Doug Adams writes:
Elfenroads is a wonderful game set in the land of the White Winds, where each player controls a young elf, recently come of age, and is sent forth into the world to learn and spread general good will amongst his fellow elves.
To help you on your way, the population of Elf City gives you some gold for initial transportation costs and you set out on your journey. The object of the game is to be the first elf to visit the 25 cities on the game board, or to visit the most cities in the 8 turns.
Elfenroads is one of three "Elf" games published by White Wind, the other two being "Elfengold" and "Elfenwizards". They are all set in the land of the White Winds, but are all very different games. Elfengold is a bluffing game set in a gold mine; Elfenwizards is a negotiation game about electing a high wizard; while Elfenroads is a resource management game about travel and easily the best of the three.
All these games are published with German and English rules, and are all limited editions of 1200 numbered copies. They may be quite hard to find now (but see the end of the review).
The components for Elfenroads are very good, and are the most colourful of the "Elf" games. There are 6 large pawns representing the elves on the map, with 6 sets of 25 small wooden blocks to place on cities you've visited. Also included are plastic gold counters, a deck of transport cards, a set of transport counters and a large wooden dragon (present in all the "Elf" games). Finally there is the gameboard representing the lands the elves must explore.
The game board is attractive, with very colourful artwork by Doris Matthaus. The board depicts the 25 cities which are connected together by paths and rivers. The paths between the cities will cross a particular type of terrain - clear, woods, mountain, or desert. There are also two rivers which connect cities on the map. Players quickly realise that terrain is very important in this game.
The cities that the paths connect together have a number printed beside them, which is the amount of gold an elf will collect if he visits that city. Typically you will find cities that are easy to reach pay low amounts of gold, while cities in the desert and mountains pay high.
The cards and counters depict the types of transport available around the land, these being elfcycle, trollwagon, raft, unicorn, dragon, magic cloud and giant pig. Transport counters like elfcycles and trollwagons are very common, while others like dragons are rare. These tranportation types function differently depending on what terrain they are crossing. For example, elfcycles are quick on clear or forest paths, slow up in the mountains, and cannot be used in the desert at all, while dragons are quick virtually anywhere.
What does quick and slow mean ? Well, it may be better to describe a typical turn. At the start of your turn you can draw 3 transport cards and add them to your hand. Cards can be off the face down deck, or one of 3 face up cards on display (which are replaced if you take one). You are then given 2 gold, and a free transport counter which is drawn at random.
The start player (who holds the wooden dragon) then draws a number of extra transport counters at random and lines them up on the table. These are then auctioned off to the players, who bid the gold they are holding to try and get the counters they want for this turn. The number of counters drawn is equal to 3 for each player (for a faster game, draw 2 chits each from the cup and auction 2 chits for each player).
At the end of the auction, players will have their transport cards and counters. Next every player, in order, can place one of their counters on any path on the map. Each path can only have one transport counter per turn, and it is the only mode of transport available for that path this turn. Once each path has a counter, or each player has passed in turn, the elves can move.
To move your elf you must play a card or cards matching the transport counter on the path you want to travel. Transport types that are 'fast' only require one card to move your elf, while types that are 'slow' require two cards. Sometimes you get stuck because you don't have the cards that will allow you to move, but if this happens you are allowed to draw 2 cards for free. A rather nasty counter is the "fallen tree" counter which can be placed on a path next to a transport counter. It increases the number of cards need to travel that path by 1, and can ruin the plans of another player.
Every time an elf visits a new city, he totals the gold for that city (this is doubled if a gold counter was on the path) and places a marker on the board to show he has visited that city. With careful play it is possible to visit several cities in one turn, and build up a lot of gold in the process; but at other times you may not be able to move at all. However, after an elf has finished moving, he can choose not to take his gold and instead draw two cards. Deciding whether to take the gold or two cards can be a tough decision at times!
At the end of the turn, all the transport counters are put back into the cup and the wooden dragon moves onto the next player to signal that he plays first this round. If somebody has visited every city, or if 8 turns have passed, the game is over. The winner is the person who visited the most cities, with the highest gold breaking ties.
This is one of the best games I've played. There is a lot of interaction with the bidding and tranport counter placement that keeps players very interested, and the game doesn't seem to drag. As the transport counters are placed on the map you have to constantly rethink your plans as the paths you wanted to use are 'taken' by other players. You may still be able to use that path, but it will probably change your overall plan for the turn.
Overall, it will be the player who best manages his cards, counters and gold who will win, but this is one of those games where the joy is in the playing, not the winning. An excellent game - and if you see it, buy it.
Note: A new edition of Elfenroads, called Elfenlands, will be released by Amigo in early 1998. There are rumours that the new game will be easier to play than Elfenroads, but the map will link to the Elfenroads map to make a larger playing area. I don't know whether this is true or not, but all will be revealed in 1998.