Game Preview: Venetia [BGG News]

[This preview was originally published on BGG News]

It’s not simple to write something about a game just from the rules, but when I learned that Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello were working on a new title, I asked the publisher, Stratelibri, to give me the opportunity to read the rules as soon as possible. After all, I really admire the creativity of this designer team, and I’ve found something precious in all of their games, from the worldwide celebrated War of the Ring down to the kid title Micro Monsters.

Venetia is an interesting strategy game with a solid core mechanism and a strong theme, something the designers have gotten us used to. I’ll try to concentrate most in this preview on what a reading of the rules has impressed upon me rather than a detailed overview of the rules step by step, something you can do yourself by downloading the rules from the Stratelibri website.

In Venetia, players control patrician households in Venice, the “Queen of the Mediterranean”, along a historical path starting with its ascendance in the 9th century up to its struggle in the 18th century. Over these nine centuries, divided in three epochs, players must acquire as many victory points — in the form of clout and fortune — as possible while driving Venice through his history.

The first thing that impressed me was the detailed map, which organized the Mediterranean region into ten land areas and eight sea areas. Each land area has three minor colonies and one major colony, and the sea areas each have a value. During the game, players occupy colonies and sea areas with influence cubes, and mark the possession of a colony with Podestà tokens; sea areas can be sometimes controlled by Venice or by an enemy’s fleet.

The scoring phases arrive randomly, but with a certain amount of predictability, as they’re driven by what’s on the threat cards drawn during play, which means that players must plan their strategies well.

Three scorings take place during the game, once at the end of each epoch, and players earn points for having influence cubes in major or minor colonies and for Podestà tokens on the map; in addition, players earn points for tokens they collected while being the Doge. At the end of the game, players earn points for the number of different treaties they achieved, that is, for Kingdom tokens collected during the game, with a player acquiring those tokens when he has a naval route from Venice to a foreign land.

The core mechanism involves the use of action dice, something we’ve seen used before by Maggi and Nepitello. This time players use seven action dice in three colors — gold, silver and bronze — with each dice having 2,2,3,3,3,4 on it. The 2s also have a white card, which means that you can draw an action card, while the 4s have a red card to show that all ”other” players can draw an action card. The number indicates the actions point that a player can use on his turn: Pick a die, take the actions, then let the next player take a turn. Actions are used to place influence cubes on sea areas (as long as they’re not under the control of Venice) or to take actions in colonies already connected to Venice by a sea route. In particular:

• The gold dice are used to take commercial actions, that is, placing one influence cube on one or more different colonies.
• The bronze dice are for political actions, placing one or more cubes in a single colony.
• The silver dice are for military actions, which are more flexible as you can place influence cubes in one or more areas, but the number you place depends on the battle tiles you draw. Military actions can be also used to destroy enemy fleets blocking sea areas.

At the end of each player turn’s, minor colonies with three or more influence and major colonies with four or more influence are checked for Podestà placement: If a single player has more influence than each other player, he places a Podestà token on the colony.

Influence cubes can be removed from the map due to the effects of threat cards (both for the rise of kingdoms or for the arrival of enemy fleets) or due to riots caused by an excess of influence cubes; “overbooking” a colony is the only real opportunity a player has to change the equilibrium in a colony, and thereby change the Podestà.

Around this core mechanism are 45 action cards that can be played as actions, offering players different strategies and providing votes for the election of the Doge, which seems an important part of the game. Each player has the same deck of family cards, valued 1-6, and whenever the current Doge has no Doge tokens remaining, an election for Doge takes place, with each player playing one family card and three action cards. Win or lose, most family cards are discarded each election, forcing players to bid well or bow out. The benefit of being Doge are the Doge tokens you receive, allowing you to take extra actions or score bonus points.

From the rules, Venetia looks really interesting. Determining which die to choose each turn and where to place influence looks like a real challenge, and the threat cards seem to drive the game down a difficult path with the right amount of randomness and predictability. The “draw a card” compensation (on the 2s and 4s) looks like a guarantee: Dice are a sort of common pool of resources and not a factor of randomness.

The game displays the right amount of connection with the theme, but the core mechanism looks streamlined enough to let players concentrate on strategy rather than lose time in micromanagement. I’m quite sure I’ll like this game, and as soon as I get a copy, I’ll go for a detailed review.

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