Glen More is the first board game from German designer Matthias Cramer, who was subsequently nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres award in 2011 for his next game, Lancaster (losing out to one of our all-time favorites, 7 Wonders). I haven’t played that latter game, but Glen More is one of the most interesting new games I’ve come across, second only to 7 Wonders in that department, with particular points for introducing a new selection mechanic for a tile-based game.
In Glen More, players are Scottish clan leaders and begin building their territories with a single village tile and a single clan member (experienced boardgamers will recognize it as a meeple). On his turn, a player takes one or more tiles off a track that goes around the outer edge of the central game board and places it (or them) adjacent to any tile he has already placed. When he places a tile, that tile is “activated” as are any adjacent tiles, meaning the player may receive up to nine actions and/or resources for placing a single tile. Standard tiles may provide resources (wood, stone, cattle, sheep, and wheat), allow for the conversion of resources into victory points, allow for the production of whiskey from wheat, or add new clan members. The game also includes several special tiles that grant bonuses at the time they’re placed or at the end of the game.
The selection mechanic is the biggest difference between Glen More and any other game where players are building territories or edifices independent of other players (such as in Alhambra). Glen More’s track includes twelve spaces, of which eleven are occupied at any time by either a single tile or a single player token. On his turn, the player whose token is at the head of the chain may jump back as far as he likes on to any tile and claim it; therefore, if he is still ahead of all other players in the chain, the player can go multiple times. (Once all players have passed over a particular tile, it is discarded from the game.) Therefore, it is likely that players will receive uneven numbers of turns, something balanced out slightly by a game-ending penalty for players who have more than the minimum number of tiles. The mechanic forces players to weigh the opportunity cost of jumping far back in the chain to claim a specific tile – not only does this leave other tiles to competing players, but it may be a while before the player who moved so far gets to select again.
The other two main strategies in the game involve balancing resource production with conversion into points or whiskey and placing tiles in the most advantageous manner. You need some resources to buy certain tiles, and there are good tile pairings (such as a pasture and/or a cattle tile plus a butcher tile to convert them into … well, delicious victory points) to target. But you can get caught overproducing without enough options to convert or spend those resources, or have the opposite problem where you can’t take certain tiles because you lack the resources. (There is a market to buy and sell goods, but it’s limited, and once three resources of any kind have been purchased by players, the market has no more until a player decides to sell one back.) Whiskey production, while fun on a more general level, also leads to victory points for players who produce more than the player with the fewest barrels has, and can be used to buy certain valuable tiles like taverns, which produce 7-8 victory points whenever they’re activated.
The placement issue is the trickiest one in the game. There are multiple restrictions, but the key one is that a tile can only be placed horizontally or vertically adjacent to another tile with a meeple on it, meaning players must keep their meeples placed to allow for continuous expansion. Village tiles grant “movement points” to allow the player to move his meeples around, or to promote one to chieftain and remove it from the board for future points, but these opportunities are limited. A player also needs to consider the potential for future activations of the tile when placing it – you don’t want to place a tavern at the edge of your territory where you might not activate it again during the game, to pick an obvious example.
Glen More includes three scoring rounds and a final round of additional scoring, much as Vikings did. The intermediate scoring rounds grant points for whiskey barrels, chieftains, and special tiles; the player with the fewest in each category gets zero points, and other players receive 1-8 points depending on how many more tiles they have than the player with the fewest has. A delta of one receives just one point, but a delta of five or more receives eight points. At game-end, players score for their special tiles (some of which carry significant bonuses) plus one point per coin, and then lose three points for every tile they have in their territories above that of the player who has the fewest.
The game is designed for 2-5 players, but with two or three players there is a dummy player represented on the track by a die that has values of 1, 2, or 3. When that die is at the head of the chain, it’s rolled and jumps back over the number of tiles shown on the die. The tile selected is discarded, as well as any others that ended up ahead of all players plus the die in the chain. The dummy-player variant for two players is pretty common – Alhambra and Zooloretto both use it – but in Glen More it works much more smoothly; losing tiles is a bummer, but you’ll adjust your strategy and won’t lose anything too significant along the way. Without the die, tile selection would be way too predictable, and with four players there’s enough variation that that element of randomness wasn’t necessary.
By far the best part of Glen More is the number of ways to win. If there’s a single dominant strategy, I haven’t seen it, and from reading the forums on boardgamegeek I don’t see evidence anyone else has. You can mix it up based on the tiles that come to you, or just pursue a specific strategy (whiskey!) because it’s fun without costing yourself the game. The rules could be a little clearer on activation and player movement, but we figured those out on the fly once it became clear we’d misread them on the first pass. The fact that it plays as well with two as it does with four puts it in very select company among German-style games, most of which don’t scale down to two or only do so with clumsy rules variations. And for whatever reason Glen More isn’t as expensive as most games in the genre – it’s available for as little as $25.50 right now on amazon, including shipping. If you don’t mind a bit of a long ramp-up on learning the rules, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the best games we’ve played on the more complex end of the spectrum, and doesn’t take as long to play (under an hour) as most complex games take.