Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

(Kosmos/Mayfair Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 2 hours; $49)


I wasn’t too enamored with Klaus Teuber’s Candamir: The First Settlers, so the release of Elasund: The First City, the second in this new series, didn’t pique my interest much. A reading of the rules, however, began to kindle a flame of interest, and my first playing ignited it. I am pleased to report that this is a very good game with a highly original feel. It has taken The Settlers of Catan franchise in a different, fresh direction.

This time, the settlers of the now famous Catan seek to construct their first city: Elasund. Players will acquire building permits to construct the various buildings, including the massive church. Planning, however, seems haphazard, as ultimately larger buildings could be constructed over smaller buildings, and most buildings are forced to give-way to the central cathedral. Of course, walls and towers are necessary to protect the town from possible hostile forces, so townsfolk must also pay attention to their construction. The player who is most successful at these tasks rises to a position of prominence in the new city … and wins the game.elasund

The large board has an overview of the site of Elasund, which is nestled against the ocean on the west. Superimposed over the town site is a 9 x 10 grid, upon which the building tiles will be placed. The playing area is reduced when playing with less than four players, which helps cause the crowding needed to insure a tense game.

Players begin the game with two buildings already in the city. These help generate income, as do many other buildings once constructed. Income is derived in a fashion similar to The Settlers of Catan, with two dice being rolled at the beginning of each player’s turn. A ship token is moved to the appropriate column, and any buildings in the column matching the dice roll will yield income in the form of gold or “influence” cards. Players will need a balance of these two resources in order to place or move building permits and construct buildings. Fortunately, there are other ways in which to secure these resources, so one’s fate is not solely dependent upon the luck of dice rolls.

What happens when that pesky, and all-too-common “7” is rolled? Instead of Robbers, this triggers the arrival of the pirates. The player who rolled the “7” can move the pirate ship two spaces, either north or south. Any player having a victory point cube resting on a building in that row must surrender one influence or gold card for each cube he possesses in that row. If the active player possesses a tower, he can take one of those discarded cards for each tower he owns. This isn’t nearly as devastating as the Robber in the original Settlers, so it is not feared as greatly.

After rolling dice and gathering resources (if any), the player has the opportunity to construct one or two buildings. Of course, gold is required to construct buildings, as are building permits. The number of permits required is listed on the building tile, and is generally greater the larger the building. The permits must be located on the physical location where the building is constructed. It is permissible to use permits of other players, but the value of your permits, which range from 1 – 4, must be greater than the value of your opponent’s permits. Further, the player must pay those players gold equal to the value of their permits used in the construction. Permits are removed and returned to their owners, and replaced by the newly constructed building.

The neutral (non-player) buildings allow the player to place one or two of his ten victory point cubes onto it. Victory goes to the player who is the first to place his ten victory point cubes, so constructing buildings is essential to this goal. Most buildings also will produce resources, based on the dice-rolling method described above.

It is important to remember that larger buildings may be constructed over smaller buildings, displacing them. This, of course, could result in the loss of victory points for the owner of that building, as the affected building is removed. It also reduces that player’s chances of receiving resources in the future. So, smaller buildings are constantly at risk of being torn down in the name of progress. Sure sounds like big-city life to me!

A player may also replace a building of the same size, a particularly insidious maneuver, but must pay three influence cards of the same color. This is one reason why influence cards are important. So, few buildings are really safe until space in the city becomes scarce.

The centerpiece of the town is, of course, the church. Players may opt to construct a section of the church for a cost of seven gold. A player places a victory point cube on each piece he constructs. The nine sections of the church are represented by tiles, which are mixed and drawn face-down from a stack. The first player to construct a section gets to peak at the top two tiles before deciding which one to place. This is important as the first tile is placed on a pre-designated location on the board. The remaining sections of the church, when constructed, must be placed in the precise order as indicated on the graphic printed on the board margin. Since the church will over-build any buildings standing in its path, this ability to place the first tile can be very important.

Several locations along the town wall are marked with a windmill symbol. When a player constructs a building that overlaps one of these “trade fields”, he may move his marker up on the trade track. When certain locations are reached on the track, the player may place a victory point cube. These spaces can only accommodate cubes from a limited number of players, so the competition to construct on these trade fields can be intense.

As opposed to buildings, players may construct sections of the wall that will ultimately surround the city. Each player has nine wall tiles, which are placed in numerical order. The benefits of constructing wall segments tend to increase, with early tiles granting influence cards, and later segments allowing the player to place victory point cubes. Further, some segments contain towers, which allow the player to confiscate resource cards from his opponents when the pirates arrive.

Wall segments constructed along the north and south sections of the town cost two gold to erect, while the more exposed east wall is more costly: 4 gold per segment. So, as in the trade field segments, there is often a race to construct these tiles and grab the inexpensive slots first.

After construction, a player may place one of his building permits onto an empty space in the column where the ship is located. If this row if filled, a space in an adjacent row can be selected. Alternatively, the player may pay 2 matching influence cards and place the permit on any vacant space of his choice. The idea here is to arrange your permits in a pattern which allows you to construct the building of your choice on a subsequent turn. Of course, permits can also be placed to block or hinder your opponents’ construction plans, or at least to profit from their construction as they are forced to pay you for using your permit. Sneaky, but clever. If a player does not wish to place a permit, or is short on cash, he may take two gold cards instead.

A player completes his turn by performing one special action. These can include moving or upgrading one of his existing permits, or placing a new one on the board. Alternatively, the player may take two gold cards. All of these actions require the expenditure of influence cards, once again highlighting their importance.

As in Candamir, the game ends the moment one player places his tenth and final victory point cube. Of course, he is victorious.

While the rules are fairly easy to grasp, there is a lot going on here. Players must carefully balance their income of gold and influence, and make proper plans as to the buildings and walls they will construct. At first, placing permits seems to be easy, but as the game progresses, the location of their placement becomes more and more critical and difficult. Often, one’s building plans are foiled by an opponent who preempts your plans by constructing a building which utilizes one or more of your permits. While this may bring in a gold card or two, it in no way compensates for the loss of a prime building location, or the victory points it would have earned.

Deciding which buildings to construct can also be tough. While the buildings aren’t as diverse as those found in Puerto Rico, their size and benefits granted are important considerations. Some reward the player with gold, others influence, and still others allow the placement of victory point cubes. Some overlap several columns, thereby increasing one’s chances of obtaining resources, while others are linear and fit snuggly in just one column. These latter buildings, however, tend to produce greater resources. Plus, one must always consider the location, and possibility of the building being mowed-over when more attractive, larger buildings are erected.

This “building-over” aspect gives the game a nasty edge. One can be in a good position, having numerous cubes and resource-producing buildings in place, only to see one or more of them bumped by an opponent who has something larger and better to offer the city planners. There is considerable jostling for position, as well as a persistent “I’ve got to get there first” feel. This makes for a tense, exciting game, wherein no lead appears to be safe. It seems that these seemingly innocuous settlers have a biting entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the typical politician’s “What’s in it for me?” attitude. While this combination might not be ideal for a peaceful village, it sure makes for an exciting and entertaining game. – Greg J. Schloesser


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Winter 2006 GA Report Articles


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