So now that I’ve got some distance on Gen Con, I’ve finally been able to get in enough plays of enough games that I can start reviewing games I picked up there. One such game is Lotus, a flower-building / area control game from Renegade Game Studios. In it, you vie for the secrets to enlightenment or something by building flowers in your garden. As you might guess from the box art, it’s going to be a very pretty game. But how does it play?
Setup is also pretty easy, here. You should see five decks, each of a different color:
Ignore the grey deck for now. Each player should choose a deck.
- If playing with three players, remove one of each type of Petal card with one stamp (the square below the number) from each deck. That’s one 3 (Iris), 4 (Primrose), 5 (Cherry Blossom), 6 (Lily), and 7 (Lotus). Each card should only have one stamp on it.
- If playing with four players, remove two of each type of Petal card with one stamp from each deck.
Cool. Now you’ll notice some tiles that have Special Powers listed on them, one in each player color:
Set them out near the grey deck, shuffle the grey deck, and flip out the top four cards (these are known as “wildflowers”), laying them across the top of the play area.
Finally, you’ll notice some insect tokens:
These are your Guardians. Give each player the two insects that match their deck’s color, and set the grey version (the Elder Guardian) aside for now. Finally, set out the 5 VP tokens where other players can reach them.
Once you’re all set up, have each player draw four cards from their deck. Your play area should look like this:
So, your goal in Lotus is to make the best garden, but how do you do that? Well, you’ll notice that in your hand you have a bunch of Petal Cards:
These generally have a number on them and a stamp of your color (or two!), with the exception of the above cards, which are known as wildflowers (and aren’t in your deck). These are required to form flowers, which will earn you endgame points. On your turn, you can work towards this goal by performing two actions out of a possible three (you can repeat the same action twice):
- Play Petal Cards
- Exchange Petal Cards
- Move a Guardian
And I’ll explain them each in order.
Play Petal Cards
With this action, you add up to two Petal Cards from your hand to any flower currently on the table, or start a new flower if there is currently no incomplete flower of that type. Place your petal card on the line on the previous card so that you form the correct flower shape:
Note that the number on the flower cards indicates how many Petal Cards are needed to complete that flower, so make sure you’re keeping track! I’ll talk about completing flowers in a bit.
Exchange Petal Cards
This one is pretty straightforward. You take up two cards in your hand and place them on the bottom of your deck, and then you draw the same number of cards from the top of the deck.
Move a Guardian
For this action, a player may move their guardian either from their supply to an incomplete flower or from one incomplete flower to another.
Guardians count as an extra “point” towards flower control, if the flower is completed, so this seems like the right time to talk about flower completion.
Completing a Flower
If, on your turn, you successfully play Petal Cards such that the flower is complete, congratulations! You completed the flower, and will score it for points at the end of the game. Put the completed flower in a stack near your deck, so you can keep track of how many cards are there. However, who controls the flower is a different game entirely.
Remember the stamps? Each stamp is a “point” for that player in terms of flower control. So if you have five stamps on a flower and another player only has two, you control that flower once it’s completed. That player gets to keep the cards, but you get something else.
You get either:
- One of three Special Power tokens. These tokens bend the rules a bit for you, and let you do actions that aren’t normally possible, such as:
- Enlightened Path: You may hold 5 cards in your hand. Note that if you get this, you don’t draw up to five cards until after your turn is over.
- Infinite Growth: You may play as many Petal Cards as you want on a Play Petal Cards action, provided they are of the same type and going onto the same flower.
- Elder Guardian: You unlock the Elder Guardian for use. It plays and is moved like a normal Guardian, but is worth two points of control.
- 5 Victory Points. If you can’t or don’t want to take a Special Power token, you take 5 Victory Points.
If there is a tie for flower control, all tied players get a benefit of their choice. See? It pays to be nice sometimes, just like in Carcassonne. Sort of.
End of Turn
Once your turn has ended, you draw back up to four cards to refill your hand. However, you do not have to just draw from the deck — remember wildflowers? They are the extra cards that exist and don’t provide any control points, but they can help you complete cards. You may draw cards from your deck and the wildflowers interchangeably (you can draw one-at-a-time and then choose to draw from your deck or the wildflowers each time), so there might be advantages to taking certain cards, even if everyone then knows you took a purple wildflower card.
After that, keep going with turns until the game ends!
Play continues until one player has drawn the last cards from their deck, at which time every player gets one additional turn, including the player who just drew the last card. Once that’s all done, the game ends.
If there are still flowers in the playing area that aren’t completed, they are given to players who control them. If there’s a tie for control, they are split evenly, with any leftover cards that can’t be split evenly getting discarded (a five-card incomplete Lotus controlled by three players, for instance, would give each player one Lotus Petal Card and then discard the other two).
Now, count the number of Petal Cards you’ve taken and add in any 5VP tokens you’ve taken. Player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Well, with three and four you’re going to be removing cards from the deck before you start, so the game length will be about the same no matter how many players you have.
That said, with three, as with some other games (Apotheca, for instance), I find that there can be a bit of a kingmaker problem, or at least one player will generally start flowers and a different player will usually finish them. That said, I’ve generally played with new players, so this might not happen to everyone.
- Take Special Powers early in the game. You really want some of them, and they’ll give you a ton of additional options.
- Generally, I start with Enlightened Path, as far as special powers go. The extra card gives you 25% more cards than other players, meaning you might have a better ability to start flowers or complete flowers that other people have played, giving you more benefits.
- Elder Guardian is great if you can get it early, but late-game go for the 5VP instead (especially if nobody else has one). That’s just my opinion, but it’s super helpful if you can grab it in the first couple rounds since you can pretty easily leverage that to take flowers from other players.
- Late-game, it’s fine to complete flowers that other people control, provided they’re at least 5 Petal Cards. That earns you at least 5 Petal Cards and potentially gives them 5VP, so in any game that’s not two-player it’s mutually beneficial unless they’re in the lead. In two-player, yeah, there’s no incentive unless you’re blocking them from completing it themselves and getting control.
- Generally, “Move Guardian” then “Play Petal Cards” is a strong move to surprise an opponent. Some people forget about the Guardians (they are a bit small) and think that because they have two points of control on a four-petal flower that nobody will take it. They also generally forget about the two-stamp Petal Cards, which are very useful. Use those + the Elder Guardian (if you can get it) to quickly turn the tables on your opponents.
- Try to optimize. Generally, I try to only complete a flower if I win the control war by one or two points — that means I got other players to build the flower for me, and then I just swooped in and completed it. If you find that you played every card in the 7-card Lotus yourself, you spent a lot of Lotus cards and will likely have difficulty getting in on the Lotus in the future.
- Beware Infinite Growth. If your opponent has it, suddenly the 5 Petal Cherry Blossom isn’t terribly safe with even one or two cards on it, as they might be able to play their entire hand and complete it. Plus, this means you can play an entire primrose or iris in one turn, since you could potentially get all four primrose petals or all three iris petals in hand.
- Generally, I try to play / control small flowers early to get the Powers, and then large flowers late to get the points. Special Powers help you play bigger flowers and control them better, so getting them as quickly as possible is usually a boon. By the mid- to late-game, you’re going to be gunning for points, so having those Powers also lets you establish longer-term strategies.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Great theme. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying hard now to branch out (no pun intended) with my collection and explore games that are different themes from the sort of generic sci-fi / fantasy that dominates tabletop gaming a tiny bit, currently. I missed out on Tavarua, a cool-looking surfing game; I backed Coldwater Crown, a cute worker-placement fishing game; and I found myself super drawn to Lotus by the whole making-a-garden theme. I generally like uncommon themes in games, so this stood out a lot. That said, it also delivers on the theme with a well-executed game.
- Really cool execution of theme. I love the theme and how it’s played out by this sort of interesting-card-stacking-card-control thing. It’s a cool theme done well by simple but interesting gameplay.
- Beautiful art. The cover is probably the most beautiful cover for a game that I own. It’s eye-catching and gets people interested in playing the game. So special shoutout to Kane Klenko for doing a good job directing the art, but also definitely Chris Ostrowski for just knocking it out of the park. Wow. The petal cards are also very well-done, as the game looks great when it’s being played. This is among my favorite art in games.
- Simple to learn and very accessible. I think the only thing keeping this from being a great kids’ game is that very young kids might eat the Guardian tokens, which … seems like a not great thing to have happen. Generally I’d say it’s not a super-heavy-thinking game, and it’s light enough that I generally bring it to places to teach people. It might be a bit more heavy than, say, Dingo’s Dreams, but … that’s not a whole lot.
- About the right length. I really appreciate games that don’t feel too short or too long, and Lotus feels like the appropriate length for the game, which is nice. It just speaks to the quality of the game’s design, I suppose. It’s in the same mental category for me as, like, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival or Splendor — a bit more weight than Hanabi or No Thanks!, but not quite as much as, say, Roll for the Galaxy or 7 Wonders.
- Guardian tokens are really tiny. I’ve almost lost them three or four times.
- Can have a bit of a runaway leader problem, especially with new players. If a player gets the Special Powers early enough and is completing + controlling flowers because of those, there’s not really a way to stop their rampage. It’d be interesting to see an expansion that allows you to discard Petal Cards from the playing area to prune flowers and potentially block an opponent, though I’m not sure how useful that’d be.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Lotus is one of the first games in a while that I’ve been impressed by that I’ve heard nothing about before buying. Generally, I get some sense of the hype surrounding a game before I pick it up but I honestly bought Lotus completely in the dark because I saw the art and was like, “well, sure, why not”.
Totally worth it.
I think it offers a lot of interesting choices, a cool structure for scoring and weighing trade-offs, and is absolutely beautiful. This is a game I’d use to get people into gaming, and one that I already have. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a good opener / starter or a very pretty game.