Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of Lisboa from Eagle-Gryphon games.
What is this game about?
Lisboa is a heavy euro game about the rebuilding of Lisbon after it was struck by a catastrophic earthquake, a tsuami, and several days of fires in November of 1755. Each player represents a noble who is contributing to the relief and reconstruction effort, and you will all be competing to earn the most victory points. In Lisboa, victory points are represented by wigs, which were quite the important accessory for fancy men of the time. To help bring Lisbon back to its former glory, you'll be building shops, helping to open public buildings, producing goods, shipping goods, and more, all across a sprawling board with beautiful, period-inspired art from Ian O'Toole.
Although Lisboa is a complex game where several different actions are woven together and impact each other, designer Vital Lacerda is not entirely wrong when he jokes that gameplay is simple—you just play a card, take an action, and draw a card. On each turn in Lisboa, you will play a card in one of two ways. In the game, there are three nobles you can visit—the chief architect, the Marquis, and the King—and each can help you to do certain actions in the game. On your turn, you can either play a card directly to the court in the middle of the game board, which allows you full access to one nobleman's actions, or you can play a card to your portfolio, which will grant you an in-game bonus and allow you to spend goods to trade with the nobles and access a more limited set of their actions. Playing to the court gives you more options, but also opens you up for follow actions by other players. Playing to your portfolio gives you more limited actions, but also helps you sell goods to make money and keep a bit of your tempo against your opponents. At the end of your turn, you choose the top card of one of the available decks, and you're all done.
In addition to cardplay, there are several other game elements to keep track of in Lisboa. If you manipulate the cardinal track, you can get several bonuses and gameplay advantages. Make sure you pick up decrees, because they provide scoring bonuses at the end of the game. And when you build shops, you must place them strategically, both to score the most points possible and to collect sets of rubble cubes that represent your contribution to damage cleanup in the city.
How does it play solo?
In contrast to the rest of the game, Lisboa comes with a solo opponent, "Lacerda," that is fairly streamlined and easy to operate. The AI will essentially rotate through the three nobles throughout the game and take actions accordingly. It will have some advantages over you—it doesn't require money to construct buildings, etc. But it will also be highly predictable because it moves in a set pattern. To offset this, your goal in the solo version of the game is not only to beat the AI in terms of victory points, but to pull off a number of in-game achievements that will affect your overall performance rating.
Lisboa is a euro game, but it is one of the more thematic euros I have played, and I love it for that. I had no idea about the earthquake in Lisbon before I decided to try this game, and I ended up learning so much about the disaster itself and about the people and policies involved in its aftermath. In fact, I was so taken with the historical aspects of the game that I recorded a video about it with Jason Perez from ENGN! I also found Lisboa easier to learn than I expected, because I was able to learn so much of the game thematically. I love it when I get to appreciate both a game and the historical events it represents, so on that front, Lisboa really did it for me.
I also loved the way that all of the different actions and options in Lisboa weave together. The game takes a bit of time to fully grasp, but I can say with confidence that multiple plays have made me like it more, not less. Everything you do in Lisboa will have an impact somewhere else, creating a rich experience that is worth its weight.
Solo mode in LIsboa is something I enjoy, but I both appreciate and have concerns about it. Having to control a highly complex AI opponent would probably have made Lisboa too complicated for enjoyable solo play, so I love that Lacerda is so streamlined. And honestly, I still find solo mode a challenge right now—I'd need to play a lot more Lisboa to feel confident that I had mastered it. At the same time, I think it will eventually be possible to play the solo mode out a bit, just because you can see what the AI will do before it actually does it. That predictability makes solo Lisboa a different game from its multiplayer counterpart in ways that make sense, but that also take a little bit away. I should also say that because Lisboa is a sprawling game with a lot of pieces and a lot going on, solo setup and takedown is an investment in itself. Depending on the kind of solo gamer you are, you may not mind that. But if you do, consider yourself warned!
Do I recommend it?
If you want a heavy euro with an awesome historical theme and deep, rich gameplay, then Lisboa might be for you. Just make sure that the solo mode it offers is one that is to your tastes.
Overall Rating: 4 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.