Dave and Sam arrived to join Rich for games. And that game tonight was
Elasund: The First City (of Catan). We had just finished the rules
explanation and a few turns when Sheryl arrived. As we were not that deep
into the current game, it was agreed to end the current game and start over
with a quick rules explanation for Sheryl.
Elasund is the latest in the Catan franchise. But the only similarity to
the base Settlers of Catan is the use of dice to generate resources and then
using those resources to make production buildings that should generate more
resources. The winner is the first to achieve 10 victory points. Notably
absent is the trading between players. So what does Elasund offer?
Elasund is a city set on a 10 by X grid. (10 for each of the numbers
2-6,8-12 that might be rolled on 2 dice, as in Settlers, 7's do "bad"
things). The width X varies by the number of players - smaller for 2
players, larger for 3, and a bit larger again for 4P. The board has a pair
of nice "city gates" that are placed on the board to show this limit.
Players seek to develop buildings on the city plot. There are a variety of
buildings - each producing some combination of gold, influence, and victory
Gold and influence are the only 2 resources produced in the game, although
influence does come in 3 colours. But as influence cards are drawn from a
face-down deck, one does not really control what colour one receives.
Influence is then played in various combinations (a pair or triplet of the
same colour, or 1 of each colour) to enable certain actions. Gold is used
to pay for buildings.
Unlike the other versions of settlers, a building is not permanent. It can
be removed from the game by building another building on top of it. So
instead of a trading game where there is some mutual cooperation between
players to get towards 10 VPs, here we have a game with a bit more
confrontation. But the ability to build (or overbuild) is not that easy.
More than just gold is needed to produce a building. The other requirement
is the necessary building permits.
Each player has a set of building permits valued 0~4. Building can only be
built if the appropriate number of building permits required for that
building are in the "footprint" of the new building. A single player does
not need to provide all the necessary permits. So if blue had permits worth
2 and 1 in a footprint; while red had a permit worth 4, red would win the
right to build (using blue's permits) as red had the highest total value of
permits. So quite a bit of strategy centers around the placement of permits
(and possibly moving them or upgrading them as necessary).
But there are parts of the game that show the Catan roots. On each players
turn, 2 dice are rolled and a trading ship is moved to the matching row on
along the city. Any buildings in that row now generate gold or influence
for their owner. One nice twist is that if the same number is rolled twice
in a row, the ship doesn't stay in that row generating, but must move 2 rows
up or down. Therefore, each production phase should be different. The ship
placement also impacts the building permit placement as players can only
place permits for free along the same row as the ship. Players do have the
option of spending resources (influence) to play a permit elsewhere, so one
is not completely dependant on the luck of the die for permit placement.
Again, rolling a "7" does "bad" things. In Elasund, the ship now represents
pirates. The ship is moved (and again, the ship must move) to a new row and
any player with victory points in that row now loses 1 resource (their
choice). Unlike, Settlers, there is no hand limit in Elasund, so the impact
of the pirates is not as severe as losing half your cards.
Finally, in addition to the production buildings, there are other ways to
generate victory points. The first is the "trading" track. Certain spots
on the board are worth trading points. As one builds on these spaces, one
gains trading points which turn into victory points at certain points along
the track. For example 1 VP after 3 trading points, another after 5 and so
on. However, with the ability to overbuild, building on the spots are not
safe, so players are at risk not only for losing the victory points for the
buildings in the city, but also for the points along the trading track.
This does result in much more back/forth movement of victory points as the
But there are 2 ways to gain permanent victory points. The first is to help
with the construction of a city wall around the city. Each player will have
9 wall tiles that can be built. The 3rd, 6th, and 9th tile are worth 1 VP
that cannot be lost. While building the wall does not require building
permits, it does require gold - so can be an expensive way to gain victory
points and needs a steady stream of gold to support. But towers also have
one additional benefit - when the pirates strick, the player rolling the "7"
can claim 1 discarded card for each of the towers built in the walls. This
is the only way cards move from one player to another in the game. The
final way to gain victory points is to help build the church. The church is
a 9 tile building that will be built 1 tile at a time in random order.
While the foundation (starting space) of the church is indicated on the
board - the exact location will vary each game depending on which tile of
the 9 occupies that space. If the first church tile played is the lower
left corner, the resulting church will be built up and to the right. On the
other hand, if the first church tile played is the upper right corner, the
resulting church will be built down and to the left. The player choosing to
build the first church tile does get the advantage of looking at the first
two tiles in the draw pile and deciding which to use - so has a modest
influence on the eventual church development.
With the rules explanation underway, we launched into our game and
immediately saw that one issue I have with Catan came up again in Elasund.
The first 6 rolls of the die hit only resources for Sam and Cheryl or a
blank row wherein no one got resources. Therefore, they had nice hands of
influence and gold with Dave and Rich were stuck with their initial
resources. Over the course of the game, the number of rolls might even out.
Sam seemed to want to have a diversity of resources, so held onto his
resources a bit longer than others as Cheryl, Rich, and Dave were the first
to build as shopkeepers came out to help with resource generation. Dave and
Rich capitalized on the low cost of building the side walls of the city and
each managed to get a tower built for some initial victory points. Sheryl
soon moved in developing a marketstand for trading points and victory
points. Also, players initial worker huts were overbuilt (but as these are
semi-permanent buildings - they get to be rebuilt immediately for free.)
Early in the game, we see the victory points at 3 for Rich (2 towers,
tavern), Sam (tavern, church, tower), and Sheryl (market, tower, trading
track) while Dave is right behind at 2 (merchant, tower).
Dave and Sheryl had building permits next to Rich's tavern so were
threatening to overbuild it. But Dave uses his building permit to build
shopkeepers, leaving only 1 permit. Rich decides that he needs to place one
of his permits adjacent to Sheryl's to defend against the overbuild, but the
ship doesn't land in the correct row and Rich has insufficient influence to
place his permit anywhere on the board. In the struggle for the Tavern, it
was interesting to see how the permits developed. Rich had tried to defend
his tavern, but there were actually 3 permits around the tavern - enough to
satisfy the footprint of one of the larger 6 block buildings. So one needs
to be careful that placing permits in one region allows another footprint to
open up for a different style of building. While it would have been
expensive to build using Rich's permits - the option still existed. To
avoid this - Rich built on his permits to remove them from the board.
Surprisingly, we didn't see the pirates (rolls of 7) that many times in the
game. I think a total of 4 or 5 times - which seems a bit lower than the
odds would suggest. But as the game progressed, the wall was completed with
Rich and Sheryl at 2 towers each. Dave and Sam at 1 tower each. Buildings
kept getting developed. Sam had an opportunity to build a marketplace (3
square building) near a couple of trading point spaces along the wall - this
would have given him 4 trading points (worth 2 VPs) in addition to the 1 VP
for the marketplace itself...but Sam hadn't been considering the opportunity
until it was mentioned after he had built another building using his
permits. Dave did manage to get up to 6 VPs, but found himself moving
backward as Sam's building removed Dave's VP and moved Dave down the trading
In the end, Sam had a double build of a tavern (+1 VP) in addition to a well
(+1 VP) netting some trading points (+1 VP) to have 10 VPs on the board and
the game win. Looking at the scores we find:
Rich: 4 VPs
Dave: 5 VPs
Sheryl: 6 VPs
Sam: 10 VPs
My personal reaction - I thought the game was just OK. Yes, I played poorly
(notice the VPs), but I didn't place enough emphasize on the trading point
track so was behind the others in gaining those VPs. I also probably
invested too much into the wall rather than trying to emphasizing the
buildings. My second wall tower cost netted a VP, but only after building 2
other wall segments - so the cost per VP is rather high (8~12 gold depending
how many segments are built on the side walls) compared to the cost of
gaining a VP from the church (7 gold per VP).
I also noticed we didn't really move the building permits around on the
board once placed. But as we were all newcomers to the game, I suspect we
didn't quite gel on some of the defensive and offensive strategies for
buildings and permit placement. There were some good placements - but
suspect much more can be done with experience.
So why do I have the reaction that I do. I do like the planning ahead to
see where buildings might be placed. I do like the fact that one can try to
interfere with anothers plans by placing permits next to their building to
threaten their advancement or to make them pay a bit more to accomplish
their plans - slowing down a bit of their momentum. But I do have one
concern - game length. Our play lasted pretty late (about 2 hours), but I
am tempted to explain that as newcomer inexperience trying to think about
the options on a turn. Another factor is that the turn sequence is a bit
awkward and we were constantly checking the player aides as we played to
make sure we stepped through a turn in proper order.
As I thought about the game, I came to a very interesting chain of
thought....Compared to base Catan, I prefer this game. I feel there are a
few more options to work around bad production rolls. In addition, one can
move one's buildings to some extent in the city (overbuild them) to try to
adjust resource generation to dice rolls. But if I were interested in a
resource development, building game, Antike is the game that I would prefer
over Elasund. Antike plays quicker, is a bit more streamlined in its turn
progression. And my ratings do place Antike over Elasund over Settlers.
Interesting food for thought.
I certainly wouldn't avoid this game in the future and would like another
opportunity to try out a few different strategies, but suspect it will be
awhile before this one hits the table again.
Until next week,