I’ll admit: I enjoy the theme of “nightmares” probably more than I should. Maybe it’s the psychology education, my love of horror, or a combination of both; but being lost to the dark side of dreams fascinates me.
So, we opened the box and entered Shannon Kelly’s realm of slumber.
Would we gain enough power to escape our dreams? Or would we become the very nightmares haunting (and hunting) each other?
The core concept of Lucidity is simple: the players are Dreamers, stuck asleep and haunted by the things in that realm. You attempt to gain enough Power to escape by rolling dice each round; reach a total of 15 Power first, and you win.
Unfortunately, the dice represent dreams, each one catering to a specific type of Nightmare: The Depths, Envy, Imprisonment, or Primeval Fear. Each die color has different faces, many of which have adverse consequences.
In addition to power, dream dice may Exhaust you (causing you to lose Power) or give Shadows that influence you (with different effects). You can also fall victim to dream monsters and their Hunt; if they catch you, you’ll never awaken again
The most significant consequence, however, occurs when you have too many of a single Shadow. At that point, you lose yourself and become that Shadow’s Nightmare; your goal is still to gain power, but you do so by affecting other Dreamers (and even competing Nightmares).
Dreamers start with a card where they place dice on various tracks. Each turn, a single Dreamer chooses how they’re sleeping, draws and rolls dice, resolves the consequences (and filled tracks), and then decides if they wish to dream deeper.
Choosing a Sleep Track determines how many dice you’ll draw and select, with light dreams providing less than deep dreams. Sleeping lightly provides few dice but better control; heavier sleep provides more dice, but you may end up with dreams you don’t want.
The Dreamer draws the amount of dice chosen, and then puts two of them back in the bag. Then they roll the dice and resolve the effects, adding each to the track on the sheet: Power, Hunt, or Exhaust.
Shadows are added to the sheet last and have a variety of effects when placed. You might have to draw another die or another player may force you to reroll a die already on your sheet.
After every die is addressed, the Dreamer checks to see if any rows (other than Power) are filled. The Hunted are eliminated, the Exhausted lose Power and must end their turn, and those filled with Shadows become Nightmares.
If none of that occurs, the Dreamer has a choice: Rest or Dream Again.
Players who Rest end their turn but may remove Exhaust or Shadow dice. Those who are Exhausted have this option only, but it’s a good (and necessary) one to not have your sheet covered in “bad” dice.
Players who Dream Again start their turn again, except their Sleep Track increases a step. These risky Dreamers will draw and roll more dice, which can lead to higher rewards or worse consequences.
This ability to play one’s turn again (up to two more times) before passing to the next person is an interesting strategy. Do you take baby steps, only dreaming a little each time? Or do you throw caution to the wind and dream as much as possible, risking everything in the process?
The real change occurs when someone has become a Nightmare after checking their Shadows. When that happens, they remove all dice from their sheet except Power; they then take the Nightmare card of the appropriate color and place it over the Shadow rows (which are no longer used).
From that point, there is no more Sleep Track, Hunt, or Exhaust – you are a Nightmare and no longer subject to mortal sleep. Nightmares have two choices each turn: to Consume other’s Power or to Send Minions against a Dreamer.
Consuming Power is simple and used against Dreamer and rival Nightmare alike. The player takes a Power die of their color from someone’s track and put it on your own.
If there is no Power die to take, the Nightmare must send minions against Dreamers (and only Dreamers). They draw two dice from a bag and force the opponent to roll (and resolve) one.
Another aspect of Nightmares is how they affect a Dreamer’s roll (on any turn); whenever Shadows of that Nightmare are rolled, the Nightmare player gains Power and then modifies the Dreamer’s sheet (depending on the Nightmare).
Of course, if all Dreamers become Nightmares, then the game ends. Only the most potent Nightmare, even if they have less than 15 Power, is considered the winner.
One of the aspects I love most about Lucidity is the balancing act players must play.
You may start out eager to dream deep and repeatedly, to use as many dice as possible, but your sheet can fill with bad dreams fast. A single round might end up with numerous Shadows and even halfway to being Hunted or Exhausted.
Similarly, you can also choose to dream lightly, ending your turn as early as possible. Unfortunately, this slow approach only nets so much progress (if any at all), and riskier players might outpace you to the finish line.
Some players choose to go full force into becoming a Nightmare, which is a potentially winning strategy. After all, not worrying about any negative consequences and having the ability to steal Power from others seems foolproof.
A single Nightmare, however, can be hampered by a strategic Dreamer, who chooses not to dream lightly and avoid that color of dice. If you’re the Nightmare of Envy, but nobody has any Envy dice or rolls them, you’ll soon be limited to whatever your minion can do each turn.
No game is perfect, however, so I have two aspects I wasn’t as happy with: the solo mode and the general rules.
In the solo mode, aka The Bogeymen, you’re a Dreamer attempting to steal into the nightmare world and escape with a Lord’s treasure. Each Nightmare has a solo version with special rules; you play the game as usual, except you attempt to avoid Awakening Nightmares and being overwhelmed by the Lord’s army of Spooks.
Unfortunately, I was slightly underwhelmed by the solo mode, as I defeated each Lord with little problem. Part of this stems from a lack of risk; without anyone to compete against, you can play safely, rolling fewer dice and handling the Spooks as they come.
Other games have solo modes that challenge, often with a lot more randomness and some amount of pressure. Compared to the regular multiplayer, Lucidity’s solo play was somewhat lacking; although they offer hard variations, I think more dice pulls and randomization might have helped.
Another problem I had was the lack of thematic explanation throughout the rulebook, which was disappointing after the fantastic art by William Webb and the style of the game itself.
Many games offer an “in-game” explanation for why things happen, providing some sense of immersion. Lucidity’s rulebook merely states how the game goes, with little in the way of “flavor text”; much of what I wrote earlier in this article stemmed from the box description and my imagination.
I think this absence was a missed opportunity, as the game itself is rife for immersion. To have a game draw you in with its artwork and general “plot,” only to find none of that in the book, was dismaying.
Some sense of why you’re performing an action and what it means in the realm of dreams might go a long way and enhance the gameplay itself.
Still, despite these criticisms, Lucidity does offer some good fun and a unique style.
The game is a good “travel” game as each session is usually finished in half-an-hour and it’s easily taught. The small size also makes it portable, and most of its components are merely dice (rather than any tokens or complex boards).
One note: I wouldn’t recommend it for outdoors as the dice are easily slid about or dropped, and the Dreamer and Nightmare cards lost to the wind.
Lucidity also is best played with 3-4 players, to allow more competitive opportunities. Two players work but can grow stale, plus there’s a tendency for both players to become Nightmares (and prematurely end the game) more often.
Overall, though, Lucidity does its job, providing quick play, easy to learn rules, and multiple paths to victory. Some tweaks to the solo rules, more immersive text, and maybe some expansions (with new Nightmares) would probably push this game into a more regular rotation at our house.
Lucidity is on shelves now. 1-4 players, 20-30 minutes, Ages 14+.
I give Lucidity an exhausting 3.5 sleepless nights out of 5.