I’m always a bit unsure about storytelling games, it’s not that I’m afraid of the concept I’m more afraid of the implementation. Dungeons and Dragons is, at its heart, a storytelling game but can easily turn into a tactical battle game. Getting players to let go and make up stories is always something I am worried isn’t going to happen. I thought this may be the case with LUGU, a story telling card game from Card Tower Games and Modiphius, but LUGU showed me that storytelling is not only natural, but bloody funny at the same time.
The concept of LUGU is rather straightforward; each player is furnished with a deck of cards, each one decorated by a very abstract piece of colourful art. The storyteller, basically the player whose turn it is, draws four of the cards at random and tries to craft a story based on the artwork.
The rest of the players then have to work out which cards the storyteller has. Each player who guesses a card correctly gains a point, unless it was so obvious that every player guessed correctly, in which case no points are scored.
I say all this but there’s a caveat to add here, the scoring is largely pointless, because if you’re playing LUGU to win, or if you’re keeping track of score then you’re obviously not having the kind of fun we were having. Simply put we were laughing too much to even keep score.
Once a storyteller has finished the next player must continue the story with four cards they randomly select and the game continues until each player had been the storyteller twice.
I think it’s about time for a demonstration. So here’s my story:
“I travelled to Japan to learn Karate from an ancient master. I mastered the art and visited Tokyo to take part in a national competition; unfortunately the competition was cut short when a giant wasp monster attacked the city”Now normally you would have the full deck of cards in front of you and then you would have to match the beats of my story to the cards in your hand. But since I can’t show you the full deck, this is what I was dealt:
As you can see it takes a bit of imagination and interpretation, and that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people will struggle with the abstractness of the images. At worst this leads to people being far too literal (“she had a dream about some weird shapes”) at best it leads to some pretty weird trippy stories.
Just like other party games like Dixit, Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity, there's a risk in playing this game too often, as familiarity with the cards can lead to some stale stories. There’s obviously a physical limit to how many cards can be included in a single set, and it is nicely priced for that very reason. However, the limited range of cards means that sometimes the meaning of the cards gets repeated, for some people once they see a wiggly line as a snake, it will forever be a snake.
These last two issues aren’t really problems with the game’s design; they are more problems with the imagination of players, which brings me back to my original point. I’ve played this game with 6 players, which is the maximum the game will play and I think this is the best, because it leads to the silliest and funniest stories.
Having more players mean that for every player who will forever see that black shape as a tunnel there will be another who sees it as a monster, a ship, a door or an ancient black monolith, which can often lead the other players thinking that player is a madman as they try and work out how they got a panda attacking Cthulhu with a wooden sword from the abstract shapes available.
LUGU is an unbelievably simple game and that is what makes it so great, it’s all open to your own interpretation. This can just as easily be a family game you play with your kids, or an extremely rude adult game, it’s all in what you take away from it.
While it can suffer in the hands of players who have a poor imagination when you’re all sitting around laughing so much at the silly stories created, or in bafflement of how someone interpreted the meaning from the cards, who cares.
This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.