Fjords: A Personal History

Tom takes a decades-long look back at one of the games that got him back into the hobby: Fjords.
My Mega-Fjords box.
My Mega-Fjords box.

Somewhere back in 2008, when I was first getting back into gaming as a serious hobby, I was looking for a game that I might be able to get my wife to play with me. She comes from a family of nationally ranked Chess players, so finding something she would agree to was difficult. After posting several requests for suggestions to BoardGameGeek, someone recommended the original edition of Fjords.

My wife was not taken with the game. However, I was. In a big way.

Not only was it my first tile-placement game, but there was something about those hexagonal tiles and their mix of environments that captivated me.

And frustrated me.

Allow me to explain.

Fjords, as you may have guessed, is a hexagonal tile-laying game. Each tile may have up to three possible environment types on them (Plains, Mountains, Water), and tiles must be added to the board such that each new tile must connect with at least two tiles already played. As well, all connecting sides of the new piece must match perfectly with the sides already on the table. (An example of this can be seen in my review of the new edition of Fjords, here on Meeple Mountain.)

During this first Settlement Phase, you’re adding tiles and, when strategically advantageous, placing one of your four Longhouses on a tile. After the final tile has been placed, it is from these Longhouses that your Vikings will begin Exploring.

Exploration can only take place on the green Plain section of the tiles, meaning both the Water and Mountains serve as barriers you cannot cross over. You’ll score one point for each tile you have a Viking on at the end of the game, so Longhouses and Vikings need to be placed with great care.

I loved the idea of building the board as we played and working out the best placement for the Longhouses and those first Viking Settlers. My frustration, however, was due to the limited number of tiles. I understand Fjords is intended to be a small, short intense game, but it was just too briefshort for my tastes.

So I did what any good gamer would do: I bought a second copy of the game.

I combined the tiles into a single game, but chose to limit the number of Longhouses to the original four while combining the Settlers.

That helped. The Longhouse choices were more spread out across a larger boardscape…but it still wasn’t enough.

Fjords did an admirable job of creating and limiting Exploration access through the three basic landscapes. However, as I played Fjords there would always be frustrating gaps in the board where no tile existed that would meet the edge-agreement conditions for placement. I started seeing what I considered to be the many missed opportunities for the design of the tiles. Why weren’t there hex tiles that had just water on the corners? Or mountains? Or winding valleys that cut through the mountains?

(I suppose it’s no surprise that Carcassonne, and its myriad of expansions, became a favorite of mine. But that’s another story for another time.)

With all due respect to designer Franz-Benno Delonge, there were simply too many tiles missing from Fjords for me.

So I did what any good gamer with too much time on their hands would have done: I designed and created my own tiles.

Taking the tiles and matching them up with the original punch-out sheets from one of my copies of the game, I scanned each one and brought the files into Photoshop. By cutting, rotating, and pasting design elements into new tiles, I created my own, one-of-a-kind, Mega-Fjords.

My 'Impossible' tiles.
Examples of my ‘Impossible’ tiles.

I ended up more than tripling the number of tiles.

In so doing, I intentionally broke a cardinal rule of Fjords: tiles must be placed to extend the single landmass.

My tiles not only created separate land masses, they encouraged it. This opened up a whole new strategic element: go ahead and create that new land mass, go ahead and place a Longhouse on it—I dare you. But only if you think I won’t cut it off with a solid mountain or ocean series of tiles before you can make it a viable source for points.

I also created two of my own mini-expansions to temper the expansiveness that the abundance of tiles created: three Dragons that would flame-ravage a path from wherever they were placed on the board to the nearest water and a Marauding Hoard that would overrun the board from wherever they were placed, one hex per turn, as determined by each player.

My former co-worker and good friend, Jim, play-tested my extended version of Mega-Fjords over 40 times over weekly lunch-time games.

Yeah. Very good times.

In fact, one of my favorite gaming memories is sitting down at lunch to play Mega-Fjords with Jim. He pulled out a come-from-behind victory that left me stunned. By using my tiles and my expansions against me, he wiped my smug I am so going to win this game expression off my face and soundly trounced me.

He was, obviously, an incredibly good sport.

Jim beating me at Mega-Fjords. Again.
Jim beating me at Mega-Fjords. (Again.)

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the reissued Fjords is now available. In doing so, it’s brought a long out-of-print game back to the shelves. This new edition brings fresh artwork and additional rule-bending Runes that change how the game is played.

Sound intriguing? It just so happens that I have a full review of the new edition of Fjords right here on Meeple Mountain.

If you’re wondering, of course I still have those 100+ color printed (front and back), cut out by hand, additional tiles.

My custom tiles in my custom box.
My custom tiles in my custom box.

And, no, I’ve never ‘released’ my fan-made expansions.

And my games with Jim? I coerced him to come out of retirement to meet me for lunch again to play the reissued version of Fjords just for that review.

He won again.

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About the author

Tom Franklin

By day, I'm a mild-mannered IT Manager with a slight attitude. By night I play guitar & celtic bouzouki, board games, and watch British TV. I love abstracts, co-ops, worker placement and tile-laying games. Basically, any deep game with lots of interesting choices. 

You can find my middle grade book, The Pterrible Pteranodon, at your favorite online bookstore.

And despite being a DM, I have an inherent dislike of six-sided dice.

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