Since we’re taking a break from RPGs for a bit, I’ll be writing about boardgames instead. We played Greenland last night. It’s a companion game to Phil Eklund’s Neanderthal, and shares quite a lot of its mechanisms. It’s less problematic as well, in terms of covering history rather than science.

The premise is that you’ve got Greenland, right? The northern half of it is populated by indigenous tribes, the Thule and the Tunit (the “skraelings”), while the southern half is being encroached on by the Norse and the Sea Sámi. And there’s the far eastern edge of the New World as well, hard to get to, dangerous as heck, but hella profitable. It plays out over 10 generations, starting in the 11th century. It covers similar ground to A Feast for Odin and, gosh, even Sagas of the Icelanders.

It’s basically an asymmetrical dice game in play. Each of the four factions comes with a polytheistic/monotheistic two sided placard that explains the abilities of various elders (workers placed in those spots), and those differ by faction and by which side you’re on. Once you go monotheistic, the game changes all the way down to how you earn victory points. Then you get extra modifications by the “daughter” cards you have — women to whom opponents can marry and share the abilities they grant.

Our first game was lots of stumbling an not much purposeful play. Let’s see what it’s like to colonize the New World! Let’s see what it’s like to domesticate dogs and hunting falcons! And so on. We nearly died. The game sells itself as a “survival game” and he’s not kidding: lots of your time is spent patching up the damage done to you by the event card you draw each generation. Diseases will crop up from intermarrying, or there’s just some shitty feud that crops up because you didn’t keep a meeple in the Chieftain role, or there’s a deep freeze that makes you burn all your extra fuel to keep everyone and your animals alive. I played the Thule and my opponent played the Sea Sámi.

The second game was more purposeful and much more interesting. I played the Norse, and started with lots of domesticated animals. My opponent played the Tunit, who start the game embedded in the New World. First event card, bang, literally all my elders die and we’re forced to become monotheistic. The Tunit hold on to their old ways and now we’re playing really different games. The polytheists get big victory points by scoring “trophies” on their hunts, which means bringing a whole lot of hunters out onto the ice with great weapons and some luck. My monotheists spent most of their time trying to convert the native Tunit, barely holding on as the whole island froze over. The Christian Norse would have gotten huge points for having representatives embedded in the converted Tunit culture but, no, all we could really do was mine for iron and hunt for ivory.

Eklund’s games do create good stories. I think they’re aggravating to play because they can be so arbitrary, so as “games” I need to be in a really good head to play them. I’m coming down with winter cold #2 right now so I was totally fine just going along for the ride. It was most definitely inspirational for future Sagas of the Icelanders games in terms of ugly, brutal survival.

11 thoughts on “Greenland”

  1. I watched a couple hours of videos when you wrote about Neanderthal, but I haven’t played it yet. Do you have a sense for which game you think is more fun? Or are they so similar that they’re almost the same game?

  2. Ben Gerber maybe! I feel like I’m playing High Frontier because I’ve put the 100+ hours into mastering it, so I’ve figured out how to mostly bypass the arbitrary risk factors. I’m nowhere near that for these games yet.

    I think uncharitable players could totally dismiss them as random dicefests. My first Greenland game kind of felt that way.

  3. Paul Beakley Neanderthal feels that way too, sorta. But it’s a random dice fest with purpose, that can be molded by us. I think, anyway.

    Plus, we keep finding rules we’re doing not quite right, that change the whole thing with Neanderthal – like mismanaging chaos events. D’oh!

    I’m still enjoying them though and having fun, so that’s what counts.

    As soon as High Frontier gets a reprint, I’m going to be snagging that one too.

  4. Christopher Weeks they’re pretty different, other than how you hunt on “biome cards.” Neanderthal feels like there are far more ways to chase victory because you earn victory points in so many different ways. In Greenland you’re either scoring trophies (if you’re polytheistic) or resources and missionaries (if you’re monotheistic). Otherwise it’s a pretty flat accounting of living hunters at the end of the game.

    Now within that narrower scoring thing, we found a lot of opportunities to really interact hard with each other. When I was about to convert his Tunit to Christianity, he went all-out to hire shamans to chase out my missionary, and married one of my daughters to bump up his roll to do that. It was a neat sequence of events. Later, he’d chase me off the ice when I was out trying to get blubber because that was the weak link in my economy.

    I’ve only played Neanderthal 3 or 4 times but I don’t remember there being that much interaction. It’s a much more complicated game, though, so maybe if I knew it better I’d have a better idea of how to get up into my opponents’ business.

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