Lost Kingdoms: Lost in the Rulebook
Tile-laying games are special to me because they were my first introduction to the wider world of board games beyond the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers games of my youth. They promise more intriguing replay because it’s nearly impossible to build the same board twice. And it was tile-laying games that brought the first meeples into my life. Now I have meeple t-shirts, meeple cookie cutters, and… well, you get the point.
Lost Kingdoms: Pangea in Pieces aims to take the familiar tile-laying, most-meeples-in-an-area mechanics and apply what seems like a perfectly-in-theme twist. Your carefully crafted landmasses can shift apart, changing the boundaries of the area you thought you controlled.
Designed by Eugene Bryant, illustrated by Jacqui Davis, and co-published by Gold Seal Games and Galactic Raptor Games, Lost Kingdoms challenges you to get your dino herds out there before the asteroid hits.
Your turn consists of four actions that you can play in any order, but you must use one action to draw a tile and place it orthogonal to the existing tiles on the board. You can also grow your herd (it takes two dinos on the same tile to make a baby dino, naturally) and/or migrate dinos already on the board to new locations. The aforementioned in-theme twist is the shift action – slide a tile with one of your dinos into an adjacent open space.
This shift action – meant to evoke plate tectonics – brings the dinos along for the ride. And so they might now count towards control of another landmass, or be in control of a whole new one.
Unfortunately this shift action sent us scrambling for the rulebook a number of times. You’re allowed to shift a tile only if it slides along the edge of another tile, and ends up edge-to-edge with at least one other tile. If that sounds confusing to read – and it is – the rulebook doesn’t help much, despite illustrations.
Worse yet, sometimes a shift leaves other previously played tiles stranded in space. While the rules state this is OK – they don’t explain much else. Is the space on your table filled with ocean? Can that tile still be reached by migration? We ended up setting a house rule to make this illegal, just so we wouldn’t have to deal with it.
Many tiles have a predator on them, of which there are five types. These grant you either a one-time special power or have a lasting effect on their landmass. For example: you can remove one dino from a landmass on which you place a diplophosaurus tile. Similarly, you can’t take a grow action on a landmass with a velociraptor. But the pterandon was game-breakingly overpowered. It allows you to pick up two dinosaurs from anywhere on the board and fly them to the pterandon’s tile. This always resulted in a huge control shift that was impossible to come back from. Being able to move only one of your own dinos feels more balanced here.
The artwork used for the predators, while very well done, was too small a size to appreciate on the tiles. It was also hard see them without a distinctive enough border to offset them visually from the background. More distinctive, solid color iconography would have been easier to distinguish.
Scoring happens only three times in the game. The tile draws come from shuffled stacks named after geologic ages, and you proceed through the stacks in order. Three of those stacks have a scoring tile somewhere in them. So when you get to a particular stack, you know scoring is coming soon, but you don’t know exactly when.
Being in control of a larger landmass scores you more points than a smaller one. The really big ones award second and even third place points.
This scoring system provided too strong of a first player advantage. It seemed they almost always get one more turn before the scoring than everyone else. Depending on the luck of the draw, second and third player may also get an extra turn or two over the course of the game.
When playing with only two players, the last turn before scoring appeared super critical; the whole game seems to usually play out in a tit-for-tat manner. If the first player drew the third scoring tile, the second player was pretty much doomed.
The first time we played Lost Kingdoms: Pangea in Pieces with our kids, we ignored the predators entirely. We wanted an easier mode for them to learn the rest of the mechanics. After that first game, there was a lot of interest in playing again… at first.
In retrospect, we probably enjoyed that first playthrough the most. Whether that is because the luck of the predator draw was too punishing, or that playing with the predators just added too much complexity for a young teen and a preteen, I’m not entirely sure.
The game lists a target age range of 14+. It’s spot on.
Lost Kingdoms: Pangea in Pieces comes with a solo mode that our most intrepid kid decided to try. He summed it up as “wicked hard.” Each turn still consists of choosing some combination of the same four actions. But when you draw an asteroid tile, instead of scoring you might resolve a series of special cataclysm cards that are unique to solo mode. Most of these present some kind of condition, and lay out a punishment if you don’t meet it. Some are painful, like “remove half of your dinosaurs from the board.” If, after resolving all the current cataclysm cards you still have two dinos somewhere on the board, your species survives and you keep playing. Survive the third strike to win.
Our son never beat the solo mode after several attempts. I’d hoped he’d keep trying until he finally beat it, but he gave up. Again, the predators here felt too punishing to him – they have a different set of effects than in multiplayer, and may be even more brutal. In the end I think that it presents a difficult but not insurmountable challenge for an adult player, which should give you all the more satisfaction upon victory.
Let’s Get These Continents Moving
The unique proposition for Lost Kingdoms: Pangea in Pieces as a tile-laying game is supposed to be the shift action. But after all our playthroughs, it felt like the most inconsequential of all the mechanics. It’s too easily undone by another player and too restrictive (even playing by the rulebook and not with our house rule that prevented stranded tiles).
On the other hand, the predators, which are almost pure luck of the draw, determined winners and losers. That left us really disappointed, seeing Lost Kingdoms as a game that didn’t quite live up to its potential. Is there a better game under there that could have been uncovered with a more powerful and refined tile shift action? We’ll be looking to the next era for that.
Lost Kingdoms: Pangea in Pieces is available from Amazon or directly from Gold Seal Games.
The Family Gamers received a review copy of Lost Kingdoms: Pangea in Pieces courtesy of Galactic Raptor Games.
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Lost Kingdoms: Lost in the Rulebook
Age Range: 14+
Number of Players: 1-5
Playtime: 30-60 minutes