Billabong Boardgamers

Billabong Boardgamers - 19th October 1997


We met at David's place to play the rare and ever so collectable Elfenroads. I suspect David set this up so he wouldn't have to put up with my bugging him for a game any longer. I've bid on a few of these in some internet auctions without ever having played it. I've never been too keen to go as high as the final prices because of the unknown factor. Now was my chance to see how it played, and estimate it's worth.

So, what happened ? Well this was the first time for Janet as well as myself, the others having played it before. We spent 15minutes running through the rules, and started.

The theme is basically this - each player plays an elf, recently come of age, who is now allowed to travel the lands. The elf who travels to the most cities in 8 turns is the winner, with gold held breaking ties. Cities are connected by paths with aspecific terrain type, and must be traversed by a specific mode of transport (eg. elfcycle, troll-wagon, dragon, etc). The catch is you can only use modes of transport that you hold in your hand (via a deck of cards) and it must match the transport chit on a path you want to travel. To make matters worse, certain modes of transport can't travel along certain terrain types, and other modes of transport can cost 2 cards for that terrain type. Sounds confusing ? Well, it kind of is, initially.

David made the best start, claiming double gold for visiting the 6 city in the lower left hand corner of the board. On turn 2Julian made an epic journey across the board and raked up some good gold, but ran his cards and chits down to virtually nothing. However, through careful management, Julian held onto his lead by managing to visit a few cities per turn up in the tricky mountains on turns 3 to 5. Doug and Janet were struggling with the concept of how to move on turns 1 and 2, and setting up a hand of chits and cards accordingly. Thus we fell behind. I managed to get a good turn 3 and 4 which got me within touch of Allan and David.

David was holding second place, with Alan and I about equal in third. During turn 4 Alan claimed he was out of the game and made sure we all knew it, after I highlighted his clairvoyant abilities at calling games last week. Poor Janet was struggling along in last place.

By turn 8, Julian has a 2 city lead over Allan and David, with myself a further city back but in the centre desert city (the '7'value one). I needed a dragon chit to get out, as I had the necessary card, backed up by 3 elfcycles and a pig which I could use to visit 4 more cities and threaten the game. Not to be...

Through cunning chit placement David and Allan cut Julian off, although bold play of his Dragon chit would have given Julian an extra city and allowed me out of the desert. Instead, Julian seemed intent on blocking Alan and David, and the desert path got Troll-Wagoned quickie, effectively ending my game. Julian couldn't play a city on the last turn, David caught him on cities (but was behind on gold) and Allan played an excellent last turn to place3 (maybe 4) cities and take the game. I was unable to move out of the desert, not having enough gold to purchase the lone dragon chit that appeared for auction on turn 8. Janet placed 2 cities on the last turn to bump me into last spot.

Placings were: Alan, Julian, David, Janet and Doug.

Thoughts ? Very good game, probably a great game. There are some tough decisions to make here, and it took me a few turns to get the hang of how to manage resources (chits, cards and gold) as well as mesh the chit and card system with the terrain features on the board ("okay, I need 2 troll wagons to cross the desert, one dragon into the mountains", etc). This came back to slap me in the face as late as turn 7 as I needed to cross 2 desert paths to reach cities not visited. For some dumb reason I thought you only needed 1 unicorn card per desert path and had the 2 cards and chits. Wrong - it's 2 cards per path and that left me stranded in the desert and cost me the game on turn8. I wouldn't have won, but I would have been down to 5 cities and tied with Julian and David.

Mechanically there is nothing difficult about this game, but lots to think about and these are the sort of boardgames I'm really starting to appreciate. As I played I kept thinking "this is Airlines with elves" as there are some common mechanics:

the matching of cards with routes types and chits reminded me a lot of the cards/airlines/flight paths of Airlines. - the choice of face up cards or random selection is also reminiscent.

However the scoring system is not random here, as in Airlines, and I also think you're a little more in control of your destiny. Luck can strike through the chit and card pulls at the start of a turn, but to counter this you can really screw your opponents with a carefully placed Troll Wagon or log. Gold, cards and chits can be horded and managed for killer turns, but I suspect innocuously travelling 3 or 4 cities per turn may be the way to go. Easier to say than do.

Another area where I goofed is the map is misprinted. Apparently a mountain route is supposed to be clear terrain - and that confused me a lot - I suspect I would be house-ruling that to play it as mountains. I wonder how such a blunder made it past pre-production. Speaking of house rules, we used a rule that you auction 2 times the number of players in chits, instead of 3times - this kept the game to 3 hours but I suspect it denied players a degree of flexibility and also drove the cost of rare chits (i.e.. dragons) up. Julian commented frequently about the high cost of chits.

Now that I've played it once, I'd also start differently and think about my route a little better. True, where you go is very much driven by what you're holding, but there were 3 turns where I couldn't move, and I suspect that was due to inexperience.

So is it worth the price it currently goes for ? Probably, judging from the amount I've written above...and if it isn't then the game is so good it won't depreciate in value at all. I'm a believer in dividing the game cost by times played to try and determine a game's true value and I suspect I'd be playing Elfenroads quite a lot. That makes it very inexpensive indeed. I suspect the value of the game may hold or increase it's value when Elfenlands appears. I believe this game can be added to Elfenroads to make for a bigger game. Another important point forme is whether the game is good with 2 players, and I suspect it would be easy to tweak the chit auction to make a pretty good game for 2 players.

Enough babble...thanks to David for hosting the game - much appreciated.

Modern Art

Janet and I had an hour left before we had to go, so what better game than Modern Art ? This was Janet's first game, and a quick summary of how we played was:

David: cagey, offered lots of advice, bought few pieces
Janet: a buyer, laughed her head off and bought freely
Alan: rarely bought, played in a very unassuming manner
Doug: bought a few pieces, didn't take risks, offered valuable pieces
Julian: did a bit of everything, bought and sold well

Final scores were:

Julian 390's
Doug 327
David 325
Janet 290's
Alan 160's

The game played in 40 minutes, mainly due to rounds being closed off very quickly.

David Coutts writes:

Thanks Doug for the game reports of both Sunday's session at my house, and Monday's session at Julian's house. Get well soon, Julian, and thanks Doug & Janet for hosting at such short notice. I thoroughly enjoyed both sessions.

Titan: The Arena

Just a quick note on what else was played. 3 games of Titan, The Arena Results:- Alan won 2, David won 1, Julian won none. Only David (myself) had played before.

All the games were tied on points between David & Alan, with Alan ending two of the three games to claim victory. This prompted a little debate on providing a bonus (1 or 2 points) for keeping your secret bid a secret - sometimes hard to resist! Alan (especially) and Julian enjoyed playing, with Alan considering a purchase in the future.

After this session, and Monday's session, 2nd place seemed to be haunting me. Monday's Lowenherz (especially), Medici & Quo Vadis made it hard to say "Oh well, it's just a game...".

After all, we all play to win, don't we? I've never agreed with the sentiment "It's not the winning that's important, but the taking part..." Nonsense!