Greenland Solo

After all these space games recently, Jobby decides it’s time to play something more historical.

A Game of Survival

Greenland, by Phil Eklund, is a game for one to three players and it starts in the time when the Vikings first came to Greenland in the 11th Century. Each player takes control of a tribe of people and must survive by hunting, appointing elders, domesticating animals and marrying other tribes’ daughters. In the solo game, the player controls all three tribes and must keep all the tribes alive until the end of the 16th round, or until Greenland freezes over, whichever happens first.

This game is brutal and harsh. Frequently in the game, tribes suffer decimations. These are represented in game by the tribe losing half (rounded up!) of all their hunters. This can be devastating and completely turn the fortunes of the tribe in question.

I have played this game a couple of times before and have never made it past round 7. Let’s see how I get on this time.

Let’s Hunt Some Narwhals!

I begin by assessing what each tribe begins with as this is an asymmetrical game.  The Tunit (pictured below) are strong fishermen and don’t lose so many elders during cold times. In addition to this they begin with a colony in the New World which should keep bringing in wood for them (represented by orange discs which count as energy).

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The Tunit tribe’s starting tableau. They are strong fishermen and resistant to the cold.

The Norse begin with a domestic animal that can produce babies for them each round, as long as the animal can be kept fed. This is great but does mean the Norse do have to keep hunting animals that provide energy such as narwhals or seals that have blubber.

The Thule are good with their canoes so can carry out marine hunts better. They do seem a bit behind the others in terms of what they begin with, though!

The first round begins like all rounds with an event card being drawn and its effects applied to all the tribes. The first event causes each tribe to either pay an energy disc for each elder or lose that elder. At this point in the game, some of the elders are probably not too important and hunters can always be promoted later. I let a few die.

The mainstay of this game is carrying out hunts. This uses the tribes’ unassigned cubes by placing them on cards (called ‘biomes’). Each cube is a die to roll and each card requires a number of successes. The big cube is the Alpha hunter who (in the solo game) automatically counts as a ‘2’ on a die.

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The starting Biomes in my game: North Greenland along the top, South along the bottom.  Ooh, there’s Orcas!

The tribes can only hunt in their own territory which is North Greenland for Tunit and Thule and South Greenland for Norse. For each Mariner elder a tribe has it can send four hunters to a card not in its territory. This makes it important to keep Mariners alive as this gives a tribe more hunting options.

During the game I try to assign hunters that best match the tribes’ needs.  The Norse need energy to pay for their domestic animal each turn so I try to keep them hunting narwals and walruses. These animals are only found in North Greenland so I have to make sure the Norse have mariners to carry their hunters north.

The Tunit’s colony in the New World is bringing the tribe lots of energy which helps to keep the elders of the tribe alive when the weather turns really cold. However, I sometimes find that the colonists there would serve better as hunters so I empty the colony (all the colonists must leave together and there must be enough free mariners to carry them). This gives the Tunit greater numbers to hunt with, which in theory means they make more babies. When the Tunit’s fortunes pick up I send a few hunters back to the New World again.

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Thule and Tunit hunters ready to hunt! This picture also shows the Tunit colonists in the New World.

It’s interesting to note that when a tribe is ravaged by a decimation (a frequent occurrence in this game) the colonists in the New World aren’t affected. This means that a tribe can be brought back from the brink by returning colonists. This is something I find myself doing a couple of times in this game for both the Thule and the Tunit.

And so, over the turns, the fortunes of the three tribes rise and fall. The Thules collect a few animals as trophies. The Tunits keep their numbers up, using the New World to protect their numbers. The Norse begin to find it too difficult to keep paying for their domestic animal and eventually have to let it go, meaning they no longer get a free baby each round.

I make a terrible mistake in sending some Thule hunters to domestic a Musk Ox. This would provide them with a couple of babies each round in exchange for one energy disc. To do this they must have a Shaman, which I make sure they have, but they also must have a hand size of at least 1 which represents knowledge other than basic hunting. This bit I forget about, so after making the required roll they can’t bring the Musk Ox into their hand to then be domesticated by the Shaman later. Instead, I have to let this be a normal hunt, effectively wasting a round for the Thule.

And so, over the turns, the fortunes of the three tribes rise and fall.
Greenland slowly freezes making hunter harder.

Things get tougher as the game progresses. Notably, Greenland gradually freezes up. This is represented by cards moving from the right of the draw pile to the left. When the cards are on the left they require 1’s on the dice for successful hunting instead of 1’s or 2’s. This nullifies the Alpha hunter’s ability and obviously reduces the chance of success.

With more and more Biomes freezing over it becomes more and more difficult for the tribes to successfully hunt and increase their numbers. The oft-occurring decimations truly take their toll and the tribes begin to struggle to keep up their numbers to survive.

Three dice all showing 3's which indicate three cubes must be lost on a hunt for narwals.
Disaster! The last of the Tunits are all but wiped out in a botched hunt!

As the Thules and the Tunits begin to dwindle, disaster strikes for the Tunits. While hunting Narwhals they end up with triple 3’s. A 3 when hunting a Narwhal indicates a hunter cube is killed. The whole tribe was hunting here and in one stroke, three quarters of them are wiped out! This potentially spells the end for the Tunits as they face impossible odds of trying to build up from a single hunter.

Norse converted to Monotheism and are now collecting Iron.
The Norse have converted to Monotheism.

While things are going badly for the native tribes, the Norse are doing quite well. They have plenty of hunters are a managing to keep their numbers up well. I engineer the situation so their final elder dies which allows the Norse to convert to Monotheism.

With the change in religion comes a change in scoring. Polytheist tribes score from trophies, that is, cards they claim from the Biomes and add to their own tableau. Monotheist tribes score based on resources they have amassed: ivory and iron are what they want. They can also send missionaries to try and convert other tribes to increase their score.

This is a mechanism I like in this game. In a multi-player game, it effectively means a player can change their mind about how they want to score. It also provides a way for players to mess up other players’ scores by converting a Polytheist tribe with lots of trophies. This is very interesting, although not totally relevant to the solo game.

Alas, even though the Norse were doing well, the Tunits fail to recover from their disastrous hunting expedition. The cold and hunger become too much and the tribe dies off, and I lose the game.

To sum up, I must say that I really enjoy this game. Although it seems like it’s just placing workers and rolling dice (a la Stone Age, for example) there’s actually an awful lot more going on. Also, this game is nowhere near as friendly. All those people who moan about having to fee their families in Agricola should try this game! It is way more harsh!

I have only played Greenland solo and I really would like to play this with other people. The trick will be finding a couple of other people who don’t mind the brutality and the complexity of the game. If it ever happens then I’ll be sure to post back here.

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