The publisher gifted me a copy of this game; however, I always strive to provide fair, honest opinions.
Game at a Glance
- Good Games Publishing
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Length: 40
- Mechanics: Tile Placement, Area Enclosure, Network and Route Building
- Availability for purchase on 10/6/2021 in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand
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In Land vs. Sea players take turns placing gorgeously-illustrated tiles representing both land and sea terrains onto a shared map. If that sounds relaxing, think again, because creating a beautiful map together is where collaboration ends. This game is a back-and-forth tug-of-war struggle for dominance where each player has a goal to enclose their terrain-type for points and to try to sabotage their opponents in their attempts to do the same.
In this tile-placement game you will play as either Land or Sea (or as the Cartographer in a 3 player game). Players will draft double-sided tiles from 2 stacks and then take turns placing them on the map. Players normally have 2 double-sided tiles to choose from.
At the most basic level, players will score points for enclosing land or sea areas. Players always score a point for each tile with their enclosed terrain no matter who encloses it; however, any bonus points on the tiles are awarded to whomever finishes the terrain which creates many different strategies that can be employed. If players want to add further complexity there are additional scoring rules that can be added in. Changing the player count also changes the game in significant ways.
I really enjoy tile placement in games. There is something immensely satisfying about placing a tile perfectly to score big, and I love the feeling of creation that these games give me. Land vs. Sea is tile laying in one of its more pure forms in my recent experience. Turns flow smoothly and the gameplay feels clean. There is not much to do – place a tile, score points, draft a tile, repeat. It does not get much more simple than that in modern gaming. But simple mechanics do not always equate to simple choices, and Land vs. Sea demonstrates that beautifully.
This game is extremely interactive and positions its players in a tough offensive vs. defensive tug-of-war where they must choose between trying to complete their own terrain vs. building in a way that makes it tough for their opponents to score well. That can include closing off an opponent’s section before it has a chance to grow too much (and perhaps picking up some bonus points), or making it difficult for their opponent to finish a larger section of terrain. Tim and I have had games where we spent a good portion of the time trying to mess each other up more than score our own points – a risky endeavor when those large land or sea masses do end up getting closed off. Tim managed to pull that off in one game when I was not paying close enough attention and… it wasn’t pretty. Land vs. Sea can be delightfully vicious at times!
When additional rules are added in these choices become even more complex. One may agonize over whether to interrupt an opponent’s chain of coral vs. adding a caravan to a trade route to tip the balance in their own favor, while still trying to keep track of the sections that are close to being closed off. As the map grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage all the sea- and land-masses around the perimeter. And I haven’t even mentioned Waypoint markers yet. There are a lot of moving parts here!
As referenced above there are several different scoring modules that can be activated. The rulebook recommends trying them out after there is a comfortability with the basic rules. The basic rules are simple, but still allow for interesting decisions and strategic play which results in a fun game on its own. When players are ready, they can choose to add in Mountain & Coral, and/or Caravan & Ship scoring.
Mountains and Coral may be used to create chains. For example, each time a Mountain is chained to an existing range, the Land player scores 1 point for each tile in that chain. If done well, Mountain and Coral chains can score big. Caravan and Ship scoring can be added in to create trade routes that allow for lucrative in- and end-game scoring for the player and creates a clever area-majority mechanic. Adding in these scoring modules adds strategic layers to an already good game while keeping it’s core simple.
Other things to keep in mind for strategic purposes included the “Play Again” and “Steal” icons on the tiles that are activated when placed. “Steal” can be used to limit an opponent’s options for one turn, and “Play Again” can be quite useful in closing off a terrain that has been a struggle to complete. Waypoints are optional to play in a 2 player game and are probably my least-favorite optional module so far. They can be used to entice a player to complete one of your terrain tiles, but in my experience so far using it in a 3 player game, the 1 point reward was not enough to entice me to complete others’ sections often.
There is a built-in 3 player version which allows one player to compete as the Cartographer whose job is to connect mountains and coral reefs. They also vie for bonus points from completed terrains, and trade route points by ensuring balance between caravans and ships . The 3 player version of this game adds a lot of interesting decisions and I quite enjoyed my limited experience. I want explore it more very soon. We have not tried the 4 player count yet, but it is played in teams of 2 very similarly to the 2 player version. Typically games that are primarily designed for 2 players with a 4 player team variant do not interest me much, but when my daughter is a bit older I do think we will try it out.
This game does bear some resemblance to the modern classic, Carcassonne and I imagine there will be comparisons. Most notably, Land vs. Sea employs a very similar area enclosure mechanic with added bonus points. Although these mechanics resemble each other at first glance, they play out quite differently. This game is not a Carcassonne clone and stands on its own merits.
The rulebook is simple and laid out in such a way that it can be learned very quickly, and setup is as easy as mixing up the stack of tiles and dividing it into 2. Complexity is completely adjustable although the rules suggest starting with the most basic ruleset (which I agree with).
The age recommendation on the box is 14+ which I feel is higher than necessary. Although Land vs. Sea does have a lot of moving parts to consider, especially when all the scoring options are brought into play, the basic rules and strategy of the game should be easy to understand for most 9 or 10 year olds. In addition, the game moves quickly and tends not to overstay its welcome so it’s good for short attention spans and can fit in nicely on a school night.
The cartographic art style is stunning. The sea terrain is Caribbean blue with lines indicating the movement of waves while the contrasting land is a warm tan shaded in a way that evokes old, crumpled map paper. Each tile has small details in the form of trees, coral, mythical beasts, etc. Some details, such as the mountains/coral or caravans/ships are used for optional scoring. But if the player chooses to not use these scoring modules, these details recede to the background and blend in smoothly with the other artwork in the game. The style blends ancient with modern in a way that gives this game it’s own fresh, unique look.
Jon-Paul Jacques put a lot of thought into the small details. Rather than simply representing Euro-centric ships and caravans, he chose to highlight transportation styles from around the world. For example, the ships included represent Polynesian, North African, Chinese and Spanish design while the caravans are Middle Eastern, Indian, Eastern European, and Tibetan. There are many beasts on the tiles, from ancient Japanese- and Greek- inspired sea monsters to more modern Easter Eggs such as an appearance by Cthulu and some very Monty Python-esque rabbit knights. These sort of playful details give the players a chance to feel “in on the joke” and adds a lot of charm.
There’s not much to the game, component-wise, but what is there is top-notch. The tiles are quite thick and double-sided and feel like they will hold up against many plays. I’ve already mentioned that the artwork looks gorgeous on the tiles, but lovely graphic design spills over into the box interior and insert which is doing double-duty as the score-board. The score trackers and Waypoint markers are also made of thick wooden tokens. This game is built to last!
Most importantly, to me, is the fun factor. Land vs. Sea is extremely enjoyable and I have had fun in each game I have played so far, so much so that I am already wondering when I will have the opportunity to play it again. The combination of aesthetics, ease-of-play, and interesting decisions leave me wanting more. And in a game that plays out within a half hour to 40 minutes, it’s not difficult to get in two rounds back-to-back.
Tabletop Mom’s Opinion
Land vs. Sea manages to merge simple, pure mechanics with layers of strategy. This is an excellent 2 player and 3 player game (I cannot speak to the 4 player team variant). It is shaping up to be one of my favorite games from 2021 – I like it that much. This one is a joy to play and to look at.
I recommend this for fans of any tile laying games, especially those in the vein of Carcassonne and for those looking for fun offensive-defensive tug-of-war.
Because of the high interactivity and tension that can come from that, I don’t recommend it for players who dislike interactive games.