I finally got a couple of games of this in last night! My voice is still weak and it’s a struggle for me to talk much, but I can power through a game explanation. So I gathered two of my experienced boardgamer friends for this three-player game. Each game took, say, an hour and a half. I think we all agree that the Tunit – the historical losers – have a huge early game advantage with their starting colony in Vinland for plentiful energy, the daughter who makes it free to appoint elders, and a tracker who lets them hunt cold biomes as if they were warm. It seems like the Tunit are awfully comfortable while the Norse and Thule really struggle to get going. It’s very thematic, since the Tunit are precursors who’ve been here all along while the Norse and Thule are recent arrivals. But is it fair? It’s worth noting the Tunit didn’t win any of our games. :)
We had very little intermarriage, which was surprising to me. We were leaving hugely powerful ingame bonuses literally sitting on the table! I think we were reluctant to negotiate with each other. We were similarly reluctant to fight too much, but that’s normal as you’re learning any game. Plus, in a three-player game, there’s the perception that two players fighting only helps the third player. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but we did get wise to some tricks that aren’t immediately apparent. For instance, having a war chief when you’re the first player means you can designate someone else the first player. By the time we were done, a first player with a war chief was routinely letting someone else go first so he could undercut whatever hunting that person was trying to do, particularly when that person’s war chief was dead so his hunters couldn’t fight back.
We had one absolutely brutal session in which the Ice Age kicked the table’s ass, plunging everything into dibilitating cold and reducing Greenland itself from 12 biomes to three biomes by the time the game was over! Ouch. There was nothing to eat. We had turns where hunters were basically sitting around waiting to be decimated by disease. By the time that game was over, two of us were all flooding into the New World, trying to stay alive against the Beothuk natives. We were barely able to fight each other because we kept losing our war chief elders. The third player decided it was better to keep his few remaining hunters allive at home rather than risk losing them to the hostile Beothuk.
That game was also interesting because one of my friends was running away with the scoring. As the Norse, he had managed to domesticate Orcas (!) early on, and all told, he was sitting on about 25 victory points worth of trophies (BTW, this is a key part of why Greenland had shrunk; taking trophies seriously depletes the board!). He and I were squaring off for a polytheism/monotheism battle, where it was clear I was gearing up to flip to monotheism, at which point I would send an emissary to try to convert him to monotheism. This would have meant he lost all his trophy victory points, because only polytheists get victory points for trophies. Monotheists get victory points for amassing wealth and I had set up a colony on Vinland that was giving me a stready income of iron. Furthermore, I was trying to build up my literacy to convert him, because the roll for conversion uses a number of dice equal to your literacy. I had even married Birgitte, his Norse daughter who adds two points to your literacy.
Unfortunately, I lost my bishop on the last turn to an event (!) and was unable to make the conversion roll. That’s what I get for waiting until the last moment. But by that time, Greenland was a tiny frigid blasted wasteland and I had enough colonists in the New World at Vinland, and enough iron stored up, that I blew past the points he scored with his trophies.
After that game, my Norse playing friend observed that he thinks it’s a problem that you start with a lot of options and the number of options goes down as the game progresses. On your first turn, all your elders are alive and Greenland is a sprawl of 12 biomes, all ready to be exploited by your handful of hearty hunters. Eventually, the biomes go away or turn cold and inhospitable. Your elders die out. You struggle for energy. You don’t have enough hunters to roll the numbers you need. He contrasted the structure to Civilization, where you start with a settler and end with an empire, going from few options to lots of options. It’s a fair observation, but I think it’s an intentional part of the design, and furthermore, we had just played a worst-case scenario where Greenland had been utterly destroyed. But I do feel that’s a point of the game. You’re trying to survive in a time of ecological collapse. Dominant Species’ ecological collapse is less brutal, because the idea is that your species is evolving and adapting, not so much that it’s getting wiped out. Greenland is more akin to Navajo Wars in terms of how it beats you down. You just have to hope it beats down the other guys even more, and where possible, you have to exploit that.
Anyway, I ended up enjoying the game every bit as much as I expected. Unfortunately, I don’t think either of my friends was particularly fond of it. It can be a discouraging game. I think the main thing I learned is to brace a new player for that element of the game. This certainly isn’t one of those build-up-a-glorious-empire games.