Please note before reading further that there will be minor spoilers throughout this post for Lands of Galzyr.
We’ve almost reached the end of 2022, and that means many people are talking about their favorite game releases from this past year. Instead of making a top-ten list, I want to talk about a single game from 2022: Lands of Galzyr. Lands of Galzyr is quite different from the games I normally play. I typically play strategy games with plenty of luck mitigation and a clear goal, such as getting the most points to win. Lands of Galzyr is the opposite of what I usually seek out in tabletop games, and, despite this, it is my game of the year!
Lands of Galzyr overview
In Lands of Galzyr, you play as one of four animal adventurers in an ever-changing and persistent world filled with other animalfolk. The game is divided between traveling around Galzyr and engaging with a digital storybook that has a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience. Reading from the storybook provides you with different choices you can make, which involve skill checks where you roll dice to determine what happens next in the story. During your adventures, you’ll gain items, companions, and status effects that provide you with unique choices in the storybook, as well as some ways to mitigate your dice rolls. Lands of Galzyr can be played competitively or cooperatively, with your goal being to gain prestige in both modes.
Player count: 1 to 4 players
Playing time: 60 to 150 minutes
Exploring the world of Galzyr
One of my favorite aspects of Lands of Galzyr is how well it generates a feeling of exploration and discovery. You’re provided with an enormous world to adventure across, with locations ranging from small outposts to sprawling cities. Each turn, you can move up to two spaces with your adventurer, which means it can take some time to move from one corner of the map to the other (although there are some faster transportation options available).
All of the locations in Galzyr are represented by cards that overlap the map. Each location has unique scenes you can engage with, such as the temples, garden, or market. Visiting one of these scenes requires you to enter that scene’s number in the storybook, resulting in a specific story that can change depending on the in-game day or month, as well as a variety of other factors.
Not only can a scene’s story change, but the location cards can also change, providing you with different scenes to choose from. The location cards change due to the actions you choose and the outcome of those actions. In addition, these changes persist from game to game, meaning your choices can have lasting effects. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into specifics, but scenes on location cards can be added, removed, or altered throughout the game.
Making discoveries in the card library
An important feature of Lands of Galzyr that enhances the feeling of discovery is the card library. The card library is a collection of 480 cards that enable the persistent world of the game to function. Among these cards, you’ll find things like items you can equip, temporary companions who join you, and new quests to embark on. When reading from the storybook, you are frequently asked if a particular card is available from the library. If that card is available, you might encounter a related individual or event, which could result in you receiving the card or adding the card to the game world. However, if the specified card isn’t available, the story will move forward differently.
What I love about the card library in Lands of Galzyr is that it makes me feel like I am always learning new things about the game world. The library is so vast that you will only encounter a fraction of the cards during each play session. On top of that, even when you see a card again, the discoveries in a previous game may make you see that card differently the second time around. As a result, later games can feel just as fresh and engaging as your first game.
Reading from the Lands of Galzyr storybook
The storybook is likely where you will be spending the majority of your time in Lands of Galzyr, which is a good thing because it is very well written. During each player’s turn, they will always select a scene that is connected to a story from the storybook. Scenes can be found on locations, quests, companions, and event cards. This means you often have the choice of several different scenes.
Instead of having a physical book to read, the storybook is contained in an app you access from a phone, tablet, or computer. (It’s more like a website you can download to your device rather than a normal app.) Typically, I’m not a fan of using a device while playing a tabletop game, but in Lands of Galzyr, it is implemented so well that I can’t imagine it any other way. The app makes it very easy to type in a scene and immediately find the story that goes along with it.
The stories you’ll read in Lands of Galzyr do a wonderful job of making you feel like you’re on an adventure. You will regularly find yourself talking your way out of complex situations, using your fighting skills to duel foes, and sneakily obtaining treasures. In addition, the stories are populated with all sorts of fascinating animalfolk going about their business in the world. The tone of the stories is not dark and gloomy like many narrative board games these days, which is refreshing for me. However, they’re not super light either and take more of a middle-of-the-road approach. I tend to prefer my stories on the lighter side, so that is a quibble I have with the game.
Performing skill checks
Performing skill checks in Lands of Galzyr is so much fun! It’s a very simple game mechanism where you roll five dice determined by the type of skill check and how proficient your adventurer is with that skill. There are items you can equip that help to mitigate the luck of the roll, and you can re-roll all of the dice a second time. You also typically know how difficult a skill check is before you attempt it. However, it mostly comes down to luck since the mitigation effects aren’t that powerful.
Normally, I don’t like games that are highly dependent on luck, but I love Lands of Galzyr despite that being a big part of it. There are a number of elements surrounding the skill checks that make it a delightful experience. Each adventurer has six different skills: knowledge, communication, perception, thievery, might, and survival. Because each of those skills is so different, you often have a variety of approaches you can take to a skill check. For example, you could encounter a story in the game where you have the option to talk your way out of a situation or use your fighting skills to resolve it. I like this because it supports a lot of different play styles and encourages roleplaying with your adventurer.
In addition, the skill checks provide you with a fail-forward experience. If you fail a skill check, the game isn’t going to stop for you; you’re just going to have a different outcome in the story. As a result, you can have some interesting game arcs where your adventurer has a variety of successes and failures.
Gaining prestige and the end of the game
Prestige is the equivalent of points in Lands of Galzyr. If you are playing competitively, the player with the most prestige at the end of the game wins. In a cooperative game, you still gain prestige, but each player’s prestige is added together to see how well you collectively did. You gain prestige at the end of scenes in the storybook, and the amount you get is often based on how well you performed during the skill check. However, not all scenes reward prestige. This means it is usually quite random and based on luck who ends up with the most prestige at the end of a game. There are definitely things you can pursue that are more likely to give you prestige, but it’s still hit-or-miss whether you actually get it.
The luck and randomness surrounding gaining prestige and how you win the game might sound like a bad thing, but I think it emphasizes the brilliance of the game’s design. It puts the focus on the journey rather than the destination. The fun of playing Lands of Galzyr is in the choices you make and the story that emerges from those choices. If you’re mainly focused on getting prestige, it’s probably not going to be an enjoyable experience. Even if you took prestige away, I feel like the game would still work perfectly and be just as fun.
Lands of Galzyr final thoughts
Like I said at the beginning of this post, Lands of Galzyr is the opposite of what I usually seek out in tabletop games. It’s a game with a lot of luck that uses a simple dice-rolling mechanism, and the primary focus is on storytelling and roleplaying your adventurer. In addition, there’s no clear path to victory, and winning or losing feels largely irrelevant. However, it’s these very things that make me love Lands of Galzyr.
Lands of Galzyr reminded me that board games don’t need complex mechanisms and predominately strategic gameplay to be fun. I really enjoyed rolling the dice for a skill check and seeing what happens in the story as a result of the outcome. It was a refreshing change of pace that gave my strategy-oriented brain a rest. Furthermore, I loved playing for the sole purpose of playing. I felt like I could mess around and do silly things without breaking the game. Overall, Lands of Galzyr surprised and captivated me more than any other game this year, and I look forward to exploring it even more!