Lembitu is a one- to four-player game from designer Aigar Alaveer and 2D6.EE Games, with art by Tuumik Stuudio. It works for ages 10 and up and plays in about an hour.
How it works:
Lembitu is a cooperative game, which means all the players win or lose together. Each player has a pawn and takes three to six actions each turn, depending on how many people are playing. They can move across the map of Estonia on trails or main roads, combat enemies and incite rebellions.
The players begin in Weissenstein, roughly in the center of the board, and enemies begin a march across Estonia from six location. There are three different enemies, and rolls of the dice determine how quickly they move. Enemies have to fill any empty locations (those that the players have taken out) as they move. They can only move on main roads, unless players block those roads with fortifications.
If the players can protect Weissenstein until the end of the game, they win. If the enemies enter Weissenstein, the players lose.
Why you might buy Lembitu:
If you like cooperative games, this one has some intriguing elements.
Because the players can move on trails (though not as quickly) and the enemies can’t, movement requires lots of strategy.
The dice rolls encourage the players to take some gambles and hope for the best.
You’ll either like the hand-drawn art in the board or you won’t. For me, the black and white sketches work, as do the similar drawings of sea monsters and ships on the board. It has a distinctive feel, and the minimal approach is refreshing.
Lembitu forces players to try to catch the enemies in their own territory. The onslaught is relentless, which makes the decisions difficult. And fun.
Unlike any other cooperative game I’ve seen, this one allows for player elimination. One player dying doesn’t mean all is lost. Sacrifice is sometimes your only option, and that makes for more interesting choices.
There are no special powers or characters in the game to bail players out. I think that’s a strength of Lembitu, though some might disagree. Many cooperative games allow each character to do something unique, which can be fun but can also upset the balance of the game. In Lembitu, players have to rely on their own abilities to decipher and beat the puzzle. They won’t get any help from the game.
Why you might not buy Lembitu:
One of the main challenges of cooperative games is that one person can dictate what every other player does. Lembitu doesn’t completely solve that problem. More experienced players will understand better how to win the game, leaving less experienced players following directions for awhile. That said, it doesn’t take long to pick up what’s going on, and because the dice roll, there’s more room for argument about what to do.
Lembitu suffers from one more problem that other cooperative games do. Because you’re playing the board rather than other people, it can be more of a puzzle than a true game. You won’t be reacting to someone else’s decisions. The dice help, but the replay is somewhat limited because of that.
The rulebook is occasionally vague. For example, a player can be eliminated, but the rules don’t say whether the remaining players get extra moves (fewer players usually means more moves per player) or if they lose that opportunity. Players who are OK with making some house rules will be just fine, and the game lends itself to that kind of customization.
There is player elimination in the game. Not everyone likes that. Because it’s cooperative, though, eliminated players can stay involved in the discussion.
The publisher is working on distribution in the U.S., but it’s not widely available yet. You can order it from the publisher’s website, however.
I’m not a big fan of cooperative games, but I was intrigued by this one’s setting. I like it quite a lot.
I love the artwork and the general feel of the game. It’s fun to play with. I also like the way the enemies’ paths are predictable, but their speed is not. The map often pins you where you don’t want to be, and you find yourself one move short of what you need to do. That makes the game hard, and I think a cooperative game should be hard.
It also solves another problem of cooperative games. Often you can see the end coming, win or lose, long before it arrives. In Lembitu, we often won or lost on the last turn. The tension builds well, and a victory feels hard earned.
Despite its flaws, Lembitu is worth a try.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Lembitu. I was not required to give a positive review. These are my honest opinions.