Graenaland is the second game we've played from a relatively new Czech publisher, Czech Board Games. Based on this and Through the Ages, they are worth watching out for in future, especially if they continue to publish English language versions like this one.
Graenaland is based on the Viking colonisation of Greenland towards the end of the 10th Century. I can't imagine why any one would want to colonise Greenland at all but one of out group tells me that at that time, the climate there was much warmer and suitable for growing vegetation and maintaining livestock.
The game board is modular with a number of small rectangular boards (territories) joined together in two rows of a pyramid. The number of modules placed is 5, 7 or 9 depending on the number of players (3,4 or 5) with each territory depicting one of 4 different types of terrain (grassland, forest, hills or mountain). There is a standard set up of the modules but the game also includes an option for a variable layout which is only recommended for more experienced players. Players start with one settlement on two of the territories and one Warrior in one of these settlements. A player turn consists of the following steps and is relatively simple when you get into it
- place resource cards against territories
- move one of your heroes between territories
- vote for the distribution of the resources between players
- construct new settlements and buildings.
Player interaction is kept high through the rather unusual mechanism that the the second and third phases are performed by everyone but the player whose turn it is whilst the final phase is carried out only by on your turn. (the first phase is purely a game updating one).
There are five different types of resources available and four decks of resource cards (one for each terrain type). Each terrain can produce 3 of the resource types but the distribution is not the same within each deck. Thus grassland will mainly produce grain whilst you are most likely to find gold in the mountains. This can influence where you want to settle although if you don't get a specific type of resource you're after, there are other ways to deal with this. Unless a road or improvement is built, each territory will produce one resource per turn up a maximum available in that territory equal to the number of settlements plus one.
In clockwise order, the non-active players each select a territory and propose how the resources available in that territory will be distributed. Each player who has settlements or heroes in that territory will get a number of votes to either say yea or nay against this proposal. For example if there are 2 livestock and 1 ore resource cards in a territory and players A, B, C have 2, 2, 1 votes respectively, player A may propose that he gets 1 livestock and 1 ore and player C gets the remaining livestock. assuming C was agreeable, this would secure the distribution. Later on, C may return the favour and 'deals' like this may occur regularly (although our group's almost unspoken rule never to trade with the [perceived] leader can come come into effect here as well). Each player will, however, only get one proposal a turn and if you regularly fail to get resource cards you won't win so you need to be pretty confident when making the proposal.
Before resources are distributed, the non-active players get to move one of their heroes to an adjacent territory. This is done simultaneously and can result in a little bit of bluffing and tension as you manoeuvre to try and get a majority of the votes in a territory. At the start of the game you only have a Warrior available (additional votes equal to your army size - initially one) but as you build Churches and Halls you can also make use of the Priest (negates an opposing army in the same territory) or the Skald (Gets votes for every other hero in the territory) [The Skald quickly got referred to as the Scally although I believe it is actually some sort of Minstrel or Bard]
The active player is the only person who can build on a turn. There are generally three types of ways in which to spend your resources - more settlements, public buildings, or increasing the size of your army. The selection made will determine the number and type of resources you need. Settlements come in two types - normal villages that add to the number of votes you get and special buildings like the Keep that also reduces the cost of increasing the size of your army. Public buildings such as Roads or Markets impact the territory or any player who has a settlement in that territory and as such they can also be built with the aid of resources from other players - if you can persuade them that it is in their interest to do so. Increasing your army increases the number of votes you have in the territory that your Warrior is currently in. As you would probably expect from this type of game, there are plenty of things that can be built and never enough resources to build everything you want so you need make some tough decisions. Although the active player doesn't get to choose a territory to distribute resources they do get a supply card before they build which acts as a double resource to be used (and, of course, they may also benefit from someone else's distribution)
The building phase can drag a bit as players decide what buildings to buy (although there is no reason why this cannot have been thought out before it gets round to this point) but the rest of the game moves fairly quickly, probably helped by the ruling that you cannot negotiate about the split of resource cards before you offer that split.
Victory is based around five victory conditions
- total number of settlements
- number of buildings
- a specific number of settlements in one territory
- number of territories in which you have at least two settlements
- size of army.
In the basic game the first player to achieve three of these conditions wins the game. However, the designers have also included some variable victory condition cards which vary the numbers required for each of these conditions. and at the start of the game each player has a different set of victory conditions. Some conditions on that card are harder to achieve than others which will usually dictate a different approach to be made. I like mechanisms like this as they usually bring an element of strategy to a genre of game that is predominantly tactical.
I was a little wary when I read the rules - they seemed to imply a high level of negotiation would be required, something that I'm not normally fond of. I needn't have worried, the negotiation required was almost intuitive and moved quickly, at least the way we played it. Often a player had a majority of the votes in a territory without help from any other player and this usually made it a 'no-brainer' as to which territory they chose to collect resources from. There is definitely a "Settlers" feel to the game and if you like that game, I think you would like this. The principles are the same - get resource cards and improve your infrastructure - but there is less luck in the number and type of resources you acquire and more scope for different strategies particularly with the variable victory conditions. Recommended (initial rating 8)
It's only slightly a negotiation game, it's much more an 'optimization' game where you try and set the situation for proposals to be to your advantage for resources you need.
Play the advanced game, it adds a lot of tension to the second half of the game! It also makes it quite a bit longer (about twice as long in our experience of 1 basic game and 3 advanced games).