Venice – A Game of Glorious Gondoliers?
Legend has it that the city of Venice was founded at the stroke of 12pm on 25 March 421 AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire. A tolling of church bells to signify settlement, development, arrival.
How apposite, therefore, that Venice, the latest Eurogame from growing publisher, Braincrack Games, officially releases this month!
Following hot on the heels of Ragusa in 2019 (a clever, city building economic worker placement game set in 15th Century Croatia), Venice is the second in a thematic trilogy of beautifully crafted eponymous Eurogames which take the normal, well-trodden rules of trading resources and spices them up with some clever twists.
So what is the special sauce in Venice and what is going on in canal central?
Armed with only a rule book and my imagination, I am currently investigating this game, Queen’s Gambit style. On that basis, my musings are more predictive than proven, but that little wrinkle in time isn’t going to stop me!
So I am diving into the theoretical depths, ready to battle it out for first place in La Serenissima. But will this initial (albeit hallucinatory) experience make me feel like I am flying high atop the Rialto Bridge, or kicking my heels along the Bridge of Sighs?
Going for Gondolas!
My ceiling is covered with make-believe canals, gondolas, and buildings as I imagine the Floating City and walk myself through a game.
Merchants are dancing around my light fitting, attempting to avoid the ice cold hand of the Inquisition. Bridges are popping up over by the coving, adding interest to intrigue (literally in this case!). And from what I can tell so far, this latest instalment from Braincrack feels like it will not disappoint!
Designed by Dāvid Turczi and Andrei Novac (who between them have created and co-created an impressively diverse stable of games including Kitchen Rush, Rome and Roll, Anachrony, Tawantisuyu, Exodus, and Warriors & Traders to name but a few), Venice does not appear to be your average pick-up and deliver game.
Yes, players are piloting their own pair of gondolas around the canals, collecting resources as they pass buildings in order to complete contracts which reward victory points, coins, and in-game abilities in a series of prescribed actions. So far so euro.
But, unlike most move-pick, move-drop, sell-move predictably paced games, Venice appears to be adding a momentum shot in the form of “assistants”. These minions of the Merchants inhabit (some but not all) waterside buildings and “advance” their powers over subsequent turns. In doing so, they begin to crank up players’ resources and abilities, providing an unexpected engine building element and speeding up the rate at which players can fulfil their contracts and earn points.
Furthermore, speculating to accumulate in the form of paying to move additional spaces (which then lets players link together a number of actions) in a single turn also seems to be possible and could prove to be a combo-tactical approach to victory (although that will of course depend on gondola locations and how well a player has been managing their missions).
Not only that but players can actually be eliminated from the game if they get arrested. Eliminated. From.A.Eurogame. Ok, so it is only at the very end, preventing that player from actually winning, but still! What?!
This revelation that a player can be removed from a Eurogame is going to mess with your mind (I did mine), so I’ll tell you what I have worked out so far.
Basically, it’s not all plain sailing for the jolly gondoliers because intrigue follows players around like a bad smell. And, as Venice in the summertime is as aromatic as the average teenage boy’s bedroom, there is a lot of illicit gossip to be spread as players pass each other in the narrow waterways, whispering across the waves.
Get caught flapping your gums to another pilot, however, and you’ll lose precious victory points as you move up the intrigue track. Too much back-channel chatter then leads to arrests which in turn results in elimination from the game no matter how many VPs those incarcerated players have amassed through missions, wealth, assistants, and favours (if used).
The risk that gossiping gondoliers will be punished for their indiscretions is increased further when players get to build bridges over the canals. Whilst removing the cost to use the canal in coins, those poignant pontes appear to dish out intrigue in a way that their opponents can’t bribe their way out of!
It’s a Eurogame, Jim, but not as we know it!
At this moment, I am really intrigued by Venice. I can’t really say more because, until it hits my table rather than my ceiling, it is difficult to know how well the big-ticket mechanisms will work together. It sounds like it will be smooth sailing, but there could always be something bubbling beneath the surface.
Moreover, as a board gamer with a core gaming group of 2/3 players, the fact that the designers seem to have worked hard to mitigate against the risk that strategy and tension can become diluted at lower player counts is encouraging.
I like the fact that there is a special 2 player Smuggler rule set and, even more unusual for a Eurogame, an inimitable looking solo Doge automa. I haven’t mind mapped either of these adaptations, but I am looking forward to trying them when Venice becomes available.
Pick up or Put Back?
Personally, pick-up-and-deliver games can sometimes feel a little mechanical, a process to push through. This is especially true for me early into a game or where the challenge is more open as a result of fewer competing meeples in play in a lower player count game.
The thought that Dāvid Turczi and Andrei Novac, have put into maximising the player experience to match the number of people around the table, as well as the addition of other big ticket mechanisms to reduce the procedural feeling of the main pick-up-and-deliver device, however, will hopefully make Venice sing like an Italian ice cream salesman.