Reiner Knizia
2 - 6
8 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

Lama is the German word for llama. No big conceptual leap there. L.a.m.a. is, at least in Reiner Knizia’s vocabulary, an abbreviation for “lege alle Minuspunkte ab”. Discard all minus points. You could translate the title by its abbreviation, but then an eventual English edition would be called D.a.m.p., and whatever depiction you pick for that would be much less adorable than the crazy llama L.a.m.a. has. And so the international publishers have stuck with the adorable tylopod.

Linguistics lesson aside, L.a.m.a. is a small box card game that is nominated for the Spiel des Jahres this year. Not at all bad for a relatively simple shedding game and worth a look what makes it special.

How to tame your llama – The Rules

L.a.m.a. is a shedding game, so your goal is to empty your hand of cards before anyone else does. Unusual for this type of game, someone playing their last card is not the only way a round can end – or even the most common way, depending on who you play with.

Cards have no suits and seven values: one, two, three, four, five, six, and llama. A round starts with one card revealed on the discard pile. When it’s your turn to play a card you can play a card of the same value as the discard pile’s top card, or a card exactly one point higher. A llama counts as one point higher than a six but one point lower than a one and keeps the game going without a highest card that would end the round.

Playing a card is not your only option, however, and this is where L.a.m.a. does get more strategic than many shedding games. When you can’t play a card or don’t want to play a card you can draw one from the draw pile. That’s not so unusual, many shedding games make you draw cards when you can’t play. In L.a.m.a., however, you have a third option: You can resign from the current round.

Why would you ever voluntarily resign in a shedding game? In L.a.m.a. you do it because you realize you won’t be able to leg alle your Minuspunkte ab and drawing more cards you just add more Minuspunkte to your hand. A round of L.a.m.a. ends as soon as one player discard their last card. If that’s not you, then all the cards left in your hand count as minus points for you. Alternatively, you enter a sort of end game phase when all players except one resigned. That player may keep discarding, but they can no longer draw cards, so they’ll likely get stuck with some unplayable cards in the end. It makes a lot of sense to resign when you have only one card left and you can’t play it. Or maybe it doesn’t and you might be able to play all your cards after drawing one. It all depends on how much risk you want to take.

Making the decision to quit or draw more difficult and more fun is how you count points in L.a.m.a.. Each unique card value only counts once. It doesn’t matter how many twos you have, all of them together give you two minus points. This makes for some fun decisions. With a one, two, and three left in your hand you might resign and take six minus points. That’s not too bad, on the whole. But if you draw a card there’s a 43% chance it won’t make your score any worse. Might be worth the risk, right? Especially with the added incentive that finishing your hand let’s you return one minus point counter. And that’s one counter, not one point. If you have a -10 counter you can return that one. Another good reason to take a risk, right?

A game of L.a.m.a. goes on until one player reaches forty minus points, then the player with the least of them wins.

Reiner Knizia’s New Groove? – Our Verdict

L.a.m.a. is another super light game nominated for this year’s Spiel des Jahres. I know that award is now for family games, but families can play more complex games than this one, too. No, really. Kids’ attention span isn’t that bad. But that’s not L.a.m.a.‘s fault, so I will try not to hold that against it.

While it is very light, L.a.m.a. involves more strategy than many other shedding games. To draw or to resign is a simple decision, but not an easy one. The same goes for drawing a card even though you could play one.

However, those decisions are the only ones you’ll make, and how they work out for you still depends on your luck. Playing carefully and counting cards help a little, but if the cards don’t cooperate there’s nothing you can do.

One thing that sounds great in theory but didn’t do much for in practice is the returning of counters when you empty your hand. Returning -10 points should feel satisfying, but it doesn’t because it’s completely random as well. You can’t cunningly go ,”I’ll finish next round instead when I have more than nine points.” If you can return a counter you return a counter. You never know when you’ll manage to finish a round again.

L.a.m.a. is a fun little timewaster, don’t get me wrong, but it’s neither my favorite Knizia game nor my favorite for winning the Spiel des Jahres award.

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