Fjords is a two-player game from Franz-Benno Delonge (Big City, Dos Rios, Manila, TransAmerica). This light tile-laying/area-control game plays quickly (about 30 minutes), doesn’t tax the brain very much, but still provides moments of angst.
Fjords ships in a small package (5.5″ x 7.5″ x 2.75″) but if you’re pressed for space, the entire game can easily fit in a single Ziploc sandwich bag. The artwork is very nice depicting three types of terrain (mountain, field, and water) on 40 landscape tiles. Each player receives four wooden ‘farms’ (houses) and twenty wooden ‘fields’ (discs).
The game begins with three specially marked tiles already placed on the board. The three tiles depict each of the landscape types increasing the likelihood of drawing a playable tile early in the game. The starting player draws a tile from the pile of face-down tiles and attempts to place the tile. Each tile must touch two other tiles and all terrain types must align exactly. You are also not allowed to place a tile that create an independent land mass unreachable without crossing water. If the tile is unplayable, the tile is placed face up in front of the player and another tile is drawn until a playable tile is found.
On subsequent turns you may draw a new tile or discontinuing drawing unplayable tiles in favor of placing a [now] playable tile sitting face up in front of you. After placing a tile, you have the option of placing one of your four farms on the just-placed tile. Play continues until all tiles have been drawn from the draw pile. Remaining unplayed tiles in front of the players are not placed. The player who drew the last playable tile from the draw pile plays second in the second phase of the game.
In the second phase, the starting player places a field next to one of his farms (declaring the field as his). The opposing player places a field next to one of his farms (declaring that field as his). Play swiftly proceeds with each player placing fields next to farms or their own previously placed fields. Farms and fields block the expansion of the players fields in an ever-widening attempt to place the most fields. Players must use the rocks and water as ‘pinch-points’ to restrict player expansion.
When one player can no longer place fields, the remaining fields are covered by the other player’s fields and your score for the round is the number of fields you were able to place.
The second and third game begins just as the first, with only the first three special tiles placed, all other tiles randomized and face down, and each player with their four farms and twenty fields. Sum your points across all three games and the player with the most points wins.
Fjords is very easy to teach and quick to play. I enjoy having a game in my arsenal that I can pull out and play only one or two rounds when I only have a short amount of time. Fjords is by no means a deep game. You are at the mercy of the tile draw and in many cases drawn tiles can only be placed in one or two places on the board. Drawing two or three unplayable tiles in a row is not uncommon. Deciding to place a farm is sometimes a crapshoot since you never know if that pinchpoint will get compromised by your opponent or some great spot turns out to be a dead end due to subsequent horrific tile draws.
Even though the game does hinge mostly on who goes first in the second half of the game and in the randomness of the tile draws, it does provide a light and enjoyable experience when you aren’t up for something deeper. Fjords is a definite keeper.