Lands of Galzyr by Sami Laakso and Seppo Kuukasjärvi, launched on Gamefound by Snowdale Design in 2021.
Snowdale Design loaned me a preview copy. I’ve previewed all previous Snowdale Design games, but I’ve also purchased every one of them afterwards.
Elevator pitch: Narrative adventuring in a persistent open world, light-weight roleplaying without a GM.
What’s in the box? The box contains a world! There’s a nice, colourful board, and plenty of cards that contain all the wonderful things and events in that world. The cards will be organized in a library with dividers, making it easy to access any of them. The library is big enough to fit in sleeved cards.
There’s four characters, each with a small cardboard dashboard that has a money counter and markers for skill levels in various skills. There’s a bunch of colourful custom dice to test those skills.
Everything is illustrated in the lovely style well-known from other Snowdale Design games, like Dale of Merchants.
What do you do in the game? This game is all about adventures. There’s no set goal in the game. You just go along, adventure for a while, then the session ends and you save your character and the state of the world. The next time you return to the game, you pick up from where you left it.
On your turn, you first may move a bit on the board. Then you do a scene. If you’re in a location for one of your quests, you can do a scene from your quest. If you’re in a city, they have places you can visit. In the countryside, you draw an event card, which lists couple of conditions. Take the first one that matches and do the scene.
Once everybody has played their turns, it’s the next day and everybody gets a new go. In the solo or the co-op game, there’s a fixed number of rounds you play, in the competitive game you play until someone has reached the prestige point goal.
The scenes are done from the storybook. Read the paragraph at the right number, and you’ll eventually be given a task to solve, and usually couple of ways to go at it, using different skills and with different difficulty levels. You can choose the approach that fits your character the best.
To attempt a task, you roll five dice and every matching symbol is a success. An easy task needs one success, a medium task two and a hard task takes three successes. If you’re skilled, you can replace the default dice (each symbol once) with skill dice (the skill symbol doubled twice, each neighbouring skill twice) which improve your odds. Your items or tags may also prove helpful.
The digital storybook. The storybook is not a book, it’s a website. It’s not an app, but a PWA, which means it’s a website you can install on your phone or tablet for offline use. Some people have complained and said that they would prefer a physical book. They are wrong.
I mean, sure, I get it, a physical book is nicer than an app. However, this digital storybook does wonderful things that you just can’t do with a physical book.
For starters, it’s just easy to browse the website, and avoid spoilers. You only see the entry you want to see. Navigating the choices is easy, just pick what you want and click the buttons. These stories have multiple options and each option has multiple results depending on how well you succeed. Handling all that on paper would be clumsy.
It gets better. Some random events reference the seasons: I got one that was about some hares planting trees. That fits, since it was August in the game. Had I picked the same event number in January, the event would’ve been different. This also lets the authors pack more events in the same number of entries. Say the event card instructs you to take event 0123 if it’s Sunday in the game – if you look at the same number when it’s not Sunday, the event will again be different.
This digital method also means Snowdale Design can add more events after the game is published. Let’s say we have an event that triggers if you’re in a forest. Initially they may have two different events there, one for winter and one for summer. They can later add more events on the same number: maybe there’s a different event if it’s a Monday in October (the storybook knows the weekday and the month; it knows nothing else about your game state; if some event needs more information, it’ll ask for example to check if a certain card is available in the library).
Given all this, I think the digital storybook is the only way to go. It’s just much better than a paper book. It’s also a pleasure to use, and works well on a phone. The only thing I would like is to be able to directly type in entry numbers for quick access, and Sami promised to consider that.
The digital book also much cheaper to make, which is an added bonus. If you’re worried for long-term availability, Snowdale Design has promised to make the storybook available as open source if they can’t host it anymore. Since it’s just a website and not an app, someone is guaranteed to set up a replacement storybook site right away. It’s also not going to be outdated, like an app might be. You’ll still have a device that can handle it ten or twenty years from now.
The persistent world. The state of the world is not handled by the storybook, but instead it’s a simple filing system in your game box. Most of the cards start the game in the library, which simply has all the cards in the game in number order, so you can easily locate a card when necessary. Some cards form the event deck, some are placed in the quest slot, each city on the map gets one card and there’s one card that tells which month it is. That’s about it.
Now, in July, there’s a festival in the ruined city of Teshune. When it’s July, the month card will instruct you to return the normal Teshune card to the library, and replace it with another card, which shows new locations you can visit in Teshune in July. Come August, and the normal card will be used again.
In our game, a balloon service was founded in Galzyr. When the game is done, all the cards that form the balloon service are packed in the world save slot, where they can be found at the start of the next game, and the service will be up and running.
The same goes with your character. Take all your unfinished quests, your items and most of your status cards, and pack them in your save slot. In the next game, you start with all those cards in play.
Since there are four characters, it means there are four save slots for the players. This limits the maximum number of players to four, unless you don’t mind that someone else plays your character when you’re not playing. It’s also possible to reset a single character and begin a new journey with that character, and you can also reset the whole world if you want to.
The four-character limit is something of a shame, since it would be so easy to introduce new players to the game. If everything goes well, there’s an expansion planned that will introduce new characters and thus new save slots.
The persistent world is great. It also means you’ll slowly cycle through the quests and the events. Snowdale Design says you won’t be run into much of duplicate content in about 24 plays (solo) or 12 plays (multiplayer). That’s a lot of play, and even then, it’s just some duplication. The events won’t play the same way every time, either.
Lucky or skillful? There’s plenty of luck. The skill checks are dice rolls, and you may or may not be lucky. Failing is often funny, though, and you can choose how much of a risk you want to take. This isn’t a strategy game: you can make meaningful decisions, but it’s always going to be a bit fuzzy who wins or loses. If you mind a lot about winning and losing, this game isn’t a good match for you.
Abstract or thematic? The game is all theme. Just the empty map makes me want to play the game, to explore what Galzyr has to offer. The world-building is fascinating.
Solitaire or interactive? There’s very little interaction. Whether you play co-op or competitive, the game plays pretty much the same. In any case, you probably go about your adventures alone, but you can also partner up for scenes, no matter which way you play.
Players: 1–4. With more players, there’s more downtime. If you’re interested in listening to other players’ adventures, more players is more fun, but for me two players is ideal: less downtime, but someone who can share the stories with me.
Who can play? The age recommendation is 14+. That’s mostly technical, and the game works well as a family game with parents and children. Let’s say 10+ is probably fine, maybe younger, too. The world has a wide range of emotions and events. There’s silly and frivolous, and cruel and grim. The stories aren’t very detailed, so kids won’t probably pick up all the darker vibes, and parents who read the stories can easily adjust if necessary.
What’s to like? If you like these sorts of narrative choice games, Lands of Galzyr does that really well, and doesn’t really do anything else. So if you’ve played something like Above and Below and wished the narrative adventures were more in the spotlight (and deeper), then Lands of Galzyr is exactly for you. The game rules don’t get in your way, the game is easy to teach, the world save system is brilliant and really well done and introducing new players is a breeze.
What’s not to like? If you care a lot about winning or losing, devising strategies and optimizing your moves and see games mostly as competitions, Lands of Galzyr will not be a satisfying experience. Winning or losing the game is really fuzzy, and if you don’t really care about the stories the game tells, there really isn’t anything else to the game.
My verdict: I’ve been a long-time Snowdale fan, but I still thought Lands of Galzyr wasn’t my thing, I’m more of a competitive gamer myself. When Sami offered me a preview copy of the game, I reluctantly said yes – it’s summer, I have time, well why not. Turned out the game is actually pretty good.
I’m still not sure what I’ll do about it. I know I don’t want to play Lands of Galzyr in my regular game group, and my son who is my regular opponent at home wasn’t terribly keen on adventuring in Galzyr. That does suggest I should not back this game.
However… there’s still a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me Galzyr is actually a pretty cool place that just might be worth exploring more, even if it meant I’d had to play the game solo… Well, I’ll have to make up my mind before the campaign is over, and it’s going to be a tough decision to make.