The game has surface similarities to Catan — the resource-producing die roll, the ten victory points, using resources to build buildings that produce new resources, robber when seven is rolled — but deep down it’s a different world. There’s a lot more conflict in Elasund.
Buildings and permits
Building is based on permits. To build, you need one to three permits, depending on the size of the building. Of course, they don’t have to be all yours, as long as your permits are more valuable than those of the other players and you pay some compensation gold to those players whose permits you use.
There’s also limited space, particularly on the better areas (the rows that match the most common die rolls six and eight). Fortunately you can build over smaller buildings, and if you use your influence (the other resource in the game), you can build over same-sized buildings. That’s a big deal in the end.
So, that’s how the game proceeds: you plunk down permits, then try to build stuff over them, first to produce resources (gold and influence), then to score victory points. There are other ways to score victory points than buildings: you can try to collect trade points (build in certain positions), build the city wall (which has benefits when the robber strikes) and build the church (expensive, but trumps any other building beneath it).
It’s a mean game, particularly when compared to Catan. There’s lots of direct beating, when you use someone’s permits and build over their buildings. Surprise moves are hard to pull off, because you build before you place permits in turn order, but a well-placed permit is sure to put pressure on your opponents. I kind of like that — there’s good tension in the game.
What I don’t like the game is the fact that the game state can move backwards. When replacing someone’s building, the game can end up in a situation where end is farther away. This can cause slight drag in the end, and I do think the four-player game somewhat overstays it’s welcome. With two players, Elasund is short and sweet 30-minute building competition. With four, it just doesn’t work that well.
So, my suggestion would be to play the game with two, except there are better two-player games available. Still — my rating for the game would be worse, if the two-player game wasn’t that good. I wouldn’t play again with four unless Elasund is the only decent game available.
For someone who enjoys Catan, Elasund is recommended only if they feel they need more conflict in their games. If you like beat-the-leader and that certain pushing and shoving between players (and don’t mind if the game drags a bit sometimes), Elasund might be your cup of tea.