The Cardboard Hoard: Thoughts on LOTS - A Competitive Tower Building Game
Normally, when I post my thoughts about a game, it breaks one of two ways. I'll review it if I've played the game enough where I feel I can give it a thorough, accurate, and well-thought-out opinion of it, or I'll write an initial impression if I've only had the chance to play once or twice -- e.g. if I've had a demo at a convention or a game store -- but still have thoughts about it I feel are worth sharing. However, I'm structuring this preview of LOTS: A Competitive Tower Building Game as an initial impression, not because I'm unfamiliar with LOTS, but because I'm too familiar with it to give it a full review with any objectivity.
Not only was I a playtester at every stage of the game’s design, but also helped edit the rulebook and proof the Kickstarter page. The designer, Zach Connelly, is a close friend of mine, and I've watched him develop this game over the last few years as a true labor of love.
I’m hoping my delineation of this as an impression, with my intrinsic biases, from a review, which strives for objective and critical appraisal, is clear. I am biased from working on this game, but I helped work on this game because I believe in it, and believe it deserves to be published. So, with that disclosure out of the way, here are my impressions of LOTS: A Competitive Tower Building Game in its current, ready-for-Kickstarter state.
I've seen multiple iterations of LOTS, from the original prototype of glued together art store cubes, to some really janky 3D printed stuff. Fortunately, the current version -- which is what I've photographed -- was produced by the manufacturer that will be printing the published version, and it’s of solid quality.
There’s a good amount of stuff inside the box, especially considering its $25 price point. There’s thirty wooden tetromino blocks that are color-coded in five unique shapes, a custom die, meeples, cubes, cards, a quad-fold board, and an excellently edited rulebook (see above about my objectivity issue). The bright, cartoonish art was done by Claire Donaldson, who has previously worked with Daily Magic Games and Green Couch Games.
In LOTS, players are using tetrominos to build a three-dimensional tower, aiming to score the most points through clever placement of the pieces they add to the tower. Players score two points for each matching block they touch when they place their block, and five points for each floor of the tower they complete. Each turn, players will have a choice between playing their reserve tetromino and the one they just acquired through a roll of the die, and they can choose to play crew cards and cubes -- if they have any available -- to help them score more points. In addition to playing two-to-four players competitively, LOTS also has a solo mode where the player is challenged to build the tower alone, but has to make sure every move touches their last placement.
LOTS balances the desire to score as many points as possible with the need to leave your opponents without any easy scoring opportunities. It also necessitates three-dimensional spatial thinking and a bit of dexterity -- which can be scaled by forcing players to place with only one hand. The crew cards give the game a little something extra, creating some opportunities big point turns and adding some player interaction.
A game of LOTS, with its ever-growing stack of three-dimensional tetrominos, has the kind of table presence that draws onlookers, especially when the tower is vertically stretched to the limits of its stability. It often creates tense, stand-up moments, with loud commentary and laughter, as the game nears its climax. But the game’s brevity means that losing a game never feels that bad, even if it’s caused by a catastrophic tower collapse, and it is more likely to result in asking for a rematch than any hard feelings.
LOTS is highly tactical. It rewards clever play and spatial thinking, and requires knowing when to hold on to crew cards and when to play them. There are, however, some catch up mechanisms built into the game that help to keep everyone engaged. They also create an interesting decision point of when exactly to hang back to try to get bonuses, and when to push forward and score points, foregoing additional crew cards and bonus cubes.
The game’s theme and gameplay are very family friendly, and the stacking rules can be adjusted to make the game more friendly for younger players -- such as having adults only use one hand, or harder still, their off hand. The rules are easy to teach, and the game is great for any kid old enough to read and understand the text on the crew cards.
I’m also a fan of the game’s solo mode, which requires you to score 40 points before three different types of blocks run out, with the additional restriction of having to touch your previous placement on each move. It’s a fun little puzzle that takes less than fifteen minutes to set up and play. I did a live stream of a solo game at my local game store, which can be viewed here, for anyone curious exactly how it plays.
Overall, I am thrilled to see LOTS close in on its funding goal after only two days on Kickstarter, and can’t wait to see it get published and into people’s hands. It may not be the most brain-burning Euro, or the most immersive thematic miniatures game, but it is highly accessible, and plays well at all player counts and with all ages. Most importantly, it is flat out fun, and to me, that counts for LOTS.