I came. I saw.
I lost miserably.
Elfenland is about trying to get to as many points on the board as possible using the scarce resources allowed in the game. The theme is quite thin, but it still adds a bit of enjoyment to the game, namely in the methods of transportation available. At the core the game is a fun game that rewards some cooperation, but still places quite a bit of competition even in the areas where players try to overlap routes. Get the right kinds of transportation on the routes you want, and you will go far. If you opponents beat you to the placement, you can be left behind with little chance of catching up.
Components: The components are of decent quality. The sturdy board depicts a map of the land that players have to travel around. The art is in a cartoon style, but it works in depicting the types of terrain that each route is going through. As a whole, the map is quite good, but since the cities depicted on it are not in English, they can be difficult to find. Fortunately, they only need to be found once at the beginning of the game. The important location of the destination city can then be remembered. The cards are of decent, though not excellent quality. The cards have a cartoon style picture that represents a mode of transportation as well as symbols indicating which terrain the transportation can be used in and how many cards it will take. There are also tokens representing the transportation types and blockades. The quality of the board, cards, and tokens are all good, but the artwork may not appeal to all players. There are six sets of colored pieces which include small tokens denoting where the players have visited and a boot used to show where the player is.
Also included are destination cards and player-aid cards. As players become more experienced, the need for the player-aids diminishes, but we still find ourselves using them once or twice a game.
Setup: The setup can take a few minutes, since the markers for where a player has visited must be distributed around the board, one marker for each player on each of 20 cities. The player pieces are placed in Elfenhold. The cards and all token (excluding the obstacle tokens) are shuffled separately. Each player is given one obstacle token. Five transportation tokens are flipped face up.
For the advanced game, one of the destination cards is dealt to each player. Players should find their destinations and begin planning what routes they are going to take.
Game Play: The game is made up of four turns with four phases in each turn.
1. Resource distribution: Each player is dealt cards to bring their total number of cards up to 8. Also, each player is given one hidden transportation card. Players then can look at their cards and their secret token.
2. Drawing transportation tokens: Starting with the head elf for that turn, players draw a single transportation token either from the face up tokens or from the pile of face-down tokens. If they draw a face-up token, a new token is flipped up to replace it. If they draw a face-down token, they flip the token over to let other players know what they have drawn. Drawing continues clockwise until all players have drawn 3 tokens.
3. Playing tokens: Starting with the lead-elf, players take turns in clockwise-order, playing tokens on routes that will be used for traveling around the land. Players may play either one of their transportation tokens or their obstacle token. Once a route has a mode of transportation played on it, not other mode of transportation may be played on that route. However, blockers may only be placed on routes which have a transportation token already placed on it, and they are placed next to that token. Players may choose to pass at any time and play again when it is their turn. Once each there is a time around the table when every player passes, this phase is over, and phase 4 begins.
4. Moving around Elfenland: Starting with the lead-elf, players take turns traveling around Elfenland. Players may not travel on a road without a transportation token. To travel on a road, players play either one or two cards, depending on the terrain and mode of transportation, which match the transportation token on that road. If the route has an obstacle placed on it, one extra card is required. Players may also caravan through a route by playing three cards of any variety, four if there is an obstacle. Players continue along the roads until they no longer wish to move farther or they chose not to.
One of the cards has no matching token: the rafts. Rafts may be used on any river or lake. Going across a lake requires 2 rafts as does going upstream on a river. Going downstream requires only one raft card. A player may use a raft to travel between two cities instead of the road connecting the cities. As a result, the obstacles have no effect on rafts, and rafts can be used if there is a water path between the cities even if there is no transportation token on the adjoining road.
At the end of these four phases, all tokens played to the board are removed. Obstacle tokens that were played are removed from the game. If players have more than one transportation token remaining unplayed, they discard all but one of their transportation tokens. All transportation tokens in the stock are mixed together, and five new tokens are placed face-up. All played cards are taken, and the cards are shuffled together. The lead-elf is moved one player clockwise, and the next round begins.
End of Game: In the rules, players get one point for each city they visited over the course of the game. The player with the highest score wins. Ties are resolved by the number of cards left in the player’s hands at the end of the game.
In the advanced rules, players subtract one point for each road away from their destination city they are at the end of the fourth turn.
However, we have found that a reverse scoring method is easier. Players count the number of cities they have not visited by counting their colored tokens left on the board, adding one point for each road away from the destination for the advanced game. The player with the lowest score wins. Both scoring methods are equivalent, so which is used depends on the players who are playing.
Explaining the Game: Since the game is only thinly tied to the theme, the theme can be introduced briefly at the beginning of the explanation simply because many people like to have a theme for a game and it will help explain the different types of transportation to be used. In this explanation, a cursory gesture towards the board can be made.
Unlike most games where I start by describing the board, I have found that moving to the different types of transportation available is the best move. This avoids having to explain the importance of the differences in terrain until after the types of transportation have been introduced. I start by showing them the tokens that will be used. Next, I give them one of the player-aid cards, which shows which terrains each mode of transportation can be used in. This is when I really describe the board, pointing out the mountains, forest, desert, and prairies along with the water. I describe how each route can be claimed by a single token. I then introduce the cards, pointing out how they match the tokens with the exception of the rafts. Finally, I introduce variable costs of using roads with different modes of transportation. Introducing the tokens, map, and cards in this order allows new players to process the two different moving components of the game (cards and tokens) at different stages while still showing how they are connected. Since switching to this mode of explanation, I have had fewer questions and smoother explanations.
Following the general description of how to use the roads, I describe caravanning, moving through obstacles, and using rafts.
After describing all of this, I go through the different phases of each turn. This allows the players to assess how the cards and tokens will be used and begin to gauge which will be more important.
As a strategic note, I point out the city that only has one entrance and the desert as areas that are difficult to get in and out of. Also, I make sure people understand that sometimes a specific route is the key point in their strategy. They need to claim that route using the transportation they want in phase 3 before anyone else can. Conversely, sometimes if you do not have the mode of transportation you need for one route, you can try to leave that route open to see if someone else will put down a more useful mode than you have available.
Finally, I stress that the key to the game is being flexible. Your plans will be disrupted by the other players, but you have to be able to adapt to the changes in routes that may be necessary.
An example turn is the best way to show how the game really works, but if you really just want to jump into the game, one option is to have the new players play the standard rules with the experienced players playing with a destination from the advanced rules. This allows the new players a slight advantage that they can use to get used to the game while the experienced players have to plan their route with a destination in mind. This tightens the score in the end, and it is generally hard for the experienced player to win if the newbies catch on quickly.
Conclusions: This is a fun planning game that benefits those people who can travel together in harmony. That rarely happens. Players who are traveling together generally have different cards, so they are often fighting over which modes of transportation they prefer in each spot. As a result, when there are more players, large groups often end up competing to get their preferred tokens down, and there is a lot of interference to deal with. However, with fewer players, those who travel together have a distinct advantage since they can generally visit more cities while dealing 1 or 2 less-than-optimal transportation choices than those who have to make there way alone. Thus, this is one of the games where the number of players can make a big difference, and the game is not as good with fewer players. With more players, competition for routes is more fierce, and all players can piggy-back routes, minimizing the benefits of traveling together and blocking out one player.
After playing the advanced rules, I never went back to the basic rules. People just follow each other around in the basic rules, but the advanced rules give players a reason to go separate ways at times. However, with 3 players the advanced rules fail. While they are OK with 2, the odd man out with 3 players (the player who has to end up in a city far away from the other two players) will get trounced by the players who travel together. Thus, with 3 players, I could say to play the normal rules, but I will say to just play something else.
Overall, the game is a lot of fun, and we have had success teaching it to many people. We look forward to continuing to play it and enjoy the interactions that come with it.
Rating by Number of Players: Decrease the ratings given by 2 points when playing without the advanced rules.