Base price: $80.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: 1.5 – 2 hours.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 2
Full disclosure: A review copy of Lacrimosa was provided by Devir Games.
It’s kind of at the point now where I feel like I should get some fanfare or confetti if a play a game that takes over two hours. Especially if I have to learn it and teach it on the spot? And then review it? I feel like that’s worth something, if only to me. I’m trying to celebrate myself more in 2023; maybe this is how I do it. Well, and the other big stuff that’s happened this year. 1000 reviews, a major life change; more on the second part once it happens, I think. Don’t want to jump the gun. Either way, I’m getting off track, as I tend to do when I write these sections late at night. I’ve been trying to expand my horizons and play more heavy games, and I just planned a pretty-intense Spirit Island weekend for a bit from now. So that’ll be fun; we might actually get a Spirit Island Review out of it. Look forward to that. Lacrimosa has been a game I’ve been eyeballing for a review for some time, so, excitingly, I get to tell you more about it! We should probably just get into it.
In Lacrimosa, Mozart has died. That’s sad, probably. But, this presents an opportunity. You see, his widow is trying to complete his final work and needs some patrons. Ideally, the greatest patron would be remembered forever as someone who really lifted up the greatest musician of his age, and that’s pretty cool. You’re pretty sure you met Mozart and whatever stories you have of your time together can be reasonably embellished to get to something resembling a memorable tale of your wisdom and generosity. Naturally, you might have to backdate some things and get some people to perform some music, but all the pieces are there. Unfortunately, like any good idea, you’re not the only one who’s had it, so you’ll need to help complete Mozart’s last work if you want to make a name for yourself in his story. In the present, that means commissioning composers to finish the work while you regale the widow with memories of your past exploits together. You commissioned works from him, you helped him travel and introduced him to all of the right people, and most importantly, you supported him. Probably more than everyone else. You’re pretty sure that’s what he would have said if he were still alive. Will you be able to make a name for yourself in someone else’s story?
Player Count Differences
Thinking about player count differences in Lacrimosa takes me back to two of my favorite things to whine about: random markets and chaotic influence. So, I’m going to lead by saying that I’d probably prefer playing this at two or three players, particularly since as player count increases, the game does very little (read: nothing) to adjust, so with four players, you’re going to just be playing a fundamentally longer instance of Lacrimosa than you would at two players. Not my favorite, but a perfectly acceptable function of games. That all said, it’s a lot of fun. The things worth watching out for are just the functions of games where other players can interact with each other. The Travel Action, for instance, moves Mozart around Europe. That’s not an individual player function; that’s happening on the main board. So more players means less predictability. Sometimes they’ll move you closer to where you want to be; other times they’ll move Mozart and take the tile that you want and mess up your entire round. That’s pretty explicitly par for the course with this kind of player interaction. Same goes for getting new cards. With more players, it becomes harder to rely on the market remaining consistent between your turns, so it often becomes a bit “better” to buy cards earlier, when you can guarantee that you’ll actually get them. Better is a hugely subjective term, but you’re reading a review; it’s subjective by nature. I tend to prefer lower unpredictability in my complex games, so I’d usually lean towards the lower end of the player count for this kind of thing, and that holds true, here. It’s not that four players in Lacrimosa is explicitly worse; it just has the potential to add variance to the game that I don’t necessarily enjoy. There is a solo mode, but I struggle with playing games without other people unless they’re pretty short ones.
- Don’t undervalue your Finance Track, since that’s your primary source of income. You start with 10 money, but good luck hitting those high highs without performing or bumping up your Finance Track, since you’ll be spending a lot of money commissioning works and trying to finish the Requiem. Plus, some of the pieces of the Requiem require you to decrease your Finance Track, so you might want to get it as high as possible so you can collect. You also get points and extra resources at the higher end of the track.
- Buying new cards is always a good idea, but keep in mind which of your old cards you’re burning for them; it may be worth trying to limit your purchases to strictly upgrading your cards, so you don’t lose access to certain actions. Naturally, you don’t want to completely shut off your ability to contribute to the Requiem or Travel or something, so make sure you fully understand what cards you’re removing from play. It may be worth trying to exclusively dump cards for cards that have the same symbol so that you don’t ever limit yourself, though if you find that certain things don’t fit your strategy you can at least reduce your reliance on them. It’s a bit rare for players to get more than six or seven new cards per game, though, so don’t get too invested in deckbuilding.
- Some of the permanent abilities you can gain from the Requiem Action are pretty useful to take early. Certain permanent abilities boost the resources you get every round, but others will allow you to double-use certain actions. This means playing a Travel Action suddenly lets you travel twice. That’s great (if you have the money and resources for it), so it might be worth taking a short-term hit as a long-term investment.
- Travel can also make up for things you lack, like money or certain actions; keep an eye on the tiles. Certain spots will give you a wealth of resources or money or Finance Track advancement, so look for those spaces. Just keep in mind that plenty of your opponents want the same thing as you do, so it’s sometimes worth going for those spaces sooner rather than later, when they might no longer be available. That said, if you wait long enough, they’ll become more valuable, so if you’re willing to risk it, it might pay off.
- It’s probably worth keeping an eye on what your opponents are doing. This is almost always a good idea, but you might be able to see what they’re setting up if you look at what resources and money they have (and what they’ve played; you usually only have two of each action). If you can predict their moves, you might be able to make what they’re doing work for you. The ideal is having players use their Travel Action to move towards locations you want or having players use their Requiem action to support your majority, but it’s hard to thread those things.
- Running low on money will limit a lot of your actions, just like real life. If you run out of money, you pretty much can’t do … anything. Not ideal, since you also need money to get resources which you use to get money. You never want to do the “collect X money instead of performing an action” action, since that’s a terrible conversion, but that can happen as the result of bad planning or bad luck. Try to keep a small amount of money (or keep some of the resource counters, since you can sell them to the bank for 1 money each).
- Keep in mind that your last card will stay in your hand between rounds, so you can use that to set yourself up for the next round (especially if you’re going first). If you are going first next round, there will be fewer turns between your last turn of a round and your first turn of the next round than normal (especially in a two-player game, where that number becomes 0). This means you can effectively set up a combo if you know what you’re doing. For instance, you can pause taking a Travel Action and wait for the board to become higher-value, or you can wait to commission an Opus until the four rightmost cards are removed and everything becomes cheaper. The last card in your hand between rounds is a pretty critical thing to plan around before you take your last turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The box cover is very visually impressive. It does look great. Really pops on a shelf if you’re displaying it front-out. The extra shiny red on the bottom of the front is particularly nice, as well. It’s a really impressive visual for a game.
- This actually wasn’t as dense of a complex game as I’d feared; it moves at a pretty good clip once you get it. I really thought that it would be a lot more complicated than it ended up being. The systems are pretty intricate, granted, and there’s a lot of resources to cards to money to cards to resources and that whole cycle (very common in Euro-style games), but after explaining it we mostly had all the rules down pat. I think that if you’re looking to explore more complex games and this theme interests you, it’s a surprisingly approachable game and there’s a lot of strategic depth to it. You can try a bunch of different actions and move through the game’s systems at your own pace until you find a strategy that works for you. Even though I lost my first game, I still had fun losing and learned a lot for my next one!
- I appreciate that the game has many different levels of interactivity, from the Requiem majority conflicts to the paths and travel on the main board. The player interaction in this one is solid! There’s jockeying for which Composer will have the majority in each section, there’s moving the Mozart token around and having other players move the same token to new places (which may make your next moves more or less expensive), and there’s the usual fights over cards that any player can buy. There are a few different types of player interaction, which makes things pretty neat, since you can still see all of them at once on the board.
- The minor vague deckbuilding is a lot of fun. I particularly like how cards are moved in and out of your “deck”. It’s hard to call nine cards a deck, but I’ve had a pretty good game of Dominion where a nine-card deck was my goal, so I suppose that it counts. I really like how the game forces you to think creatively and strategically about the cards you take since you have so few chances to do so.
- I really like how the cards you play on the bottom of your player board become your starting resources for the next round, rewarding planning. It’s a really neat way to make the “unused” cards into something useful, especially since the resources tend to correspond to the actions you’re not taking. It lets you move in waves, of a sort, since you’re giving yourself the resources required to take the actions you didn’t take in the previous round, making it slightly more likely that you’ll take those actions in the next one. Or maybe you’ll just use them to get money or points. Whatever works, but I like the planning that has to go into every action.
- The player boards are exceptional. These might be the coolest player boards I’ve seen. I think they’re technically triple-layered? There’s a double-layered top component which holds tokens and a little language-specific player guide, but then there’s an extra layer on the bottom that has enough of a gap that you can slide the eight cards you play each round into the top and bottom of the board, which is absolutely fascinating. It’s such a cool player board. It also folds shut to resemble a journal! It’s very on-theme. Love it.
- The game has a lot of strategic depth, which I really appreciate. Like I said earlier, there are a lot of moving parts in the game and I find them all interesting! I think the last time I played, I didn’t necessary perform Opuses enough, and that left me a bit cash-poor throughout the game. To rectify that, I focused on travel and having enough red resources to finance that (and got many cash rewards from Travel Actions). But that meant that my deckbuilding was trending towards travel, as well, so I ended up spending less time trying to improve my Commission Opus actions anyways (and I got a Requiem Bonus that let me take two Travel Actions every time I would have taken a Travel Action). That was just one game where I went deep on Travel; I wonder what happens if I go deep on Performing next time?
- I also like how unused tiles upgrade in quality, rewarding players for going after less-popular locales from the previous round. It’s a small thing, but there’s a back side to all the tiles on the main board, and if they’re not taken during Travel Actions in a round, they flip to the gilded side and essentially become more valuable, giving more money or points for taking them. It rewards a bit of patience.
- The theme feels kind of … there. I see how it all fits together, but the connection between playing cards and recalling memories does make me feel like the game could be about the memory of anything, from dragging Mozart around Europe to the construction of the Sagrada Familia to Remembering Your Trip or something like that. I think a lot of the drier Euro-style games struggle sometimes to connect the theme to the gameplay in a way that resonates, and I don’t quite think the theme resonated with me, here. Maybe it’s also that I’m not extremely invested in Mozart?
- The scoreboard’s position was certainly a choice. It just kind of ducks and weaves and goes all over, which was odd. I find it a bit amusing, but can be a bit confusing during the game.
- It’s a pretty long board, which doesn’t always lend itself to an ideal seating configuration. I was sitting on the other side of the board from the Requiem Tiles in my last game, which caused a few problems (I misread the price for one, and that messed up my strategy). I think the ideal configuration is all players siting at the bottom, but then it’s hard to find a table that makes sense for that. Maybe put the whole board on a Lazy Susan? Unclear. I’m told that’s helpful, but I’ve never really seen it done in practice.
- Setup can be a bit of a pain, just because of how many different sets of cards and tiles need to be shuffled and set. You’re also removing cards from each set and then shuffling and stacking the sets to create a larger run of cards for each round of the game. Comparisons to Pandemic (particularly unflattering comparisons) were made. Since there’s no insert, you’re also just kind of on your own with where you put things, which means that you’re liable to find some things that didn’t make it back into the box after a game since it’s impossible to verify how many of each card of each type there are.
- The graphic design can lead to a bunch of different challenges, which isn’t my favorite. We struggled a lot with this one. The core board is pretty beige. It may have been a function of our (admittedly warm) lighting, but we missed things on the board. It was hard to make out paths in the Travel section, I could not read the city names from where I was sitting, and the tiny costs on the Requiem Tiles caused several problems over the course of the game. A lot of this is in service of the theme, which I get, but in service of the theme in such a way that it hampers readability is an accessibility issue. Plus, the beigeness of the board just makes it hard for specific aspects of the game to stand out.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, Lacrimosa is certainly no slouch, but it was a lot of fun, too! I was pleasantly surprised on a number of fronts, including its approachability. Don’t get me wrong, coming from someone who enjoys lower-complexity games, this was still a lot to learn and set up, partially because there are a lot of cards that all look very similar but do very different things and go in very different places. This is partially a graphic design issue and partially a choice; I mean, the game is very beige, and some things are bound to get lost in the shuffle. I forgot to put cards away because I didn’t immediately see them against my wood table, for instance. But in all seriousness, Devir has traditionally shown a lot of care in the games they publish at all complexity levels, and I find that even while Lacrimosa is intense, it has a lot of interesting features that make it feel pretty approachable. The rulebook spends a lot of time explaining pretty much everything you can find on every possible board, and there are some admittedly subtle hints about where things should go, either because they match the background or they fit nicely in the groove indicated. Beyond that, though, the game is pretty fun! It’s got a mild deckbuilding component; you have a nine-card deck, and every turn you play two cards. One is your action, the other is what resource you want to gain next round. Should your action be buying a card, you replace the resource card with a new card, meaning you’ll likely get more resources (and a usually-better card) in the next round. The player board is built specifically for this, allowing you to slot in the cards above and below (as well as track everything else, from your Finances to your Story Track to your Composer Bonuses). For a complex game, it’s a particularly-elegantly designed one, so it’s got that going for it. The various moving parts of the game also move together seamlessly to allow for many different strategies. Do you prioritize Travel, getting Mozart to various locales to collect bonuses? Do you prioritize completing the Lacrimosa itself by playing Requiem actions, supporting your personal favorite composer (and getting bonuses and action boosts that way)? Or do you commission, perform, and sell opuses to earn money, fame, and fortune? These all have their own benefits and drawbacks, and naturally, some combination of all three is going to be necessary to win. But there’s always a new configuration in play, from new Composer combinations to new City and Royal Court tiles to the cards themselves. There’s a nice amount of depth to Lacrimosa, and while I feel like I’ve maybe scratched the surface, I’m still satisfied with the amount I got to experience. It’s an elegant, complex title, for sure, but I think it will appeal to players who enjoy optimizing their path through a game, a little bit of deckbuilding, or just … very beige games. If those things appeal to you, you’re looking for a surprisingly approachable complex game, or you want to insert yourself into the story of Mozart’s final composition, you’ll likely enjoy Lacrimosa! I was very pleasantly surprised by it.
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