Elfenland

Pardon me, but could you spare a few silvers? My elfcart broke down and...
Pardon me, but could you spare a few silvers? My elfcart broke down and…

“You seem weary, young stranger. Sit down and tell me of your journeys.” The innkeeper poured the Elven youth a flagon of cool water as he dusted off his traveling cloak.

“Ah, good innkeeper, it was a tiring journey indeed. From Jxara, I traveled through a treacherous forest riding on the back of a giant pig until I arrived in the city of Dag’ Amura, well-known for their cheese steak sandwiches and unnecessary accent marks. Once there, I traded my last package of Fig Newtons for passage through the desert aboard a dragon, who flew me to the graceful spires of Al’ Baran, where I quickly grabbed lunch at Hot Dog on a Stick, before boarding a troll wagon that was heading to Feodor, in the land of places that sound like characters from Lord of the Rings.”

“All that before lunch?” said the innkeeper. “It was well that you arrived safely. Would you like to order from the dinner menu or hear the specials?”

“Verily, but that is not all!” said the youth, seemingly unaffected by the innkeepers I-have-work-to-do-now behavior. “From Feodor, I rode through another forest on the back of a unicorn, leaving a quite colorful and fragrant path behind us, until we beheld the trenches of Lappha’lya. After retrieving a small wooden cylinder from my cousin Reggie, I rented an elfcycle, which I rode through the plains until I arrived in the city of Virst, near the port of Zeekand on the river of Turd, where I narrowly avoided running into an old girlfriend, to whom I still owe seven pieces of gold.”

“Astounding!” said the innkeeper, suddenly regretting his decision to engage the young elf in conversation. “You should try the lembas pannini. It’s really good.”

“Oh but there’s more!” said the young elf, as he pulled open the velcro on his elf wallet, and checked his current financial status. “From Virst, I traveled on the back of a magic cloud through the unnatural mountain peaks of Pandora, where I encountered a barrier placed by one of my fellow travelers, because he is a stupid jerk face. Luckily, I had in my possession an additional magic cloud ticket, which allowed me to continue on until I arrived here in your fair city of Strykhaven, where I was struck on the shoulder by a passing troll wagon, which is somewhat ironic because I thought that couldn’t happen here.”

The youth chuckled, while the innkeeper weakly smiled.

“Um, I’ll have the nachos, please, and a diet Sprite.”

Elfenland was awarded the Spiel des Jahres in 1998, which was the first win for designer Alan Moon, who would later take home the award again in 2004 for Ticket to Ride. The game features wonderful illustrations from Doris Matthäus and the version that I played was published by Midgaard Games. The game will accomodate from 2 to 6 players, but four players seemed somewhat ideal to me. Elfenland should take about an hour to play and is recommended for ages 10 and up.

Transport tiles and helper card
Transport tiles and helper card

In Elfenland, players must try and travel to as many cities as possible over the course of 4 rounds. Players manage a hand of cards that represent a particular mode of travel as well as a set of tiles used to assign those modes of travel to pathways on the board. If a player places a troll wagon tile on the road between Al’ Baran and Feodor, for example, then players must play troll wagon cards in order to make that journey. The number of cards needed varies by the type of region through which you are traveling. These values are shown on the cards and on a helper card that shows the values in an array.

A round begins with the drafting of transport tiles, followed by the placement of those tiles on roads across the board. Each player places only one tile at a time, so it’s likely that another player will place a tile on a road you may wish to take. Once that’s done, players effectively lay out all of the cards needed to travel from one city to the next, where they pick up a wooden marker of their color. These markers are used to determine the score at the end.

Each player starts the game with an obstacle tile that can be used to make a particular road more difficult by increasing the number of cards needed. This is a single use tile, but players can also place regular transportation tiles on roads in hopes that it will make it more difficult for others. I could see how this game could get a little mean. I would probably take out the obstacle tiles if I was playing with young children.

Ahhh! Giant boots are crushing our city!
Ahhh! Giant boots are crushing our city!

If a player doesn’t have the right type of transport card, they can play three cards of any type to form a caravan; however, there must be some type of transport tile on a road in order to do this. You cannot travel on an empty road. That sounds like something on an inspirational poster. The player that visits the most cities wins. If there is a tie, then the player with the most transport cards remaining wins. If there is still a tie, then players must engage in the elvish equivalent of Koon-ut-kal-if-fee, fighting to the death under the hot elven sun.

Play Elfenland if you get the chance. It’s a solid and enjoyable game. The art is charming and takes me back to a simpler time, not a churn-your-own-butter simpler time, but a not-so-damn-complicated-boardgame-mechanism kind of simpler time. You’ll be glad you did.

spiel_des_jahresThis is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1998 winner, Elfenland, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.

3 Comments

    • But Mark, when my muse calls I must answer!

      Seriously, there were two things that limited how much opinion I included. First, I was concerned about length. This novella was pushing my self-imposed word limit, and I really enjoyed writing the story and all the little hidden geek Easter eggs. Second, I hesitate to include too much opinion about a game that I’ve played only once. Did it seem a little long? Maybe, but if I played it again right now, I might realize that four rounds is just right.

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