Picture courtesy of Mayfair Games
Like Candamir, Elasund contains a few hints of Teuber's classic Settlers of Catan but it is in fact a very different game from either. Unlike the gentle, solitaire-like Candamir, Elasund takes the series in an entirely new direction that includes lots of player interaction. No more foraging alone in the wilderness on the island, in this game you'll be competing head-to-head for the prime building spots in Catan's first city. Competition can be both brutal and nasty as players' smaller buildings get demolished to make way for their opponents' larger ones. This is a game with teeth and not for overly sensitive players!
Once again, Kosmos and Mayfair have produced a game with high quality, attractive components that are well designed to facilitate game play. The artwork, by Tanja Donner who also illustrated Candamir, is very colorful and detailed, without being too busy or garish. The rules are excellent, in color and with an overview of the game as well as plenty of examples. The game comes with an abundance of thick tiles of varying size, cards, and colored wooden bits. All of these fit neatly in a custom plastic insert. I do wish that the cards had the same nice linen finish as the board and tiles, instead of being smooth, but they are sturdy enough.
The board depicts the building area of the city of Elasund with a grid of building spaces. The city is bordered on three sides with spaces for building a city wall. This wall is adjusted to shrink or increase the city area depending on the number of players. City Gate Tiles to mark the corners are included to make this adjustment. The west side of the city borders a harbor with a track running along it numbered from 2 to 12, minus the 7. The wooden Trade Ship is placed on this track. Running down the left side of the board is another track to keep track of players' Trade Points. As they earn these they move their marker up the appropriate number of spaces. Finally, there is a reference illustration that shows the layout of the church and a spot marked in the city where the first Church Tile must be placed.
Each player starts the game with two buildings already on the board in designated locations, as well as 3 Gold Cards and 1 randomly drawn Influence Card. Besides these, each player also has 10 Victory Point Cubes, 5 Permit Tokens numbered 0-4, nine City Wall Tiles numbered from 1-9 and two other personal building tiles.
The Gold Card stack and the shuffled Influence Cards are placed near the board. The 9 Church Tiles are placed facedown near the church illustration and player markers are placed at the bottom of the Trade Point track. The neutral building tiles are sorted by size and stacked in easy reach of the players.
Each turn, the player does the following actions in order. The first action is required, but the rest are optional. Each player has a reference card that summarizes these nicely:
Here we find a similarity to Settlers of Catan, a production roll that potentially yields all players resources.
Two dice are rolled and the Trade Ship is moved on the harbor track to the number equal to the sum of the dice.
Any buildings that are in or partially in that row on the grid will produce the resource shown on the building tile for its owner.
Resources are either Gold Cards or Influence Cards. Influence Cards come in three different colors and are drawn randomly from the stack.
All resources are kept hidden in the player's hand.
The active player may now build up to two of any combination of the following:
After building, a player may place a Building Permit on the board in the row that has the Trade Ship. Or, by playing two matching Influence Cards, he may place a Permit in any row. Permits must be placed in an empty spot and the cost in gold is equal to the number on the Permit. This is the same number that is used in determining area control when building. Only getting to place Permits after a player has done his building for the turn enables the other players to guess his future plans and act accordingly.
A player may forgo placing a Permit and instead take 2 Gold Cards.
The last thing that a player can do is on his turn is use Influence Cards to take one Special Action. He can pay two matching Influence Cards and either move one of his Building Permits on the board to any other free space or upgrade a Building Permit to a higher-valued one, paying the difference. His other choices for Special Actions are to use three different Influence Cards to either place a Building Permit on the row of his choice (again, paying the gold cost) or to just take two Gold Cards.
Yet another way a player can get Victory Points with buildings is by earning Trade Points. Along the sea and near the City Gates are spots that show one or two windmills. Building over these locations earn the player one or two Trade Points, allowing him to move his marker up the Trade Point track. As he gets to certain locations on the track, he may place a Victory Point Cube on the designated spot. However, as the track goes higher, the spots for Victory Points become fewer in number so not all players will be able to pursue this strategy. And, if a player loses a building covering any Trade Fields, he loses those Trade Points and any associated Victory Points as well. In this way, a player can make another lose multiple Victory Points by demolishing a single building. Brutal!
The last thing feature I haven't discussed is what happens when a "7" is rolled on the resource roll. This is somewhat similar to the robber in Settlers of Catan. The Trade Ship now becomes a pirate ship instead. No resources are produced and the player instead chooses on which row to place the Trade Ship. Players must discard a Gold or Influence Card for each Victory Point that they have on that row, including Victory Points on city walls. If the player moving the Ship has done his duty in protecting the city by helping to build the city wall, he may randomly draw from those discards the number of cards equal to his Victory Point Cubes on City Wall Tiles. He now continues with his turn as normal.
One of the interesting aspects of the pirate is that since it allows you to move the Pirate (Trade) Ship to the row of your choice, you might base your decision on where you would like to place a Building Permit that turn, rather than on making your fellow players pay.
The game ends instantly when a player places his tenth Victory Point Cube.
I really like how the luck is handled in this game to give players options. While a player may get unlucky with the resource rolls, he can always skip placing a Permit and get two Gold Cards instead. Collecting sets of Influence Cards depends on a random draw, but there are different things one can do with identical sets as well as sets of different colors. A player must be ready to tweak his strategy based on what fate deals him and I really like that feature. Sure, you may be unlucky, but you can still do something and feel like you are still in the game. There will, however be some cases where a player falls way behind due to a combination of bad dice rolls and being a picked on by other players. This is rather unfortunate but not surprising in a game with a lot of direct player conflict.
I was a little worried that the game could drag out too long with players ganging up on the leader. However, this did not seem to be the case and my games were all in the stated 60-90 minute range. The end of this game often comes down to a tight, tense tug-of-war between two or more players. An aggressive play by another player can raise his Victory Points while at the same time removing more than one Victory Point Cube of another player's, if a building is demolished that also loses Trade Points. Eventually though, with careful planning and perhaps a dollop of luck, a player will manage to pull off a last building for the victory. It feels very satisfying to win a game this way.
The game works equally well with either three or four players. Adjusting the size of the building area for differing numbers of players creates enough crowding to keep the game tense. I have not played the game with just two players, but I have a hunch it will work well also.
Elasund is a fantastic game design, perhaps one of Klaus Teuber's best. Do not be fooled by the Settlers of Catan trappings; Elasund is a very different game that stands on its own merits. Like most European designs, the rules are simple but the game play is very engaging. Some players may find the Settlers-like luck element aggravating, but Elasund does have some built-in features to help mitigate bad luck. There is a lot of direct player interaction and high degree of "nastiness" that will delight many players, but be a turn-off for others. If you enjoy medium-weight confrontational games, then Elasund is one you shouldn't miss.
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