Author’s Note: This isn’t really a game review. It is more of an ode to game, and in particular, an ode to a particular gaming experience. There’ll be humor. At times I’ll veer into being a fanboy. And at times I’ll be critical. But this is mostly a story of one of the better gaming experiences of my life, preceded by a story about punching and sorting a comically large game.
Glen More is among my all-time favorite games. I have 60 logged plays, but I didn’t start logging plays until 2014, and I’m still bad about it, so the real total is likely in excess of 100 plays. But I eventually got a bit bored of the game, as I definitely have a strategy worked out.
So I was ridiculously excited when I heard rumors of Glen More II, and I was thrilled to get to play the Dragonboats Chronicle prototype at the Gathering of Friends a couple of years ago. When the game was on Kickstarter, I enthusiastically backed it.
I was in Essen when my copy arrived at my house, so my first viewing of the final product was actually at the Funtails booth in Essen. I was amazed at the production value: the beautiful artwork, the thick tiles, the great storage solution, etc. But in the end, I didn’t buy the game at Essen, because suitcase space is limited, and the Glen More II box is gigantic and heavy, kind of like a whisky cask.
Nonetheless, I was excited to play it. Very excited. And on the plane, I even watched a documentary on Scotch whisky production (“Scotch: A Golden Dream”). I knew almost nothing of whisky, let alone Scotch, but in that video, I learned that there’s a whisky brand called Glenmorangie. I made a mental note to buy a bottle for when I finally got to play Glen More II.
This weekend was 5C, a small gaming get together on the Lake of the Ozarks. I knew I’d get to play my copy of Glen More II there, so it was in the games I packed. A few days beforehand, I had located a Glenmorangie sampler pack at a gas station in rural Missouri (of all places). There are four small tasting bottles in the pack, and four rounds in a game of Glen More, so I figured we four players could each enjoy a tasting during each round of the game.
I shared this plan with my friends — Brandon (a fellow writer for this site), Megan (a long-time gaming friend, and artist for my self-produced trick taking game), and Tyler (another long-time gaming friend). Saturday night would be an evening of Glen More and Glenmorangie.
But first I had to punch this game, a game so massive that it probably led to an economic boom in the cardboard industry of the country of origin.
In general, I’m a person who loves a good strategy, both in life and in gaming. But when it comes to punching games, I open the box and get to work, employing neither strategy nor tactics. The rulebook read would come later, I planned. It’s not the optimal approach, but it is my approach. That was a poor choice here… I recommend reading the rulebook before you punch this game.
There are a lot of materials in the Glen More box. And, to my surprise, you have to sort out the different chronicles before your first play. When I started punching, I was grouping materials by type of piece (i.e. the “A” tiles went with all “A” tiles, the small chits all went together, etc.), but not by Chronicle. Amateur mistake.
My sister was kind enough to join me. “There’s a lot to punch,” she said, with obvious joy in her face. She really likes punching games, which I think is an odd trait, as I consider it tedious and a little bit stressful, since my clumsy hands can really mangle a piece of cardboard.
But we started punching, knowing that we were embarking on a long journey. And we kept punching. And minutes later, we were still at it. Elaborate little piles were forming on the tables. Meanwhile, over in Scotland, some whiskies had aged quite a bit from when our process started.
But soon enough, we were done. We double checked the sprues, deciding that yes, indeed, they could go in the trash. (I affectionately call this a “sprue audit”.) There were a punching error on a couple of pieces — the clan markers have a thin diameter compared to how thick they are, so they were hard to punch, and a couple separated during the punching. I like my games to be pristine, so I was a little annoyed. (And it wasn’t my error for once! Jessie had punched those pieces.) But nonetheless, the punching was complete. The process involved so much cardboard that, if the apocalypse comes, we’ll be able to survive for years by burning our copy of Glen More II for fuel. (That said, we wouldn’t burn it. We’d totally play it and burn other games. Like Charterstone.)
And then I noticed something. The sticker sheets. And my heart sank. I hate stickering games, so much so that I often won’t do it. I agree that stickers look awesome on games, but once again, I’m not equipped with enough dexterity for the fine task of stickering. “No,” I declared, “I’m not doing it. The pieces will remain unstickered!” I made this declaration to the entire game room. I received puzzled looks, but mostly people went back to playing their other games.
Around that time, Brandon popped by, asking if I had ordered the metal coins. I hadn’t, because I don’t think I ever really knew it was an option, even though I absolutely LOVE metal coins. (I’m bad about reading Kickstarter pages. And pledge managers. I miss a lot of stuff in that process.) I think Brandon was mostly ribbing me: he knows that I’m mildly obsessed with replacing cardboard coins with metal coins, and he also knows that I don’t read Kickstarter pages that closely, so I suspect Brandon had been waiting days to deliver that line. It was a very Brandon thing to do.
So now I’m still excited to play the game, but sad that I missed out on the metal coins, and even more sad that there’s no way this thing will ever be stickered. I also have a couple of damaged pieces from punching, and my Nessie box had been crushed in shipping (although Nessie herself had survived, that devious little dinosaur). Things were looking down… I wanted to just crack open those tiny little whisky bottles.
But then things started to look up. My sister offered to start stickering it. (She seemed excited to do it. Yes, she’s delightfully weird. She’s also an amazing sister.) And off to work she went. Soon, her husband joined her, making it a family affair. I had my very own stickering team! For the next forty-five minutes, they were in stickering heaven.
Meanwhile, I had set up for the first game — after all, I knew how to play Glen More! — and then I started reading the rulebook. You read that correctly: this game critic and experienced gamer just attempted to set up a game without ever reading a rulebook. (I’m still not sure what I was thinking!)
I had clearly just done things in the wrong order. The rulebook unambiguously stated that I needed to sort things into the chronicle boxes. And I had just mixed all of the pieces together. And thus began the next phase of my journey: packing pieces back into little boxes, sorting out this freshly punched game. Fortunately, I’ve got my stickering crew going full throttle. And in the game room, people are amazed at just how many pieces there are to Glen More II. One group was playing On the Origin of Species, but I assure you that the biggest evolution happening in that game room was the assembly of my copy of Glen More II.
I relayed to Brandon that I’d help him sort his copy when his game arrived, but I also informed him that I’m not a good enough friend to help him with the stickering. If I’m being honest, I’m probably also not a good enough friend to help him with the punching. Maybe he can recruit Jessie. (Hopefully I hate his metal coins.)
Anyway, we finally finished. We had aged in the process, and I think even Jessie probably tired of punching/stickering for a while, but we did manage to complete our epic journey. We may have expended less energy hiking across Scotland. I probably should have had bagpipes on hand to mark the occasion.
I slide the Chronicle boxes into the storage container. And my gosh it looked impressive. The storage box, fully assembled, just looks satisfying. I was ready to play. It had been a lot of work: punching, sorting, and stickering had taken nearly an hour. Now it was time for the reward for the hard work.
But first, I had to go to dinner. My family wanted Italian food. I probably should have pushed for haggis, but I candidly don’t think I’d enjoy it, and I doubt there are any places at the Lake of the Ozarks that serve it.
I took the rulebook with me to dinner I was so excited. And when we got back, my fellow players for the big play weren’t there. So I asked my sister and brother-in-law to play. They’re not normally into heavier games, but I think they had Stockholm syndrome from all of the punching and stickering, and they knew how excited I was (they had witnessed me with the rulebook at dinner), so they agreed. We play games ridiculously quickly in my family (though not quite Huber speed), so I got through the rules and we played in about 35 minutes.
And something odd happened. My brother in law won. He’s a talented gamer, but I was once really good at Glen More. A few years ago there was a massive tournament on Yucata, and I was the #1 player in the tournament at one point. I’m still one of the highly-ranked players on the site. But my strategies were no longer working. Losing unexpectedly made me very happy… I guess I was tired of winning… because it meant there was a lot to explore here.
And they enjoyed the game, unexpectedly. I bet I can even get them to play it again. And for Christmas, I might even get them another copy to punch and sticker. (Kidding, of course.)
We played that game with the Nessie chronicle. I wasn’t that impressed by it — it was a bit too random for my tastes — but we thought it was a cute addition and we’re glad we have it. Who wouldn’t want a Loch Ness monster meeple?
After their game adjourned, I began setting up for the big play. I cleaned the whisky glasses. I secured some ice from the hotel bar. I re-read the rulebook after the last play, noticing a couple of small errors in what we did. I incorporated the promos (but took out the Nessie chronicle). I even snapped a picture.
Great gaming experiences always have three key ingredients: a great game, great players, and a great story. This is the story of one of the great gaming experiences of my life.
Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or is aged 12 years, and the tasting notes seemed to imply that it was going to be the smoothest of the four bottles were were about to enjoy, so we decided to pour it for Round A of Glen More.
I taught the game, and with three such talented gamers, they seemed to grasp it with ease. The whisky was smooth, and so was the gameplay, as is always the case in Round A. Early strategies were emerging, but this was mostly about set up. Tyler was pursuing the famous Scots, clearly aiming himself up to expand across the clan board, along with an added focus on getting more Scotsmen out on the board. Brandon was trying a bit of everything. Megan was going resource heavy. I was focusing on getting a good whisky engine going, also secretly plotting to have fewer tiles than my fellow players, and hoping for the powerful locations in the C and D rounds. (In other words, I was still pursuing my old Glen More strategy.)
The game was beautiful on the table. And everybody was immersed in the gaming experience. And I was starting to notice the differences between Glen More and Glen More II, and I was recognizing that this was the better, more fully developed game.
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban is aged 12 years in port casks, and it is probably the most complex tasting of the bottles we tried. It was fitting for Round B of Glen More, which is often the most challenging round.
In Round A, you set your strategy, but you have time to adjust, and really that round is about gobbling up tiles, so the decisions are kind of obvious. By Round B, you’re a bit more committed, and you have to be bit more selective. You have to not only set your strategy, but try to guess at the strategy of the other players.
Everybody was enjoying the whisky, and we were enjoying the game. Tyler was earning considerable points for his Scotsmen during scoring, and I was earning it for whisky, whereas Brandon and Megan were going with more diverse strategies, though Brandon started grabbing for those famous Scots.
And at this point, I’m noticing that my old Glen More strategy probably isn’t going to work. I vow to keep trying, but I’m seeing more and more of the cleverness in the new design. And did I mention how beautiful this game looked on the table?
Glenmorange Lasanta, aged 12 years in sherry casks, is extremely satisfying. It was probably the consensus favorite of the whisky varieties we tried. And if I had taken a poll, I think Round C would be the consensus favorite in Glen More. That’s always been the case: though my joy is in the end game, Round C is when winners and losers are made, and I suspect that’s what most players treasure about the game.
By Round C, the location tiles are interesting and important, and individual player areas are becoming distinctive. In Glen More II, the clan board had taken shape, and different players had adopted different approaches.
It was clear that Tyler was all in on the clan board. I was still trying to minimize my number of tiles while maximizing the setup for the good locations. And Brandon and Megan were still trying a bit of everything, though Megan was veering towards manipulating the market, and Brandon was exploring the clan board and definitely take a number of famous Scots. I believe it is around this time that he grabbed for the David Hume tile.
In the final round of Glen More II, we drank the original Glenmorange, aged 10 years in American oak whisky casks. And the part of Glen More II that is the most fitting tribute to the original Glen MOre is Round D, so the original brand of Glenmorangie was a fitting drink choice.
The end game of Glen More has always been one of my favorite gaming moments. Players have to minimize the tiles they take — they are penalized for each tile they have over the player with the fewest — leading them to be deeply strategic about which one they select, and where they place it. Players also have to pick their final tile, which is one of the bigger choices of the game. This phase of Glen More II shines through exceptionally.
In the end, Tyler won by a long shot. The rest of us hadn’t done enough with the clan board, nor enough with the locations (though I did still snag what I saw as the best locations).
My old strategy of seeking certain locations to win the game no longer works. And I love that: Glen More II is a game with a lot for me to explore, and that’s even without the many chronicles in the game.
My fellow players loved the game. Brandon rated it highly, and so did Megan. Tyler said it was his favorite game of the convention. It was almost mine. But either way, this was my favorite play of the event, a memorable gaming experience. Everything lined up: a great game, with great players, and a great story. Oh, and some pretty great whisky (though not very much, because it was just a tiny sampler pack split among four people).
Overall, I’m highly, highly impressed with Glen More II. It’ll probably make my top 5 list of 2019. The production value is astounding, and I can already tell that the gameplay is better than the original. I look forward to trying the chronicles.
And the people at my event agreed: Glen More II finished in the top 5 voting for best game of the event.
The famous Scots are a great addition, and so is the clan board. Based on my two plays, it will be hard to win without using them at least in part.
Overall, Glen More II is a fitting tribute to Glen More, one of my all-time favorite games. I look forward to many more plays. I look forward to the chronicles. Kudos to Matthias Cramer and Funtails on this excellent production.