Continuing along in our survey of the hat trick of big-box games from big-name designers, Elasund is Klaus Teuber's newest Catan-branded game. This time we're building a city named – wait for it – Elasund.
Elasund is identifiably a Settlers game, moreso even than Candamir was, but this time Teuber takes a detour off into the land of tile-laying games. The obligatory dice roll at the beginning of your turn tells you which row of the city's grid will be active this turn. Players with buildings in that row earn money and influence. You can turn money into VPs by buying more buildings, city walls, or helping to construct the typical Settlers-style Castle/Church/Cathedral (here, a Church). You can use influence to get the zoning board to help you out with your construction problems.
Building buildings first requires getting permits. Buildings come in various sizes, from small ones (1x1 or 1x2) that require only one permit, to large ones (2x2 or 3x2) that can require up to three. You are restricted to placing only one permit a turn, and only in or near the row you rolled. Influence, though, can get around these restrictions. Permits, once placed, can't be moved; again, unless you spend influence. Influence can also help you out in terms of bulldozing inconvenient buildings placed by your opponents.
I'm not sure about the message this game is sending in terms of transparency, good governance, and the rule of law. They probably do some pretty mean gerrymandering on Catan.
I liked Elasund quite a bit, and it and Hacienda are currently tied for my second favorite game from Essen. Like Settlers, it has a lot of things I like in short eurogames – it plays quickly and easily, and it's nicely thematic. There are always decisions to make and there is always planning to do, but like Settlers good play is an aggregate of lots and lots of small decisions rather than fewer large, critical ones, so you don't get player lock-up problems and the game moves along briskly. It has a nice mixture of player skill versus the luck of the dice, which lends the game dynamism. Another plus: while it's identifiably a Settlers game, it's also quite different from previous incarnations. It feels like a classic tile-laying game (Carcassonne, say) blended with a Settlers sensibility.
In other words, Elasund is a classic German game. Fun yet skillful, professionally designed and produced, clean, balanced, and fairly elegant, this is the sort of game that will appeal to the hobbyist gamer who still wants games that are flavorful and fun. It doesn't succeed on these counts as well as Settlers of Catan itself did, but what could? Elasund is in the ballpark, though, and if you liked Settlers – even if you are now well past the point of burnout – Elasund is definitely worth checking out.