Short Review - Elasund: The First City of Catan

A game by the designer Klaus Teuber of Settlers of Catan fame but a game with a very different feel.

What led us to get the game?

Elasund: The First City of Catan - The box artwork
Settlers of Catan, designed by Klaus Teuber, and winner of the Spiel des Jahres was the first euro game we bought as a couple. We knew very little about games at the time and it was too early for it to have garnered the reputation it would go onto achieve as the classic gateway game; it is so long ago that I cannot remember where we bought it or even what led us to buy it. What I do know is that we have had a lot of fun with it playing with friends and family over the years and the birth of the first cloned sheep in 1996 (named Dolly) coinciding with a particular game where one of our godsons produced absolutely HUGE numbers of sheep has meant that for us the sheep will always be Dollies!
Elasund: The First City of Catan - Some of the larger neutral buildings
Elasund is designed by Klaus Teuber and subtitled the First City of Catan being just one of the games and franchise opportunities spawned following the success of Settlers of Catan. With its heritage and being a tile laying building game (a type of game I really like) it was perhaps not surprising that this game would appear on my wish list. My limited investigations indicated that it offered a similar mechanism to its parent and so was likely to have a similar universal appeal, thus when it appeared on ebay and I put in a bid and on this occasion won. 

Initial Impressions

Thoughts on the rules components and the initial impact

When we opened the box and started checking through the components I was impressed with the quality. The buildings where on very sturdy card with nice artwork, the board was on similarly high quality board and again colourful with one side representing the coast line and the other three green fields surrounding the muddy site of the future city – divided into a grid of 90 squares and 26 wall spaces.
Elasund: The First City of Catan - The board
The rules seemed straightforward enough, like Catan each player begins with 2 starter buildings in place.

A player’s turn begins with a roll of two dice (a 7 moves the Pirate ship, functionally similar to the Robber in Catan) to decide which row and therefore which building will generate resources (in this game they are either Influence cards or Gold cards), secondly they have the opportunity to build (building tiles come in 3 types - those that generate influence or gold and cover between 1and 6 squares, segments of the city wall or part a very large church that is built in 9 stages, thirdly they can place building permits (each player had 5 of these and largely your buildings can only be built where you have permits) and finally take one special action.
Elasund: The First City of Catan - A set of players tokens and tiles
The winner is the first player to have their 10 victory cubes on the board. Victory cubes being placed when tiles are places on the board and when these are placed on Trade Fields (spaces on the board with the windmill symbol).
Elasund: The First City of Catan - Some of the Windmills along the coast
So a nice package and it was all looking good but then…..

Thoughts on Playing the Game

What worked and what didn’t

Our first game (a 2 player) started well enough but then nothing seemed to happen to light our fire. Were in Settlers you have to trade with each other Elasund has no such mechanism and so you are left with less player interaction and a sense, mistaken, of a pedestrian game. I guess at this stage if we had fewer games then it might have got a better reception but I couldn’t help thinking I would rather be playing Castle For All Seasons or Alhambra, both of which have the building dimension, albeit in very different ways. The game eventually ended leaving us feeling a bit flat.
Elasund: The First City of Catan - Some of the artwork on the game board
To my surprise Gwen suggested a second and then third game to try and work out what was missing. Plus I looked a little more closely at the review of the game on board game geek. These revealed a game that could turn evil and was quiet clearly not to everyone’s tastes.

Our subsequent games did indeed turn more aggressive with more direct confrontation an aspect of games play that I prefer to avoid and definitely in two player games. This most obviously occurred in our third game when I was sitting with 8 cubes on the board (2 points away from meeting the victory conditions) and Gwen was at 6. In the space of one go she overbuilt one of my buildings thereby lifting her total from 6 to 9 and propelling me back down to 6; not surprisingly on the next go she won.
Elasund: The First City of Catan - Some of the artwork on the game board
The issue as I see it is that we like games were you plan, you build and if you get it right you win (ignoring the games which have a high luck factor but are just plain fun). In this instance I was doing everything right when Gwen launched a quiet legitimate overbuilding of my buildings which I had no defence against and an action that she was in no way required to recompense me for my loss. This seems to us to leave the game unnecessarily aggressive and unbalanced for what one might expect to be a eurogame.

What do we think / who will it work for?

Will we play it regularly and who would get the most from the game

This for us is a game we are unlikely to return to and we suspect that many that buy it thinking of the connections with Settlers and Klaus will be left similarly disappointed by dint of the underlying aggressiveness of the game lack.
Elasund: The First City of Catan - The tiles that make up the church

As we finished our last game we jotted down some ideas on how we might mitigate some of what we saw as the negative aspects of the game:

1. Concerning the size of the playing area:

a. Use the 3 player boundary when playing with 2 players

b. Use the 4 player boundary with 3 players

c. Don’t play it with 4 players.

2. If you overbuild a neutral building you need to recompense the player for the cost of the building in the same way that you have to recompense them for a building permit.

3. When the pirates strike:
Elasund: The First City of Catan - The pirate ship and dice
a. The pirate should allow the active player to steal one card at random from a player who controls buildings on the row the pirate ship is moved to, a la Settlers of Catan.


b. Rather than possession of a tower enabling you to take one of the discarded cards it should protect a victory point i.e. defend against the need to discard gold or influence cards. The logic being that towers are built for defensive (not offensive) reasons so should have a defensive benefit within the game play as well as the Victory cube. Or;

Elasund: The First City of Catan - Some of the artwork on the game boardMaybe this is a Eurogame for Ameritrash players!

More seriously given its simple game play and similarity to the rules found in Settlers of Catan it should work for social gamers who have enjoyed Settlers of Catan but feel nervous of the potential complexity to be found in taking on a new game and so prefer to stick with something familiar. However, whilst it is not as aggressive as some games it has a mechanism that is likely to reward a more directly confrontational approach and this may well lead to an unsatisfactory gaming experience for many and particularly those looking for a Eurogame.

If you liked this review then other games I have reviewed can be seen here

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