Mark Gerrits has shocked me twice now. The first was designing my favorite cube rails title, Mini Express, outshining the large pool of competitors, including some from my favorite designers.
The second was making an abstract game I like.
I’ve really run the gambit here. Chess, Go, Tak, Onitama, GIPF, Shobu, That Time You Killed Me, The Duke… I even went straight to the source and asked a group of online friends, many of whom share a love of my Top 10 titles, and they recommended Urbino. Again, nothing. Just frustration and boredom.
Not with Gerrits’ newest title, Lacuna.
It’s a quite simple game: You and your opponent have six pawns to place out onto the tapestry in front of you. Your goal is to get the majority of the majority of flowers: get four flowers (out of the possible seven) from four different types of flowers (out of a possible seven). On your turn, you place one of your six pawns somewhere along an invisible line between two flowers of the same type. When you place it, you collect the two flowers you connected, and add them to your collection.
Here’s where the game really shines: once each player has placed their six pawns, each player will then get to collect the flowers that are still left out on the tapestry that are closest to their pawns. If I drafted two blue flowers but Terry has placed their pawn closest to the remaining five, I have now lost that category.
I absolutely adore this silly little game. First off, let’s talk about packaging and components. To start, the game comes in a tube. Usually this is a turn-off, but for Lacuna, I don’t mind. It’s striking to look out, and catches the eye of everyone. Plus, the tube has a gameplay purpose: it’s a salt shaker. No, really. The way to randomize and randomly distribute the flowers out onto the tapestry at the start of the game is to put the wooden flower pieces into the tube, shake it, and with the special lid that comes with the game, shake the flowers out onto the table. It’s so much fun. Taking the laborious set-up process that most games have and make it a fun, silly occasion in and of itself is brilliant.
The board is a tapestry of some kind, the flowers are wood, and the pawns are metal. Cole Wehrle has talked about this at length, and I agree, that games are a physical medium and should feature components of many different materials, and Lacuna does this so, so well. Getting to touch so many different textures and to see so many colors is so refreshing, especially in the two-player abstract space where literal black and white have ruled for millenia.
But the reason I really enjoy playing the game so much is that it’s snappy, it’s quick, and it doesn’t lose much depth due to its speed or length. Being able to distill the drama of a Chess or Go match into something explosive, dramatic, and often hilarious is something short of a miracle. Being able to sit across from your opponent and see exactly what they need, and exactly where they could place, and setting up a perfect block, only to realize you missed a blindspot and now they took two other pieces they needed and now they’re surrounded by those flowers you were looking at too?! HOW?!
I have felt a true lack of in-your-face gaming in the last year. No Santiago, no Caylus, no Dominant Species… I’ve certainly still gotten to play Age of Steam, but I’m missing the sheer attitude of mean games. And it’s nice to get back to playing one, and playing one that my mother- and father-in-law can even enjoy.
It’s just weird that it’s coming from a tube-shaped flower game.