My earlier review of Buru covered the multi-player game. However, Buru also comes with an Automa variation, both for solo play or that can be added to a 2 or 3 player game to introduce an additional challenge.
The Lawan, a group of foreign rivals, seek to win the Esteem necessary to become the next Governor of Buru. While you and your fellow Nobles may use logic and cunning, the rules I have claim the Lawan’s “strategies and tactics are even more mysterious and unpredictable.”
Here’s how to play the Lawan in Buru.
In a standard solo game you’ll play against two Lawan; in a two or three player game, they recommend adding a single Lawan player into the game.
This review will assume you’ve already read my review of Buru. As such, I won’t be reiterating the rules or most of the basic gameplay.
Set the board up as usual with the Decree Tokens, Spirit Totems, the three resources, three altars and their corresponding Reward cards, Elder cards, and Forest cards.
Take your player board and place your five Explorers and two fish counters. Take your Esteem marker and place it on the Zero spot on the score tracker.
Then do the same for two other player colors, designating one color/Lawan to be Lawan A and the other as Lawan B.
The Lawan never starts with the First Player token. That means they’ll each start with 3 Fish. In a solo game, you’ll start with no Fish.
Playing as the Lawan
The Lawan’s movements and decisions are based on a series of 12 Plot cards. These cards dictate where the Lawan place Explorers, which Islanders they acquire, and the Tributes they make.
Mix up the Lawan’s Explorers face-up, then place your first Explorer in one of the four regions on the board. (When I’ve played the solo game, I kept my Explorers number-side up for my own convenience.)
Draw a Plot card from the deck and see which region the chart indicates Lawan A places an Explorer and which region Lawan B places an Explorer. Choose a face-up Explorer at random from Lawan A and B’s boards and place them in that region. Place your second Explorer and draw a new Plot card to see where Lawan A and B place their random Explorers.
The artwork for the Plot cards had not been finalized when I wrote this review. As a result, the crew at Crafty Games asked me to not include the very basic PDF version of the Plot cards I used in play testing in my review.
The Lawan never have more than two Explorers in a single region. If, for example, a Plot card calls for a third Lawan A Explorer in a region, resolve the placement for Lawan B from that Plot card (if possible), then select a new Plot card and resolve that placement Lawan A.
When all Explorers have been placed, resolve The Forest as usual by turning over all the Explorers there. The highest total number gets first choice of the resources available from the Forest cards. The Lawan always chooses the resources shown on the card with the highest number of red dots at the base of the card. If more than one card has the same number of red dots, the human player decides for the Lawan.
Resources are moved to the Lawan player boards as usual.
Then draw a new Plot card for each Lawan. If the Lawan have Explorers at The Shore, the Plot card will dictate the type of Islander they’ll choose to recruit, based on the symbols in the upper left corner of the card. The Lawan will continue to gain Islanders until they either run out of Fish or can no longer afford any of the Islanders available. If their action space includes the icon to refresh the available cards, they gain 1 Esteem.
The Lawan will never activate Explorers placed in The Shore. Instead, for each activation they could perform in The Village, they gain 1 Esteem.
If the Lawan have Explorers in The Sacred Lake, the Plot card will indicate which type of Tribute they’ll offer first/second, etc.
As with the standard game, Spirit Totems are distributed to the player/Lawan with the highest count in each of the three Spirit regions. Each Tribute paid to that Spirit grant that player an additional Esteem.
Thoughts on the Lawan
As I stated in my review of the base game and its two expansions, Buru is largely a game of hidden scoring. Throughout the five rounds it takes to play Buru, there will be some movement along the Esteem track through Islander cards and/or Tributes paid to the Spirit whose Token you possess for that round. The majority of the scoring, however, comes from the Tribute cards.
This means to play Buru well, you need to focus on acquiring the resources necessary to make Tributes. Without those Tribute cards, you simply cannot compete in the game.
The Lawan Plot cards do a fine job of making you consider where to place each (numerically valued) Explorer, but the random “mysterious and unpredictable” tactics are no replacement for a human player.
Consider this: In the opening rounds Resources from The Forest and Islanders from The Shore are an essential part of building your engine. The Sacred Lake, where Tributes can be made, isn’t a priority unless you have sufficient resources (which you probably won’t). No human player would place one, much less two Explorers in The Sacred Lake even if it did grant them a few Esteem.
Similarly, late in the game Islanders become less important. Unless you have an Elder that scores you end-of-game Esteem for collecting Islanders or allows you to make a Tribute, your focus is going to shift to activating the Islanders you already have. If not, doubling down on The Shore makes no sense.
The Lawan’s selection process for Islanders also disregards the relative value of the available Islanders. If one of those free Tribute Islanders are available, that should be the first Islander acquired. However, if that card lacks the randomized symbol the Plot card shows for the first buys, that Islander is left for me to claim.
By focusing my efforts on acquiring the best resource cards from The Forest and making multiple Tributes whenever possible, I’ve had no trouble beating the Lawan each time I’ve played with them.
Does this mean the Lawan aren’t worth playing? I don’t think so. I feel Buru works best with 3+ players. That means after playing an initial game with another player or two, I’d be willing to add the Lawan in as a potential spoiler to make the game more interesting.
Buru remains a beautiful game of hidden bidding and hidden points filled with interesting choices. My disappointment in the Lawan in no way dampens my appreciation for the base game and the Ukum and Ambelau expansions.