Game Review - Elfenland by Alan Moon

Elfenland, Alan Moon, Amigo, 1998.

There has been much discussion and history associated with this game. When it was released in 1997, many game players who had been familiar with Alan Moon's earlier Elfen games (Elfenroads, Elfengold, and Elfenwizards) jumped for joy. Their hope for an identical re-release of the scarce 1992 Elfenroads game was not satisfied, as the new game is streamlined and plays faster than the original.

Despite the newer quicker play, it seems that those familiar with all the games are voting for Elfenroads as the best of the series. A recent poll of Alan Moon games at the The Westbank Gamers Site showed how gamers rate his games

As you can see, a greater number of takers of this casual poll show a preference for the earlier game. Unfortunately, I have not played the earlier Elfenroads, and I refer your to Mike Siggins' excellent reviews of Elfenroads and Elfenland on the Game Cabinet. On the other hand, in my typical Game Enthusiast style, I review this game completely on its own merits and not in comparision to what had gone before or what could have been.

Courtesy Funagain Games
The game is an enjoyable restatement of the computer science "Travelling Salesman" problem in which one must figure the lowest cost tour while visiting the most cities. In the game, starting from the city of Elfenhold, one's elf must visit as many of the 32 cities as possible. To move between cities, the interconnecting path must contain a transportation counter, and the player must have enough cards in hand to pay for the trip. Players receive 4 counters and 8 cards per turn. There are five forms of transportation (giant pig, elf cycle, troll wagon, dragon, and unicorn) and rafts which have no counter and allow you to travel on the lakes and rivers on the board. Depending on the form of transportation and the type of cover (open ground, woods, desert, mountains, and water), the trip will cost you 1 or 2 cards.

There are 4 turns and 8 cards per turn, so perfect play should net you a final score of 32 cities if you plan your routes carefully and make use of other player's transportation counters. However, because some routes require 2 cards and other players will throw obstacles in your path, on average a person will score less in a turn. Getting stuck behind a counter for which you have no cards, a common tactic used by veterans, will cost you 3 cards of any kind - an expensive toll to pay. Thus, an average play will net 4 or 5 points and good play will net 6 to 7 points. On the other hand, one transportation counter and four cards may be retained per turn (for a maximum of 5 counters and 12 cards per player per turn) which may enable a player to bag 12 cities in a single turn. So you see there are many possibilites in a single turn.

The game components are nice. Each player receives a card with a matrix of the transportation costs, a lifesaving addition to the game. The great transportation counter illustrations and beautiful game board map by Doris Matthaus are a nice touch and give the game much of its wonderful lighthearted feel. We always make pig and troll noises when we travel with these counters. Each person receives a jigsaw puzzle-like wood boot to represent their elf. However, the city markers, while also of wood, are small cylinders that easily roll off the board and on the floor. I would have prefered wooden cubes or cylindrical hexagons like a pencil. The playing cards are on a wonderful textured stock that is thick but flexible, allowing you to shuffle as if the cards were well broken in. The cards also wisely have no text on them, enabling the game to play without any association to one country.

The English translation can use some work. For such a simple game, it took me several rereadings of the rules to get it right. We even played the first game incorrectly, drawing for counters first and dealing cards seconds, owing to our confusion and misreading of the rules. I would also like to see rules translations contain more of the diagrams from the original rules. Perhaps it is a copyright issue, but if there are diagrams in the original rules, I would like to see the diagrams scanned and placed in the text of the translation. In this day of Hypertext Markup Language, this is not a difficult technological step to improve the readability of the rules.

But all nits aside, let me stress that I find this an enjoyable game for new players and old players alike. New players easily grasp the rules and concentrate on their strategies by the second or third turn. Veterans enjoy the game because no two games are similar. Player's paths interact. On some games a big circle is a good path. On other games a letter S or a figure 8 are ideal. In any case, to win a player must make use of his opponent's transportation counters. There is constant interaction and the players interact and make use of their opponent's choices with every turn. Finally, the game time is excellent, taking about 45 minutes to an hour. This is an ideal time for a game because if the game was close, it allows an immediate replay. If the night is short, it allows you to move on.

I rate this an excellent game with much enjoyment for novice and expert players.

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