Land vs. Sea
The struggle between land and water is as old as the Earth itself.
Streams and wavelets erode soil and rocks – and carry it downstream to make sandbars. Volcanoes create new islands, pushing aside the waters in their bid for supremacy. If you could create a new map, who would win – the land or the water?
Land vs Sea is a tile laying game designed and illustrated by Jon-Paul Jacques and published by Good Games Publishing. It calls itself “a puzzle game for 2-4 players” ages 14+, and plays in about 40 minutes.
How to Play
At its core, Land vs Sea is a game for two players (or two teams): randomly choose who will play as Land and who will be Sea. Set out the start tile and place the score markers on zero. Create two stacks of the double-sided tiles, then each player takes two tiles into their hand. Land goes first.
Turns are simple: place a tile, activate its action (if any), score any completed areas, and replenish.
Place a Tile
Look at both sides of the tiles in your hand and choose one to play. Place it on the map in such a way that every connected edge matches (land touches land, water touches water).
Some tiles have a circular symbol in the center. If you played a “Play Again” tile, you may play the other tile from your hand onto the map. If you played a “Steal” tile, take a tile from another player’s hand (but not their last tile).
Score Completed Areas
If the tile you placed completes an area (no open edges), that area scores. No matter who played the tile, Sea scores one point per tile in a completed water area, and Land scores one point per tile in a completed land area. Whoever placed the tile that completed the area scores points for each plus-sign icon inside the completed area.
More Ways to Score
Land vs Sea has a few different scoring modules that you can add for a more complex game.
Connected tiles of coral score for Sea when they are placed and connected mountains score for Land.
Trade routes are made up of caravan wagons and ships – if you place a tile that connected a wagon or ship to at least one other, score 2 points. Trade routes can also score again at the end of the game.
End Turn – Replenish
At the end of your turn, choose enough tiles from the stacks to bring your hand back up to two tiles. Usually, this means grabbing a single tile, but with Steal actions it could mean two tiles – or zero tiles!
End Game Scoring
The game ends when the draw piles are empty and no more tiles can be placed.
Examine each set of connected ships and wagons if you are using trade route scoring. If more than half in the group are wagons, Land scores a point for each wagon and ship in the connected group. But if more than half are ships, Sea scores for the group. If the count of wagons and ships is exactly equal, neither Land nor Sea score bonus points (but the Cartographer does – more on that later).
Who will win the epic battle for supremacy on the map?
Land vs Sea has a surprisingly solid three player mode, adding new role for the third player as the Cartographer. To play with three, you must use the Mountain/Coral and Trade Route scoring options.
All players still score bonus (plus) points and trade route points when placing tiles. But all mountains and coral now score for the Cartographer. The Cartographer also scores for trade routes in the end game when they are precisely even between ships and wagons.
There’s something intriguing about a game where you build the map together even as you compete. Like the classic Carcassonne or the more recent Ecos, you’ll feel the push to complete your areas even as you try to make your opponent’s job harder – but Land vs Sea has some interesting scoring effects that change that equation.
For example, you may find it useful to close off an opponent’s area. Even though they get points, you can limit how many points they score while stealing away that “plus” scoring within the enclosure.
The tiles are wonderfully detailed. Monsters and mythical creatures pop up next to soldiers and compass roses. Suspicious-looking rock formations are surrounded by illustrations of forests and foothills. This really magnifies the old-school vellum map style. Unfortunately, there’s so much detail that it can be easy to overlook the mountains or the trade route caravans (and miss out on points). Sometimes we missed the edge details and placed tiles illegally.
Although the box says 14+, Land vs. Sea is very accessible, and we think most 10-year-olds could play the full version. There’s no reading required, which keeps it open to even younger kids. Always start with the simplest version (score closed off areas, with bonus “pluses”, no trade routes or mountains/coral) and only add more ways to score when you’re ready.
Avoiding the advanced options means you won’t be able to play with three players, but it’s worth it to learn the game.
The special volcano/whirlpool tile held a huge attraction for the kids in our family. This tile gets placed automatically when a perfectly-fitting hexagon space is created for it (six surrounding lands for volcano, six surrounding water for whirlpool). Not only does it look cool, it also gives five “plus” points, which makes its area very attractive to complete.
Like other tile-laying games that have come before it, Land vs. Sea is easy to understand and to learn. I appreciated the scoreboard inside the box and the player aids that were big enough for everyone to see. While we didn’t always remember that we needed to score a feature, it was never a struggle to remember how to calculate a score.
Who is Land vs Sea For?
Land vs Sea is a fantastic mid-size box game that accommodates a wide variety of play styles and player counts. We love that we can play a simple game at the end of an exhausting day, or we can ratchet it up and play an intense, multi-layered team game with lots of strategic depth.
Carcassonne was the genre-introducing classic that deserved its Spiel des Jahres award in 2000. Land vs. Sea takes the foundations built by Carcassonne and carries the torch forward to create a new modern classic.
If you enjoy tile laying and area control with strategic depth, Land vs Sea is for you. If you’re looking for a game to play with your younger gamers that you can leave on the table to play again with adults later, Land vs Sea is for you. If you love seeking out fun illustrations on the tiles you’re placing, Land vs Sea is for you.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Land vs. Sea from Good Games Publishing for this review.
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Land vs. Sea
Age Range: 14+ (we say 7+)
Number of Players: 2, 3, or 4
Playtime: about 40 minutes