King of the Elves: My View.
Years ago, our group used to play Elfenland quite a lot. Whilst I enjoyed it, after a while I became a little bored with the fact that the board (and hence routes that you had to follow) was always the same. King of the Elves is the perfect antedote… essentially a card game version of Elfenland where the routes change every time. The aim of the game is the same… namely to visit as many villages as possible using various fantastical modes of transport.
King of the Elves comes in a small box. It contains 120 cards to represent the villages, modes of travel, and various special cards. The cards are standard size, with excellent artwork and an easy to understand system of terrain symbols. The game also comes with 75 cardboard cold coins in three denominations, 24 coat of arms tokens (4 for each player) and a dragon figure to represent the starting figure. The box is designed so that everything fits in nicely, with the excellent rules book on top. Overall, great components.
King of the Elves plays well with anywhere from 2-6 players. All 120 cards are shuffled and each player takes a set of coat of arms tokens, two coins valued 5 and two coins valued 1. One player (supposedly the youngest) takes the starting player dragon marker.
Gameplay encompasses 2-5 rounds, depending on the number of players (only 5 rounds are played with 6 players). In the first round, 10 cards are dealt to each player. In subsequent rounds, 8 cards are dealt to each player. Cards consist of: village cards (vary in value from 2 to 7 and represent a particular terrain type); travel cards that each cross particular terrain types (giant pig, elfcycle, magic cloud, unicorn, trollwagon, dragon, raft); and special cards (gold cards to double income; thief cards to steal gold, tree and sea monster obstacles, escorts to protect from thieves and obstacles; change direction cards to do just that!).
After dealing out the cards, players take turns to execute planning actions. Actions are:
• play a village
• announce ‘no village’
• draw 3 cards and discard 4 cards
• buy a card
• play a gold, thief or obstacle card
• remove a village
This phase continues until everyone has passed.
To play a village, a player places a village card face up in front of them. If they already have a village in front of them, the new one goes to the left (ie. clockwise) of the first one. A player may only have 2 villages in front of them (except in a 2 player game, when players may have 3 villages). If a player has no village, they may announce this fact and then search the deck for one, discarding another card in its place. The draw/discard action allows players to try and get more useful cards, but at the expense of one card. The buy a card action allows players to buy an extra card but players may only buy three per round, at increasing cost (1 gold for the first, 2 for the second, 3 for the third). Thieves, gold and obstacles may be played on any village on the table that does not already have a card of the same type on it. The owner of these cards places a coat of arms on the card as it is played to show who it belongs to. A village may be removed by its owner, in which case any associated cards are returned to their owners.
Once everyone has passed, the journeying phase begins. Each player tries to travel to as many villages as possible using cards played from his/her hand. Players must start in their own realm and journey to each village in turn in a clockwise direction around the table. In order to visit a village, the player must play travel cards that match the terrain of that village (e.g. to visit a desert village would require 2 unicorns or 2 trollwagons or 1 dragon). Obstacles (fallen tree or sea monster) require an additional card of the appropriate type to be played. Thieves require the travelling player to give two gold to the owner of the thief card. However, escort cards can be played to ignore all thieves and obstacles in a particular ‘realm’ (that is villages belonging to one player). Players try to visit as many villages as possible, collecting gold equal to the village value as they do so. Gold cards on a village double the income for the owner of the gold card. Change direction cards allow players to do just that! Should a player visit all the villages on the table, he/she receives an additional 10 gold.
After all players have journeyed (or at least attempted to!), the next round begins. All cards on the table are discarded and shuffled back into the draw pile. All coat of arms tokens are returned to their owners. Cards in hand are kept and 8 new cards are dealt to each player. The starting player rotates for each round. The winner is the player with most gold after the final round.
So What Do I Think?
I like King of the Elves. It is more varied and a little more chaotic than Elfenland. It plays well with anywhere from 2 to 6 players and it is quick once everyone knows what they are doing. Most games will last less than an hour, but with 5 or 6 players, everyone needs to keep the game moving to make sure it doesn’t drag. Luck plays a part because occasionally you won’t get the card you need, but there are plenty of different options for making money (e.g. a short journey to just 1 high value village with your gold card on it could yield up to 14 gold). I like the way that it feels more and more difficult to journey round the table (because generally hand sizes shrink as the rounds progress). I love the artwork and I like the mix of cards and terrain. The fact that the giant pig card is a relatively weak travel card really doesn’t bother me because it is just part of the luck of the draw that affects everyone (which evens out over the rounds). Overall I give King of the Elves a commendable 7 out of 10. When I’m in the mood for a relatively quick game that is good fun but involves some interesting choices, this is a great option, particularly since games that work with anywhere from 2 to 6 players are quite rare.
I think KotE is better than Elfenland. It plays faster. It requires better planning. It also gives you more choices to make.