We are crossing the rocky mountains to dominate the meadows in Lookout Games’ light, two player abstract strategy game, Great Plains.
Artist: Klemens Franz
Release date: 2021
Favouritefoe score 7.5/10
*Two Player * Abstract Strategy * Variable Set Up * Modular Board * Area Majority * Territory Building * Fast Playing * Easy to Learn *
I love abstract strategy games. Whether they are plain or fancy looking, the depth of play under the hood is what counts. And I am lucky to have a few in our collection now that are both beautiful and brutal! Haha
Great Plains is an abstract strategy game. It also looks great on the table. But, in contrast to many prettified abstracts, there are only a few components. And with that comes short set up and tear down times, which is a definite win in our house!
But how does it play? And did we like it? Read on to find out………..
Not so Plain!
Great Plains is set in, well, the Great Plains! Lowlands and mountains crash together to form a much sought after territory that you and your opponent will be seeking to dominate.
You do this by enlisting the help of your tribe (snakes and foxes) who, channelling a few spirit animals, cross the grasses, peaks, caves and springs to take control of the fertile meadows.
And set up is as easy as it is variable. Taking the 7 large hexagonal tablets, you shuffle them and arrange them in a 2-3-2 formation to make your board. Then you give each player the foxes or the snakes and the 3 matching coloured cave tiles, and finally place the 9 animal tiles (3 x horse, 3 x bird and 3 x bear) in reach. That’s it! Start to stop in a minute or less.
Playing on the Plains!
Starting with the first player, you take it in turns to decide where to place your cave tiles on 3 of the pre-printed coloured cave spaces. With each subsequent turn, you will place a tribe token adjacent to a cave or one of your previously placed tribe tokens. When both players have placed all their ribe tokens, the game ends and it’s scoring time.
But some areas on the board cannot be passed through without the assistance of a powerful spirit animal. Luckily for you, these one-time powers can be collected by placing a tribe token on a space showing a horse, bird, or bear. And those mystical beasts can do very clever things:
- Horse – this allows you to place your tribe token up to two spaces away from your cave or an adjacent tribe token (whether these are occupied or not).
- Bear – this allows you to take the lowland space occupied by your opponent and push it to a free lowland space in a straight line. But if pushing means your opponent’s token falls off the edge of the board or hits a mountain, their piece is removed from the board for the rest of the game!
- Eagle – this allows you to fly over and place a tribe token on a lowland space located on the other side of an otherwise impassable mountain.
Scoring is simple – only the player who has placed a majority of tribe tokens in a meadow (i.e. area of unbroken connected yellow/plain grass spaces) will get points for that area at game end. And as it is 1 point per connected grass space, larger meadows are going to be sought-after! Plus, if a meadow is connected to any springs, each one gives the scoring player another bonus point.
Great Plains plays fast. In fact, our first game was so fast that it was over before I had chance to think about tactics! We both popped our caves as far from each other as possible, placed our tokens down, took control of a few meadows, and after 20 turns, got some points. But then we played again. And this time we did not “play safe”. And our second game was a very different experience!
You see, Great Plains is all about dominance. And to dominate, you need mighty meadows in your mind and your opponent in your sights. So that means you need to invade their space and maintain majority control.
And the strategy comes in how you use the spirit animals to best advantage. You must sacrifice potential short term grass space occupation to reach one. But when you have a power, you can make inroads that directly impact upon your opponent and your chances of success.
However, as there are only 3 of each spirit animal, you also have to bear in mind that the one you need might not be currently available to collect (they are returned to the pool after use). And that could impact upon your strategy too.
We are really enjoying playing Great Plains. The components are good quality, I like the little wooden tribe tokens, and the rule book is as easy to understand as the game is to learn (which sounds like it should be a given but that is not always the case!). The unique artwork on each space type and tile should also avoid any colour vision deficiency disadvantages.
For me, Great Plains is a game of subtle manipulation – manoeuvring enough of your own pieces into place whilst at the same time outnumbering or even eliminating your opponent’s. Removing pieces is always going to be a strong move – majorities are obviously harder with fewer tokens to hand. But the sacrifice might not always be worth it. And the trade-off between picking up powers and going straight in occupy grass spaces will get you every turn.
Great Plains can also get quite tense as the turns pass by and your tribe tokens dwindle. And where you place your caves initially is definitely a marker of how aggressive your game is going to be.
The random draw of the initial board set up will ultimately determine whether players have a mega meadow or smaller fields over which to fight. But after that, like all good abstract games, lady luck plays no further part. And whether you go for the big prize or try to dominate smaller spaces, your strategy needs to be flexible enough to cope with the dynamic nature of the constantly changing playing space. And for a light, quick playing, two player abstract game, you couldn’t ask for more than that!
Please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publishers for review. I am not paid for my comments, however, and all opinions are my own]. I am also not affiliated to or sponsored by any retail store.