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Subject: A review on travelling Trolls, Dragons and Clouds rss

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Pedro Pereira
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King of the Elves


One more review for you. Hope you find it informative.
I decided to write this review since I have been playing this game quite a bit in the past months, and felt that it needed some attention drawn to it. I usually write only positive reviews and this is no exception.


So what’s it all about?

In King of the Elves, players are travelling elves who try to find the most convenient means of transport in order to travel as far as possible past the many different types of landscape. By doing so, players earn money which they need to buy new cards and ultimately, to win the game!


And how does this beauty work?

First things first! It’s a card game! Many of you will now think "ANOTHER ONE"? Yes this is a card game. In fact it’s the card game version of a board game which won the very prestigious award of Game of Year (SdJ) in 1998. Our little card game was published the following year. I have never played the board game version, but I’m pretty sure that the card game is quite a bit heavier than it’s big brother. My assumption is based solely on the fact that the SdJ award is awarded to family oriented games, which I’d say not to be the case with King of the Elves.

Currently we got Race for the Galaxy which perfected the San Juan playing mechanic to an unbeatable degree, then Dominion popped up and now we got Thunderstone. But even before these we already had excellent card games such as Meuterer, Verräter or Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg, so the question would be: Do we really need to play this one with so many great card games which, on top of that are much more recent games? So how well did this game age?
Let’s have a look.

Would you be so kind to finally tell us how this one works?
King of the Elves comes in a little box that contains a big deck of cards, loads of coins in values 1, 5 and 10, a little dragon figure on a plastic stand and also 6 sets of counters in 6 different colors. Not much diversity really! The dragon serves solely to remember who the starting player of the current round is. Coins serve to keep track of players’ riches, and the 4 markers each players get, are to mark certain cards during play.

Now the cards come in several categories, and this is where the real diversity is hidden. There are mainly 3 types of cards: transportation, location and special.

The transportation cards depict a Troll pushing the Trollwagon, an elven bicycle, a Dragon, a Cloud and a giant Pig as well as an Elven Raft. These transportations have different attributes and are more or less effective on different terrain types, or completely useless on yet other specific terrain types. This is where the location cards come in; these can be mountain cities, forest towns, fairly islands, a city on a river, a town in the plains or a city in the desert. Each one of these cities is worth a specific amount of money which the players collect as they pass through. In order to do so, they need the right transportation though, so for example the raft can only be used on locations that are next to a river or in the sea (river cities or islands), so the only transport to reach these location is the raft, for which you need one for the river, but two rafts for the sea. So each means of transport need either one card or two cards to be usable on specific terrains.
The special cards add twists to the otherwise boring travels. These can be obstacles on the roads that make movement more expensive; players may also place thieves to steal money from wandering travellers; there is also a sea serpent, bodyguards, etc.

The game is played in 3 main phases: 1) upkeep; 2) planning; 3)travelling

Upkeep phase: during the upkeep, players refresh there hand to a certain amount of cards, which players soon find out are much too few and much too random;

Planning phase: during planning phase, player try to turn around the miss-fortunate hand they have been dealt or to maximize the efficiency of the superb cards they may have drawn. This is the core of the game and is also the phase that sucks up most of the playing time. Players may, in turn, execute one out of many possible actions in order to efficiently plan their travel.
Player may for example buy new cards to add to the current hand, this can be done up to three times maximum and gets increasingly more expensive, so a player will have to pay 1 Gold for the first card, 2 for the second and 3 for the third card, this amounts to 6 Gold for 3 cards, which is quite expensive and also the limit to cards that can be added to the hand. From now on the option would be to draw 3 new cards and discard any 4 cards in return, so you start to loose cards! Also, during planning phase, players may place location cards in front of them or in front of their opponents. Players may place special cards on any location card, so for example you could place an obstacle on an opponent’s starting location! But you can also discard a location already in play in front of you, this will cost you Gold though and is eve more expensive if an opponent had placed a special card on it (this is were players use markers, to identify special cards they played).
Players keep on executing all these actions as often as they like and the game proceeds to the travelling phase only when all the players have passed. Players may even pass a round and return to the action phase. This can be useful to react on other players’ cards, but also very risky if all players decide to pass that turn. Also, players are only allowed to pass if they have at least one location card in front of them.

Travel phase: so when all the players pass, that’s when the travels start. Starting with the player holding the dragon, players try in turn to travel as far as possible, passing through as many locations as possible. They start with one of the possibly 2 locations in front of them and travel in a clockwise direction through the locations in front of the opponent to the left, then through the next ones, etc. players may never jump over any location, so if they don’t have the necessary means of transportation to pass location X, but could pass location Y, they still wouldn’t be able to go to Y, they’d be stuck in X!

The thing is that if a player manages to pass all the locations on the table, he/she gets an added bonus of 10 Gold! During this phase players also use the special cards and either rob their opponents, or hinder their progress, but they can also use bodyguards to avoid those hardships, or they can even switch directions in which they travel. As you do you keep on discarding the transportation cards according to the type of terrain depicted on the location cards, paying 1 or 2 cards depending on the efficiency of the cards for that specific terrain.

So players simply try to travel as far as they can, collecting gold from all the locations they passed through and until they are forced to stop, then the next player travels round. And so on until all players travelled and collected their Gold. Then a new round starts: upkeep, planning, travelling; this sequence repeats as often as the number of players present.


And? So? Is it any good?

I like King of the Elves a lot. Firstly, the illustrations are great. If you look at them, you’ll probably feel a bit disappointed at first. Especially in the light of the gorgeousness seen in RftG and many other more recent games. But this is soooo old-school it’s actually charming! Very innocent stuff really. I mean the huge pig is just awesome! And the Troll that looks like a big bearded fellow pulling a wooden wagon? You have to check it out, seriously! You won’t find illustrations like these anywhere else anymore, just too funny!
On the other hand, King of the Elves, despite looking like a kids game, is a pretty deep planning game. You find yourself willing to pay a lot of money just in an attempt to achieve the full route around the table for those extra 10 Gold. And even though you’ll find out probably after the first travel, that this is a very unlikely feat to occur, you still try to maximize your travel and it almost isn’t worth the money you’re spending. So the planning phases tend to get very tense, and players keep on looking to one another, playing their mean cards on each other’s location cards, or just dump a low score location card on an opponent, etc.

Especially due to the planning phase the game tends to take at least one and a half hours if played with 4 players. Nevertheless, players never get bored because during the planning phase, the actions aren’t simply exhausted all at once while the others are waiting, instead, each player plays one one action at a time, so down time is very low, and you are always checking your opponents’ moves before revealing your next action.


The Bottom line

I think King of the Elves is an excellent game. There are a lot of fantastic games out there and it’s very difficult for an old-timer such as this one to keep up. This one has been in the market for over 10 years after all. Still, I think it’s a really nice game with really tight game play. Players never really know who’s ahead, even if one manages to get the extra 10Gold, that only means he/she’ll spend more moneY next round. I’d really love to try the board game version just for comparison’s sake.

But nevertheless, for its charming looks, the deep planning aspect and the blissful "you go on ahead and play, I’ll show you what I got in a minute" feel, this game, after 12 years, does deserve a juicy 8 on my scale. Great stuff and highly recommended!

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Jeff Goldberg
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Found this game at a thrift store and absolutely love it, great review.
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Pedro Pereira
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Thanks Jeff!

I was really surprised when I got this game a few years ago and still like it today. The theme is a slightly forgotten one. I mean, there is still a lot of fantasy themes out there, but most of them are Battle related, and as far as I know, none of those got giant pigs or elven bicycles!

This one is indeed very nice! Glad you got yourself a copy!
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Denise Tayntor
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Thank you for the review! I got this trade as part of a trade and was considering trading it again, but based on your review, I'm going to keep it. Thanks!
 
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Kam Amble

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I just found this game and can't wait to try it out. Thanks for doing a review and the other game suggestions as well, they look great too!
 
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