Elasund: The First City of Catan
Elasund is the newest game in the Catan Adventures line, and a great one at that. First, I want to say a few things about Settlers. I hear a lot about people complaining that it's overrated or too luck dependent; if your numbers don't roll as often as someone else, you won't stand a chance. But my problem with this argument is that the trading aspect fixes that, and is what makes this game good. If the players are paying attention, then they won't be trading with the guy who is constantly piling in the goods. In fact, if someone is far enough behind the other players should be happy to make a lopsided trade in their favor rather than a good deal with the leader. Also, the robber shouldn't be stealing from the player who has the most cards (which I see a lot of people doing, surprisingly), but from the one who is in the lead. Of course that doesn't apply if you are looking for one particular good, but anyway... No, it's not in my top 10, or even top 25, but it's still a great game if people make friendlier trades to those in the back.
Having said all of that, I don't really play Settlers much anymore. And when I do feel like playing it, I'd rather go for Settlers of the Stoneage. I have played Candamir, but it really wasn't fun. I liked the travel and encounter mechanic, but very boring and after an hour and a half, I just wanted it to be over. Pretty much the same result with the other players, too. After that I wasn't looking forward to playing Elasund until Ted had said some good things about it. Much to my surprise, it is not only a fun game, but the best of any of the Catan related games.
Yes, the dice-rolling production mechanic is still there, but in this case it is a lot more forgiving as there are only two goods (money and influence), and you have more control as to where to place your good producing buildings. The robber is still there, but the way it's designed it can't really mess with those who are way behind. There is no trading, but with only two goods it's not necessary; I didn't miss it.
Quick rundown of the gameplay:
You are building a city by placing different size tiles (1 x 1, 1 x 2, 2 x 1, 2 x 2, and 3 x 2) into a coastal town. Some buildings are just for points, while others will allow you to gather more resources. The left side of the map has the coast and rows are numbered 2 through 12. At the beginning of the turn, dice are rolled and the boat is put in that row. All buildings in the row produce their goods (either money or an influence card). Then you can build up to two times (buildings, parts of the church, and walls). After the building phase, you can either take two gold, or put a building contract in the current row that the boat is sitting -- more on the contracts later. The influence cards let you take special actions or bonuses to an action, such as letting you build over a building of the same size instead of just smaller ones, place your contract anywhere you want instead of where the dice roll, get more money, or to move/upgrade/place an extra contract at the end of your turn. Considering that, influence cards are handy, but not necessary.
To build a building (not the church or walls), you need contracts. Usually they are placed on the row that you rolled at the beginning of your turn, and they take up one square. You have five of them numbered 0 - 4, and you have to pay that number of gold when you place them; obviously the 0 is the most commonly placed contract. All buildings need at least one contract, but some need two, and even three. When you place the building you have to put it on top of the contracts used to pay the costs, and they don't necessarily have to be all your contracts, either. You just have to have the majority present where the building is placed, so if the other players have a 0 and a 1 next to each other, you can place a 2 there and build one of the big ones. The problem here is that you have to pay the other players for their contracts, and you build before you place a contract so that gives them each a turn to try to fix their position by either upgrading their contracts, or just moving them out of the way. That is, providing they have the right influence cards.
Your goal here is to place victory points (cubes) on the board as fast as possible. Some buildings have a place in the upper left corner for your cube, some pieces of the wall allow you to place cubes, and there are special squares on the board that if you build there will move up the trade track which has places for cubes as well.
Some rules that I didn't know where to fit them in... When a seven is rolled, the player may put the boat on any row, therefore allowing them to place a contract anywhere. Also, any victory cubes in the row with the boat then cause those players to discard a card. If you have a cube on the wall, you can then pull a random card out of those discarded. Another nice addition that helps the dice luck aspect is that if the boat is sitting on the row that you roll, you have to move it either two up, or two down. That stops the annoying, and sometimes painful, strings of eights when you don't have anything there.
Okay, so that was nowhere near a "quick" rundown of the game, but I have a hard time leaving out anything when it's the combination of everything here that makes me like the game so much. The probability is helped along by the added dice rolling rules. The harshness is lowered with the sevens not being so painful early on. The luck is mitigated by only having the two different resources, and only one of them is really needed, and you can get those few money cards you have been needing just by skipping the contract placement phase.
Still not in my top 10, but easily my favorite of anything Catan related. It works fine with two and three (have yet to try it with four, though) and all of my experiences have been close games to the very end. If I didn't have access to the game, it would make it on my must-buy eventually list*.
* As opposed to my must-buy now list. :-Þ