Almost everyone thinks they can write — but very few can do so in a way that truly captivates the reader. Many board games create a narrative through their artwork and even their mechanics, but typically I find that the more words a game tries to cram in, the less engaging it becomes. Lands of Galzyr — the latest outing from Dale of Merchants designer Sami Laakso (along with Seppo Kuukasjärvi) — is exactly the opposite, with a wonderful story that gets better and better the more you play.
At the outset, each player chooses one character from a cast of four. The choices are all anamorphic creatures from Snowdale Design’s wider universe (as featured in Dale of Merchants, Dawn of Peacemakers and so on) but this time, we’re going to get to know them at a much lower level of detail than we have done before. For example, there’s Keridai, a bookish newt, and Aysala, the cocky kingfisher — each of whom has their own strengths and skills.
Lands of Galzyr treats character traits somewhat differently from other games in terms of how you advance them, but the outcome feels quite familiar. Each character board has a skill wheel that features slots into which plastic pieces can be slotted. A character begins with four of these in specific locations, and whilst these may change throughout a game, there will always be four (unless there’s something I haven’t come across to change this).
These skills affect the outcome of the various skill tests that you’ll encounter during the game, with five basic dice always available, and players having the option to swap those (basic) dice for those of a particular skill. For example, if you are facing a Might test, then you can roll five black dice (with little chance of success) or if you have one or two skill in Might, you can swap in two orange die to improve your chances of success.
Items further affect the outcome of these tests, with certain items enabling an automatic pass if the situation makes sense (and usually it does, I didn’t encounter a single time where a goldfish unlocked a door or similar). Items may add successes, they may allow dice to be re-rolled, or they may allow the player to choose a specific outcome — but in every case where those things apply, it will make sense within the narrative structure.
But where does it come from, this narrative in Lands of Galzyr? The game is driven by board locations linked to cards and held together by an app that appears very much like a choose-your-own-adventure. Lands of Galzyr features a passage of time mechanic and many events in the game are linked to what day it is — and indeed what season you are in. An entire game will take place in either winter or summer (represented by different sides of the board and the location cards) and therefore there are two completely different stories to experience.
With all that context out of the way, the real meat of Lands of Galzyr is the story you’ll reveal as you play through the game. I am desperately keen not to reveal any spoilers here and so I won’t, but let me try and walk through a few of the experiences you might have as you go. An early chapter sees one of the animals arrive at the university they studied at many years ago; their old teacher is no longer there, but perhaps that character can use their knowledge of the university to gain the trust of those who still are.
This is fairly mundane stuff and not at all unusual in this kind of game, but the way Lands of Galzyr brings it to life is very well done. The potential outcomes of the initial conversation that may or may not lead to you joining the search feel quite clever. One is that you simply succeed, and, in this case, the characters respond realistically to your obvious and repeated demonstrations of competence. Another is that you fail, or remain quiet because you don’t want to fail, and in this case whilst you may still end up involved, the route to getting there will feel very different.
Characters will take quests cards as they move around the world, and essentially this is where most of the “deeper” story will come from. Whether you’re tackling a quest that you perceive to be from the main plotline, or one which you picked up along the way, you’ll find plenty to interest you. There are more mundane interactions as well — opportunities to trade or deal with a single test (perhaps helping a child win a boat race) that probably have no future repercussions, but then again, this is such a well-written and interwoven experience that maybe they do!
Lands of Galzyr is more than just a choose-your-own-adventure thanks to the heavy integration of board and cards alongside the app-driven story, but it is still more story than game. You won’t find rich and rewarding game mechanics here, or complex battle puzzles to work out, but you will find lovely writing and likeable characters. Each has their own story to tell and as mentioned, the board has two sides to play on, so there’s a lot to chew on if you find yourself enjoying it.
There’s a very zen-like experience to be had here and I rarely felt stressed or frustrated playing it. I failed as often as I succeeded, but there was always a way forward, and even if I ended up having to backtrack (from a pure progression perspective) I felt that Lands of Galzyr took me to equally interesting places, often with unexpected rewards through either storytelling or actual items.
Sitting just a bit higher than Legacy of Dragonholt in my order of preference, Lands of Galzyr is probably now my favourite story-driven game. The colourful boards, cards and characters provide set dressing for a really well-written story, the test system is simple and rewarding on most occasions and perhaps the only downside is that it never really changes – getting neither harder nor easier as the game goes on. All the same, Lands of Galzyr is a lot of fun, and it’s a game I highly recommend.
Lands of Galzyr is available now.