- Designers: Michal Mikeš, Jan Soukal, Adam Spanel
- Publisher: Boardcubator
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 13+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Times played: 5, at SPIEL 2019 and some with with review copy provided by the publisher
Project L was very high on my list of games to check out from SPIEL 2019. The elevator pitch from the publisher: “Project L is a fast-paced, tile-matching brain burner with triple-layer 3D puzzles and lovely acrylic pieces. The core of the game lies in using your pieces to complete puzzles. Starting with just a single basic piece, you use three actions every turn to develop a powerful engine. With more pieces of various types, you can efficiently complete even the most difficult puzzles. The puzzles you complete award you points or new pieces to further fuel your engine. Can you outsmart your opponents?”
I went to their stand a few times to try it out, and was working to acquire a copy – however, due to a production issue at their factory, the games would not be ready for the fair. Sadly, all I took home were some good memories of a few rounds played at their stand. A few weeks ago, I got a welcome email from my friends in Brno, Czech Republic – asking me if I was still interested in playing an advance copy of their game. I was quick to answer affirmatively, and now I have a copy of the game in my basement!
In my prototype version (which honestly looks as good as a production game) – you get a bag of colored acrylic pieces. These will be used to complete puzzles which in turn will give you even more pieces to solve later puzzles. Speaking of the puzzles, there are 2 decks of puzzle cards (white and black). Decks are made for each color, and 4 cards from each are revealed as a face up supply. The puzzle cards are a sturdy cardboard with a cutout top level glued onto the card which gives a nice recessed area in which to place your acrylic pieces.
Each player gets their own mat which gives them space to keep their four puzzle cards, an area for their personal supply of pieces and an area to keep their scored cards. A helpful reminder of possible actions and puzzle piece shapes is found in the center of the mat. One of the mats is also marked with a “first player” icon in case you forget who started the game!
In Project L, players complete puzzles to earn as many points as you can to win the game. To complete puzzles effectively, you need to build a sufficient pool of pieces. But choose the pieces you build carefully so it fits your strategy and the puzzles you want to solve! You complete a puzzle when you fill its recessed area. Then take all your pieces back, place the puzzle aside and reap the rewards: points and a new piece to your supply.
Each player starts the game with a single level 1 piece. On a turn, the active player takes three actions from the following pool (and you are able to repeat all but one of the actions as you wish):
Take a puzzle – choose one of the face up puzzles from the supply and put it in front of you. Replace it with a new puzzle from the matching deck
Take a level-1 puzzle piece – take a single yellow 1×1 square and add it to your supply
Upgrade a piece – return any piece to the supply and take any other piece up to one level higher (note, this means you can take a piece of a lower level!). If no pieces are available of the next higher level, you can freely skip to the next available level.
Place a piece on a puzzle – Put a piece into the recessed area on one of your puzzle cards. Once placed, it cannot be moved or removed.
*Master Action – this is the one action that cannot be repeated, it can only be done once per turn. For this action, you can place up to one piece on each puzzle in front of you. All the pieces used in this Master Action must be in your supply at the start of this action
If, at the end of an action, you have completed a puzzle – that is, filled in the entire recessed area with pieces – you return all the pieces used to your supply, place the solved puzzle on your point stack (you will score these points at the end of the game), and take the bonus piece shown on the upper right corner from the general supply and add it to your personal supply.
The game end is triggered when the deck of black puzzles is exhausted (there will still be 4 available face up black puzzle cards at this time.). The current round is completed and then one more full round is played. All players will have had the same number of turns. There is then a “Finishing Touches” phase where all players can place any number of pieces from their supply into their unfinished cards – though at a penalty of 1 point per piece placed. Any finished puzzles from this Finished Touches phase will go into the scoring pile though.
Now, count up the points on all of the puzzles in your complete pile, and remember to subtract any penalty points from your Finishing Touches. The player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player who has the most puzzle cards solved.
There is also an interesting solo game variant included in the rules (in addition to a number of other variants that are apparently available online!) – In this version, you make a special deck of 10 random black puzzles topped by 15 random white puzzles. A grid of 3×3 puzzles from the deck is made, and you take your turn like normal. As you take puzzles from the grid, you unlock those same columns for your AI opponent. On the AI’s turn, he will take a puzzle from an unlocked column and add it to his scoring pile – always taking the most valuable puzzle available. The endgame is triggered when the puzzle deck is empty. You play one more full round (including the AI getting to choose a final card). Compare scores – you win if you have more points than the AI.
My thoughts on the game
Project L is an interesting sort of engine building game. You start out the game with only a single piece, and your earliest moves will be spent trying to acquire larger pieces or more pieces in your supply. The white puzzle cards are good for this – they tend not to give many points (usually zero or 1 VP), but they are easier to complete and offer lower level pieces as rewards.
The big trick here is figuring out when to transition from the white (easier) cards to the more complex black cards – there cards offer 3-5 VPs each, but they definitely require more pieces to be completed. Do you try to move onto these cards as soon as possible? Or is it better to try to build up a larger supply so that you can be more efficient and use the “master action” each round to place multiple pieces for your action…
When I read the rules and I played a few games in Essen, I was worried that this game may have a snowball effect – In that, players who were more successful early one would end up with an advantage in pieces which would then, in turn, lead to more completed puzzles down the road. In actuality, I haven’t seen that, and most of my games have turned out to be quite competitive. But, maybe I’ve just been equal in ability to my opponent – I will still have to keep an eye on this in future games (with varied opponents).
The game itself is quite simple, and I find it to be fairly relaxing. In a 2p game, there isn’t much downtime, but it could drag on a bit with 4p as there really isn’t anything to do when it isn’t your turn. IF you have one or more opponents who really like to think things thru, it might be a few minutes between turns – but then again, this is probably time that you can catch up and socialize with other players who are also not taking their turn.
The components are lovely, and they definitely increase my enjoyment of the game. The acrylic pieces have a nice feel and weight to them, and the recessed puzzle cards make it easy to keep things organized and in the right place.
Thus far, this has turned out to be a nice light puzzle game. Good for a starter or closer to game night, or for a session with casual gamers. I have also found this to be an ideal choice for playing games on our outdoor patio as the components are all hefty enough to not be blown about by the wind.
The game just finished a successful Kickstarter campaign for an initial print run, but I have learned that there will be a new Kickstarter campaign for a Project L reprint and with a new expansion around October – though timing is still up in the air a bit given everything happening in the world of 2020. It appears that this new edition will add a few more puzzles and piece types, and this might help push up the complexity level a bit. For now, a super filler.
UPDATE (15 July 2020) – after publication, I had a chat with the publisher, and it looks like I got at least one thing incorrect… “New puzzles and extra piece types are actually a part of the Ghost Piece expansion (this was an expansion available for the original Kickstarter campaign and we will reprint it in the upcoming campaign as well). What’s new in the upcoming Kickstarter is the Finesse expansion (this will add finesses – basically goals that players can achieve during their turn and get “credits” for them, which they can spend – for paying 2 credits, they can play 1 more action in the current round).”
The next KS campaign is currently set for launch on October 12…
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (1 play): I had the chance to try Project L last November, and found it – an acceptable puzzle game; it didn’t feel like there were as many strategic choices as I would have liked, but the puzzles were just interesting enough to make the time pass by smoothly. Not a game I’d sought a second play of, but not one I’d argue with if someone else wished to play it.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Neutral. Joe H., James Nathan
- Not for me…