After several weeks of playing old favorites (and of missing game nights all together due to other engagements), I finally got in something new last night. The sad thing is that it’s a game I’ve owned for the better part of a year but haven’t gotten to the table yet. And it wasn’t even my copy that we played. That’s the danger of acquisition disorder. You chase the new shiny, and soon the shelves are full of all the former shinies. Fortunately, I enjoyed the game tremendously, so I don’t feel too bad about it taking up space on my shelf. Unplayed. Alone…
Lewis & Clark is essentially a worker placement game where you’re trying to gather resources to move your expedition down the river to the Oregon coast. You’re collecting wood, food, fur and tools, which can later be turned into canoes and horses to help you travel further and over certain obstacles. Driving this is a hand of cards, each with two sides. One side contains an action, such as collecting resources, moving down the river, or recruiting workers to place on the board. But these actions have to powered by another card, and this is done by the reverse side, which shows one, two or three Indian icons. An action can be powered once for each icon showing on the card powering it, provided you have the resources to set it off each time. So you really have to manage your hand; do you want to use a card’s action, or give it up in order to power another action? You also have the option to purchase new cards, and there’s an action that lets you remove cards from your hand, so your strategy can evolve over the course of the game as once useful cards are abandoned in order to thin out your hand.
Because your hand isn’t the only management going on. You also have a canoe in which you keep your collected resources and workers. You can expand both areas so you can store more of each, but you have to be careful. Because when you’re out of actions to perform, you make camp. And for every unplayed card and every unused resource and worker (over a certain minimum), you move back one space down the river. So if you don’t plan correctly, you could undo all the progress you made. And since the game ends as soon as a player makes camp past the finish line on the river, every play is crucial. Run too many cards and you risk someone with fewer cards finishing before you do.
Which is exactly what happened to me. I grabbed some useful cards and jumped ahead of everyone else, and stayed there most of the game. But in the late going, another player played some good combos and moved ahead a bunch of spaces, and camped right before I was about to cross the line. I got caught up trying to move as far past the line as I could, when I probably could have done fewer actions and gotten across sooner; even with the lost spaces, I would have been okay. But even with the close loss, it was still an amazing game, and one I’m glad I own. Even if my copy doesn’t get played.