Designed by Reiner Knizia
Release Year: 2019 Complexity: Low
👥 2-6 Players ⏰ 15-30 min 💸 ~$10 🔗 Buy
L.L.A.M.A. is a race to get rid of your cards each round as you try to accumulate as few points as possible. Cards that are the same or one higher than the current discard can be played, with llama cards connecting 6s back to 1s in a loop. To give yourself the best chance of winning, you must balance dropping out of a hand early to cut your losses with the allure of staying in the round and trying to go out. Rounds are played until a player reaches 40 or more points, at which point the player with the fewest points is the winner.
Unlike many shedding card games, whenever you can’t play in L.L.A.M.A, you are faced with an interesting decision: do you draw a card and stay in the hand, or do you drop out and lock in the points remaining in your hand? Staying in the round is always tempting, not only because you could get rid of more cards, but because going out allows you to return any point chip to the supply. Since the chips come in 1-point and 10-point denominations, going out could lead to a big 10-point swing.
This decision is further enhanced by the way cards are scored at the end of a round. Each card scores points equal to its value, with llamas counting as 10, but you only score one of each card value. This means that if you are left with four 6s, you actually only have 6 points.
Consider a hand where you are down to just two 5s. If you go ahead and fold, you will take a guaranteed 5 points that round. But if you draw, what are the chances you will be able to get rid of both 5s as the round goes on? If you happen to draw a 6 or a llama, suddenly your point total has jumped to 11 or even 15. But you feel so close to going out! It is this tension between quitting and pushing your luck that drives the gameplay in L.L.A.M.A.
Player Counts - L.L.A.M.A. plays well anywhere from 3 to 6 players, but we have found that it tends to be more fun at larger player counts since there is an added energy at the table and it creates an interesting dynamic with how much the current discarded value can change between turns as players drop out of the round.
Abstract vs. Thematic - The llama theme here is completely arbitrary, and while it gives it a light and funny flavor, it is effectively an abstract game.
Luck vs. Skill - We will talk in this review about how we love that there are more interesting decisions in llama than what meets the eye. That said, in the broad spectrum of board games, this still lands as a light game where luck plays a much bigger role than skill.
Multiplayer Solitaire vs. Highly Interactive - The game is very interactive as everyone contributes to the shared discard pile and decides when to fold out of the hand, but there are also many times when your decisions won’t really be influenced by other players. We still think it leans more toward being interactive due to the feel around the table as the quick turns keep everyone engaged.
Short Setup vs. Long Setup - Setup is a breeze, just deal everyone 6 cards and start.
Easy to Teach vs. Hard to Teach - L.L.A.M.A. is very light on rules, and any confusion can easily be alleviated by just starting to play.
Low Setup Variability vs. High Setup Variability - There isn’t much setup variability here, but the fact that it is a card game means that the shuffled deck will have each hand playing out differently.
Things to Like
✅ Fast-Playing with Good Energy - Gameplay in L.L.A.M.A. flies around the table, keeping everyone involved with a nice group energy. The dynamic of the pile looping through the numbers elicits reactions from players as the values increment more quickly than they want, or it goes all the way around the table with everyone playing the same number. In our groups, playing llamas tends to start a “llama party” where everyone is excited to dump high-point llama cards from their hand, and then we trash-talk the party pooper who decides to end it with a 1. There is also a neat dynamic in how the pacing changes as players drop out of the round. With a full table, the pile can almost fully loop between your turns, but once you are down to 2 or 3 players, the numbers can only shift so much which has an impact on your decision-making.
✅ Great Push-Your-Luck Decisions - The core decision of when to fold is an interesting one, and you are tempted by staying in, especially since going out allows you to return a chip. Also, there is a little bit of push-your-luck when you have two options of which card you can play: do you play one that you have multiple copies of, hoping you will have the opportunity to get rid of the rest? Or do you just get rid of a card you only have one of, even if it reduces the chances of playing the other cards? I have been surprised by how many times, in such a simple game, I have had a turn where I go, “Huh… that is actually kind of interesting.”
✅ Exciting “Shoot the Moon” Moments - When all players drop out except one, there is this chance for an amazing moment when that player can no longer draw, but can try to play out their entire hand. This adds another interesting layer of push-your-luck because you could actually try to shoot the moon by drawing cards to fill in gaps in your hand, but it is risky if you don’t get the right cards or if another player goes out. But it is definitely an exciting moment when the final player unloads a huge sequence of cards, turning what looked like a terrible hand into a win.
✅ Possibility of Amazing Comebacks - Since going out allows you to return a chip to the supply, and some chips are worth 10 points, there is always a chance for a player to come back. I actually had a game where I was a few points away from 40, and managed to come back and win by going out a couple of times in a row. That “comeback” potential keeps everyone invested and can make for some nice dramatic swings.
Things to Dislike
❌ Interesting Decisions are Not Self-Evident - We don’t really consider the luck factor here a downside given the style of game, and we have been pleasantly surprised by some of the interesting decisions that emerge out of such simple gameplay. However, one downside to that interest being so emergent, as opposed to being obvious from the rules, is that many players may brush it off too early as a game with no interesting decisions. It is fun to uncover these little things as you play more, but we could see many people judging it negatively prematurely due to the simplicity and high luck factor.
❌ Some Hands Play Themselves Out - While there are a surprising amount of interesting decisions in L.L.A.M.A., they are still outweighed by turns where you may feel like you are playing on auto-pilot. The impact of this is lessened in a game that moves so quickly around the table, but some players may not like a game where several turns or even a whole round goes by without a particularly meaningful decision.
Ryan (26 Plays) - 7 Daniel (7 Plays) - 7
Is It For You?
If you don’t enjoy really lucky games or games where the primary decisions are based on pushing your luck, then L.L.A.M.A. might fall flat for you. 👎
But if you want a light and accessible card game that keeps everyone involved, that is easy to teach while having a little more depth than what meets the eye, and that has potential for exciting moments and comebacks, L.L.A.M.A., for us, has consistently done a great job of filling that niche. 👍