Matthias Cramer

Alea 2010

No. of Players:
2 - 5



The Scottish Highlands with their clans, whiskey and sheep always have been a recurring backdrop for interesting boardgames, and this year Matthias Cramer has joined ALEA to invite us for yet another trip to Scotland.

His new game Glen More puts the players into the position of clan-chiefs who try to enlarge their fiefdoms through the clever acquiring of new villages, resource sites, distilleries and special places, but it should already be said at this early stage that it is not the sheer number of acquired area tiles which decides about victory. Quite the opposite, the players need to generate victory points through the use of their area tiles, and it will be the player with the most cost-effective usage of his tiles who wins the game.

At the beginning, each player starts with a meagre fiefdom containing just one village tile on which a clan member is placed. In addition, the players get 6 coins for their treasury, but all other areas and resources must be acquired through the course of the game. For this reason everybody keeps focused on the central display in the middle of the gaming table, since here the available new area tiles can be purchased, and furthermore the market for resources also is located on this board.

Matthias Cramer claims that he has found a novel mechanism for the acquiring of area tiles, since the available tiles are laid out on a round track on the central display. Each of the players has a figure on this round track, and it is always the last player on the track who is allowed to move his figure forwards as far as he desires until the figure reaches a space with an area tile which the player wishes to purchase. This mechanism requires that the track of area tiles always has an open gap after the last player, since the furthest possibility to move forwards on the track is right to the first position before the gap. After a movement has been made, the gameboard will be adjusted according to the new last player, so that the gap in the track now is right behind the new last player. This may result in the removal of several area tiles left at the end of the track, while at the same time new tiles may be placed from the semi-sorted tile deck at the beginning of the track.


However, in most cases a far jump is not very wise, because all other players then will have time to acquire more than one area tile, since they are not required to move past the leading player as long as there are available area tiles on the track behind the leader on the track. To add a new area tile to their fiefdoms, the players do not only move forwards to a desired area tile, but the cost printed on the area tile also must be paid for by the player. Five different kinds of resources exist in the game (wood, stone, grain, cattle and sheep), and each area tile shows a certain amount of resources which must be paid so that the player can add the tile to his fief.

Resources can be generated by the activation of area tiles showing resource sites, but another possibility to acquire resources is the central market. The market rules are quite simple, but Matthias Cramer has found a quite elegant mechanism which partly reflects a system of offers and demands. So, during his turn a player can purchase needed resources from the market, but the price and availability of a resource depends on the fact how many times that resource already was bought. So, if no one sells that specific resource to the market, it can only be purchased for a total of three times (at a rising price). The player who buys a resource places the purchase price for the resource on the matching resource space of the central board, and if all three spaces of a specific resource have been filled with money the resource cannot be purchased any more. However, there is also a corresponding possibility to sell resources, and here the players are allowed to sell resources if there is money available on a matching resource space. Thus, a seller simply takes the money from a matching resource space and hands his resource back to the bank, but if no money is on the track of a specific resource it cannot be sold.

But now let's turn to the centrepiece of the game - the placement and activation of new area tiles. This mechanism is quite tricky, since the players have to observe certain placement rules if they want to add a newly acquired tile to their fiefdom. Thus, a new tile only may be placed on a space horizontally of vertically adjacent to an area tile with a clan member (remember, everybody starts with one village tile with a clan member on it), and furthermore landmarks like the river or the road need to be observed so that a new tile only may be placed at a fitting position. After making a placement, the new area tile will bring its owner an instant, one-time benefit, and in addition the regular ability of all surrounding tiles will be triggered as well. Thus, all adjacent production sites will produce a unit of its resource (cattle, stone etc), distilleries will allow the exchange of grain for whiskey, and communal buildings will allow the exchange of resources for victory points.

Villages and castles bring their owner an additional clan member upon placement, and each activation of such an area tile allows its owner to move one of his clan members one step to a neighbouring area. Clan members can be left in a player's fief (i.e. on his area tiles) in order to allow the player to make further placements of new area tiles, or they can be removed from the fief and placed in front of their owner to become chieftains. Special places like Lochs or castles offer an even wider range of special powers to their owners, ranging from additional victory points at the end of the game for the possession of certain resource sites over a special activation right to instant productions of resources or whiskey.

[IMAGE]A major part of the victory points of the players can be acquired in the three scorings during the game. The scorings will be triggered whenever a certain part of the deck of area tiles is used up, and the scoring will be evaluated before the game continues with the revealing of new area tiles from the next part of the deck. Now the players have to compare their current possessions in terms of chieftains, whiskey and special places, and the players will receive victory points in each of these categories according to the amount by which they were able to outclass the players with fewest possessions in each category. A bigger difference here will generate more victory points.

The game ends after the third evaluation, and now the players will be allowed to add some final victory points triggered by some special places and for their remaining coins, but there will also be a penalty for the players with the largest fiefs! Thus, in contrast to the three evaluations, the players now will look towards the player with fewest area tiles in his fief, and all other players will be penalized with a loss of three victory points for the possession of each area tile above the number of tiles owned by the player with the smallest fiefdom (i.e. fewest area tiles).

This last part of the rules seems to be disturbing for players with a liking for building-games, since it is in contrast with all other actions happening during the course of the game. The evaluations will create victory points for the players with most chieftains etc, but now, at the end of the game, the situation is turned by penalizing all players who have used their riches to enlarge their fiefs to maximum extent. However, especially new players of Glen More should keep in mind that it is not a game where sheer size matters, but as indicated at the beginning of this review, the players should aim for a cost-effective use of their area tiles. Thus, Glen More puts a much stronger emphasis on the creation of economically sensible production chains, and here the playing mechanism is quite challenging because production is part of a multi-dimensional decision-making process which requires the players to observe questions of tile placement and the positioning of their clan members. Playtesting revealed that huge fiefs become rather cumbersome to manage, and so the penalty for large fiefs at the end of the game nicely reflects the effect that a large kingdom makes it very difficult for a leader to extend his rule into the furthest corners of his kingdom.

As it is common with many ALEA-games, Glen More plays rather smoothly and poses an interesting strategic challenge for the players. It might be mentioned here that the idea of the "last player acts" mechanism which was implemented by Matthias Cramer is not as new as he claims, since a partly similar form of this mechanism can be found for example in Jenseits von Theben by QUEEN GAMES. In that game the players chose they actions on a basis of time consumption, and it was always the player who was last on the time track who was allowed to act. Nonetheless, Glen More presents this mechanism from a somewhat different angle, and together with all other elements like the market and the tile placement rules the game offers a much wider gaming experience than Jenseits von Theben.

As a matter of fact, it seems like Glen More would have deserved to be published in a big-size ALEA box, and because of the game's significant playing mechanism ALEA would have done well to invest in somewhat more attractive playing materials. The differently-coloured wooden resource cubes and also the comparatively small area tiles all might lead to an underrating of Glen More, and this seems to be a pity because the game would have deserved a much nicer equipment to increase its replay value even further. ALEA and RAVENSBURGER should have both the experience and means to equip an outstanding game with nice materials when the mechanism is as captivating as it is in Glen More!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany