I've heard good things about Phoenicia (JKLM Games, 2007 – Tom Lehmann) but wasn't able to play it until later on in the year of
2007. When I finally broke out the game to play, I was puzzled by the
rulebook included with the game; it was confusing and difficult to
follow. I almost quit my first game because I just wasn't able to
follow along. But, thanks to the wonderful resource of
www.boardgamegeek.com, I was able to find a better rendition of the
rules by Christopher Young, and the game immediately made sense.
Phoenicia is reputedly based on the "snowball effect" originated in
the game of Outpost, as players build and increase so that they can
build and increase more, etc. I've played games with this sort of
idea before and enjoyed them, even though they have been somewhat lengthy.
Phoenicia is an amazing game that provides a lot of depth with this
same building mechanic but does it in an hour. There is definitely an
advantage to players with experience, and a player who falls behind
early will likely never catch up. Despite this, it makes a fantastic
two to four player game (the five player version is chaotic). The
game is fairly simple (despite obtuse rules), and it's very
engrossing, offering quite a few paths to victory. It has almost
completely replaced similar games in my collection, such as The Scepter of Zavandor, simply because a deeper game that can be played
in a short time is a great boon to any game collection.
Rather than go in depth into the rules (I'll point you to
Boardgamegeek for that), let me simply talk about different parts of
- Rules: Yes, I thought it was important enough to mention this
first. Phoenicia is a great game, but I only know that because I
played the game rather than read over the rules. The rules are chock
full of examples, but they break the flow of the game so much that I
just couldn't figure out what the point was. I know that future
editions of the game may have updated rules, but for now, if you get
the game, go to BGG and download the nicer rules explanation there.
- Curve: Teaching the game isn't that difficult, but new players
are going to have a tough time deciding how much to bid on each item.
The best information a player can have is to have played the game
before. I can give you a cheat sheet that shows all the numbers, but
sometimes you simply need to get a good feel for the game to bid more
knowledgably, and that's only going to happen if you actually see and
feel how everything works together. I think a player may need to play
once to figure out the game then once again to figure out that the
strategy you think will work actually doesn't. Players will likely be
most comfortable on their third game.
- Components: I was surprised when I opened the box to find a bag
of plastic rather than wood. The pawns, houses, and coins are all
white plastic that shines like a freshly fallen snow, while the
players have large plastic cubes. I'm a bit used to wooden
components, but I didn't mind the plastic, especially since it doesn't
affect the functionality of the game at all. The cards and buildings
are of good quality, and I especially like the symbols on the cards
and buildings – everything makes sense – mostly. There are two slight
annoyances. For one, we often confuse which of two markers on the
scoring track is the scoring marker, and which is the production
marker. Also, it can be a bit confusing for new players to realize
that when they add a new person to a building, they only gain the
difference between the new worker and the last worker. But this comes
more with experience – I just wonder if it could have been clearer on
the board. The artwork is okay and thematic, although a bit bland.
- Time: Even with a full five player game with people who move
slowly, I can't see the game taking much more than ninety minutes –
and that's the maximum time. What I find amazing is the fact that the
game feels so deep within that time.
- Players: I think perhaps a three player game may be the sweet
spot with this game, but I'm amazed that an auction game works very
well with two players. I can count auction games for two players that
are good on one hand, and I'm amazed at how interesting this one
really is. Auctions are tight, but players won't feel impossibly
squeezed out if they pay attention at the beginning. Five players make
for a much tighter game, and I think I would recommend playing with
the variant that players can win only one building a turn with this
amount of players, if only to keep a few players from being
- Money: Phoenicia has one of the more interesting economic systems
I've seen. There is some randomness, with cards of random values
inserted in the deck – but the range is "4" to "6", and most cards
have a value of "5". Combining this with coins and a nice escalating
economic system combined with limited storage, the game has a terrific
balance. For the first half (maybe longer), players are simply
concentrating on getting a good economic system up and going. The
second half players must get more points, since that's the main point
of the game. Players must also decide which buildings are best – not
only for the present – but which may have benefits far into the
future. Saving money can give a player a power play on the following
round but may cut them out of a good building or momentum on the
current turn. Everything fits together very nicely, and I don't know
of a building that is underpowered or priced incorrectly.
- Interaction: While players are building up their own economic
system, there are a very limited number of buildings; and players have
to keep a careful eye on what their opponent is buying. Players
cannot directly affect one another through attacks or destruction, but
the game is short enough that it's a good thing; and the auctions can
be deadly enough.
- Combinations and Fun Factor: The thing that I like best about
Phoenicia is that I thought about it quite a bit after playing the
game. What combination of buildings would I take in the next game?
Should I have paid less for a building this game or outbid someone for
a different building in the next game? It's short, and it's not that
complex; but it offers a lot of thought to keep me interested.
Phoenicia was a surprise hit for me; I wasn't expecting much looking
at the artwork and fairly dull theme, but the game grabbed me after
only a few moments. The building mechanic is one that I really enjoy,
and I can't believe that the game feels so "meaty", yet takes only a
short amount of time. It plays well with two players (something many
multiplayer games – especially auction games – don't), and every game
can play out differently based on the randomness of when buildings
show up for auction. I highly recommend the game -- just get someone
to teach you if possible.
"Real men play board games"