• Number of Plays: 4
  • Game Length: 15 – 30 minutes
  • Mechanics: Tile Placement, Puzzle
  • Release Year: 2019
  • Designer: Michal Mikeš, Jan Soukal, Adam Spanel
  • Artist: Jaroslav Jurica, Marek Loskot, Pavel Richter

Intro

Let me tell you a bit about my mom. Some of my earliest memories of my mother is of her morning ritual; she would sit at the kitchen table, steam pouring out of her coffee mug, and smoke lazily rising from the end of the cigarette gently held between two of her fingers of her left hand. In her right hand she held a pen, and on the table in front of her, a PennyPress puzzle book.

Image credit: pennydellpuzzles.com

We had dozens of puzzle books in every room in the house.

My mom loves games and puzzles. When she wasn’t doing puzzles on paper at the kitchen table, she’d often be playing puzzle video games. Yoshi’s Cookie (SNES) and The New Tetris (Nintendo 64) were some of her favourites. As a child I also loved video games. Some of my first memories of Tetris were of my mom and I playing The New Tetris in the versus mode. She would mercilessly kick my butt to the curb. The phrase ‘git gud’ hadn’t been popularized yet, but that was the sentiment in our household.

Years later, I got my first job at the local video store. I used my first paycheque to buy a silver Nintendo Gamecube and Tetris Worlds. I practised and practised and practised at Tetris until I felt like I had improved significantly. My mom still kicked my butt, but less badly than before. I continued to practise until I finally emerged victorious! To this day my mom and I adore the memory of Tetris, and hold the versus mode in a special place in our hearts. However, when we play now I grind her into the dirt.

No, this is not candy

Why am I telling you all this? What does my hundreds of hours playing Tetris have to do with board games?

Let me introduce you to: Project L

How to Play

Project L begins with two stacks of tiles, differentiated by their different coloured backs. Next to each these stacks sits four face-up tiles, making up the offer row. Every player is given 2 pieces to begin their game, a single 1×1 yellow square, and a 1×2 green rectangle.

On your turn, you have three actions:

  • Take a new level 1 piece
  • Upgrade a piece
  • Take a puzzle tile (you can have up to 4 unfinished puzzles)
  • Place a piece on your puzzle
  • Master action (only once every round) — put a single piece on all your puzzles!

Should you complete a puzzle, remove it from the top of your player board, return your pieces to your supply, and place the puzzle in your scoring pile and take the reward from the top right corner of the (now completed) puzzle.

These tiles are wonderfully thick

Gameplay continues around the table until the black deck of tiles is depleted. Once that happens, you finish the round (so all players receive an equal number of turns), then everyone has one more turn. After that you may continue to put pieces on the puzzles from your personal supply, but at a cost of 1 point per piece placed.

Once everyone has completed their finishing touches, you total your score from your completed puzzles, subtract any points you lost doing the finishing touches and the player with the most points is the winner!

Review

The very first thing I want to talk about is the box cover. Project L‘s box is visually clean and aesthetically striking. The bold blue L on the matte black background stands out on a shelf. The lack of art here creates a mystery, “What is Project L?” you wonder, picking up the box and checking the back.

Thai first edition

This is where my first criticism comes in. I appreciate the effect of having a stark black box and it looks fantastic. But I hate that there is no designer credit on the box. In the case of Project L, the people who make up Boardcubator (the publisher) are also the designers and have obviously made the decision to keep all logos and credits off the box. But I don’t like precedent this sets. I worry that any other designer wanting to work with Boardcubator in the future will be strong-armed into a box cover without credits. Further, I don’t want any other companies using this as an example or an excuse to keep designer credits off the covers of boxes.

Credits should not be relegated to the fine print

I get weirdly passionate when it comes to crediting creatives appropriately. I know the history of workers’ rights is rife with owners using every dirty trick in the book to oppress and keep from paying their creatives fairly. I’d hate for my favourite niche hobby to fall victim to terrible employment standards.

Moving on from that criticism, Project L is an excellently produced game. The acrylic tiles are glossy and rounded perfectly. They don’t feel cheap or too light in the hand. A few people have commented that they look like candy, which may or may not be a positive, depending on your proclivity for sweets and the number of small children in your life. The player aids are made of very light card stock, but that’s fine as they exist only to remind players of the few rules in the game.

So many options!

The final component are the pattern boards, which come in black and white and have inset grooves to lock your pieces in place. These tiles are thick, glossy and look fabulous. I’m less of a fan of how they’re rectangular, which also feels like an odd nitpick. I find it slightly tedious to re-orient all the tiles, and having a stack of tiles that isn’t aligned is simply not an option for me.

This bothers me to absolutely no end

Getting into the gameplay, Project L starts players off with a mere two pieces. The first few rounds of the game you are slow, taking puzzles, maybe taking more 1×1 pieces, or spending all of your actions to finish a single 4 piece pattern. After your first few puzzles and with more than 4 pieces in your personal supply, Project L falls into a predictive pattern. Take puzzles, do master action. Take puzzles, do master action. Repeat. The game lies in your ability to utilize the variety of pieces you have in your supply in a way that doesn’t waste actions or using 3 small pieces where one large piece would fit. Being able to spin multiple plates efficiently is the key to victory here.

During my first play of Project L, someone at my table exclaimed “This is just like Splendor!” which initially I agreed with. It had the same gameplay beats of choosing easy puzzles to build up your engine to effectively to accomplish the much harder goals. But after a few more plays of Project L, I’ve changed my tune. While Project L is reminiscent of other engine building games (like Splendor), it lacks the persistent benefits, which I feel is a very significant part of Splendor’s appeal. In Splendor you can amass a dozen or more gems and just take bigger and bigger cards for free, or at a steep discount. Project L on the other hand only gives you more pieces to play with (with the biggest pieces taking up 4 squares in a puzzle). Having more pieces is absolutely useful, but if you spend too much time just getting pieces, you’ll be left in the dust when it comes to scoring points at the end of the game.

It’s almost impossible to see the pattern on the back for the white tiles

The end of Project L arrives quickly. By the time players start pulling from the harder (or rather, larger) black tiles, everyone generally has enough pieces to play with and have settled into the routine of “take puzzles, master action”. The stack of tiles depletes quickly and suddenly the end of the game is triggered. Everyone gets one last action, then finishing touches, then the game is over.

When you first get your hands on Project L you expect solving each of the puzzles to be the crux of the game, but it isn’t. The game is effectively managing your pieces and actions. I’m glad the turns move quickly between players as it’s painful when you have a perfect plan that relies on a specific puzzle, but it gets snapped up by the player before you, forcing you to reconsider your entire turn. This however, is the entirety of interactions between players; there’s hardly a limit on the number of pieces (I’ve never run into a specific piece running out), there’s no way to slow down other players progress, and there’s no reason to even look at the other players until the game comes to an end. If strong player interaction is important to you, steer clear.

In summary, Project L is a fast, light, puzzle game with excellent production values. I find the latter half of the game a little predictable in that the only actions that seem worth taking are the ‘master build’ and the ‘take more puzzles’ actions. Project L is an excellent game to start or end an evening with, and anyone with a fond memory of Tetris will instantly like this game, even if it’s only due to the colourful pieces.