The Amazing Complexity of Lisboa - Rebuilding a City and Collecting Wigs

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A few weeks ago, my friend Jon showed a picture on Facebook of an amazing board game called Lisboa. Now, I'm not really a huge board game player, but I am a fan. Some of the best conversations I've ever had have been while playing board or card games. There is something about doing something with your hands in a shared experience that makes conversations seem so much  meaningful. Jon’s photo was a beautiful picture of an elaborate combination of tokens, cards, and tiles laid across a intricately detailed (and beautifully rendered) series of boards.

When asking him about it, I essentially invited myself over to his house to play. On a Sunday morning, I walked over to Jon's house. I was running late, partly because I didn't want to get out bed, partly because I decided to walk. He was there with his friend Michyn.

Admittedly, Jon spent 20 minutes explaining the general elements of the game before even starting a the first round of gameplay. Each player is a noble and were trying to rebuild Lisboa. There were was the minister (who gave decrees and authorized production), the architect (that approves new stores and factories), and the King (that approves government buildings). You have influence at the Court, money, material in warehouses and a handful of available workers (meeple) that you can set to work with government or help you in construction. Additionally, you have the ability to build ships, devalue commodities, get help from the cardinal, and build an empire while you negotiate the value of real estate and labor. 

that Michin and I just sat nodding. When it was over she admitted that she didn't really understand any of it. 

- yep, me neither. 

- it's okay. Let's start. 

-um, okay.

The reality was that balancing the various elements of the game at times feels like trying to chew gum while knitting a tea cozy while walking a slack line blindfolded. Unfortunately, most turns started with the question, “how do I start again?” 

Jon would patiently answer “well, you need to use on of your cards first?” 

- Right, right. Which one? 

- I would pick the architect card, if I was you.

 - Good idea.

It is in times like these, that you realize how saintly your friends can be when they just want to play a boardgame.

The best part of the game is that for all the building, trading, and hoarding, the real goal of the game is... to collect wigs. Yes, in 17th century Lisboa, the true measure of a person was in how many wigs they could collect. Additionally, one really doesn’t know how your final wig count is going to be until the final score is tabulated. 

It took 6hrs to play the first game together. We’ve played it again recently and were able to finish the game in 3hrs since I had a bit more understanding. Perhaps we’ll be able to play faster in the future, but there is no doubt that has been worth every minute so far. Long Live Lisboa!