Glen More is an older game – it’s not polite to talk about someone’s age, but I bring up it up is to remind us that it belongs to a different time, a time when the “Euro” and “Ameritrash” genres were more clearly defined, with less “hybrids”. As a matter of fact I think it’s a perfect game to demonstrate the difference in opinion Emmet and I have in relation to theme and its importance to a game. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Episode 7 of the podcast.
Glen More is ostensibly about building a small Scottish village, making whisky (interesting aside: it’s spelled with an “e” i.e. whiskey, if it’s country of origin has an “e” in the name. Ireland, America = whiskey, Japan, Scotland = whisky) and promoting chieftains to gain influence and power which is represented by victory points. Obviously. The theme is “evoked” through kilted men and sheep on the box cover, Tam o’shanter caps, highland cattle, whisky production and use of the word ‘chieftain’. It might sounds evocative, but there’s very little to drag you into the theme, to immerse you in it and make you feel like you’re actually in Scotland building a village.
But to me it doesn’t matter because the gameplay is so good!
There’s several things I like about the gameplay in Glen More. I recently wrote about Carcassonne and Glen More has a similar tile laying mechanic as you build out you village. Unlike Carcassonne, where you draw a tile randomly, in Glen More you have a choice. Tiles are laid out in a track, and the last meeple in the track gets to jump forward and take a tile. If they jump really far ahead, the unclaimed tiles behind them can be taken by their opponents. Taking large jumps ahead can mean you have to watch your opponents add to their villages while you stand still but if you don’t jump ahead, you might miss out on that vital tile that you really want. It brings a level of tension and nervousness to each turn, it keeps you engaged as you wait for your turn, looking ahead, seeing what tiles get taken and which ones are revealed to refill the empty spaces.
Once you get the tile, you have to place it in your village. Which sound an easy task, but placement rules mean that it’s not so straightforward. All tiles must be placed adjacent to a clansman (diagonally or orthogonally) but roads must also connect to roads, and rivers must connect to rivers. When you place a tile it activates the tiles around it, including itself. This generates resources to help buy future tiles, sell at the market for victory points, move your clansmen around your village and allows the production of whisky from wheat.
There’s also a clever market mechanic for buying and selling goods which is affected by how much players have been buying and selling, which is an elegant way of simulating supply and demand. The scoring is innovative too, and happens three times throughout the game. Rather than getting points based on the absolute number of whisky and chieftains, you’re rewarded based on the relative amount, with no bonuses for absolutely dominating. There’s no point in producing 10 barrels of whisky when you’ll get the same points if you produced 6 barrels. Finally, in true, German “let’s make everything efficient” fashion, larger villages lose points at the end of the game. I’ve seen this completely change games, with smaller villages pull incredible turn-around victories.
The mechanics of the game, the puzzle of building your own village and the tension (or perhaps rage…) you feel as you watch your friend take the tile you want from under your nose makes this game an engaging, satisfying for me. The fact that once gameplay starts, the Scottish theme, the building of villages, production of whisky, clansmen and chieftains is left behind doesn’t upset me; the mechanics are what make this game engaging, and the theme be damned. The art isn’t great, and neither is the component quality, but I don’t think better art, thicker tiles or beautifully sculpted miniatures would add to the game. Does it matter that my sheep is represented by a white cube? Not at all!
The biggest shame about Glen More is that the English edition, printed by Rio Grande Games, is out of print. The German version, printed by Alea, is still available, both from online game stores in Germany, and several other online retailers in Europe. In a world where €50+ games with thick card and superfluous miniatures are becoming the norm, Glen More is a very good game that comes in at about €30. It’s a shame to think that if it were released today it might very well be overlooked or even ignored due to it’s component quality and unengaging theme. If you’re looking for a deeply immersive, thematic experience, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a solid game, that’s easy to explain, with good mechanics at a low price, you can certainly do much worse.
First and foremost, if you’re going to be playing Glen More, why not just drink a nice scotch whisky? It makes the most sense thematically. Generally, I prefer bourbon, but Emmet recommends Laphroaig, a wonderfully peaty Islay whisky. Alternatively, as the game is based in Scotland, why not pair it with any Brew Dog beer, as they were founded and are headquartered in Scotland. Another beer you should definitely check out though is Ola Dubh series by Haviestoun, which are an Old Ale that has been aged in Scotch barrels. It would be remiss of me not to mention Irish breweries who have whiskey (though not necessarily Scotch) aged beers, including DOT Brew, O’Haras and Galway Bay Brewery. No shortage of choices here!
Thanks for reading. Have you played Glen More? Did you enjoy it? Did the components or theme diminish your experience of a game in the past? Let us know in the comments below, or on any of our social media channels: Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!