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It's not "Ursuppe 2", but is a thematic sequel to Ursuppe. Urland is about another step in evolution, about vertebrates from water starting to conquer the land. Besides some minor mechanical similarites, the basic game principle of Urland is entirely different from Ursuppe.
Urland is sort of a distant cousin to Doris & Frank's previous (and excellent) Ursuppe. However, it seems to have been designed to be a more streamlined and playable version of that game, and in that I think they have suceeded.
Although Urland is pretty light (the rules are fairly straigtforward), there is a lot of subtley to the game. Scoring areas are determined by chits which are passed around the table, and paying attention to which chits are passed and who scores what can give you an edge. The genes are fairly powerful (much more so individually than in Ursuppe), but interact in interesting ways, and are sold in a fairly clever auction.
All in all, this is a nice game which compliments Ursuppe extremely well; if you liked Ursuppe, you will likely enjoy Urland; and if you liked the idea of Ursuppe, but found it too long, involved, or confusing, Urland should be more to your tastes. Definately one to check out.
Played Urland for the first time with our Thursday group. There were 5, and with learning the rules from the rule book it took around 2 hours to learn and play.
The strangest thing about the game is the fact that only 3 players are active each round, with a dummy and the Environmental Player who selects the province to be scored. Of course with fewer, especially 3, you only have one active player each round. That must be even stranger.
The things I liked about the game are the way it's scored, with the Environmental player selecting one of the three region scoring chips and passing the other two. This was nice because for your first play or two after being Environmental Player you have some extra knowledge of what areas might score next and can act on that knowledge.
In fact, the mechanics of the whole game seem very sound to me. I liked the way that you added new pieces through breeding. The way you bid for the gene cards was also very clever. The Attilla-like scoring where the least represented colors are removed was also nice.
The gene cards seemed a bit uneven in how powerful they are, but since you can bid on them, that makes them more-or-less equally available to all players. The extra move card seemed to be extremely powerful, although it didn't manage to help the player who got it as much as first thought. On the other hand, the tie-breaker card, which gives you and extra 1/2, more or less won the game for Stven (along with his usual skillful play, of course). I got the stinky glands card and was able to use that to some effect, mainly in kicking Stven out of islands.
I got off to a great start and basically led the game all the way until the very last turn where Stven overtook my 30 with 31. Unfortunately I failed to breed at the right point and was woefully short of pawns at the end of the game. It was only by the luck of kicking Stven off #8 and taking over the lead when, sure enough, 8 scored that I even made it to 30.
I liked the game quite a bit. Don't know if this is true for you, but when I'm the one that bought the game I'm more inclined to get behind it simply in the desire to have spent my money on a good game. Still, I'm giving it a hopeful 7. If it actually takes closer to the 60 minutes of the 60-90 the box says than the 2 hours it took us to play it it will be a solid 8. The rest of the group expressed a willingness to play again but agreed that it needs to run shorter to be worth repeated playings.
Of course those might be metric minutes, being from Europe and all, so that might make up for the time difference. ;-)
Twelve primordial volcanic islands, surrounded by five seas, form the setting for this whimsical game. Rounds consist of players (in turn) secretly choosing an island that will score, after the other players execute two of the following actions: (1) Moving creatures between seas, or onto land; (2) breeding creatures in one sea; (3) returning creatures from the board to the supply. Players with the most creatures on the scoring island get points. A round's final, unchosen island erupts, killing creatures on it before merging with the neighboring island. Three times during play, Genes are auctioned. You bid with creatures in your supply, but winners remove the number bid from the board: How far do you dare weaken your current position for later advantages in movement, breeding, and survival? The fittest survives with highest score, after adding bonuses, when one player accumulates 30 points.
In terms of theme, Urland can clearly be thought of as a follow-up to Doris and Frank's 1997 game Ursuppe, but while there are a couple of game mechanics that have been carried over, the feel of the new game is so different that in approaching it, it would be better if you were to put thoughts of the older one out of your mind. Whether you liked or disliked Ursuppe is not going to be much of a guide to whether you are going to like or dislike Urland.
The historical story line has advanced to 350 million years ago and sea creatures are starting to develop legs and invade the land. It came as a bit of a shock to me when I introduced the game to my group here in Aberdeen that not only did they know what these things are called but they seemed to be on first name terms with half of them. The BBC Natural History Unit has a lot to answer for. In the game they are known as "ichtos", which is short for "ichtyostega". Each player has a bunch of them, which they will place on a board that shows five sea areas and twelve small islands. Each island has a volcano and some of these will erupt during the game, killing off some of the creatures and joining the island to one of its neighbours. Ichtos begin in the sea and some of them will move from there on to the land. Once on land they have the potential to score points for their owners.
The game begins with each player having three ichtos in each sea area and a few dotted around the islands. This initial land placement is handled in such a way as to ensure that some islands will be empty, that others will have one or two ichtos, and that where there are two, they will belong to different players. Players also have a stock of off-board ichtos and two "extra action" tokens.
The game consists of two or three "epochs", each of which is moved along by a collection of discs: a numbered one for each island and an extra one that defies The Hitchhiker's Guide by bearing the instruction "Panic". One of the numbered discs will be played in each player turn and will result in that island being scored. The effect of the Panic disc is something I'll come to in a moment. An epoch consists of a run through the set of discs.
Nothing to perturb a nervous Palaeozoic so far, but the game's central mechanic takes us into new territory and you will need to concentrate for the next bit. On each player turn there will be an Environment Player, a Dummy and one or more Ichto Players (only one in a 3-player game; three in a 5-player one). The Environment Player will have three of the numbered discs. On the first turn of an epoch these will have been drawn at random. On later turns they will consist of one drawn at random and two that were given to them on the previous turn by the player to their right. All the Environment Player will do this turn is secretly select one of the discs and pass the other two to the player on their left, the Dummy. The selected disc will determine the island that is to be scored this turn, but which this is will not be revealed until the end of the turn. The Dummy does even less: just look at the two discs they have been given and reflect on how much more interesting the game is when you're not Dummy. A bit like Bridge that part.
If the disc drawn by the Environment Player was the Panic disc, this is revealed immediately and all the animals on the most populous island dive back into the sea. The player then draws a replacement disc.
Once the Environment Player has selected a disc and passed the other two on, the Ichto Players take their parts of the turn, something they will do in clockwise order. Each of them will normally take 2 actions but can increase this to 4 by cashing in one of their "extra action" tokens. The options are landing, breeding, swimming and retreating. Landing is simply a matter of moving an ichto from a sea area to a neighbouring island. Breeding is increasing the number of ichtos you have in one sea area. You need at least three ichtos in an area in order to breed -- things were done differently in those days -- and if you have between 3 and 5 you increase by 1. If you have at least 6 in the area, the increase is 2. Swimming is moving as many ichtos as you choose from one sea area of your choice to a neighbouring one. Retreating is something you aren't going to want to do very often, but which is occasionally tactically necessary. You remove any number of ichtos from the board and put them back into your stock.
When all the Ichto Players have taken their turns, the scoring disc is turned over and you count to see who has how many creatures on the corresponding island. If everybody with a presence on the island has the same number, they all score 2 points. Otherwise the player or players with the least have to vacate the island. These removed ichtos go back into their owner's stock. Any players who still have ichtos on the island now score points: 3 if they are in first or joint first place and 2 otherwise. (Note: There is a small error in the English translation at this point. "Die Spieler" has become "The player" instead of "The players" and as a result the English rules don't make clear what the scoring is when, after removals, you have a tie for the lead. The rule I have given is correct.
Scoring over, the jobs all move round one. The previous Dummy is the new Environment Player and the old Environment Player finds themself in the prime position of being the last Ichto Player to take their turn and of knowing two of the discs that their successor is looking at.
Scoring works like that in Ursuppe. There is a track and players move their markers along it. When more than one player scores points in a turn, the markers at the front are moved first. When you are moving your marker, you only count vacant spaces on the track. So if I start off 2 spaces behind you and score 2 points, I am going to end up ahead of you, not level.
The other feature that has come across from Ursuppe is Gene Cards. At three points on the scoring track are pictures of ichtos. The first marker to reach any of these triggers a Gene Auction. There will normally be four face-up Gene Cards next to the board and players bid for the right to buy one. They do this by taking their stock of off-board ichtos and dividing them between their two fists. One of the fists will contain their chosen bid and these are all revealed simultaneously. The highest bidder chooses first and must buy a card; second and subsequent bidders may buy a card, but only if there are at least two left to choose from. The price of a Gene Card is the size of your bid plus 1 for each Gene Card you already possess and it is paid by removing that number of ichtos in your colour from the board. There is a neat piece of balancing here: the Gene Cards will give you advantages, but paying for them will reduce the flexibility you have when deciding your on-board operations. Typical Gene Cards involve better movement, more efficient breeding (1 for 2 instead of 1 for 3 in one case and the ability to breed on land in another), minor combat and other advantages that will give you an edge when doing the count on an island, and so on. They are useful things to have but don't seem to me to be the be-all and end-all that they are in Ursuppe.
After an island has been scored, its disc is placed on the island, giving everyone a simple visual check on which discs are still "live" in the current epoch. However, not all islands will be scored. There will come a point at which the set of face-down discs is exhausted, leaving the new Environment Player unable to draw a third. At that point the epoch ends. One of the two remaining discs is selected at random and scored; the other is not. Also, both discs are removed from the game and their corresponding islands suffer volcanic explosions. The effect of these, as I said earlier, is to join the island to one of its neighbours, thereby creating a bigger island, and to kill off some creatures. On the new, enlarged island each player can only retain one ichto. Surplus ones are returned to players' reserves.
Volcanoes dealt with, a new epoch is begun with the discs that remain in the game. The game finishes at the end of the turn on which one player reaches the 30 point mark on the scoring track and there are then a couple of bonuses given out -- 3 points for the player with most pieces on the board and 2 for the player with the most on land (but with the restriction that one player can't scoop both). These are enough to be important in what is likely to be a close contest and their presence is a useful addition to a player's strategical considerations.
As stated at the start, Urland and Ursuppe, though thematically linked, are very different in feel. Urland is quite a bit lighter, significantly shorter and involves a lot more luck. Some people will think that the "lighter and shorter" part of this is a good thing, on the grounds that for them Ursuppe was a bit too long and a bit too intense. Others will think the opposite, because "a serious strategy game of 2 hours plus" is exactly what they were looking for. Ursuppe provided it and this doesn't. Your choice.
The luck aspect is more problematical. In both games it is possible to spend the whole game as tailend Charlie on the scoring track, trotting along 2 or 3 spaces behind the player in front as though you were some obedient spaniel. In Ursuppe this seemed like your fault. You had made bad choices and were living with the consequences. In Urland it can be just down to a failure to draw the right disc when you needed it or to benefit from the choices made by other people. However, if you do make the right draw, things can turn round quite quickly. This happened to me in our second game. I spent the first half of it at the back, feeling that I had no chance of ever catching up, because the "leading players score first" rule meant that I was never able to skip spaces. Then, as Environment Player, I drew exactly the disc I wanted, bridged the gap and one turn later was ahead.
The early opinions show a sharp divide. On the Net there are significant numbers in both the thumbs up and thumbs down camps, with those in the thumbs down complaining about "too much luck and not enough control". However, the verdict among Germans at Essen was much more uniformly favourable. In my report on the Show I told you about the "reader scouts" scheme run by the magazine Fairplay, in which their readers give ratings to the new games they have tried. These are then averaged and put on the noticeboard behind the magazine's stand. On that listing Urland had a high rating and was in the top five. My group agrees with the Germans and so do I. We liked Ursuppe, but it is at least two years since we played it, a fact which is mainly down to it being a bit long and a bit too much like hard work. The shorter and lighter game suits us and the fact that the victor will be decided as much by good luck as by good management is something we don't mind in a game that takes just over an hour.
Language Note: An official rules translation is available and the game comes with two sets of Gene Cards, one in German and one in English. So there are no problems for English speakers.