Note: I had originally posted a preview based on one playing.
I have finally played it enough times (over ten) to actually review it.
Hence, this file is changed from what appeared here earlier.
What You Get
A nice looking game is what you get. A board with a colorful map
of Venice, divided into regions by canals. Four colors of small wooden
cubes, as in El Grande, are used to denote Aristocrats.
There is a Doge figure (leader of Venice), who determines which region
is scored when a Doge card is activated. Two decks of attractive cards
(Action and Limit cards), some markers and twelve bridges round out
The board has six regions separated by water. Each region contains
scoring numbers, such as "8/6" or "6/5." As in El Grande,
when a region is scored, the player with the most Aristocrats in that
region scores victory points equal to the first number, and the player
with the second largest quantity of Aristocrats scores the second number.
A scoring track runs around the edges of the board. The board also
contains a track to record who has which role in a given round - more
on roles later.
The Action cards allow you to place Aristocrats into various regions,
place a bridge between two regions, swapping one of your Aristocrats
for someone else's already on the board, banishing Aristocrats from a
chosen region, and scoring a region. Action cards are the only
way to do most of these actions, so it's important to win the right to
Limit cards are simply numbered 1, 2, or 3. These are the bitter
cards you must take with the sweet Action cards. I'll describe their
To start the game, the Action cards are shuffled and placed facedown
beside the board. The Limit cards are also shuffled, separately from
the Action cards, and placed facedown beside the board. Each player
takes the Aristocrats of one color, and randomly determines starting
locations for eight of them (roll a die four time, placing a pair of
Aristocrats in the appropriate regions, which are numbered 1-6).
Choose a start player, take turns placing one or two bridges each,
and you're ready to begin.
The Basic Three-Player Game
Since there are differences in terminology, numbers of cards, and even
sequence of turns, I'll describe the three-player game separately from
the four-player game. Later I'll talk about things they have in
Roles: there are three different roles in the game. Each turn
the players rotate being Divider. The other two players
are then randomly chosen to be either the First Chooser
or the Second Chooser.
A note on terminology: I believe the publisher translated
the designers' original rules from English into German. Later when
they decided to include English rules with the game (hooray! - other
languages included with the game are French, Dutch, Italian and, of
course, German), instead of simply using the original designers' rules,
they translated them back from German into English! So we have some,
um, interesting terminology in the game. While you get used to it,
I'm going to use what I think the original English terms were, as in
the previous paragraph, based on hearing Alan use the terms.
The Divider begins a turn by turning over the top six Action cards
and the top four Limit cards. He then has to divide these cards,
face up and visible to all players, into three piles. There doesn't have
to be any pretense to equality in the piles - so long as each pile has
at least one card, any combination of cards he wants is legal. More on
what the cards grant later.
The doubly-translated rules calls
them Distributor and Decision Makers...
Once the cards are divided, the First Chooser chooses one pile and
executes the Action cards in any order he wants. He keeps the Limit
cards by him for all to see total value in points he's accumulated.
When he's done, the Second Chooser chooses a pile from the remaining
two piles, carries out the Action cards, and keeps the Limit cards.
Finally the Divider gets the left-over pile and does the same.
If everyone has nine or fewer Limit points, the next player becomes
Divider, the First and Second Choosers are chosen randomly, and the
previous two paragraphs are repeated by players in their new roles.
If one player has ten or more Limit points, there is only one more
turn in the Passage - and only the two players with nine or
fewer Limit points play in it. In this case, one fewer of each type
of card is drawn, and the Divider makes only two piles. At the end
of that turn, a new Passage begins - unless it's the end of the third
Passage, in which case every region is scored one more time, and the
game is over.
If more than one player has ten or more Limit points, the Passage ends
The Basic Four-Player Game
The game is similar to the three-player game, with the following
Note: I only like this game as a three-player game.
- Players control only one bridge at the beginning of the game, not
- The role that rotates each turn is that of First
- The other three roles are then chosen randomly:
- First Chooser
- Second Divider
- Second Chooser
- The first Divider takes only 5 Action and 3 Limit cards, and
makes only two piles, keeping them hidden from the other players.
- The Second Divider simultaneously takes 5 Action and 3 Limit
cards, and makes two piles, also keeping them hidden.
- When all four piles are made, the First Divider's two piles
are turned face up.
- The First Chooser chooses one of the two piles created by
the First Divider, executes the Action
cards and keeps the Limit cards. The First Divider then does the
same for the remaining pile.
- The Second Divider's two piles are then revealed, and the
Second Chooser and Second Divider take their turns as above.
- If one player has ten or more Limit points, the remaining three
players play one more round in the Passage exactly as described above under
the three-player rules.
- If two players have ten or more Limit points, there is one more
turn in the Passage between the remaining two players.
The Action Cards
There are five types of Action cards:
If you choose a pile of cards that has more than one Action card, you
can choose which order to execute them. This can be very important!
You may wish to check the results of a banishment before deciding
where to place an Aristocrat, for example, or which region to move the
- Place an Aristocrat in a specific region (or adjacent region
across one of your own bridges),
- Swap one of the Aristocrats from your stockpile for any
Aristocrat on the board (which is returned to the owner's stockpile),
- Place a bridge between two regions (or move one, taking control,
if no free ones are available),
- Banish Aristocrats from a region of your choice,
- Move the Doge (or leave him where he is) and score the region he
ends up in.
Banishment is handled with a die roll: you choose a region and
roll the die. You then remove as many Aristocrats as the number you
rolled. You choose whose Aristocrats are returned to their stockpile,
of course, but if you roll a "5" in a region in which there are only
four opposing Aristocrats, the fifth one must be taken from your own
color, if you have any present. I've seen regions completely wiped
out through Banishment, which wasn't what the banisher wanted ...
Bridges are important for two reasons:
When you place (or move) a bridge, you put an Aristocrat on it to show
- "Place an Aristocrat" Action cards always
specify a region. You must place one of your Aristocrats in that
exact region, unless you control one or more bridges that touch that
region. In that case, you have a choice: you can place the Aristocrat
in the region named, or in a region you can reach by crossing one
bridge you control.
- When moving the Doge to score a region, you may move him over any
bridges on the board. But you must pay one victory point to any player
who controls a bridge you have the Doge cross over. The Doge crosses
over your own bridges for free, of course.
The Limit Cards
The Limit cards determine a few things:
- How many turns you remain playing in the Passage. If your Limit
total passes ten before anyone else's, you'll have fewer turns in that
- At the end of a Passage, anyone who still has fewer than ten Limit
points scores victory points. You get the difference between your
Limit point total and the highest Limit point total that Passage. So
if I end up with 13 Limit points and you only 8 Limit points, you
score five victory points at the end of the Passage.
- If there is a single lowest Limit point total below ten points,
that player gets to do a free Banishment when the Passage ends.
That's basically the game mechanics. They're not terribly hard -
actually easier than El Grande because you have fewer
Action cards to understand. Ah, but the decisions you have to make!
That's where this game shines.
The first and most obvious decision is the Divider's. He has to analyze
the situation on the board and the cards he drew, and sort them into
two or three piles, knowing he'll get the least desirable pile from the
other players' points of view.
Lots of factors go into this decision - too many to list here easily,
in fact. First of all, cards that allow placing Aristocrats are
usually more valuable to some players than to others. If you have 8
Aristocrats in the San Marco region and I have only 1, for example,
neither one of us will be very excited about getting the Action card
that lets the active player place an Aristocrat in San Marco - unless
we have bridges that let us place that Aristocrat in a neighboring
region that's a closer contest. But if, in a three-player game, the
third player has 7 Aristocrats in San Marco, suddenly the card becomes
of interest to him and to you with your 8 Aristocrats - but still not
to me with my 1 Aristocrat, unless the bridges help me.
So if I'm the Divider and I see a card that the other two players
want, but I don't want, I might figure I won't get stuck with it,
since they choose before me. So I stick a couple of Limit cards with
it to make it less beneficial. But I have to be careful! If I put
too many Limit points on it, they may both decide it's not worth it
and stick me with it - I not only get an Action card that's not very
valuable to me, but a lot of Limit points! (This is the voice of
experience, folks, and the use of the first person singular is
And it can get really ugly when there are three players and only
one Doge (scoring card). Who gets to score that turn? How much will
it cost them in Limit points? If I can afford more Limit points than
you, I might stack a few more on the Doge to make it more likely that
I'll get it ...
So you can begin to see that it's not easy being Divider. You have to
analyze the cards you drew relative to every position on the board,
your opponents' psychologies, everyone's current Limit card status,
and probably the stars at the moment. You might think this would make
for a slow game, and I suppose with the wrong type of gamer, this could
be true. In the games I've played, however, it just wasn't a factor.
None of us were extreme analyzers. And in a three-player game, everybody
is pretty interested in those cards, so the others aren't just sitting
around bored - they're staring intently and probably silently willing
certain combinations to appear.
Comment: The four-player game can drag a bit if
both Dividers are the slow type, true.
But that's not all the decisions, of course. Once the Divider is done,
the First Chooser has to go through the same calculations. Except he
doesn't get to sort the cards - he simply has to choose a pile. Of course
he wants the most advantageous pile for himself, but remember that can
be relative. If the Divider's situation is such that one pile nets him
0 points and another pile nets him 8 points, you have to take that into
account. So if that first pile nets you 8 points and the second 3 points,
you're actually better off taking the second pile, because you'll have a
net gain of 3 points over the Divider, and you'd be tied the other way.
Of course, it isn't always easy to see a pile in purely victory point
terms, because there may not be a Doge in either pile, and things
may change again before the next scoring actually occurs ...
There is one unclear rule in the game, so I e-mailed Alan Moon about it.
He kindly told me the correct way to play it, so I'll offer it here:
If the situation arises in which the person due to be next starting
player is not in the round because he/she has too many limit points,
the starting player position simply passes to the next person, clockwise
around the table, who is in the final round of the Passage.
In addition, Alan has ruled that you may go into negative points
at the beginning of the game to pay another player for the right to
move the Doge before you've collected any points.
At the beginning of the next Passage, the starting player position
simply passes clockwise again - it does not go back to pick up someone
who missed a turn as starting player because of limit points.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
If your group does have some very slow, thorough analyzers,
this may not be the game to play with them. People are patient
with a Divider, but I'd imagine only up to a point.
If you don't like this general family of games (greatest influence in
a region scores for it periodically, no actual combat, open Action
card information before the turn begins, etc.), you'll find that
this is a prime example of it. Not for those who hate El Grande or
(though in some ways it's a cleaner design than either of those games,
as fine as they are).
The game has a limited range in number of players: 3 (see below on why
I don't like the four-player game). This might not
be a good choice for some groups who consistently have five players,
for example. (On the other hand, it's probably the perfect game when
you're in the mood for El Grande but only have three
players, as the latter is best with five.)
Banishments can cause an extreme variation in luck. I don't mind -
in fact, I actually like the uncertainty - but some players may find it
an unacceptable level of luck. If you're in this camp, try playing with
1d3 Banishment rolls (roll a d6, divide the result by two, rounding up).
Or use an averaging die (2,3,3,4,4,5). Or a d4. Or make a mini-deck
using playing cards: Ace = 1, and add 2, 2, 3, 3, 4 - whatever you
think should be in such a deck - there are plenty of possibilities.
In fact, for those who don't like the luck associated with it at all,
you could simply say a Banishment allows the active player to remove up
to three Aristocrats of his choice from any one region, period. Or up
to (or exactly equal to) the accompanying value of Limit cards! (For the
end of Passage Banishment, perhaps just one Aristocrat, since such a
player already has a victory point bonus.)
Problems with the four-player game: having two different Dividers
can create a big discrepency in scoring. I have seen one pair of
players have three scoring cards and three "1s" for limit cards, while
the other pair was dealt no scoring cards and three "3s" for limit cards!
In addition, it's more likely that someone will be a Chooser more often -
see the next paragraph. Having two Dividers working together, without
showing their cards, can be frankly boring - sometimes you just have to
think about it carefully, even if you're usually a fairly quick player.
Finally, the people who have the problem with extreme luck in Banishments
don't complain so much about it in the three-player game for some reason.
At any rate, I've tried the four-player game often enough now to know that
I simply don't want to play it again - it's a great game three-player,
but a very flawed game four-player.
I'm a little worried about a possible flaw: because the First Chooser
is randomly chosen each turn, there is a chance that one player will
be First Chooser more than the others. This might be a problem
because I believe it's the most advantageous role to have in the game.
But it might not be an issue - it seems like it should be, but I haven't
really kept good track of how many times a winner was First Chooser.
If it appears to be a problem, I already have a potential fix:
simply label players as A,B,C,D and use the following charts, which
equalizes their roles while still allowing them to interact with all
other players. Start the cycle over again after turn 6.
Three-Player San Marco:
Turn 1 2 3 4 5 6
Divider A B C B A C
1st Chooser C A B C B A
2nd Chooser B C A A C B
Four-Player San Marco:
Turn 1 2 3 4 5 6
1st Divider A D C D A B
1st Chooser B A B C C D
2nd Divider C B A B D C
2nd Chooser D C D A B A
I found this to be an exceptionally good three-player game - one of
the best new games I played in the year 2000. The decisions make
the game very tense and exciting, and the game can change quickly and
dramatically with the roll of a "6" on a banishment. The mechanics are
clean, easily learned, and there are very few exceptions. The decisions
are what drives the game, and I enjoyed the game even though I have made
horrendous decisions which ended up killing any chance of victory I had
up until that point.
Highly recommended with three players; not recommended with four
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