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In 982, a Viking jarl called Erik the Red sailed from the western coast of Iceland and discovered a new land. He named it Graenaland, a green land. Four years later the first colonists arrived to Greanaland and founded settlements that lasted more than four centuries.
Take the role of one of the jarls leading their clans to the new home. You have to settle the coast and to agree with your neighbors on how to distribute the spare resources the land is giving away. As Eric wants no fights amongst Vikings, any conflicts are solving by voting. You could improve your position in order to gain more votes; however, you can also try to be righteous and to keep good relations with all your neighbors. Cooperating with them, you can fertilize and improve the land easier than when struggling for influence; just keep your position strong enough for the case something goes wrong.
When I was about four years old, and my Dad was at sea in the Royal Canadian Navy, he sent me a letter with a hand-drawn picture of a recreated Viking longboat that he saw sailing in the North Sea: my first knowledge of Vikings. Then, my older brother made a model longboat....out of popsicle sticks!!! It actually looked very cool and realistic...for something made out of popsicle sticks. A few years later, in Grade Two, I found a book in our school library, entitled Norse Gods and Goddesses. From that point on (now almost forty years later), I've been a huge fan of Vikings, Viking exploration and Viking myths. For a time, I was even pursuing post-graduate studies in the sagas, but as John Lennon said (quoting somebody else), "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans..."
All that by way of introduction to me saying that I was quite excited to hear that the great Vlaada Chvatil had designed a civ building game themed around the Viking colonization of Greenland one thousand years ago, a game with both competition and cooperation. Apart from Eirik the Red wearing a horned helmet on the box cover, Graenaland is a quite reasonably well themed (and accurately themed) game about the early years of the Norse experience in Greenland. Key to this theming is that Graenaland is all about the division of resources through negotiation at the regional councils (the "Thing", in Old Norse). No, there's no brutal plundering here, boys and girls. Within their own territories, the Vikings settled their disputes through a semi-democracy. In fact, this is the best negotiation game that I have ever played. And yes, these Norse settlers are farming, and even logging: the climate was much warmer then, and there were arable fields, and even small forests, in the sheltered fjords that Eirik found along the southwest coast of Greenland.
So is it "dripping with theme"? Well, no, it's not: and I was mildly disappointed with that. Yet what theming there is is flawless. As a friend of mine said, you don't feel like you're a Viking settler, struggling for power in Greenland; but you certainly feel like you're dressed up as one!
So what is my struggle for power based on? At the start of the game, each player draws three victory point cards randomly, and hidden from the other players. Victory points are gained at game end by the number of warriors you have, the number of buildings you've built, the number of settlements (villages AND buildings) you have, the number of territories with at least two of your settlements, and VP for having a territory with a certain number of your settlements on it. You choose which of the three VP cards you want to go for (each card accords a different value to each of the just mentioned categories). Don't play with the introductory game's open victory conditions: it's quite boring.
The game is played on a modular board, with tiles representing either floodplain, forest, hills, or mountains. Each player gets two starting villages, one on each of two coastal tiles: mountains are only in the hinterland. You also initially get one "hero" (specifically, a warrior dude) in one of the territories where you have a village, but more warriors (and other types of heroes) can be added: more about that later. You also start with two resource cards (either lumber, stone, grain or livestock), depending on the tiles where your villages are. There is a separate deck of cards for each land type, NOT resource type, and on the back of each card is indicated the odds for what resource that particular land type card might give you; for example, forest tiles have a 50% chance of producing lumber, 40% for producing grain, and 10% for livestock. There are also cards that give you gold (acts as a wild card), but gold is only produced on mountain tiles.
Every turn, each territory that has at least one village produces at least one card, and each territory can hold as many cards as the number of villages it has plus one. If the territory is already at its "hand limit", it can produce no resources that turn (players, by the way, have no hand limits). So who gets these cards? Ah, dear reader, THAT'S for the Thing of each territory to determine!
After all the cards have been drawn for each territory in a turn, each player (except for that turn's Start Player) may make a proposal about the distribution of resources in ONE territory that that player has a vote in. And what constitutes a vote? Each player gets one vote for each settlement and each warrior of theirs in that territory. A proposal is along these lines: "I propose that I get all the livestock in this territory, and Ned gets all the grain", or, "I propose that I get all the resources, and Ned is left to freeze in the dark." Once made, a proposal cannot be altered, and all the players that have votes in that territory vote to pass that proposal or defeat it as is. For the proposal to pass, it has to have 50% plus one of the available votes. Obviously, if you have the majority of votes, you might want to propose that you get everything. But, if with Ned you can get the 50% plus one tally, you might want to make a proposal that appeals to him somewhat. And this is where the negotiations come in. A proposal can NOT be altered; but Ned could say, "Alright, Biff: I'll vote in favour of your proposal....IF you agree to ME getting all the livestock next time around," or "I'll agree, Biff, if you agree not to build anything in this particular territory" or, "Sure I'll support you, Biff...IF you agree to join me in building a market in this territory", etc. Of course, no one is obligated to keep their word as a result of negotiations; but don't expect people you've double-crossed to vote in your favour in the future!
Each player gets a vote for each settlement (villages AND buildings) they have in a territory. They also get one vote for each warrior they have in the territory where the vote is taking place. As well, if you have a priest, they CANCEL all the votes of any warriors in that territory. Spreading the gospel of peace and love, they defang the warriors' influence.Yes, these are Christian priests: Greenland archaeology has revealed only one item (a bowl with Thor's hammer engraved on it) that correspond with Norse paganism. Everything else is Christian, and this goes along with the documentary evidence that Norse Greenland officially went Christian about a dozen years after Eirik the Red landed.
If you have a skald (Old Norse bardic poet) in a territory, then your opponents' heroes (warriors, priests and other skalds) are so impressed with his poetic skills and fine singing voice that they cast a vote in YOUR favour.
You can only have one of your heroes in a territory at a time (mind you, all of your warriors travel together with your one warrior token, so that hero token may be worth up to nine warriors). Therefore, after the resource cards have been drawn for a turn, and before proposals and votes have been made, players may secretly move ONE of their hero tokens a distance of one territory, or two territories, if traveling along the coast.If a proposal fails, the resources stay in that territory for this turn, unless another player makes a different proposal for that territory that actually passes.
So after all the voting has taken place, the Start Player (and the Start Player only) gets to build. That's basically how the game goes: if it's not your turn, you get to make proposals, but you can't build: so you're gathering resources in preparation for the next turn that you're the Start Player. If it is your turn, you don't make proposals (but you do negotiate and vote, if applicable, and receive resources from successful negotiations), but you're the only person who can build.
The Start Player also gets his choice of one Supplies Card from the four face up Supplies Cards. Each Supplies Cards has two resources on them, rather than one, and represent supplies sent from Europe: another touch of thematic realism, since the Greenland colonies were chronically dependent on European aid. When the Greenland fjords finally iced up permanently around the year 1400, Norse Greenlandic society was doomed.
The building block of the Building Phase is villages. You can build a village in any territory where you already have a village, or in a territory adjacent to one where a village of yours is located. The building cost of a village varies from territory to territory. You can also use resources to add another warrior to your posse, but that is an expensive proposition.
However, there is a way you can alleviate that cost. and that is by building another type of settlement, a "building". There are three types of buildings: keeps, churches and halls. These can only be built in non-mountain territories where you have one or more villages, and there can only be one of each type in a territory. So the player who builds a keep, for example, in a territory is the only player who will have a keep there. And having a keep cuts down significantly on the cost of adding warriors to your band. Each non-mountain territory has a different sort of keep, and if you have more than one keep, your task of enlarging your forces becomes easier still. Just don't expect your opponents to allow you to merrily set up keeps everywhere in Greenland! By the way, Norse Greenland did have keeps: check out "Kroka-Ref's Saga".
That's one of three buildings; then there's churches, which use the same general rules as building a keep. With a church, you get to add your priest to the board. However, the Vatican has a limited number of candidates willing to venture off to icy Greenland: you can build more than one church (but like keeps, only one is allowed per territory), but you'll only get one priest. The same principle applies to halls, large dwelling and feasting places owned by prominent jarls, like you. Halls were the "nightlife" of the Norse world, so where else would you expect a skald to perform? Build a hall, get a skald. Build another hall....you still have to listen to your original skald's songs: he's the only one you can afford.
In addition to villages and buildings (the "settlements"), one can also build public works, which (as the name implies) benefit not just you, but anyone else who has a settlement in the territory where the public work is located. Like settlements, you can build as many public works as you want during your turn as Start Player (limited only by resources), but once per turn you can propose to build a public work in cooperation with other players in that territory: "I propose that in this floodplain, I (and my neighbours) pool our resources to build a market." Then the negotiations begin as to who contributes what resources to the public work. If no agreement can be reached, you can still build it on your own; but (obviously!) it's far more expensive that way.
So what are these public works? There's land improvement, palisades, markets, and roads. Land improvements allow the players to draw one additional card at the start of each turn for that territory. If it matches the depicted resource, that card is then placed with the other available resource cards for that territory (keeping territorial hand limits in mind). Palisades make it more costly for an outsider to set up a village in a territory....and, if some ne'er-do-well warrior who has no business being in a territory wanders into a palisaded territory, then that warriors strength is reduced by one. A market (which is a grand and wonderful thing! Highly recommended!) allows any player who has a village in a territory-with-market the opportunity (once per turn) to convert one resource into another type of resource. If you have villages in a number of territories with markets, then you're becoming quite powerful, indeed. And then there's roads: roads simply allow you to draw one additional card that is added (within territorial hand limits) to a territory's available resource cards. However, the "road card" is face down: the player who ends up with it doesn't know what he's getting.
So that's how it plays. The game ends when (after all the voting is over in a turn) a player chooses to announce that, on his or her next building phase, they'll have enough resources to build enough stuff to win the game. I emphasize "chooses" because timing is everything here. When a player makes such a declaration, everyone (starting with the announcing player) gets one final Building Phase, WITHOUT drawing a card from the European supplies. The player with the most victory points wins. If, however, there is a tie, the tied player closest clockwise to the current Start Player wins. So I've got enough stuff to win: do I announce it now? Or do I wait until I'm the Start Player , since I'll have precedence in a tie? But what if no one else is anywhere near close to winning? The big problem is, given the hidden victory conditions, you only have a vague idea as to how close your opponents are to winning.
What else can I tell you? The boards and bits for the game are very nice....very nice, but fairly small. Given how much this game sells for, Altar Games could have gone for larger components.
The rules are well organized, but the English translation is (at times) awkward. As well, the rules covering the end game might take you a read or two to figure out. If you're fluent in Czech, perhaps this wouldn't be a problem.
It is definitely a strategic game, with very little of the tactical about it. Once having chosen your victory conditions, you have to come up with a long term plan as to how to achieve that goal. And a big part of your plan has to involve how willing you're going to be to cooperate and share. The attitudes of the players during the early stages of the game will set the course for the rest of the game as to how cooperative or cutthroat it will be. Either way is possible; but as you see a number of players getting more and more settlements on the board, neighbourly generosity become a thing of the past.
You have to come up with a long term plan.....emphasis on the long! Graenaland is easily a two hour game...possibly longer, depending on how new a game it is to those playing. You may also want to avoid playing this with the AP prone. It's great that you can't build anything until you're the Start Player again, giving plenty of time to decide what and where you're going to build; but the AP player will still suddenly find himself second guessing his plans when that time comes around.
I think Graenaland is best with four players...maybe five. It plays OK even with just three, but Pan Chvatil has provided optional rules for use with five and three players. The three player rules are a major re-write of a number of things!
Graenaland is a wonderful strategic experience. You will not lose on the basis of one bad decision, so the tension level is not at the nail-biting level. But you will lose if you are making a string of strategic and, yes, even tactical errors. You're in for the long haul in Graenaland.
Now I hope that Altar Games will reprint this Vlaada Chvatil gem. I own the game, but a reprint would allow my mind to be filled with expansion fantasies: how about an exploration variant, where the Greenlanders are exploring the strange country of Vinland to the southwest? How about a "military" expansion, where the Greenlanders are faced (two hundred years later) with waves of returning Inuit from the north? Ah well: for now I'll just be satisfied that at least one designer has carved a great game from this poorly known chapter of history.