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Most races involve horses or cards, but in Elfenland players control young elves, who must traverse their fantasy land with all sorts of strange transportation such as giant pigs and unicorns. Each player must visit every city on the map and seek to find the best route for the modes of transportation that they use, while attempting to hinder the others in this light, interactive game. Players place tokens on routes with restrictions because of terrain and then use cards to attempt to finish quicker than the other players.
Winner of the 1998 Spiel des Jahres, Elfenland has been played for years as a top-rated family game.
Few recent boardgames took on the status of cult classic as this game has. First, Alan Moon published it in a different form with a limited number of editions available. Word of mouth an cyberspace had this as a closet masterpiece to be enjoyed by a few lucky collectors. Then it won the 1997 game of the year. Despite this, I never saw the game played or even on sale at any game store.
Well, being such a fan of Alan Moon's games, I put it on my Christmas list and was glad to get it. I first played it as a two player games. It looked like a good game, but I was never sure if I was playing it well or messing up. There was a lot of thinking and planning. (Not to mention a cutthroat obstacle token). Luck did have a significant part.
The second time I played was with three players, and I really got the feeling I was involved in a great game. It is playable, has a good part luck and strategy and has a high "fun factor".
The more I've played it, the more I like it. It is slowly creeping to be a favorite. For the artwork, production and gameplay I have to give it the highest rating. Like Modern Art and Duel of Ages, I can see that a game can be great, but not everyone's cup of tea.
Elfenland is a wonderful game of strategy, player interaction, and a little luck. When I first saw this game I was not real sure what to think, but when I opened the box I was first impressed by the quality that was inside. My favorite part of a new game though is the ability to be able to get into the game and teach others to play. Rules are straightforward with the main areas of question highlighted. Needless to say my family enjoys this game and I am sure yours will too.
Elfenland is a beautifully produced journey game by Alan Moon (Ticket to Ride, Santa Fe Rails, Diamant and many more). Elfenland is a gorgeous game with wonderful stylised artwork, good quality components and one of the best map/boards in any game I have ever seen. The quality of the components makes Elfenland a real joy to play, and the Elf boots (the player pieces) add more than you might think to the feel of the game. The cards that come with Elfenland are some the highest quality cards I’ve used, the tiles are cute and easy to manipulate, the tokens are nice and made of wood and the box fits everything away very neatly and nicely.
In Elfenland the players compete to be the Elf that manages to visit the most Elfen cities in the land. The game runs through many phases every turn, players are dealt cards depicting the various methods of transport, players must then select a series of tiles (again depicting various types of transport) that must be placed on the planned routes. The cards represent (in my mind) the currency required by the various transporters while the tokens represent the availability of that type of transport on a particular route.
In order for a player to move from one city to the next they must use the cards to pay for the transport type available on the route they wish to use. Players take turn laying transport tokens on the routes, the key to this, and the element that adds all the fun and tension, is that only one token may be placed per route and if someone lays their token there first you must either work with it or find a new way. Once all the tokens have been laid, players move their Elfs along the various paths by paying the appropriate type and amount of cards to each of the transport types. This game plays very well with any number of players up to four, and though it can be played by as many as six my own opinion is that the games works best with four.
One very good addition to the basic game is the inclusion of city cards, using this advanced rule each player will be dealt a city card at the beginning of the game, at the end of the game the player’s score will be the amount of cities they have visited minus the minimum amount of roads between the Elf and their city. This advanced rule compounds the problem posed by the base game, adds a heap of tension and means that players really need to plan well from the beginning. It also means that the ‘Trouble Counters’ (counters placed that make routes more expensive to use), if well placed, can cause some serious problems for your or your opponent’s plans.
There are some great variants available online, including a great one for a two player game, in which the two players play the game on half the board. Elfenland is a very attractive game that appeals aesthetically to children and adults, it is also one of those rare games, that once grasped, can be played across such age gaps, and provides enough fun to engage young gamers, and enough tension and thought to keep older gamers at the table too. All in all Elfenland is a great game I am happy to own, it has a style unmatched in my game collection and is always fun to play.
In 1992, Alan Moon released the game Elfenroads through his company White Wind. The production run was limited to 1200 copies. Alan's commitment on his limited edition games was that he would never reproduce a game without changing it in some way to ensure the investment of collectors. As the years passed since the release of Elfenroads, it became one of the Holy Grails of game collectors. Copies showed up on the Internet once in a while and fetched triple the original price or higher. People were dying to try the game that many considered one of the best games of all time. There was much rejoicing when Amigo announced that it was doing a simplified version of Elfenroads (as Elfenland). This year at Nuremburg the game was finally released.
As a bit of background, I was a member of Alan's White Wind club and got a copy of Elfenroads a short time after it was released. I felt then and feel now that it is one of the best games I've ever played. The interplay of the different systems made it a very enjoyable game. Even my parents (who aren't big game players) love the game, and bought a copy. However, the one drawback was that the game could run pretty long. The game took at least two hours, probably longer depending on your group's tendencies to sit and think everything out, kibitz, etc. Elfenland was specifically designed to streamline the game, one whole element was removed (money was used in the original to auction movement counters), and the number of turns was cut from eight to four.
In Elfenland, the idea is to travel around the map (beautifully rendered by the fantabulous Doris Matthäus) and visit as many of the twenty cities depicted as possible as part of a coming of age trial for young elves. The map shows a network of interconnected cities with varied terrain (woods, grasslands, mountains, rivers, desert and lakes). There is a set of transportation counters in a number of different types, and a deck of cards which depict the same transportation. The counters and cards are used in combination to travel around the board. There is also a set of markers in six colors and pawns (actually little elven boots) in those same colors.
The markers (which for some reason Amigo produced as little cylinders that roll all over rather than the ubiquitous painted wooden cubes) are placed on the map (one in each city for each player in the game), and the boots are placed on the starting city. Each player also receives a trouble counter which increases the cost of moving along a particular route and a card depicting one of the cities on the board as their secret destination (there is one card for each of the cities on the outer edges of the board). If a player reaches all of the cities by the end of the third round, then they win, otherwise the fourth round is played out and the destinations are checked. The distance from your destination is subtracted from the total number of cities you have visited and the player with the highest total wins.
From here, the rounds are identical in nature. Each player gets a number of cards (the number of cards is a bit in dispute, but I'll get to that later), and one transport counter face down. Five counters are then placed face up and the players choose one at a time (either one of the face up counters or one from the face down pool) until everyone has chosen three. Each player in turn may then place one counter at a time on the board or pass. The counters go on the paths connecting the cities and there may only be one counter between any two cities (aside from a trouble counter which is in addition to any transport counter). All players may use any of the transport counters on the board, provided they have the necessary cards. Once all players have passed in turn, the placing ends and the players play cards to move around the board. This is the heart of the game. Different transport methods are better in different areas and some can't even go in some areas (for example, the giant pig can only go through grasslands or woods, a unicorn only costs one card to use in the woods and mountains, but two in the desert). Trouble counters increase the number of cards needed by one. A player plays cards and moves as far as they like, picking up their markers to show that they have reached the different cities visited. If a player doesn't have the necessary cards for a particular leg of their journey, they can opt to caravan (provided a counter exists on the route), by discarding any three cards from their hand. After all players have moved, the counters are removed from the board and the cards are reshuffled. You may only hold four cards and one transport counter from turn to turn. Any extras are turned in to be reused on subsequent turns. Any trouble counters played on the turn are removed from the game. After this, the next turn commences with the dealing of cards and so on, and that's basically the game.
The allure of Elfenland (and Elfenroads) is in solving the traveling salesman problem that is constructed each turn by the interaction of the players. You must try to be as efficient as possible in moving around the board, and all your planning can go out the window when someone plays a giant pig on a piece of your route when you don't have a pig card in your hand. In my mind, Elfenland has highlighted the route solving portion of Elfenroads in the streamlining process. Instead of auctioning counters, and choosing cards you're forced to deal with what cards you've gotten and work with those rather than tailoring both your cards and counters together and going head to head with someone else to try to get that one dragon that came up. I feel that the original game is still worth playing due to the increased player control, but that the trade-off in time (since the new one clocks in at an hour to an hour and a half) probably means that Elfenland will come off the shelf a lot more than Elfenroads did. I wouldn't be unhappy playing Elfenland, but I know that occasionally I'd like to have the other to play.
One of things I had to deal with in writing this review was differing rules sets. Alan Moon posted his version of the rules on the net, and it turns out that they are slightly different from the rules that Amigo published. The main difference is that in the Amigo rules, you would receive enough cards to fill your hand back to eight, and in Alan's rules you would get eight cards no matter what. I played the game both ways, and it does make a difference in feel. When only filling to eight cards, I felt more pressure to make things work out right and burn through my cards (especially if they didn't look like they'd fit with the terrain I would end up in). Alan's rules gave me a lot more flexibility, and everyone made it to all of their cities or were only one short rather than up to two cities short for the Amigo version. The other change Amigo made was to make crossing both lakes cost the same (rather than one costing twice as much). I'm not sure of the effect of that since I didn't try the Amigo version, but I have a feeling it wouldn't make a big difference one way or the other.
All in all, I feel that Elfenland does a good job in taking the core of what made Elfenroads compelling and making a good game that takes half the time to play. For people who never got a chance to play (or even see) Elfenroads, it's a fine game and well worth having in your collection. Alan even provided the information people would need to try playing Elfenroads with the Elfenland set in his posted rules, and with a little DIY, you'd have both the games for the price of one.