Hmm, how to introduce Project L? Usually I will write a little thematic opener here, but Project L has absolutely no pretence of theme whatsoever. It is a cold, hard abstract game, about doing puzzles and being efficient. Let’s not waste any more time here, let’s start the review!
1-4 Players | 20 Minutes | Designed by Michal Mikeš, Jan Soukal and Adam Spanel
Project L was originally published via Kickstarter, first with a delivery in 2019, and a second Kickstarter for an expansion delivered in late 2021. The game has just begun making its way to retail shelves now in Australia. Project L brings a very Tetrisy feeling game to the table, and after seeing it in pictures online for a few years without being able to try it, I was more than happy to give it a go now that it has finally become more widely available.
How does it work?
Project L is a tetris style engine building puzzle game where players take turns drafting puzzles and completing them to earn points. The game includes 10 different types of ‘tetris piece’, ranging from size 1 (1×1) to size 4 (some combination of 4 1×1). Project L has a very simple ruleset, totally explained on the player reference cards. I usually give a brief rules overview in my articles, but I’m pretty sure I can list all the things you can do in a couple of sentences, so I will!
Players start the game with a 1×1 and a 2×1 piece, and nothing else. There are 8 empty puzzles laid out on the table ready for drafting. Players go around the table doing 3 actions per turn, until the end of the game. There are 5 things you can pick to do as an action: take a new puzzle, take a 1×1 piece, upgrade a piece you have by one size, or place pieces (in two different ways). Pretty simple!
When a player has filled a puzzle with pieces completely, the puzzle is completed. The player takes all their pieces back from that puzzle (they are not spent), and then adds it to their score pile. Most puzzles will award the player with an additional tetris piece to use for future puzzles, and are typically worth 0-5 points depending on how hard they are to complete.
Players will race to complete puzzles as efficiently as possible, and the game will end after one of the puzzle draw stacks runs out. At that point, whoever tallies up the most points from puzzles wins the game!
What do I think?
I’ve played the game a handful of times now and each play feels a bit different. The setup randomness means you won’t be able to follow the same path in each game, which means the pacing and strategy will vary a bit game to game. The game has been very well received by everyone I’ve introduced or to, one player even bought the game online before finishing their first play!
The Good Stuff
- The whole Project L experience is super smooth. It’s quick to learn it from the rulebook, it’s even faster to teach to other people and it’s really simple to play. The amazing pieces and dual layer puzzle board add to this experience, just making everything feel well put together and streamlined.
- For a game that ends up feeling like it has a lot of breadth of strategy, it’s so simple to get into. You can teach the game in a minute, and every mechanic is very intuitive.
- Azul quality and feel tetris pieces? Yes please! There is nothing more satisfying that clacking these bakelite style pieces into place on your puzzles.
- I love a compact game box.
- I think this game demonstrates a great balance of complexity and depth. The rules are simple but they let you do a lot. When you are playing it really feels like there is more than one way to win, and many options for what you could do on your turn that are all viable choices. Often with abstracts there is a clear ‘strongest move’ to make each turn and the game feels more about identifying that move and doing it rather than you making a choice. Not the case here!
- The flexibility I describe above reduces chances of Analysis Paralysis because you don’t need to plan ahead, usually things ‘work’. While you can take the time working out your next few turns, I’ve never felt the need to as the game fosters a sense of choice and options. You begin to understand that you can make plays on your general feel and have them work out in most cases. I really like this aspect of the game, I think it makes it feel really welcoming and relaxing to play.
The Bad Stuff
- As I mentioned in the intro, Project L has no pretence of theme, it is a pure abstract in the most abstract sense. I think this is mostly ok, but often for games of this weight, having a theme can help encourage new gamers to the table. Luckily for Project L, everyone knows Tetris so it’s a fairly easy sell that way.
- The puzzle tiles in Project L are all pretty general, i.e there is really no tiles that need specific pieces or sets of pieces. I think because of this, there is a limit in the game on more advanced player interactions. Hate drafting (stealing a puzzle someone has their eye on) isn’t really possible because every puzzle is so flexible.
- There isn’t really a risk-reward profile for specialisation like there is in other engine building games such as Splendor. Something like the nobles in Splendor could encourage specialisation – e.g. get 4 red pieces first for a few bonus points.
- I wish the game supported more players. I understand the Kickstarter version came with extra bits and puzzles for up to 6 players, but I can’t get that!
- The dual layered puzzles are bulky so the number is pretty limited. This hasn’t been an issue yet but maybe with lots of replays you might get bored of seeing the same 12-16 puzzles over and over.
- I like a quick game, but this game is so quick, I often think about whether it could have a longer variant. More puzzles/scoring criteria that need more specialisation could be a part of this.
Project L is one of the smoothest games I’ve played in a while. It’s quick to get into and makes for a very satisfying experience that is also quite accessible. I’ve shared it with various groups, and everyone has really enjoyed the game, which I take as a great sign of quality. I personally find it really engaging, I love spatial puzzle games and engine builders, and Project L is a really interesting implementation of both of these mechanics. This is one of the first games I think I will give a blanket ‘everybody’ recommendation – if you get a chance try it out!
The copy of Project L used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by VR Distribution.