02 January 2017
We travelled by dragon, unicorn, magic cloud and giant pig to bring you this re-review of Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride spiritual predecessor
What’s perhaps most interesting about re-visiting Alan R. Moon’s Spiel des Jahres winner Elfenland via this reprint of the 1998 classic is seeing the early origins of his later tabletop evolution (and, arguably, perfection) of the travelling salesman problem in Ticket to Ride.
Like Ticket to Ride, Elfenland tasks players with collecting cards in order to travel from point to point around a grand map. However, unlike in the later title, Elfenland players are making the journey themselves, represented by a wooden elf boot. They pick up cards and tokens reflecting six fantastical travel options– giant pig, dragon, troll wagon, unicorn, magic cloud and elfcycle – with the seventh card type, raft, not requiring a token to move but costing extra cards to cross lakes or head upstream.
During each of the set four rounds, players take it in turn to place counters on routes to define the type of transport needed, with a starting obstacle token per player allowing them to make a journey more difficult once per game. Different transport types require different numbers of cards for different terrain. Why clouds can’t float over everything, we can’t understand, but hey ho – that’s game mechanics.
Everyone starts in the elf capital and is trying to collect as many of their coloured pegs from each of the 20 towns as possible. A variant can be played with the included town cards that also requires them to end in a specific location, losing points dependent on how far they are away from their target – this mode is a good pick for older and more experienced players who will get close to a perfect run in standard matches.
The artwork on the map board, rulebook (which covers five languages) and cards is absolutely gorgeous, conjuring up the beautiful cartography and whimsical charm of fantasy worlds such as Middle-earth. It may look a little dated by modern standards, but it’s still a visual treat.
It’s worth noting that this version of Elfenland doesn’t include the Elfengold expansion, which complicates the mechanics by adding a gold bidding system. Elfengold and the naval-centric spin-off Elfensea can be found in the more expensive Elfenroads pack.
Although existing Ticket to Ride fans will find plenty of similarities between Elfenland and Moon’s later work, the earlier game still stands up as an incredibly fun, accessible family title. The fantasy whismy is the perfect fit for the simple but multifaceted gameplay, helped by a beautiful aesthetic. Even if you’ve been before, it’s well worth revisiting Elfenland.
Publisher: Amigo Spiel + Freizeit GmbH
Time: 60 minutes