- Designer: Alan R. Moon
- Publisher: Rio Grande Games; AMIGO Spiel + Freizeit GmbH; Others
- Players: 2 – 6
- Ages: 13 and Up
- Time: 45 – 90 Minutes
- Times Played: > 10
Note: We’re focusing on reprints, re-themes, re-releases, etc. this month. Since Elfenroads is a reprint of Elfenland and its expansion, Elfengold, this entry is part of that series.
Elfenland, winner of the 1998 Spiel des Jahres, had been out of print in the United States for a few years, and the game’s popular expansion, Elfengold, had been out of print even longer. But last fall, Rio Grande, AMIGO, and a few other publishers released both titles in a big box edition that also featured new artwork and a new map/game called Elfensea. This new edition was called Elfenroads.
Elfenland itself has an interesting history, which I wrote last year as part of our Spiel des Jahres Re-Review series. You can read the full history at that link, but here’s the abbreviated version: Elfenland’s earliest predecessor was also called Elfenroads, and it was released at Essen 1992 in a limited edition by Alan Moon’s publishing company, White Wind. A few years later, AMIGO Spiel approached Moon about reissuing Elfenroads in slimmed-down form. That game, Elfenland, won the 1998 Spiel des Jahres and several other honors. The following year an expansion called Elfengold was released that added back in many of the mechanics present in the original Elfenroads. Many gamers preferred the expanded mechanics present in the original Elfenroads or Elfengold, and both games became highly sought after by collectors, garnering high prices on the secondary market. Fast forward to Essen 2015, when a new game bearing the title Elfenroads was released. That title, as discussed below, is a sort of big box edition of the game consisting of Elfenland, Elfengold, and Elfensea.
How to Play Elfenland
The easiest way to understand Elfengold and Elfensea is (arguably) to understand Elfenland first, so I’ll start with a discussion of Elfenland and then discuss Elfengold and Elfensea.
The pictures below are of the new artwork. If you’d like to compare it to the old artwork, check out the post from last year.
Each player picks a color and receives one Elf Boot (representing their character) and 20 Town Pieces of that color. The Elf Boot is placed in the capital, and the Town Pieces are put on the other twenty towns. The game will last three rounds — which have six stages each — and at the end of those three rounds, the player that has collected the most Town Pieces will be the winner. (For a longer game, as a variant, the rules allow for playing four rounds instead of three.)
Stage 1: Deal the Travel Cards. Each player player is dealt travel cards until they hold eight. (If they saved travel cards from the previous round, they will draw until they have eight.)
Stage 2: Draw a hidden Transportation Counter. Each player draws one of the face down Transportation Counters from the pile near the game board.
Stage 3: Draw additional Transportation Counters. There are always five face-up Transportation Counters. In the previous stage each player draws a face-down Transportation Counter, but in this stage, starting with the starting player, each player draws additional Transportation Counters, choosing one of the five uncovered ones or one of the face down ones. These are placed face up in front of him. This proceeds clockwise until each player has drawn three additional Transportation Counters. (Transportation Counters are flipped over so that there are always five Transportation Counters to choose from.)
Stage 4: Plan the travel routes. Starting with the start player, the players place Transportation Counters face up on a road. Only one may be placed per road, and the Transportation Counter must be able to go on that type of terrain (see the player aid in the picture above). For example, the Unicorn cannot travel through the Plains. Each player starts the game with an obstacle, and in lieu of placing a Transportation Counter, he may place an obstacle. This phase ends when all players have passed consecutively.
Stage 5: Move the elf boots. A player moves his Elf Boot along roads or rivers from town to town, collecting his Town Pieces. This proceeds clockwise, and a player may travel along as many roads or rivers as he wishes, provided the following conditions are met:
- Any roads traveled must have a Transportation Counter. (Rivers do not receive Transportation Counters.)
- Using the player aid (see above), a player must play one or more Travel Cards that matches the Transportation Counter. Some regions require double the cards; for example, a Unicorn traveling through the Desert requires two Travel Cards. If the road is blocked by an obstacle, an extra card is required.
- A player may always spend three cards (four with an obstacle) to cross a Transportation Counter for which he doesn’t have the cards. This is called a “Caravan.”
- Gowing with the flow of the river costs one boat Travel Card. Going against the flow — or crossing a lake — requires two.
- A player may go back and forth, but this requires Travel Cards for each movement.
Stage 6: Finish the Round. The starting player card is rotated clockwise. Each player returns all but one of his Transportation Counters. All Transportation Counters are removed from the board and shuffled back into the pile. Obstacles are also removed.
The game ends at the end of four rounds, and the player who collected the most Town Pieces wins. In the event of a tie, the player holding the most Travel Cards in his hands wins.
Variation: Home Cities: At the start of the game, one of the twelve Town Cards are shuffled and one is dealt face down to each player; this is that player’s home city. The goal is now to collect the most Town Pieces and end as close to the home city as possible. At the end of the game the score for each player will be the Town Pieces less the number of spaces they are away from their home city.
How to Play Elfengold
Elfengold is very similar to Elfenland, and indeed it is played on the same map. But now gold coins come into play: players will earn gold pieces for visiting each town, and they will bid on face up transportation counters using that gold. Additionally, Elfengold is played for six rounds instead of the usual three or four.
Before the game begins, the gold value tokens are distributed on the 20 towns. These tokens range in value from 2 to 7, with most towns having 3-5 gold value. Each player receives twelve gold to start the game. Like Elfenland, Elfengold is played with several stages, although they change slightly in this version to accommodate the auction mechanic.
Stage 1: Draw the Travel Cards. Each player starts with five random travel cards in the first round, and in each subsequent round each player draws three travel cards from the supply. There is a face-up supply of three cards, and players can take any of those or draw from the top of the face-down supply.
The deck now has seven gold cards. When these are drawn, they are set aside in the “gold card deck.” The player can choose whether to draw an additional card or take the entire gold card deck, which gives three gold per card.
Stage 2: Distribute Gold Coins. Starting in the second round, each player takes two gold coins from the supply.
Stage 3: Draw Tokens and Counters. Each player takes two items from the face down pile of tokens and counters.
Stage 4: Auction. The starting player randomly turns over twice as many items from the pile as there are players in the game. These will be auctioned from right to left. Once a player passes, they may make no further bids on that particular counter. Players may increase bids by any amount. The highest bidder takes the item.
Stage 5: Plan the travel routes. Just as in the base game, starting with the start player, the players place Transportation Counters face up on a road. Only one may be placed per road, and the Transportation Counter must be able to go on that type of terrain (see the player aid in the picture above). For example, the Unicorn cannot travel through the Plains. Each player starts the game with an obstacle, and in lieu of placing a Transportation Counter, he may place an obstacle. This phase ends when all players have passed consecutively.
There is one new obstacle in this game: the sea monster, which goes on rives and lakes, requires an additional raft card to pass.
There are also two types of magic spells: the Double transport allows there to be two types of Transportation Counters on a road, and the Exchange transport allows a player to substitute in a new Transport Counter, discarding the old one.
Lastly, there are gold pieces. These cannot be placed with obstacles. When a player moves on the road, he collects double the gold from the town he visits.
Stage 6: Move the Elf Boots. This happens just as in the base game, except gold coins are earned from movement. In lieu of taking this gold, a player may instead choose to draw two cards using the normal rules.
Stage 7: Finish the Round. The starting player card is rotated clockwise. Each player returns all but two of his Transportation Counters or other objects. All Transportation Counters and other objects are removed from the board and shuffled back into the pile. Obstacles are also removed.
The game ends as in Elfenland, with the winner being the player that collected the most town tokens.
The Elven Witch Variant: There are six Elven Witch cards that can be shuffled in with the transportation cards. They are treated like Travel Cards. These can be used in two ways: (1) to bypass an obstacle without paying an additional card, instead paying a gold per obstacle, or (2) use a magic flight, moving anywhere on the board (but not earning the corresponding gold) and paying three gold.
How to Play Elfensea
Elfensea is an entirely new map, with different types of transportation. Dragons, unicorns, giant pigs, and magic clouds are still featured, but players can also now travel across the board’s many water routes using whales or rafts.
Each player picks a color and receives one Elf Boot (representing their character) and 32 Village pieces of that color. The Elf Boot is placed in the capital, and the Village Pieces are put on the other twenty towns. The game will last four rounds — which have five stages each — and at the end of those four rounds, the player that has collected the most points from Village Pieces and Bonus Counters will be the winner.
Stage 1: Deal the Travel Cards. Each player player is dealt eight travel cards.
Stage 2: Draw a hidden Transportation Counter. Each player draws four Transportation Counters, either from the face down pile or the face-up pile of five. These are drawn one at a time until each player has drawn four. Those drawn face up are kept face up; those drawn face down are kept face down.
Stage 3: Plan the travel routes. Just as in Elfenland, starting with the start player, the players place Transportation Counters face up on a road. Only one may be placed per road, and the Transportation Counter must be able to go on that type of terrain (see the player aid in the picture above). This phase ends when all players have passed consecutively. There are no obstacles in Elfensea.
Stage 4: Move the elf boots. A player moves his Elf Boot along roads, rivers, or sea from town to town, collecting his Village Pieces. This proceeds clockwise, and a player may travel along as many roads or rivers as he wishes, provided the following conditions are met:
- Any roads traveled must have a Transportation Counter. (Rivers and sea do not receive Transportation Counters.)
- Using the player aid (see above), a player must play one or more Travel Cards that matches the Transportation Counter. Some regions require double the cards.
- Going with the flow of the river costs one raft Travel Card. Going against the flow — or crossing the sea — requires two. Crossing the sea can also be done with two Clouds or one Whale.
- A player may go back and forth, but this requires Travel Cards for each movement.
- Players may “Caravan” by playing three Travel Cards.
Certain villages have Bonus Counter symbols. Depending on the village, players will draw 2 and keep 1 or draw 4 and keep 2. These are kept foace down.
These Bonus Counters can be (1) used like a regular Transportation Counter, (2) discarded for a Travel Card, or (3) used for bonus points at the end of the game.
Stage 5: Finish the Round. The starting player card is rotated clockwise. The round is changed. All Transportation Counters and other objects are removed from the board and shuffled back into the pile.
The game ends after the fourth round. Each village token is worth 1 point. The player with the most Bonus Counters of each of the six types scores 2 points, and the player with the second most earns 1 point.
My thoughts on the game…
As I said last year, the different elements of Elfenland — the theme, the mechanics, and the components — combine to form an excellent gaming experience. The game is a streamlined, elegant package, and I’ve never had a bad play. I like the standard game, but throw in the home city variant and I classify the game as “I love it!”
Given that enthusiasm, it will come as no surprise that I love Elfenroads. What may surprise you is that I actually sold my old copy of Elfenland and now have only Elfenroads sitting on my shelf. This compilation is the definitive version of the 1998 Spiel des Jahres winner, and I instantly knew this was the version I wanted in my collection. The new artwork is stunning, and I slightly prefer it to the Doris Matthäus artwork. Plus, the three titles are different enough that you feel like you’re getting three excellent games in one box.
Elfenland and Elfensea are approachable — both can be taught in just a few minutes, and the whole family can join the fun — but there’s also significant depth and strategy in each. These games present a challenging “traveling salesman” problem, and careful planning is rewarded. New gamers can — and do — win, but the more experienced player typically has an advantage.
I enjoy Elfensea more than the original Elfenland: the larger map — which has far more villages — makes for more challenging gameplay. Plus, the bonus counters are a nice touch. The map feels less crowded than Elfenland was at high player counts, and that detracts from some of the fun and interactivity, but there’s also a new joy in navigating sweeping paths around the map.
But my favorite of the three games is Elfengold, which has even more depth than the other two. Elfenland and Elfensea are for families; Elfengold is for gamers. The added obstacles, the need to balance your gold supply, and the auction combine to form a more tense gaming experience. It does make the game longer, but it presents a much more challenging version of Elfenland.
There’s a lot of value in Elfenroads. You get three great games which each have a high degree of replayability. All are family-friendly, original, approachable, and well presented. There have been a few “traveling salesmen” games over the past couple of decades, but few, if any, are as good as Elfenland and its successors. Rio Grande and AMIGO did a great job with the reprint, and it’ll have a place on my shelf for years to come.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers . . .
Erik Arneson: Elfenland was always a favorite of mine and Beth’s, but we never played original Elfengold (or the expansion of that name), so it’s great fun to dive back into the Elfen… world with new maps, new rules, etc. Elfenroads is an excellent game that we’ll be playing for many, many years to come.
Jeff Allers: I enjoy Elfenland with 3-5 players, but 2 are too few as there is rarely much interaction, and 6 make the downtime unbearable. I have the Elfengold expansion, but have unfortunately never been able to try it.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Erik Arneson, Jeff Allers
- I like it. Joe Huber
- Not for me…
- I love it! Chris Wray, Erik Arneson
- I like it. Joe Huber
- Not for me…
- I love it! Chris Wray, Erik Arneson
- I like it.
- Not for me…
Just to clarify, the new Elfenland lasts 3 rounds, not 4 (Chris stated both numbers in his otherwise excellent review). There is a variant that allows the players to use a 4 round game instead of 3, with the proviso that if a player vists all 20 towns by the end of the third round, he automatically wins.
I imagine the confusion is because the original 1998 version of Elfenland lasted 4 rounds. However, as players gained experience with the game, many groups found they were able to visit all of the towns by the end of the game, leading to many unsatisfying ties. So a popular house rule was to just play 3 rounds. I guess Alan and Rio Grande decided that was the better way to play, so they made it the standard rule for the reprint.
Is it also 3 rounds for the Elfensea and Elfenroads versions?
I believe Elfengold is 6 rounds, and Elfensea is 4. In Elfensea the map is enormous, so it is quite challenging to make it to all of the cities.
Elfenroads has cute design, hope a moblie version on google or apps store