Elfengold is one of the two initial releases from Alan Moon's new company, White Wind Games. Whitewind are targetting the family and collector market in much the same way as Livingstone Games did last year - the games are limited editions, produced to a high standard and are designed by an experienced gamer. Mike Clifford covered Fishy, the other game, last issue which I too liked but I feel this is the better of the two. And being privy to some of the likely upcoming games in the Whitewind line, I think it is going to get better. We are in for some fascinating output from Alan and other designers in the next couple of years and Elfengold is an excellent introduction.
As you might imagine, Elfengold is a game with a fantasy theme. The board depicts a side-on view of a mine which is separated into low numbered areas at the top and higher at the bottom. At the top of the shaft is a hut where equipment can be purchased and at the side, joining the bottom of the mine and the hut, is a lift operated by a friendly troll.
The aim of the game is to dig for jewels, the Elfengold of the title, and thus gain gold pieces. If you dig up a jewel in the 'one' section near the top, it is worth just that in gold, if you are at the bottom, it can be worth up to eight. To dig up these jewels you can use a shovel or a pick - if you use the pick, the value of any jewel found is doubled. Why would you not use a pick all the time? Well, that relates to how the game works.
Having bought a selection of tools, the players take turns to place a number of jewels anywhere they like within the mine. One of the jewels placed has a sticker on its reverse to show that it is not a jewel but a 'rock' and it will break any tool used to dig in its area. Once all the other jewels are placed, players move their elf or 'miner' around the mine to end up in a section they feel able to dig in - usually one with a pile of jewels but sometimes just a single or two jewels of their own colour. Players then decide whether or not to dig, and with which tool. Having declared, the jewels are flipped and checked for rocks. If there aren't any in the section, the player scores the relevant value of jewels. If one is a rock, he loses his tool and scores nothing. This is repeated each turn.
The core, and main appeal, of the game is the placing of the jewels. Any effort to build up a large pile of 'eights' in your own colour is likely to attract the attention of another player who will make a swift addition to your pile. The trouble is, you have no idea whether that jewel is a rock or a genuine gem representing a double bluff. Things get even more interesting when all the elves are in the same area of the mine and able to move to any nearby pile - if you build up a valuable stack or even set a single jewel aside for later attention with a pick, you could find that another player promptly joins you and gets the same reward. The idea then is to establish 'safe' piles in one colour while spoiling, or pretending to spoil, other player's hoards with your single rock.
The game end is improved over the usual 'most cash wins'. At any time after a player has reached a rubicon of, say, 30 gold pieces, he may return to the shack and declare in an attempt to claim the win. At that point, all players still down in the mine lose gold to the value of their position (up to eight if they are in the deep section) and there is an adjustment for tools carried as well. After that, gold is totalled which means a player, even though he is trapped in an inaccessible part of the mine, can still win. This leads to much furtive checking of other players' money stacks and movements and some shrewd guesswork on when it is best to make the break.
Your play options are therefore to go deep into the mine to grab the valuable jewels or stay near the less profitable mine entrance to be in good position to replace broken tools or claim a quick win - you are more likely to be unbtroubled by rocks here as well. Add to this the kicker of the troll's lift which lets you out of the very deepest mineshaft for a mere piece of gold and you already have an interesting tactical decision to make. The other main decision is whether to go in lightly loaded or looking like a high level D&D fighter with a rack of weaponry. Tools are relatively cheap (though picks are more expensive) but they slow you down and if you choose to carry a lot, you'd better make sure you go deep and don't come up till near the end with your pockets bulging. I have seen players use both techniques to win the game so, again, this is well balanced.
I suspect the main drawback for British buyers will be the high price of Elfengold which is unlikely to be below £25 and only a little less if ordered direct. As with many imports, I really can't say it is worth that, but we have come to expect to pay a lot for these European limited run games and at least with Elfengold I doubt you will be disappointed with its play value and component quality. Whitewind have standardised on a light blue bookshelf box design that will be repeated throughout the series, so they are going to look impressive on the shelf. The board is an unusual piece of artwork by Doris of Dicke Kartoffeln fame and I think it is striking and original, but others have said it looks a little childish. Each to their own. The tools are moulded plastic (the game was invented around the miniature shovels concept) and the 'jewels' are the usual German polished wood disks. The only disappointment is the money, which consists of three sizes of yellow plastic tiddley winks. Not great, but otherwise rather nice.
As is now usual for this type of game, I offer the caveat that Elfengold is a lightweight, family game and isn't going to stretch your brain much, but in its field it is a class act. At Christmas, three non-gamers (including a twelve year old) insisted on playing over and over and I can see why; it has a clever, accessible and consistent theme, looks impressive and offers a surprising number of play options that are both quickly learned and yet quite challenging when replayed. Most importantly, it is a lot of fun thanks to the constant interaction involved in bluffing and stuffing your neighbours. In an issue where we are already looking at a whole string of favourable reviews, this is yet another and Elfengold slips in right at the finish to become my favourite family game of the year. Excellent stuff.
On to the review of History of the World or back to the review of Silverton.
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