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Glen More

[I first played this game at The Gathering of Friends and liked it enough to make this review number 677! – – – – – – – Herb Levy]

(Alea/Rio Grande Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, about 60 minutes; about $35)

 

Reviewed by Herb Levy

The bonnie green fields of Scotland provide the color of the box and the setting for the game of Glen More, the new small box game from Alea (and Rio Grande Games).

glenmoreboxGlen More, designed by Matthias Cramer, consists of 72 tiles, a game board/track with a market in the center, 13 cards (for “Special Places”), whiskey barrels, a variety of resources represented by cubes (white for sheep, brown for cattle, green for wood, gray for stone and yellow for grain), five player tokens and a goodly supply of black meeples (known as “clansmen”), money and Victory Point tokens.

The backs of the tiles display a number from 0 to 3. They are separated into their respective groupings and stacked, number side up, accordingly. Each player receives a starting tile (a village, aka “Dorf” ) and places a clansman on it. He also receives six coins as starting capital. Starting with the youngest player, everyone places his player token on the board’s track, each subsequent token placed behind that of the previous player. Now, the entire track is filled with tiles starting with the tiles from the 0 stack. (With less than five players, one tile from the 1 stack will be used although it should be noted that there is ALWAYS one empty space behind the last player on the track.) Placed tiles are always placed face up so all players know what they represent.

Tiles are at the core of the game as they expand your starting position to create your “kingdom”. Tiles come in a variety of colors (for easy differentiation) and do a variety of things. Some tiles produce resources; some allow you to use those resources (such as converting cattle into Victory Points or turning grain into those whiskey barrels). Some tiles give you extra clansmen to add to your array. Other tiles are “specials” which come with a Special Card granting you an immediate boon (such as “caps” which add to your military might) and award you Victory Points at the various scorings. Many tiles are free but some cost resources to claim. So, how do you claim them?

The player farthest behind on the track starts the turn. That player may now advance his token as far ahead as he wants, passing tiles along the way, until finally stopping on the tile he wishes to claim. Once claimed, the tile must be placed in that player’s array immediately but placing tiles can be a little tricky.

Starting villages of each player are the only tiles with both a river (running North and South) AND a road (running East and West). The other tiles in the game may have a river or road or neither on them. Placed tiles MUST match river to river or road to road or nothing to nothing for a legal placement. To make matters more challenging, there is another requirement. As mentioned, all players start with a clansman on their village and additional clansmen may appear through claimed tiles. Placed tiles MUST be adjacent to at least one of a player’s clansman. Placing tiles bring rewards too.

glenmorepcsWhen a tile is placed, it is activated at once. It also activates ALL tiles adjacent to it. So, for example, if a placed tile that produces grain is placed next to a tile capable of producing wood, then that player receives a yellow grain cube (placed on the grain-producing tile) AND a green wood cube (placed on the wood producing tile). But you don’t just get resources. Activating a tile with a clansman icon will give you a movement point to use. Clansmen may be moved to adjacent tiles by using these movement points, crucial in positioning so that future tiles can be placed. A movement point can also be used to remove a clansman from the board, promoting him to “chieftain”. Chieftains will not help you place tiles (as they are off the board and cannot return) but they are another category of scoring (military strength) and are potentially worth Victory Points. Multiple adjacent placements can generate lots of resources and, in turn, Victory Points. (However, tiles are limited to a maximum of 3 cubes each so it is not only important to generate resources but to also use them to make room for more resources to appear.)

Another consideration is the marketplace. The five resources in the game (grain, wood, cattle, sheep and stone) may be purchased if needed. The first one to be purchased costs 1 coin, the next 2 and the third 3. Spent coins are placed on the respective spaces. Once done, players who have these resources may then sell them (they go back into supply) and collect the money in the marketplace (in reverse order, 3 to 2 to 1). This is clever way to generate some income (money is worth VPs at game’s end) on the one hand and to acquire needed and elusive resources on the other.

As tiles are claimed, they are replaced on the board. This continues until stack number 1 is depleted. That triggers the first of three scorings. After the last tiles in stacks 1 and 2 are placed, players score for whiskey barrels, chieftains (and caps) and Special Cards held. In all cases, a player’s total is compared to that of the player having the LEAST. So, for example, if player A has four whiskey barrels, player B has two and player C has none, A will score 4 points while B will score 2. Player C, with the lowest amount, will score nothing in that category.

When the last tile from the 3 stack is placed, final scoring occurs. Whiskey barrels, chieftains (and caps) and Special Cards are scored again. Now coins, valued at 1 Victory Point each, are added to your score. But there is a final calculation. Players count up the number of tiles in their array. For every tile in your array MORE than the tiles placed by the player who has the fewest in his array, you LOSE 3 Victory Points! This is a considerable penalty – and a great balancing mechanism – to severely dampen a player’s enthusiasm for hanging back and scooping up bunches of tiles. Immediate rewards can prove costly in the long run. The player with the highest adjusted total of VPs wins!

Although listed for five, Glen More plays better with four or even three. With five, too many tiles get taken between turns, leaving you constantly scrambling for alternative moves. Scrambling still happens with four or three but to a lesser – and less frustrating – extent. While the game fits into its small box, the result is tiles with smaller than necessary text on them. Larger tiles would have been nicer to make tile text more readable and give the game a boost in tactile satisfaction

Glen More incorporates the turn movement determination of Thebes (Fall 2007 GA Report) with the tile construction layout of Alhambra (Summer 2003 GA Report) but adds the twist of position/activation giving the game its own character. Activation can be tricky, though. You tend to think that you’ll be able to generate points by activating and re-activating a particular tile. But since tiles are only activated when other tiles are placed adjacent to them, activation ability is limited! This yin-yang balance works exceedingly well. This also obscures who is, actually, winning. Initial bursts of Victory Points can often be blunted by these limits, giving other players the opportunity to catch up and overtake the perceived leader.

You won’t be able to do everything. Array positioning as well as the goals of other players (as they lay claim to tiles of interest to you) will prevent that. As a result, it is tempting to go with a strategy of domination in a particular scoring category (such as barrels of whiskey or chieftains). But the benefit of domination is tempered. Dominate a category by 5 and you will score 8 Victory Points. Dominate a category by 10 and you’ll STILL get the same 8 VPs! Like it or not, you need to diversify a little so that VPs come from several different areas. That is the road to success.

Glen More may not set the gaming world on fire but it does successfully combine several different elements to create something a little different but a lot entertaining, well worthy of your gaming time, a pleasing game that always leaves you wanting just a little bit (Glen) more.

 


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