I recently took a minor vacation to visit my family, but travelling with a toddler is tough enough without carting around extra luggage, so I vowed to pack as leanly as possible. This meant bringing none of my games on vacation with me. Fortunately, there’s a few great game stores in Saskatoon, so I popped into a couple and one of the games I walked out with was a $12 copy of Don’t L.L.A.M.A.

Originally published as L.A.M.A, which is a German acronym that loosely translates to ‘get rid of your negative points’. In 2019 I saw the game in North America as L.L.A.M.A, and now, the version I finally bought is “Don’t L.L.A.M.A“. It’s odd that they chose to keep a name that was a German acronym, but created a separate acronym well after the original version was released. But hey, I shouldn’t judge. I’m awful at coming up with names, I can’t imagine how challenging it is applying a name and theme to what likely got sold to AMIGO as a themeless card game.

How to Play

L.L.A.M.A consists of a deck of cards, and a pile of black and white chips. The deck of cards contains 8 copies of the numbers 1 to 6, plus 8 Llama cards. Each round, the deck is shuffled, and each player is dealt 6 cards, and one card is placed face up as the starting card. Starting with the person who last played a card, they have 3 options for what they can do on their turn.

First, they can choose to play, which requires they play a card from their hand that either matches the card on top of the discard pile, or, is the next number in the sequence. Llama’s can be played on 6’s and 1’s can be played on Llama’s resetting the order.

Second, they can choose to pick up a card and add it to their hand. That’s it, turn is over.

Third, they can choose to quit the round. Doing so will allow the other players at the table to keep playing, but that player is no longer compelled to draw more cards. Once a player has quit the round, they cannot rejoin until a new round begins

And that’s it, players choose one of those three actions until either all players have chosen to quit, or, someone sheds all the cards from their hand. At that point, the scores are tallied.

The score of each round consists of each unique card left in your hand. Llamas are worth 10 points themselves, but if you have multiple llama’s in your hand at the end of the round, you only score 10 points. As an example, if the round ended, and you had one 4, two 5’s, and two llamas, your score would be 19 points. You keep your score by taking the black or white chips, white chips are worth 1 point and black chips are worth 10 points. The first player to meet or exceed 10 points triggers the end of the game, and the player with the lowest score at the end is the winner.

That’s right, points are bad in L.L.A.M.A. And if you’re the player who manages to get rid of all their cards during a round, you get an extra benefit of returning one of your point chips to the supply, reducing your score.


Naming criticisms aside, L.L.A.M.A is a great little card game by the renowned Dr. Reiner Knizia. Now, my family is no stranger to games, having played dozens of games from Sagrada to Hardback. They’re enthusiastic and always ready to play whatever I happen to pull out of my bag.

L.L.A.M.A hits the table quickly. Deal 6 cards, on your turn either play, draw, or quit. You can only play cards that match or continue the existing card on the table, and points are bad. GO! What first appears as a too simple, too easy card game slowly opens up into an interesting and satisfying push your luck game. Actually playing the game is painless, The decisions available to you are generally fairly obvious, meaning you aren’t expending a lot of metal effort on the game. This lets the game fade into the background as you chat idly with your friends or family

What really sold this game for me would be when someone had a bad run, broke the 40 point barrier to trigger the end of the game, and my brother-in-law just scooped up the cards, said “Again”, and dealt out a new hand. It’s easy to just keep playing L.L.A.M.A while enjoying good company.

Don’t get me wrong, I love games that consume the entirety of my brain space, but not every situation calls for that kind of activity. L.L.A.M.A is a game that accommodates anything from 2 to 6 players, and manages to straddle the line of being too luck-dependant, and letting new players get absolutely crushed on their first turn. It feels good when you can empty your hands of cards, and winning feels satisfying, but if you get hosed and end up pulling in 21 points two hands in a row, you just blame the luck of the cards and deal them out again without any real hurt feelings.

L.L.A.M.A ebbs and flows, sometimes you’ll be stuck with lots of points in your hands, and you’ll struggle with the choice to play the 5 or the 6. If you play the 5, it might come back around as the 6, and you’ll be able to shed both cards out of your hand, but if you play a 5, and the next two players play a 6, then a Llama, you’re stuck with that 6 points in your hand. And if you just play the 6, will the round make it all the way back to the 5 before someone goes out? Similar decisions need to be made when choosing to draw or fold. Is 6 points an acceptable fold point? If you draw again, it might be a 10 point Llama card, and Bigfoot only has two cards left. In the end, the stakes are low, as if you manage to go out, flicking a chip back into the supply is eminently satisfying.

I love the frustrated grunt that pops up when someone doesn’t play in the way you want them to. I recognize that it can be frustrating when you play your 5 card, then every other player also plays a 5, leaving you right back where you started, and the reverse of waiting and waiting all round for the deck to get a 4, so you can play your 5 card, only to have the two players prior to you rush through that number. It’s also frustrating when everyone else folds, and you’re stranded with nothing to do. However, when everyone else folds and you happen to have a perfect run in your hand, slamming down card after card is immensely satisfying.

It’s easy to call L.L.A.M.A dumb or compare it to other games like UNO, but there’s a great joy to be found in a game that flows so smoothly that it stays out of the way. L.L.A.M.A facilitates easy conversation, pleasant visiting, and it’s just a simple joy to play. I foresee myself bringing L.L.A.M.A out to a lot more events where gaming may not be the main focus, such as family reunions, pub nights with friends, or double dates with a couple that I don’t know terribly well.

I don’t know what it is about L.L.A.M.A‘s scoring, but I don’t really care if I’m the winner. The only thing I really care about is not being the person who hits that 40 point threshold to end the game. The production of L.L.A.M.A is simple. Bright, colourful cards, and white and black plastic chips. Nothing else is needed. While the decisions in L.L.A.M.A aren’t fast and furious, and the luck can mean that you might lose, no matter what choices you make, it’s so quick and easy to play that a shrug of your shoulder and a gruff “again” gets you right back into the game. It’s unobtrusive and fades nicely into the background, which makes it a perfect choice for a laid back evening with family you don’t get to see terribly often.