03 June 2022
Your chance to out-do Slartibartfast
Australian designer Phil Walker-Harding (Sushi Go!, Bärenpark) cites Fjords as one of the games that got him into modern board gaming, back on its publication in 2005 – only two years before its designer, Franz-Benno Delonge, sadly passed away. It was then a simple tile-laying duel very much like Carcassonne, in which two players must competitively create a Scandinavian landscape, onto which they place settlers to vie for population dominance.
With this re-issue, which Walker-Harding describes as a “fan’s adaptation,” he’s turned Fjords into a two-to-four player experience, while layering on some added strategy, through the introduction of rune stones, which are offered as a built-in expansion.
The core gameplay remains essentially untouched. In the first phase – Exploration – players must alternately lay hex tiles, placed in such a way that their plains, mountains and coastal strips fully connect up with those on two neighbouring hexes; if a valid placement isn’t possible, they must choose another tile. They can also elect to plonk down one of their four longhouses on the tile just placed, providing a launching point for the second phase: Settlement, where Viking meeples are added, one at a time, to any empty tile adjacent to one of your own pieces (adjacency depends on connected plains – your settlers can’t scale mountains or cross seas).
The only major tweak is that, rather than drawing tiles blind from the bag as in the original version, each player selects one, Cascadia style, from a row of four, before replacing it with a hex from the bag. This reduces the challenge a little, but also gives you more opportunity to craft a landscape best suited to your longhouse placements. For example, if you have a base at one end of a long valley or along a nice, windy fjord, you may be able to block other players from settling any of those tiles.
The rune stones, meanwhile, are a welcome addition, in that they spice the game up for anyone who may come to feel overly familiar with it. There’s a whole set that you can apply in different combinations, which typically either offer extra ways to score during the Settlement phase (for instance, the water rune means any Viking connected to it via ocean earns an extra point), or provide more flexibility for Viking placement (you can play a horse rune to scamper up to three tiles from a Viking or longhouse via mountains).
Given how straightforward the base game is, we actually advise introducing a few runes right from the first play, if you have three or four people at the table. It’s just more fun that way. However, if you’re playing with only two, we’d instead recommend you use what Walker-Harding terms the “Classic” variant, i.e. playing the original game. It just feels that little bit more dynamic as a duel.
Either way, lovers of tile-laying won’t be disappointed, as Fjords is beautifully elegant, satisfying and moreish. The Settlement phase is perhaps over a too quickly, rendering it a little afterthought-ish, and even with Walker-Harding’s refinements, the game may feel a bit dated next to the likes of Cascadia or Calico. But these are minor niggles. It’s well worth picking up – if you can a-fjord it.
PLAY IT? YES
A welcome return for a title which now feels like a thoroughly pleasing blend of Cascadia, Carcassonne and Reiner Knizia’s Blue Lagoon, and certainly deserves a place adjacent to any of these games.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED CASCADIA…
With its lovely, Beth Sobel-illustrated landscapes and its gateway-level accessibility, Fjords will appeal to anyone who’s fallen for Randy Flynn’s nature-themed tile game.
Designer: Franz-Benno Delonge & Phil Walker-Harding
Publisher: Grail Games
Time: 30-45 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 64 Landscape tiles
- 3 Starting tiles
- 80 Wooden Vikings (in four colours)
- 16 Wooden longhouses (in four colours)
- 22 Rune-stone tokens
- 4 Player aids
- 1 Cloth bag
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This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
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