Full disclosure: A preview copy of Lucky Luau was provided by Cardlords. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
It’s Kickstarter Season, again! I can’t help but be sad about it because Kickstarter Season is normally right after Gen Con and now it’s still technically after Gen Con but there’s no Gen Con. I miss in-person conventions. But I digress. There are more and more games hitting Kickstarter, and given my limited bandwidth for the last several months, I’m trying to cover as many as I can. This next one is Lucky Luau, from the same folks that brought you Animalchemists a while back! Let’s check it out.
In Lucky Luau, you’re prepping for the big event! Everyone’s going to make their own lei using flowers, nuts, leaves, and various other things you can find around the island. Naturally, yours needs to be the best, partially because we’re in a board game for the purposes of this narrative and being the best at things matters a lot more, there. Problem with a lei is that you really need to slide things on, one at a time, so you gotta be particular about what you choose. Will you be able to craft the best one?
Very little. You can give each player a set of Knife / Spacers / Fish Hook:
Shuffle the double-sided Characters, and reveal 3:
Finally, set out the other cards:
You can mix them up and make a pile, like the rulebook suggests, or you can just leave them as a deck. Since this game already eats a lot of space, I opted for the deck. You should be ready to start!
The game isn’t too complicated. Each turn, you can take any card from the pile (face-up or face-down) and add it to the right side of the lei you’re constructing. That’s … pretty much the whole thing. If you don’t like the card you draw, you may return it to the pile face-up, and any player may shuffle around the face-down cards (if you’re using a messy pile) before they draw. You must always take a card, and you cannot return face-up cards to the pile.
Before or after you play a card, you may play one of your three special cards:
- Knife: You may remove any card from your lei.
- Spacer: Place this card down. On a subsequent turn, you may play a card on top of this card. You don’t get it back, though! One-time use.
- Fish Hook: You score more points if this is the center card of your lei.
Once all of the cards have been played, the game ends! Check the cards to see if they score, add up points (and points from the characters) and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think the biggest one is just the idea that the fewer players you have, the more likely certain cards are to get back around to you. As the player count increases, the supply of cards doesn’t change, so the odds of getting certain colors begins to drop pretty drastically as you approach six people. That’s the biggest thing, I think. Other than that, there’s not really much take-that or player interaction; you’re loosely drafting several cards and placing them in a row, so, the more players there are, the fewer cards you’ll get. It does make the game more vulnerable to swings at higher player counts (since lower overall points means any one high-scoring card can be huge), so I may recommend prioritizing higher-value cards at higher player counts, if you can. No real preference, though it boggles the mind to have six people at a table right now.
- If the card you need is available, take from the face-up cards. I mean, the card that you can see is almost always better than the card you can’t, especially if the card you can see is the one that you need. Just make sure you keep track of what you’re looking for so you don’t do something silly and ignore a card that would really help you.
- Keep in mind where you think your halfway point is. That Fish Hook is a bunch of points if you can place it correctly. Good luck, I mean, trying to place it correctly; I almost never have, and several players straight-up forgot to put it in their lei at all, but if you can get it placed correctly it’s a bunch of points! Points are always nice.
- Taking more cards is generally good, as long as you can make the placements work. The more cards you have, the more points you can score, provided you can get the right cards in the right place. This game is definitely designed to force you to reckon with the sunk-cost fallacy; how many cards will you skip until the perfect one comes up? What if it never does? I’d err on the side of cutting your losses decently quickly if you don’t want to get left behind.
- Using the spacer is also good! For that absolutely perfect placement, the Spacer exists. It lets you defer a card placement until … whenever, really. Super useful for scoring hybrid flowers, since you can place it and wait until you get the flower you need to bump your score.
- Keep in mind that you may be able to use your knife to avoid end of game penalties. There are several characters that want you to avoid specific flowers on your lei, and often the player count breakdown is such that, assuming an equal distribution, you’re going to get at least one. Personally, I’d recommend taking them all and scoring a ton of points, but if you’d prefer not to do that and you still get stuck with one, you can use your Knife at the end of the game to cut that offending flower off and still get the points you crave.
- Also, keep an eye on what the end-of-game conditions are. Like I said, the characters can be a pretty big point buff, especially if other players are forsaking cards to get these points. You may be able to use that to trick your opponents into making a mistake.
- Matching up your first and last card is hard, but satisfying. It’s not really a strategy point, but if you can pull it off, it DOES feel pretty great. Just don’t forget that that’s technically a scoring possibility!
- Intermediate color cards can be tricky but are extremely valuable if you can land them right. I go for a fair number of these because they still score decently if you only half-complete them, but they score BIG if you land it perfectly from both sides. That’s worth doing!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is nice! Very colorful. I like games with a lot of color, and this definitely delivers on that front.
- If you nail the card combos correctly, you generally get the benefit of some very nice color gradients, which looks great and has a great table presence. This might be my favorite bit, honestly. If you do a good job with certain intermediate colors, you can really create a very pretty progression on the table. I imagine that will draw the eye pretty well. I like how it turns out, when it turns out well.
- It’s a solidly simple concept that executes pretty well on it. It’s essentially just taking a card or skipping, and it works well with the theme and the card mechanics. Simple enough design, solid execution. I would say it lacks frills, which can be tough for a Kickstarter title, but maybe they’ll surprise me during the campaign. Not really a problem, anyways.
- Plays pretty quickly. It’s very short, especially once players know what all the cards do and how they score.
- Very portable, as well! Can easily fit in a small deck box, which from my memory of Animalchemists, seems to be part of the draw for Cardlords. It’s nice that a lot of companies have a schtick around portability, to be honest.
- It presents a nice tension between luck-of-the-draw and the sunk cost fallacy. As I mentioned in Strategy, if you keep dumping cards to the center trying to find the perfect card, you’re not going to put anything on your lei! You can’t shoot for the perfect cards; you need to know when to cut your losses and move on if you want to win. I think that’s a really interesting tension for such a short game, which is part of why it works so well, I suppose.
- Having players put the cards into a big messy pile is fine, but a deck is a little more space-conscious. From a random chance perspective, they’re roughly equivalent. A properly shuffled deck can have cards pulled from any spot “randomly”, just like a messy pile. The pile is better for aesthetics, I’ll give them that, but I’m trying to save space on my tiny table.
- The goal cards can occasionally be mutually exclusive or virtually unattainable, which can be frustrating. I may house rule just ignoring those if they come up. But, for instance, it’s very difficult for every player to avoid taking a red flower in a three-player game, given that there are four red flowers and three players. Even with knives, there’s still one player that’s going to get screwed over, and a bit of math can quickly tell you who.
- I think all of my games had several players goof up placing the Fish Hook. I think it’s really hard to get players to estimate when a game is halfway over, and the Fish Hook demonstrates it. It feels almost luck-based when that sort of thing happens, but I imagine nailing it correctly feels amazing.
- The game is kind of a table space hog since it primarily places a lot of cards along a fairly straight line. This is kind of obvious from my photography, but I have a small table and big dreams. The dreams were too large for my table. This is kind of a problem, especially because it’s hard to imagine too many places where you could play this easily without the space constraint.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think Lucky Luau is pretty fun! It presents an interesting side to the Kickstarter debate. A lot of what people complain about is massive-box titles with everything and the kitchen sink thrown in, with modes and variable play and everything else you can imagine. This … isn’t that, at all. It’s a small card game from a small publisher that probably can’t get made without Kickstarter. People might be a bit confused that there aren’t extra modes or etc, but I think that this really speaks to why Kickstarter exists (and why I do these previews); it’s nice to see smaller games get made that might not, otherwise. I think this one’s a pretty fun title; I like how it takes a phenomenally simple concept (draw a card, play a card, essentially) and turns it into a very fun and very colorful experience! I do wish it took up less space, but I’m very here for it challenging players to balance the sunk cost fallacy against their desire to get the perfect card! It’s a great tension. Either way, if you’re looking for a quick and portable, pretty fun card game, you may enjoy Lucky Luau!