What do you get when you combine rigorous angle orientation, area control, and devious scoring strategy? Flowers, apparently, if Lotus is any indication. A game for 2-4 players, Lotus is a competition to score points by both completing and controlling the flowers in a garden, done via careful card play and the use of your insectile Guardians.
Let’s get it out of the way: Lotus is a very, very pretty game. Five different types of flower have multiple art variations for their petals, creating subtle and organic differences and an aesthetically emergent play experience. The muted primary colors of the cards provide a kind of serene backdrop that takes the edge off of what is, under the pastoral veneer, a fairly ruthless and scheme-filled game. The little wooden insects are a pleasant touch, though hardly anything to write about (unless you’re the green Caterpillar, in which case I’m sorry but your tokens suck).
So what’s in a game? Well, for a game of its length, Lotus is surprisingly strategic: each turn, you have two actions to perform, with three options to draw from. You can play one or two petals on a flower, put one or two cards from your hand on the bottom of your deck to draw new ones, or move one of your Guardians onto a flower. There can only be one of each type of flower in the garden at any given time, for a maximum of five: the Iris (3-petal), Primrose (4), Cherry Blossom (5), Lily (6) and the titular Lotus (7 petals).
You need to coordinate your plays around two considerations. Firstly, the player who completes the flower collects its points, no matter how trivial their contribution – you can place six petals on the Lotus, but if I put the last one there, all seven points go to me. Secondly, regardless of who completes a flower, a special reward goes to the player with the most control there, as represented by special stamps on petal cards from your own deck and your Guardians present on that bloom. These rewards are either special abilities that improve your options (play more than 2 petals, increase your hand size, or gain a third and more powerful Guardian to use) or a 5-point token to add to your endgame tally, and you as the winning player get to make that decision.
Figuring out what to do on a turn can seem daunting, especially given the certainty that other players are waiting for you to provide them with an opportunity. Fortunately, two options exist to help players set up future plays: firstly, the “discard and draw” action that lets you set aside cards from your hand to acquire new ones, setting aside a turn now for a stronger turn down the line. Secondly, the “wildflower” cards, a bank of four neutral petal cards that players can choose to draw from when refilling their hand instead of blind draws from their own deck. Taken together, these tools can allow you to plan a turn in which you build a whole Ivy or Primrose by yourself, scoring both the points and the special bonus with no one able to stop you. For how finely-tuned the strategic options are, the game always remains light and decision paralysis is fairly rare.
It really doesn’t seem as though there’s much to Lotus, but behind the wonderful aesthetic is a deceptively deep game with no fixed route to victory. I’ve seen players ignore their special powers and come away with incredible wins from 5-point stones alone, while on other occasions cunning use of delaying tactics has paid off with massive dividends in pure petal card scoring and ultimately won the day.
For me, Lotus joins the group of games in the vein of Tokaido that offer engaging gameplay alongside a relaxing and family-friendly aesthetic. I look forward to the next time I have occasion to play it.