Carcassonne is one of the most well known and well regarded tile laying games of all time and due to that, it’s rare to find a game that challenges that title. Land vs Sea from Good Games Publishing is the most recent contender.
In a basic game, Land vs Sea players compete to complete areas of land or sea using hexagonal tiles with one player playing land and the other sea. The game also presents other optional scoring systems and the ability of playing three player and four player team based games.
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Land vs Sea is an abstract tile laying board game.
Land vs Sea was designed by Jon-Paul Jacques who also did the artwork for the game. This tile laying game plays two to four players with games taking under an hour even at the highest player count. Land vs Sea was published by Good Games Publishing in 2021 and has an MSRP of $30 US.
In Land vs Sea, players score by placing hexagonal tiles so that they complete land or sea areas. Bonus points are awarded for each X on completed features. Some tiles will also let you place a second tile or steal a tile. There are also optional scoring systems, including making chains of Mountains or Coral, creating Trade Routes from Caravans and Ships, and strategically using Waypoints. At three players, the game adds in a new role, the Cartographer which changes up the scoring rules. At four players the game becomes a team-based game.
For a look at the excellent components that come in this tile-laying game check out our Land vs Sea Unboxing Video on YouTube.
Land vs Sea comes in a rather small box. Inside this, you will find a very succinct and well-written rulebook. The basic rules do take up 11 pages of this book but most of them are examples featuring large clear images. Under this, you will find an insert that also serves as a scoring track taking up most of the box, with a small trough holding 60 double-sided map tiles and a small baggie of wooden markers (three Land, three Sea and one Cartographer token).
How do you play Land vs Sea?
Despite what the size of the rulebook may indicate, Land vs Sea is dead simple to learn and play, especially with the basic two-player rules.
You start a game by finding the starting tile, which is half land and half sea, and placing it in the centre of the table. Then you place the Volcano/Whirlpool tile off to the side and shuffle up the rest of the tiles and split them into two equal stacks. Finally, you randomize who is playing land and who is playing sea.
Land starts by drafting one tile from the top of one of the two tile piles. Sea then drafts a tile. Repeat this until both players have two tiles. Tiles are placed face up in front of the players. Players are free to look at both sides of their own tiles but cannot see the flip side of their opponent’s tiles (or the flip side of the tiles on the top of the tile stacks).
The game starts with land placing a tile followed by sea placing a tile and continues until both tile piles are exhausted. If at any point one pile runs out the remaining tiles in that pile are split evenly so that there are always two piles until the last round of the game.
After placing a tile, players refill their “hand” so that they always have two tiles face up in front of them, unless there are no more tiles to draw.
When placing a tile they must be placed so that any side touching another tile matches. Land with Land, Sea with Sea. If placing a tile completes an area of Land or Sea, the player also scores points. Land scores one point per tile that’s part of a completed Land area and Sea Scores one point per tile in a completed Sea area. In addition, the player placing the tile that closed off the feature gets one bonus point per X on any of the tiles in the feature. Note Sea can complete a Land area and vice versa and in that case, the placing tile will score the Xs and the other player will score for the number of tiles in the area.
Some tiles feature special symbols. When placing a tile with one of these symbols you immediately take a bonus action after scoring. One of these lets you place your second tile which can also lead to more scoring, the other action lets you steal a tile from another player. If you play a bonus action with your second tile that ability is wasted (as you have no further tiles in your “hand” to play). You also cannot steal a player’s last tile.
Once the last tile is placed the game is over and the player with the most points wins.
There’s one extra rule, regarding the Volcano/Whirlpool tile. If a player ever creates a ring of tiles creating a hole in the map in which all six edges of that hole are the same feature, they get to then place the Volcano or Whirlpool tile into the hole for free. The tile gets placed Volcano side up for Land or Whirlpool side up for Sea. This tile contains a lot of Xs on it and is thus worth a lot of points for whoever closes off the area it’s located in.
That’s it for the basic rules for Land vs Sea. Along with this, the game also comes with a number of optional rules that you can mix and match and add to your game once you’ve figured out the basics.
Adding Coral and Mountain scoring to your games uses these two features that are found on some of the tiles. Coral scores points for Sea and Mountains for Land. Players score points for making chains of Coral or Mountains, two points for every other tile in the chain in addition to the one just placed. Note that it doesn’t matter who placed the tile or if the tile placed scores anything else, adding to a Coral chain by any player scores Sea points and adding to a Mountain chain scores Land points.
Adding the Caravan and Ship Scoring rules to the game adds an area control aspect and more ways to score points during the game. Some tiles have these new features on them and you immediately score two points when you place a Caravan or Ship next to another tile with a Caravan or Ship on it. At the end of the game, you look at each group of Caravans and Ships and count how many of each type of tile you find. If there are more Caravans, land scores one point per tile in that “Trade Route”, if there are more Ships, then Sea scores the Trade Route. If there’s a tie, no one gets any points.
You can also add Waypoints to your game. Each player gets a waypoint token and can place it on an incomplete feature at the end of their turn. Whenever that feature is completed, or the tile containing the Waypoint counter is surrounded on all six sides, the player that owns it gets it back and scores one point.
All of these three optional scoring systems can be mixed and matched, using one, two or all three of them.
All of the above rules are for playing with exactly two players. Land vs Sea can also be played, and works equally well, with three and four players, but there are rule changes for each player count.
With three players you add in the Cartographer player. This player drafts and plays tiles the same way as the other players, taking their turn after the Sea player has completed theirs.
Land and Sea still score their own completed features and whoever places a tile that scores, also gets points for any Xs as usual. However, when playing with three you must use the Coral and Mountain scoring and it’s only the Cartographer that can score those two elements. In addition, you also must use the Caravan and Ship rules, and the Cartographer scores them as normal during play. At the end of the game, any points for tied Trade Routes go to the Cartographer instead of being lost. Waypoints are optional but recommended when playing with three players and the Cartographer does not get a waypoint to place.
The standard four-player game of Land vs Sea is played in two teams. Two players play Land and two players play Sea. Play alternates Land, Sea, Land, Sea. All of the basic rules apply, including the fact that you can’t show anyone else the backs of your tiles. In addition to this players cannot talk to the other players about where they are playing or where they think their partner should play.
The use of Waypoints when playing with four players is strongly recommended as those waypoint counters become the main way of communicating with your teammate about where you want them to play or letting them know what you plan on completing next.
There is an optional four-player rule called Free Play Mode that removes this communication restriction. I personally don’t recommend this as the communication limitation is a great way to remove quarterbacking and games become much longer if players talk openly about every move.
With four players the score for each team is shared and the winner is the team with the most points when the tiles run out.
Land vs Sea is one of the best tile laying games we’ve played.
I have to start off by saying I’m a huge fan of Good Games Publishing. We have reviewed a number of their games and not a single one has been a flop. Fairy Season is a great ladder-climbing card game that my kids really enjoy. Funfair is a fantastic family-friendly card-driven engine-building game about opening your own theme park. While Unfair is a heavier more complicated theme park building game, with some nasty take that elements that will appeal more to hobby gamers. Finally, Guild Master is a programmed movement game about running an adventurers guild in a fantasy setting.
Every single one of these games I will happily play right now, and I love showing them off and sharing them with new gamers who haven’t discovered them yet.
Land vs Sea joins this list. Like all of the other Good Games Publishing games we’ve played, Land vs Sea features excellent component quality, clear and concise rules, easy to learn rules (I would say this is the easiest game of the bunch to learn), and engaging and variable gameplay that has me coming back time and time again.
They claim that you can teach Land vs Sea in two minutes and I’m surprised to say that I agree. The basic game really is that quick to teach. Play a tile, if you complete a land or sea area the respective player gets points, give bonus points for Xs, draw replacement tile(s). In addition, there are two special symbols to watch for, one gives you an extra turn and one lets you steal a tile. That’s pretty much it. That’s all you really need to know to be able to play.
At the basic gameplay level, Land vs Sea is the most accessible tile-laying game out there. It’s a fantastic gateway game for new hobby gamers and for non-gamers that is great for playing with extended family and with kids.
I, myself enjoy the basic game. It’s very tight and solid. This is one of those games where there’s a bit of emergent gameplay you don’t catch on your first couple of plays. Things like the timing of using those bonus actions and when to steal tiles, hate drafting (drafting tiles just so your opponent can’t get them), getting to know the tiles and how many of each type there are in the game, and learning to look at the face up tiles in front of your opponent and on the top of the two drafting piles to both plan your own move and to predict what you opponent is doing.
With two experienced players, a two-player basic game of Land vs Sea can really start to have a Chess-like feel.
While the two-player basic version of Land vs Sea is good, really good, the game starts to become great when you add in the optional rules. Of the bonus scoring systems, the Coral and Mountain scoring is my favourite to use and I prefer to use it in every game. One of the best things this adds is an incentive to help out your opponent while helping yourself out more. It’s no longer just about closing features and stopping your opponent from doing the same. You can score a lot of points with those reefs and ranges.
For me, that’s followed by the Waypoint rules. While one point here and there may not feel like much, by the end of the game those extra Waypoint points can really add up and have been the difference between a win and a loss in a couple of our games. The only issue I have seen with Waypoints is that players tend to forget to use them.
Trade Routes is my least favourite of the new scoring systems but that’s not to say that they are bad or that I don’t actually like the rules. I do love the added level of complexity and decision points added with Trade Routes and I love to use them when wanting to sit down to a highly competitive game that really challenges the players’ skills. The reason I don’t use them every time is that they add a level of fiddliness to what’s otherwise a very elegant game. Sadly the Caravan and Ship features often don’t stand out from the tile artwork and it can be difficult to spot them on the growing map. In addition to spotting them, you also need to count the different features and see who is winning. When there ends up being multiple Trade Routes in different areas of the board this can take some work to keep track of. This also comes up at the end of the game when you need to find all of the Trade Routes and score them. We now use wooden cubes I happen to own to mark out the trade routes to make counting up the end scoring easier.
So if I’m playing a casual game of Land vs Sea, chatting and hanging out while playing, I will usually skip the Trade Route rules.
I will say that all of these different scoring systems do interact very well together and are fun to use in all of the possible combinations. Using any of these optional systems adds a level of depth and complexity to the game that moves it beyond what I would consider a gateway game. A great aspect of this is that if someone did pick it up as a gateway game, the game can grow and adapt with that player as they get more comfortable with hobby gaming elements.
The biggest surprise to me when discovering Land vs Sea is just how well it works with more than two players. When the game was announced and I first saw the game I expected it to be a two-player only game. When I later learned it played up to four, I made the incorrect assumption that they had created some variant rules tacked on top of the base game. While indeed the designer did provide rule changes for higher player counts, they feel extremely well playtested and designed, not just an added feature to put a higher player count number on the box.
Three player Land vs Sea is even more cutthroat than the core game. It’s also more engaging as there is more that you have to watch for. It’s easy to focus on the feature that scores points for you while missing that you are also helping out one of the other players. Trade Routes become more important than ever and a handful of Waypoint points can mean the difference between winning and losing. The only problem I’ve found while playing with three players is if players have played the game a lot with only two they may have trouble remembering that the Coral and Reefs now score points for the Cartographer.
My favourite way to play Land vs Sea is actually at four players. This was a huge shock to me as I usually don’t like team-based games, especially team-based abstract strategy games. I don’t know what it is exactly about Land vs Sea but it does something different enough from other games that I ended up loving playing it in teams.
The real highlight here are those communication restriction rules, that lead to wonderful moments in-game. Both moments when you use a waypoint to try to communicate something and your partner gets it and plays perfectly and you complete a feature for a huge score and when things go totally wrong and something your partner does unravels something you have been planning for three turns.
The lack of communication is also great for a social game night hanging out with friends. Because you can’t really talk about the game this opens up the table to all kinds of friendly conversation.
I’m still kind of in shock that for a game that seems so obviously designed to be best with two players, we actually found it plays best with more.
To offset all of this glowing praise I do have one pretty significant complaint about the game and that’s the busyness of the tiles. In addition to the features needed for play, the tiles in Land vs Sea have all kinds of whimsical artwork on them inspired by historic medieval maps. While I admit the first few plays I did enjoy looking over my tiles and finding some rather talented rabbits and the Starbucks mermaid, these can get in the way of actually playing the game.
While the Extra Turn and Steal A Tile symbols are huge and in the centre of each piece they appear on, the other important features can easily blend in with the artwork. You will notice this first with the Xs on the tiles. In most cases, these are pretty clear but then there are a few cross-shaped pieces of artwork on some of the tiles. Up close you can tell them apart well enough but from across the table, it’s not that easy.
Similarly, the Coral and Mountains sometimes spread a bit further than I would like, sometimes making it unclear, at a distance, to tell if a feature touches a specific edge. Again on close inspection, this becomes obvious, but it would be better if you could figure this out at a glance.
The most egregious issue is with the Caravans and Ships. While each does feature a white flag with red symbols on them, I wish they were significantly bigger. If you’ve ever seen me standing up leaning over a table with Land vs Sea out on it, you saw me trying to find all of the Trade Routes on our growing map.
These graphic design issues aren’t terrible. They don’t ruin the game in any way. I just wish the important features of the game stood out more from the background artwork.
Overall, we have been loving Land vs Sea. Everyone I have played it with has enjoyed it and that includes gamers of all experience levels over a huge age range. The basic game of Land vs Sea is dead simple to teach and learn and games play nice and quick without feeling like they are over two quickly. At that level, the game is a perfect gateway or family weight game. Adding in optional scoring systems adds depth to the game without making it all that complex, which made the game really shine for the hobby gamers I play with. The biggest surprise with Land vs Sea though is just how well it plays at both three and four players, with the four-player team-based game being my favourite way to play.
Land vs Sea is the kind of game that is going to appeal to a very broad range of gamers. The optional scoring rules make this a great game for both new and experienced players and also mean this can be a game that can grow with a group as they become more comfortable with hobby game mechanics. I honestly haven’t found anyone who didn’t enjoy this game so far.
That said, where I think this will fall flat is for groups who prefer highly thematic games. Land vs Sea is an abstract strategy game at its core and there isn’t really a story to be told while playing it. If your group is looking for an adventure or to tell a story while you play, you aren’t going to find that here.
As for me, I just can’t wait until we can start gaming in public again so I can show this one off to the local gaming community. I know a number of gamers who are going to love it!
Our entire family has enjoyed playing Land vs Sea. In addition to playing it in person with them, we also got to try it out with Sean online. You can play Land vs Sea on Tabletop Simulator for free, which is pretty awesome. It’s a scripted version that works really well and does a great job of recreating the physical game.
Have you played Land vs Sea? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below. If you haven’t gotten a chance to play this one yet, I would love to hear about your favourite tile-laying game.