30th Apr2018

‘Lembitu’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail


In Lembitu, one to four players take control of the armies commanded by the titular King Lembitu, as he attempts to defend his homeland of Estonia. Set during the Livonian Crusades of the early 13th century, Lembitu explores a period in history that is unknown to many – the forced conversion to Christianity of the final pagan nations in Europe.

Whilst this is a rather grand and highly unique premise in itself, Lembitu is also a very interesting and fairly individual game to play. It is played either solo or cooperatively, with the player(s) taking a cumulative twelve actions per turn, split between however many pawns chosen to represent them. For example, with two pawns in play, each will take six actions, whilst with four pawns, each will take three.

Actions in Lembitu are incredibly straightforward. The pawns can move one space, attack an enemy or incite a rebellion. The movement action is straightforward, although the board has an interesting layout that I’ll discuss later. Attacking is even simpler – a pawn simply spends an action to defeat an enemy cube in the same space. Inciting a rebellion involves placing a rebellion token on the board, which has the potential to become a stronghold later, but it also has some potential drawbacks.

Enemies appear from six routes based on a dice roll that takes place at the beginning of each player turn. Simply put, three dice are rolled and a number of cubes equal to the symbols on each face are added to the board. Enemy cubes move in train directly towards the Estonian capital down main roads only, which means that the players must keep them constantly in check.

Regardless of having to share the actions between all players, I found the game materially easier with more pawns in play. This is mostly because more pawns mean fewer wasted movements traveling from one train of enemies to another. Solo players should consider adjusting the number of pawns they use up or down to affect the difficulty, although I would still say that Lembitu is reasonably hard to win.

Doing so is achieved simply by allowing the turn timer to reach the end of the track – Lembitu was killed in battle and failed to maintain Estonian sovereignty in reality, but thematically it’s a bit like a back against the wall siege situation, where eventually the enemy loses interest or suffers enough casualties to seek easier prey elsewhere, but it works well.

Also, as the turn clock ticks along, periodic rebellion symbols are shown against a coloured background. On such occasions, the players flip rebellion tokens in areas of the matching colour onto the stronghold side. Strongholds provide a defensive bonus that will alter the advance of enemy pieces, so they are well worth creating. Should an enemy cube reach a rebellion before it is transformed however, the cube will be added to a separate siege space on the board, which ultimately speeds up the enemy advance.

Because there are few actions available in Lembitu and all of them take just a few seconds to execute, turns are quick whether playing solo or otherwise. Regardless, there’s no lack of tactical depth here and the game is highly variable, with high player control over difficulty level and a consistent amount of randomization that rarely reaches an unfair status. Playing Lembitu feels a bit like tackling a classic puzzle and as a result, I like it best of all as a solo game.

Whilst not a hugely overstated part of the game, I should mention the components in Lembitu. The cubes and pawns are just fine, whilst the manual is appropriately brief and simple to learn from. The dice, however, feel fantastic and have a great weight, whilst the initially plain looking board later reveals some cute, stylised artwork that really grew on me over time. The consistent colour scheme ensures absolute clarity when playing, which is something that I can appreciate amongst increasingly more abstract boards on offer elsewhere.

Ultimately Lembitu delivers much more than you might expect it to. It is both an excellent solo experience and a quick, fun multiplayer game. It has a fantastic historical theme that will interest most war gamers whilst also educating many. Personally, I do love the opportunity to discuss and learn about actual historical events even as I play and Lembitu results in an automatic Google-fest for all concerned.

More importantly, it’s a good game that uses a nice mix of smart and simple mechanics to create tension and a sense of achievement. Few games are as capable of creating such heart in mouth moments as the closing turns of a hard fought game of Lembitu, although I must weight that against the occasional games when the players lose far too early because of cumulatively unfortunate die rolls. Attractive, straightforward components round off a great experience that any serious gamer should consider adding to their collection.

**** 4/5

A copy of Lembitu was provided by publisher 2D6.EE and you can read more about it here. The game is available to purchase now.


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