it won’t arrive until next turn. Other avenues are limited in how much wood can be carried, but will allow players to receive wood on the same turn. Once wood arrives at home, players must utilize any hired sawmen and saws to either mill the wood into bits to sell and age, or leave it in stump form. Either way, the wood will then move along an aging track, similar to Viticulture, becoming more valuable over time, and if planned well, becoming precisely what is needed on the various order cards. The winter season provides similar actions to this track, but only allows for a single action choice.
This continues for a full two years. At the culmination of all the planning and payoffs, players tally their extra cash from orders, adding to their (fingers crossed) stockpile of cash collected over the course of the game. Whoever is richest is crowned both winner and king of the logs and logbooks.
I’ve been a tad snide about the logistics of Lignum, and I think it’s a due point. The game is extremely heavy. One’s strategy sits high on wooden stilts. It can all fall at any moment if another player takes the critical resource needed. To fault Lignum for high-level strategy reliance would be a fault in its own, however. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, successful planning in Lignum is extremely rewarding. It’s difficult to pull off, sure, but repeated play teaches players how to react throughout each session.
I liken this enjoyment of Lignum to an FPS I’ve recently enjoyed. When I first tried Rainbow Six Siege on a few free weekends last year, I was unamused. Being used to arcade shooters like Call of Duty, DOOM, or Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, I found the slow pace and trickery of Siege underwhelming, difficult, and unappealing. After spending half a year playing daunting and deliberate games of Player Unknown’s: Battlegrounds, I began to appreciate playing plodding shooters, and this opened to door to enjoy and succeed at Siege. I now enjoy Siege and have geared up with all season passes because it’s entirely opened up a technically “new genre” for me.
I won’t recommend Siege to my friends that enjoy FPS games. I won’t recommend Lignum to my friends that call themselves heavy gamers. I will recommend Siege and Lignum to friends who enjoying learning new play-styles and types of games. One might argue my point here is nothing but pretentious, but I’ll contend Lignum to be a heavy game requiring patience and perseverance. It’s likely best learned with a seasoned player, or with a group committed to learning the ins and outs of creating a logging empire. This the joy of long-standing dedication that Siege and Lignum share. Many other games exist that can share these nuances of repetition, but because there are so many routes to victory and potential plans to explore, Lignum prides itself on committed players. Those who will enjoy Lignum most will be those who want nothing more than to venture into new strategies and crush their friends while doing it.
Lignum was so heavy of a game to review that I still feel woefully inadequate to explain all the methods to victory. The game ships with a Joinery expansion that provides many new buildings for players to utilize. These are sometimes souped up actions, but all grant new ways to develop strategy. We’ve not even had the chance to play with this expansion, and already feel overwhelmed by the options.
Unanimously at the table, we agreed Lignum will shine at a table full of pros. This doesn’t mean our games were lacking in entertainment. I saw many faces of joy and many faces of frustration—a full gamut of emotions. My brain was tired after each game. I spent quite a bit of time discussing the last few hours with those around the table. Many games I play grant 10 minutes of discussion, but Lignum provided so many ups and downs, plot points, and climaxes that we were able to recall every pivotal moment in the game. I remembered when three of us chose cutting area 3, intending to avoid the coveted cutting area 4. I remember when Melvin took the last saw Aaron needed, grief ensuing. I remember when I realized I should have chose the raft a season earlier to prep for cutting. Each beat was memorable, and few games inspire this memory like Lignum.
On a final note, I think it’s worth mentioning this game might last anywhere from 2-4 hours. It’s not only lengthy, but it also is a monster to set up and tear down. There are tons and tons of pieces. I opted to utilize dollar store containers and red silicone baking cups to organize things. You’ll need a sizeable table for all of these goodies, as you can see from the photos.
If you’re reading this review, and you’ve developed just a spark of interest, maybe this one is for you. If I’ve not warded you off, we have a success. Lignum sure is a beast, but it’s going to be a long-lasting one for certain groups.
A review copy of Lignum was provided by Capstone Games.
+ Success in Lignum is hugely satisfactory
+ Many avenues to victory, with lots of opportunities to plan for
+ Ages well with multiple plays
+ Included expansion opens door for many new strategies
+ Cutthroat and exciting with lots of player interaction
- Long set up and tear down times
- Requires committed players, and does not work well if only played a few times
- Extreme mental fatigue after playing, requires tons of attention and thought