At one point in time, three tribes have settled in Greenland, the Thule, the Tunit and the Norsemen. They all have different ways of dealing with the harsh conditions in this barren land. However, they do have one thing in common: they want to live. They want to survive at any cost, but is there enough food for three tribes?
What do you get for your money?
You get 54 population cubes, 3 large population cubes, 24 orange disks (energy), 12 white disks (ivory), 12 black disks (iron), 16 event cards, 14 North Greenland biome cards, 15 South Greenland biome cards,, 2 New World cards, 3 Elder cards, 8 Daughter cards, 2 Norse domestic animal cards, 6 six-sided dice and the rules.
How do you play the game?
In a game of Greenland player represent three tribes, the Norse, the Tunit and the Thule tribe. These tribes are fighting (each other) to survive. They send out hunters to gather food and energy for their people and their livestock. While the climate in Greenland is cooling, competition between the tribes is getting fiercer and one day tribes might get wiped out.
That basically the setting of the game. You are a tribe and you are trying to survive the harsh conditions of Greenland between the 11th and the 15th century. Now on to the rules and mechanisms themselves.
This is not a run through, I’ll just give you an idea of the gameplay.
Players start the game as one of the three tribes. A tribe has an elder card with six types of elders. These elders give you certain abilities. A tribe also has three daughters or, if you are the Norse tribe, you have two daughters and a Norse domestic animal.
Daughters also give you special abilities. Animals give you food, so you can feed a bigger tribe and raise more children. Elder and daughter abilities are different for every tribe. The difference between elders and daughters is that daughters always give you an ability, but elders only give you their ability when you assigned one of your tribesmen to be a specific elder. You start the game with six elders (small cubes assigned to be an elder), 5 hunters (small cubes) and one big cubes (the Alpha, which can be used as a certain roll of a one). The rest of the cubes go into the Valhalla.
Every turn start with an event and sometimes an auction. The event is mostly bad news for the tribes. Tribesmen die because of disease, overpopulation or bad weather. Local animals, and potential food sources, migrate away and Greenland might cool down, making it harder to hunt and live there. Sometimes an event card depicts an imported object and then, after the event, players can bid to acquire that object, which gives a special ability.
Then players, in player order, assign one or more hunters to hunt a biome in North or South Greenland, to become new elders, to raid daughters or livestock from other tribes or to colonize the new world.
The next phase of a round is the Negotiation and Attack phase. During this phase, you negotiate with players that placed cubes on the same card as you have or have cubes on your cards or you have cubes on their cards. You can offer to leave or ask them to leave and you can pay with objects, livestock, energy or ivory and iron. Or maybe you offer them to marry one of your daughters, which makes that special ability available to them.
If player aren’t susceptible for bribery, you can also attack them. You then roll as many dice as your cubes on that card for success and remove the cubes that you’ve killed from the card. Some special abilities might modify your dice roll.
After this phase, every player rolls for hunt. The player with the least amount of hunter cubes on a biome rolls first and when a player succeeds, by rolling the necessary ones or twos, she can take the reward, mostly extra cubes, energy, ivory or iron. However sometimes, if rolled the right numbers, you can take cards into you hand and use them later as domestic animals, inventions (both giving you extras) or for victory points. For instance, the gyrfalcon gives you ivory when you roll a one or two, but you can take it in your hand when you roll two identical numbers. Later you can then place it into you tableau to use the falcon as a domestic animal. It gives you two points and helps you, by giving the option to re-roll fives when you hunt on land, with the hunt on land animals.
Hunting is dangerous, so sometimes your hunter might die when you roll the wrong numbers. When you hunt a narwhal, for instance, a hunter dies for every three you roll.
It is obvious that death is a bad thing and in this game your tribe can get extinct. If at any point all your cubes are in Valhalla, you are out of the game.
During the next to last phase, the domestic animal phase, players are awarded for having domestic animals. Some animals you have in your tableau give you food, extra cubes, every turn, but you do have to feed and take care of them too. If can’t pay the Hay cost, as the maintenance cost is called, you have to discard the animal card and you will get no reward.
In the last phase you can perform elder actions if you want to, like placing Invention or Domestic Animal cards into your tableau. You can also, if you have no elders, convert to monotheism. Every player starts polytheistic, but you can flip the elder card to become monotheistic. This changes the abilities of the elders, but more importantly, it changes the victory conditions.
If you are polytheistic you win by having lots of Trophy points, points from animals or inventions you acquired during the game, but if you are monotheistic these trophies are worth nothing and you get points for having lots of ivory or iron.
The game ends when the event deck, of ten cards, is empty or there are no cards in both the North and the South Greenland row. Then players get points, as described above, plus each cubes that is not in Valhalla is worth a point and a representative in the Greenland Parliament ‘The Thing’ also gives you four points.
The tribe with the most points is the winner of the game.
Greenland gives you an impression of life in that area during the 11th and the 15th century and thematically is succeeds in that. I’m not an expert, but the different animals you can hunt in the north and south, the different abilities the different tribes have, the events and the mechanism that their world is cooling down, making it much harder to live in, all add to the story of these tribes and give this game a bit extra.
The problem with games like this can be that the real world is not always that fun, not always very exciting. So the closer the simulation gets to reality, the better the simulation, but that does not mean the better the game.
This might also be true for Greenland, although this game has a very thematic setting and it succeeds, up to a certain extent, in letting you feel like a survivalist in a harsh environment, mechanically it is not always as exciting.
Every round you will do exactly the same. You place cubes and roll for success. Not very exciting.
In the beginning luck is very important, but during the game you will, probably, acquire more tools and animals or marry daughters that give you the ability to re-roll, which will mitigate the luck.
The excitement in this game comes from the competition and from the Negotiation and Attack phase. Without it you only place cubes and roll dice. With it, you compete for the same resources. You can be aggressive and exterminate the competition or you can try to negotiate yourself to success. And when multiple tribes still compete for the same card there’s the mechanism where he tribe with the least hunters on a card can try first to successfully roll their dice. If she does, the others go home empty-handed. You therefore not only have to think where you send your hunters, but also how many hunters you send.
However, because in the beginning of the game there are enough cards to place cubes on, there will be less competition and therefore less excitement. Along the way, when players have decided which path to take, how to win the game, there will be more competition and the game becomes more fun.
This development of your tribe does, sort of, counteracts the narrative arc of the game itself. The game supposed to get more difficult over time. Greenland cools down, so you have to roll ones to succeed, lesser biomes are available, because tribes have taken them as trophies, so competition is getting fiercer. In reality I found that, when you took advantage of the abilities of your tribe and pick your battles well, extinction was never incredibly close.
You do have to manage your cubes well, because although you will get more cubes throughout the game, the events make sure that there’s always the threat that you’ll lose half of them. The elders are also very important in this game. There are lost of occasions, events, where you have to decide which elder can be safely killed. You then have to know which elder, or elder ability, you need that turn or later turns. If you are planning to hunt for a new Domestic Animal, you might want to have a Shaman or otherwise you can’t place it in your tableau, but if that animal is in the south you might also need a Mariner to guide you there and if it’s a land animal you also can benefit from the knowledge of a Tracker.
So, difficult choices to be made. You can promote your hunter to elders, but that also means that they can’t hunt any more. As you can see, this cube management acquires a lot of planning and you can only properly plan if you know what you are doing.
This implies that the game awards multiple plays. In your first game you will be overwhelmed by the rules and the mechanisms, but from then on you will get better and better.
The thing is that I can see that Greenland is a good game. I like the setting, I like the theme, but do not think it’s very fun to play. It’s enjoyable at most and when a good game is not fun for me, I cannot recommend it.
If you do want to play Greenland, I recommend it as a multi-player game. I have played the solo game multiple times ,but without the competition and attacking, you only try to keep everyone alive and that was a bit boring.