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Store:  Strategy Games
Theme:  Nautical/Aquatic
Genre:  Trading
Format:  Board Games

Serenissima

English language edition


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Product Awards:  
Deutscher Spiele Preis
6th place, 1997

Ages Play Time Players
12+ 120 minutes 2-4

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Product Description

Theme

In the 14th century, the Atlantic was an ocean without end and America was yet to be discovered. The Mediterranean was a great sea of prosperity--the majot trade route between East and West. The greatest fleets of the era battled over the most lucrative trade routes. Venetians, Genoese, Spanish and Turks fought to sieze strategic ports on the trade routes of spices, precious gems and gold. Serenissima recreates this era--the golden age, when the Mediterranean was the center of world trade.

Goal of the Game

The ultimate game of Victory through Economics! In the course of a game players must build galleys, hire crew and buy commodoties. Their galleys sail to other ports to sell their cargo to earn money. The winner is the person with the most money combined with the most prosperous trading routes. The rules are simple and quick to learn. The game can be enjoyed by both new and experienced players, who will appreciate the depth of thought required to execute the perfect strategy.

Product Awards

Deutscher Spiele Preis
6th place, 1997

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Dominique Ehrhard, Duccio Vitale

  • Manufacturer(s): Eurogames Descartes USA

  • Year: 1996

  • Players: 2 - 4

  • Time: 120 minutes

  • Ages: 12 and up

  • Weight: 1,867 grams

  • Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English.

Product Reviews

 
 
 
 
 

Average Rating: 4.3 in 20 reviews

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by Jeff
One More Word
July 16, 2003

I personally would strongly advise against making house rules for scoring. Some have suggested adding points for the number of sailors and ships you control at the end of the game, which is a fair suggestion because they are a big part of the game. However, doing this makes the game become too combat oriented and actually takes away from the game balance. With the official rules, one generally must be shrewed about combat, waiting for the proper time, if they are trying to win.

I now see the logic behind the official scoring values and think that the scoring system is genius, and serves to make the game more dynamic. Tinker at your own risk.

 
 
 
 
 
by Jeff
Bellissima!
June 24, 2003

After a few plays I've got to write a review of this remarkable game!

Serenissima, as much as any game I've ever played, rewards well-timed combat and trade dealing. Each time I play it I learn two or three new strategies that I should implement in my game play.

What's great about this game is that it does not favor combat, nor does it penalize you for letting your pirate out. Balancing combat and trade is the best way to victory, but TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

I've begun to see the value in determining turn order, so the initial bidding phase can be esssential. There's so much to this game, but it's not too complicated to make it feel like work.

Right now I can't think of a game I prefer over Serenissima. The mechanics are smooth and give you lots of cool options on each turn. There is a ton of interaction, but not lots of frustrating down time. And the game board is the most beautiful, or bellissima, that I've ever seen. And, to me, the art is part of the game.

 
 
 
 
 
by David
Excellent game
March 17, 2002

Ive been reading about Serenissima and hoping to get in a game to try it out before I buy it. I finally did get a chance to play and it did not disappoint. Economics and warfare in the same game, what else can you ask for? The rules are quick to learn. The game flows well and is very engaging. Its obvious at the first playing that one set strategy won't win every game. Youve got to be aware of what your opponents are up to at all times and react accordingly or else you could be left behind. As our first game was drawing to a close several of us said we wanted to play again right away to try out different tactics. The bits are very nice, although the boats have a rounded bottom and a tendency to rock. In my opinion this is a great game and I would recommend it to any gamer.

 
 
 
 
 
Masterpiece That Has Slipped Under Most Gamers' Radar
November 18, 2001

Certain games which don't get much attention, or are not liked by some, can be the favorites of others. If it weren't for individual tastes, then we would have a boring hobby indeed. There are some games, though, which are so good and enjoyable, that I can't understand when they receive such little press when other so-so games get praised. (Hey, Games Magazine, Trumpet and Fossil were Games of the Year?!) And so, Serenissima sits as one of my favorites. It combines trade, conflict, and diplomacy in a fun test of wits. A good investment.

 
 
 
 
 
Tired of Diplomacy?
November 03, 2001

This is a fab game (somewhat like the well known Diplomacy).

PROS: This is a very quick game with lots of options. We saw several strategies in just one game! Venice played the 'roaming pirate', who loaded up his ships with five sailors and stole from everyone else (economical, since he never had to pay extra because of monopolies, etc., but not without risk). Genoa was an imperialist, trying to control as many ports as possible (viable, but she soon lost because Venice jumped her every time she tried to get to a foreign port to make money). Turkey, who won, concentrated on bringing as many goods back home as possible. He dumped the surplus in other people's capitals for huge bonuses. And I played Spain, getting a monopoly on wine, gems, and--for a while--gold (Venice attacked...), which somehow failed to cover my war costs against Turkey.

CONS: Despite so many options, opening moves TEND to follow a pattern. Unless someone's playing spoiler, Venice usually takes Cyrene and the gems, Spain contests Genoa over gold, and Turkey juggernauts the Eastern half of the board. There is a slight tendency for Turkey to win, followed by Spain.

VARIANTS: We played with the normal point variant (1 pt. for 2 galleys/forts and 500 gold). We also played that neutral ports have a garrison of 1 fewer (2 fewer in the case of the largest ports) sailor than filled warehouse boxes. For example, Cyrene has an iron and a wood, and therefore 2-1=1 garrison. Alexandria has three textiles and a wood, giving it 4-2=2 garrisons. This provides even more strategy! Players normally dump all their goods in one port and then seize it to get a full warehouse. Now they have to decide between seizing it now and losing the potential money or seizing it later and chancing that it might be seized earlier by someone else (or it might drive off their own attack).

Finally, Genoa invented a new placing variant called 'Ancients': the four players are now Rome, Carthage, Greece, and Egypt. Rome starts in Civit, Egypt in Alexandria, Greece in Modon, and Carthage in Tunis. Alexandria becomes a medium port and so does Civit, so everyone starts with four spaces. The Carthaginians start with a garrison of 6 sailors and 3 galleys, each with 1 sailor. The Romans start with a garrison of 2 sailors and 2 galleys full of sailors. Greece starts with 5 galleys, but only 1 sailor in each and no garrison. Egypt starts with a garrison of 3 sailors and 3 galleys with 3 sailors each. The garrisons can't board ships, they must stay in the capital. Each player starts with 500 Milia, which are the new currency. The game lasts 9 turns.

Turkey was unsatisfied because he'd failed to conquer Barcelona, so he suggested a wrap variant. Ships could now sail from the Black Sea to the Straits of Gibraltar. For some reason, the Spaniards vetoed the proposal...

We also once played with a card deck, which added randomness but also strategy. Every time a 1 was rolled in combat, everyone got 1 card. This card could be kept for any length of time and played without warning. There were cards like 'Faulty Goods' which forced a player to dump a cargo off a specified ship, 'Morale' which added 2 to the strength or speed of a ship for one turn, 'Mutiny' which subtracted 2 instead of adding, 'Famine' which emptied a warehouse space from any city, 'Rebellion' which converted any chosen port but a Capital back to neutral, 'Depression' which made any commodity worth 1/2 of normal for one turn (good for buying it up, but bad for those already holding it!), and various (secret) cards that gave VPs if you managed to transport a certain set of goods to a certain city before game end. All in all it worked quite well.

 
 
 
 
 
by Rob
Outstanding game!
July 31, 2001

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I purchased this game. I invited a few of my gaming friends over to try the game out, and we loved it. Even after the game was over, we still talked about the entire week. I'm a big [page scan/se=0431/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Axis and Allies fan, my wife a Settlers fan, and this game combines the two. Trade and Combat. There are so many possible stragaties to win this game. The board is beautifully colored; the game simple to understand, yet very challenging to win. With each player only getting 8 turns, each move needs to be well thought out and planned 2 turns in advance. This is truly a gamers game. Highly interactive with other players, and the luck factor is down to a minimum. I'm suprised this game is not a number one seller.

I will admit, the game has two flaws. The flags sometimes fall off their posts, but this can be fixed with a little glue. The other flaw is that no points are awarded for all your galleys, forts and sailors. To fix this problem, we added an optional rule of 1 point for each galley, 1 point for each fort, and 1 point for every 10 sailors. Other than that, I highly recommend this game. Enjoy!

 
 
 
 
 
by Terry
One of my favorites.
June 15, 2001

I have somewhere between 75 and 100 games. This game has a little of everything. I got my "[page scan/se=0431/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Axis & Allies"-only buddies to play it, and they enjoyed it. The bits are very enjoyable to play with. The mechanics are great. What are you waiting for? Buy a copy.

 
 
 
 
 
A fantastic blend of trade and conflict
December 19, 2000

I loved this game after my first play but have resisted writing a review until I have played it several times. Doing this has increased my appreciation of the game even more.

Like other reviewers, I like the artwork and bits. The large amount of pieces to move around can take a bit of extra time but is a minor complaint.

What has really impressed me with the game is the variance of play. I have played with the same gaming group and each time the game has felt very different. Sometimes it is very offensive while other games have been defensive and some have been an outright trading blitz. I have left each game with a set of new ideas to use next time.

I have enjoyed it with both two and three players but have yet to play it with a fourth. I would consider this as a bit deeper alternative to my usual games of El Grande, Settlers of Catan and Modern Art.

 
 
 
 
 
by Dave
Great Balance
September 30, 2002

Serenissima is a great balance of strategy, trade, and conflict. The game system itself is simple and plays smoothly. Rules are well written and easy to learn and include several helpful examples. The components of the game, and the game board itself are top notch and look great - although I would have liked to see wooden ships and wooden commodity tokens (like in Traders of Genoa).

The interesting thing about this game is that the strategy is very subtle, and it takes a few times of playing it to develop your tactics. There are several different ways you can approach the game, and no single strategy will work every time.

Serenissima has taken a few lumps for the way the last turn tends to play out. Some say that there is an incentive to 'kill the king' or that some elements of the scoring system don't work well. I think these comments are unfounded. First of all, in most any game, the last turn of the game will always have a different dynamic than the other turns, simply because everyone is in a mad scramble to advance their position as far as posible - many times this means beating up on the person in the lead. This is to be expected, and I've never agreed with anyone who uses this argument to criticize a game. Regarding the scoring, without getting into too much detail, I think the system works fine, and I think the comments made against the game in this regard really only represent personal preference rather than showing a real problem with the mechanic.

In short, this game will keep you occupied for a long, long time.

 
 
 
 
 
by Ynnen
Engaging game -- but not for clumsy gamers!
October 18, 2001

The first time I played this, I was overwhelmed with the gaming goodness in the box. The second time, I got frustrated by having my opponents beat up on me mercilessly. The third time, I think it struck the perfect balance. It's a solid, but not spectacular game, with the need to balance offensive power with defensive mercantile pursuits--a very clever game.

PROS: great concept, creative game mechanics, simple rules system, solid components/map, fairly high interaction, very colorful and vibrant game, good theme captured well in gameplay, solid with 4 people.

CONS: The ships tip too easily! We end up spilling cargo/sailors repeatedly during the game. Players on the edges generally won since they weren't 'pinched' as the players in the middle were (since players in the middle have to compete with two adjacent foes instead of just one). The board gets crowded quickly (although that's part of the competitive tension). Not a very good 2 player game.

VERDICT: A very good game, but being a clumsy gamer, the frustration is high as the components easily get spilled, shifted, and muddled across the board. May need some house rule tweaks to find the right balance for your particular game group. That's the only thing keeping me from giving it five stars.

 
 
 
 
 
by Fred
Excellent balance of trade and warfare - will stretch you
July 21, 2001

Serenissima is a really well designed game. The key here is balance. Some players have an easy time getting galleys (wood, iron), others forts (gold), and everyone has a shot at controlling key islands from which to 'influence' other players (ok, maybe 'threaten' is a better word), even if their home bases are vulnerable. You do well here if you keep yourself in charge of your supply lines, and keep a backup force as a deterrent against unhealthy influence from your peers.

There's been a lot written about the drawbacks of the game, especially in the last two rounds when galleys tend to launch suicide attacks against enemy ports to cripple them, or even suicide themselves at their own ports to increase the sailor defense counts. So what's wrong with that? The time period we're playing in had lots of that (and pirates, too). Your job is to ensure you can survive such an attack, and maybe even launch one. Why should someone get away with a poorly defended port? Why should his galleys sit idle--just because you overextended yourself? Enough of that. In fact my gaming group found the ending battles something exciting to look forward to. If you need further encouragement, try to think of any half decent naval power that has not tried such warfare in its history--it's real.

One small critique: The game does not forgive dumb starting moves. In our maiden game, the player in control of Valencia moved his galleys to both gold ports on his turn. The player beside him proceeded to sink one of the two galleys. Thus Valencia was left without a gold monopoly and with only one galley right from the end of turn one. He was crippled for the next hour or so. Needless to say, he hated it. I think that until you've played a couple of games with your group, you should 'veto' stupid moves. The danger is that someone who got nailed trying to do this will be tortured so badly, he'll hate the game and you'll have a hard time getting them back to the table. The game takes too long to suffer atrocious opening moves. I saw something similar once in a bad starting position in [page scan/se=0201/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Medieval Merchant.

Why not 5 stars? Because it's hard to get people to play it. The game is fabulous, sophisticated, fun to assemble; the manual is excellent; the graphics are excellent. But if it's going to sit idle while people line up to play [page scan/se=0042/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Modern Art and [page scan/se=0899/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Princes of Florence, you'll get frustrated.

Minor nit: glue for the flags could use more work--the flags separate in between games. In my opinion, this game's worth every penny. A feast for eye and mind. Make sure your fellow gamers are up to it, though!

 
 
 
 
 
closer to 4.5 actually. excellent play
June 15, 2001

I picked up Serenissima as a gift for a friend based on the basic description on the back of the box. It turned out to be a quality pick. I have played it several times now, and each time has been so incredibly different.

I love the fact that every time we finish a game, we sit around for 1/2 hour just discussing how the game played and how things might have been altered by a different move or strategy. I get all pumped up to play again so I can try out some new things.

One note of caution: casual gamers beware. This is a fairly complicated conquest game, and though it is rated 3 out of 7 for difficulty, it plays closer to a 6. If you can take the time to learn some basic strategy, though, I highly recommend you put Serenissima into your rotation.

 
 
 
 
 
Very good cut throat game
April 29, 2001

This game is very good. Lots of hard decisions to make, fun backstabbing, lots of pieces moving around, and surprises all make for a fun game. However, some of these cool aspects have negative consequences....

  1. Lots of pieces moving around makes for many decisions... possibly TOO many decisions! If you have a small fleet of 5 boats, each of which could head to 5 reasonable ports, and you need to accomodate what the next player is going to do with his 5 boats... well you have over 600 things to consider and have not even begun to calculate where the goods are going to be sold, who is likely to have control of those ports, and what you are going to be building next turn. While this makes for fun, it also makes for tedium while everyone else plans out their fleet movement. If you want to make good decisions, you will have to take some time. If you want to have fun, you will want it to be taking less time.
  2. The backstabbing aspect is good--but harsh. What can go from being a fun romp through the seas turns to a bitter battle with no one speaking to each other. If two players start a mini war in the start of the game they may as well throw their ducats in and walk away... ships will be sunk... recovery will be nearly impossible. This could have been mitigated with some simple rules like: building a galley is free if you have less than 2 ships, or maintaining existing galleys costs gold to keep them afloat. The losers in the start of the game will be the losers in the end generally, which somewhat detracts from it being a perfect game.

The game overall is great fun, and excellent, but not quite 5 stars.

 
 
 
 
 
Great hybrid of German/wargame styles
December 11, 2000

I've played two games of this now and I'm glad I took the chance and picked it up sight unseen. My goal was to ease some buddies who used to play Shogun, Axis and Allies, etc. into German style strategy games. It seems to have worked.

The components are marvelous. The heavy duty mapboard is richly detailed, the ships and commodities solid and functional. The only problem on this front is the flag stickers, which don't stay stuck and have to be pressed onto the masts every time you play. But otherwise the bits are very impressive.

The rules are fairly simple but it takes a couple of turns to get your head around how the buying and selling of commodities actually plays out. Once you have, you come to appreciate the excruciating choices built into the system.

The crux of the game is how best to use your ships and men to trade commodities to both build more ships and men and to set yourself up with enough ports with full warehouses to win. Once we got into the flow of the game it became a race to shuttle around the dwindling resources while building up a fleet for the coming armaggedon.

Both games ended with massive naval engagements which resulted in several ports changing hands. And this may be the only flaw that I can find in Serenissima: basically it's 7 turns of building up a huge fleet to conquer enough ports to win. Even using the variants suggested on the net to deal with this endgame problem, in both games I played about half of the 'medium' ports changed hands on the last two turns.

But otherwise this is an excellent game. There is some serious planning involved in shuttling the commodities around and manning the ships. And there is enough diplomatic give and take to keep the banter flowing but not so much as to paralyze the play. Serious fun and well worth the price.

 
 
 
 
 
Trading and conflict in the Mediterranean
May 25, 2000

Lately, it seems as though most of the intelligent and fun multi-player game designs are originating within the European game companies. And the quantity of the games is staggering, eclipsing what is being produced here in the states. To name but a few of the high quality, enjoyable games that have originated in the 'Old World': El Grande, Settlers of Catan, Medici, Lowenhertz, Mississippi Queen, Bohnanza, Hispania and more. The list could go on and on. Serenissima, produced by Eurogames, deserves a place of honor on this list.

Serenissima (the name that Venetians called their country in its heyday) aims to recreate the trading, diplomacy and conflict that was rife in the Mediterranean during the Renaissance. Players represent one of four great seafaring powers of that age: Venice, Genoa, Valencia and Turkey. The aim is to travel to the various ports scattered around the Mediterranean, purchasing goods and then selling them (at a profit) at other ports-of-call. One must also attempt to take control of the ports and establish monopolies in as many commodities as possible. Of course, all of the other players are attempting to accomplish the same goals, which usually leads to heated discussions, diplomacy and, occasionally, armed conflict.

Players begin the game with control of their capital, two galleys and ten sailors. Each galley can hold a combination of five sailors and/or commodities. At least one sailor must be present or the boat will sink. Movement is dependent upon the number of sailors aboard--for each sailor, the boat may move one space. Also, more sailors allow for easier capture of ports and offer a better deterrent against would-be aggressors. Leaving space for commodities, however, is important, as players must purchase and transport them to other ports in order to make sales, earn profits and fill their warehouses. It is always a fine balancing act between sailors and commodities.

Each port produces one--and only one--of seven types of commodities. If the port is neutral or controlled by the player, the cost of one commodity is 100 ducats. If the port is controlled by an opponent, however, the price is negotiable--from 100 to 300 ducats. Further, if the controlling player controls all ports that produce that particular commodity, then the negotiable price ranges from 100-1000 ducats. Capitalism at its best (or worst, depending upon your economic outlook!).

Once purchased, commodities must be transported for sale to a port that (a) does not produce that commodity, and (b) does not already have one of that type of commodity in its warehouse. Each port has a warehouse with a capacity of either 2, 4 or 6 spaces. The sales price is determined primarily based upon how many total commodities the warehouse already contains. The greater the number, the more profit to the seller. The seller can also get a substantial bonus (from 500 to 1000 ducats) if he is the first player to sell a particular commodity to that player. This is known in game terms as 'Opening a New Market'.

One has to weigh his selling options carefully. At the end of the game, players get victory points based in large part on the ports they control that have full warehouses. This will range from 2-10 points. If a port is controlled but the warehouse is not full, it is only worth 1 point. So, even though it may be more financially lucrative to sell a commodity that 'opens a new market' to an opponent, it will, in the end, likely profit the opponent more at the end of the game if his warehouse is full. Again, another balancing act. You must sometimes sell to opponents to secure the bonuses in order to have a good cash flow, but you must also keep an eye of filling your own warehouses.

Aside from purchasing commodities, ducats can also be used to bid for turn order, build new galleys, hire sailors and construct forts. At the beginning of each turn, players secretly bid ducats in order to select the player order for that turn. This can be critical. Going first allows you to move, combat, buy, sell and take control of ports prior to your opponents. However, it also prohibits you from immediately reacting to the move of an opponent who came after you. And, of course, you're bidding precious ducats for the privilege of selecting your order. A tough decision that must be made each turn.

Players can also expand their navy by purchasing new galleys. However, to do this, the player must control a port which has both an iron and wood commodity in its warehouse, or produces the commodity. And the cost is steep--500 ducats. Sailors, too, can be recruited at any controlled port at a cost of 100 ducats apiece. However, one can only recruit as many sailors at a port each turn as their are commodities in its warehouse. Sailors can either be placed aboard galleys in that port, or left to defend the port against possible invasions. We consistently play with a variant (originally suggested by Doug Adams of Australia and further modified by us) that at game's end, players get 1 point for every two galleys they own, 1 point for every 2 forts they own and 1 point for each group of ten sailors. This makes these purchases worth something at game's end and somewhat lessens the temptation to launch suicidal attacks against opponents in the last turn. The variant works very well.

The final purchase players can make is the construction of forts. These help protect ports against invasions, but are expensive--500 ducats--and they earn no victory points. Further, the port must contain in its warehouse and/or produce gold and wood. Gold is fairly scarce, so there usually won't be many forts.

At some point, deals and diplomacy will fail as greedy players will covet thy neighbor's ports and galleys laden with commodities. Combat is an option. The system is simple--each player rolls a die and adds the number of sailors they have present (either on the galley or in the port). Each total is divided by 3 (4 if a fort is present) and the resulting total is the number of sailors the opponent must remove. The attacker always has the option of calling off a battle following each round of combat. If all of an opponent's sailors are eliminated, the victor can take the galley as a prize ship, along with any commodities aboard, or scuttle it. If a port was attacked, the victor cannot move ashore and claim the port until the next phase. This is important, for if an opponent was also present in the same sea space and he moves before you, he can move ashore and claim the port first. Nasty, but another reason turn order is important.

The game continues for a pre-set number of turns (8 with four players). At the end of the turn, players get victory points as follows:

  • 10 points for control of your own capital;
  • 1 point per 500 ducats in your coffers;
  • 1 point per port controlled, if the warehouse is not full;
  • 2 points per small port controlled in which the warehouse is full;
  • 5 points per medium port controlled in which the warehouse is full;
  • 10 points per capital controlled in which the warehouse is full
  • 1 point per galley controlled (optional);
  • 1 point per 10 sailors controlled (optional).

The game tends to be very balanced and competitive throughout. Nearly all of our games have scores which are extremely close. In our most recent game, the scores were 39, 38, 33 and 32. In my book, that's a balanced game.

Another plus for the game is that the rules are fairly simple and easy to understand. A masterful job was done with the rulebook. It is easy to read, concise and full of examples and pictures. One can readily explain all of the rules in ten to fifteen minutes. After the first playing, the game can usually be played in 2-3 hours. All big pluses.

Serenissima ranks high--very high--on my list of enjoyable multi-player games to play. My only worry is wearing out the pieces from frequent usage!

 
 
 
 
 
It's really a good game, buy it!
April 26, 2000

First, if you're sick of complicated/low budget/'a nazi on every box'/cardboard counter games, then you'll probably love Serenissima. I've purchased a lot of games both foreign and domestic and the quality of this game is top notch! Sure, it's not cheap--but you get what you pay for. As already stated, this game is fun and really a lot easier to learn than you probably think. Serenissima has a short, beautiful, easy-to-understand rule book. Contrary to others reviewing this game, my family loves it.

 
 
 
 
 
It's all in the sequence
October 30, 1999

Since other reviewers have done such a good job of summarizing the rules, I will stick to my gaming group's personal impressions of this game. First, some nitpicking. I wish the money in the game were of the same high quality as the board and other pieces. Second, I have only played with three players and it should be noted that not all positions on the board are equal at the start. Players play from the following home ports: Valencia, Genoa, Venice, and Turkey. These home ports are not equidistant from all goods and sometimes a home port in the middle can be cut off more often than the others. They are certainly more prone to attack at the end of the game from the other players. While some gamers may be put off by this lack of balance, my group enjoys the challenge of changing strategies for each position. The end sequence of this game does tend to devolve into wanton combat on the last turn as everyone tries to get a piece of the leader's empire. Lastly, it is very difficult to fill up your home warehouse which gives you the most bonus points at the end of the game.

All that said, my group loves this game. It has the best mix of trade and combat of any game I know of. Having the players execute each turn phase (buying, moving, combat, etc.) in turn order makes many agonizing decisions on how to spend their money and where to send their ships. Is that Venetian galley with five sailors just planning to cruise across the board or is it bent on piracy? Do I need my galley at this port for protection or can I use it to shuttle some goods for some much needed income? Do I help fill up my enemy's warehouse for 1000 bonus ducats? Players can give a verbal agreement to let another ship pass through a sea zone, but can then renege when that ship arrives there!

This game is full of second-guessing and treachery and surprise moves can really tip the balance in a hurry. If you like building empires, this game should be in your buying sequence.

 
 
 
 
 
Great trading and expansion game with a dash of conflict!
October 28, 1999

I've always felt a game should be reviewed on its own merits and not compared to other games in its genre.

I'll start by stating what it's not. It's not a family game that will be pulled out on family game night. After a few games now with both two and three players, I'd have to say this is a gamer's game. There's plenty of strategy, opportunity to thwart opponents, a dash of luck, and a solid theme.

The game is about expanding your control over ports throughout the Mediterranian, at a time when Venice was king of the merchant trade. Expansion is accomplished by purchasing and selling six different goods at various ports. Each port produces a certain good which can be purchased, but not sold there. Your ships are stocked with sailors (also purchased at ports you control) and goods. Each ship can hold a combination of 5 sailors/goods. The ships move a number of spaces equal to the number of sailors on board. Needless to say, a ship with 1 sailor won't go far, but will carry lots of goods. A ship with all sailors will move quite far, as long as you're not planning to do any selling at your destination (but might be good for landing sailors at neutral ports and claiming them). Each port has a warehouse with two to six storage spaces for goods to be sold. There is a simple mechanism for receiving money (ducats) for goods sold. Each space in the warehouse is numbered from two to seven. You receive 100 ducats times the number of the space you place your goods on. Thus, if you were to sell wood and textiles to a port that has an empty warehouse with four spaces, you would receive 200 ducats for the first item and three 300 for the second. This would leave room for two other items to be sold at that port for 400 and 500 ducats. Ports you control can be garrisoned with sailors to protect them. Furthermore, you may upgrade your ports with fortresses for further protection.

Combat is secondary in this game. It's the only area where luck comes into play, and very little at that. The battles are fairly balanced to discourage reckless attacks since both players involved will probably fare poorly. Attacks between galleys are determined with a roll of the dice added to the number of sailors on your galley. This is then divided by three to give the number of sailors removed from the opposing galley. The same occurs with attacks on garrisoned ports, except the attacker has to divide by four if attacking a fortress (hence the fortress advantage). Again, this is mostly a game about trade and expansion. Combat is secondary, and should only be used as an opportunity to steal a poorly defended port or take over a weak galley. Combat is more likely to occur towards the end game when goods and ports are becoming scarce.

The game plays over 8, 10, or 12 turns depending on if there are 2, 3 or 4 players. With four players expect the full two hours of gameplay if everyone plays competently. Scoring is determined at the end of the last round based on points awarded for total ducats, controlling your starting port, ports under your control, and total goods your ports. One flaw in the scoring is that galleys don't count for final point scores. This makes suicide attacks on ports more advantageous in the last turn. A better rule to employ is each galley a player owns at the end game is worth 1 victory point (1 point is awarded for each 500 ducats in the game, and galleys cost 500 ducats to build). This discourages the reckless last turn strategies. Another option is to roll the die at the end of the last turn. On a roll of 4-6 the game ends. On a roll of 1-3, you play another round. This can make for a longer game though.

There's a fine balace between building a huge merchant fleet, or keeping it small and expanding slowly. Do you keep your port defenses small and concentrate on trade, or do you become a pirate and raid your opponents? The dilemma is that you have to do some buying and selling to keep the cash coming in.

The turns are divided into six phases of bidding for play position, purchases, movement, combat, port takeover, and selling of goods. Every player performs their actions in each phase in turn. This keeps you from having a lot of down time between your turns. Player interaction exists in the combat phase as well as purchasing of goods, and movement restrictions. Without going into lots of detail, there is adequate player interaction though not overly great. Market possibilities exist for establishing a monopoly on certain goods, as well as getting a bonus for selling goods to an opponent that has none of that type. The rules are well written and easy to understand. They can be covered in less than 30 minutes. The game also comes with reference cards for every player that explain almost everything done and the sequence.

I was really impressed by the quality and quantity of bits in the box. Each item has its own place for storage, and there are bits and color galore. The map/gameboard is a beauty to behold, also of excellent quality.

I've got to give this game a definite 85db on the Mulder Meter (out of 100). I think it's an excellent game with good strategy and gameplay. It might not be for all people though. My son loves it, my wife thinks it's boring. I can't get enough of it. Where I consider Settlers, Tikal, and Mississippi Queen Family Games, I consider Giganten, Acquire, and Serenissima gamer's games. If you're a gamer, and you know if you are, buy Serenissima. Cheers.

 
 
 
 
 
A pinch of this. A dash of that. Voila! A masterpiece.
August 14, 1999

The growth of Venice and her competitors in the fourteenth century for strategic control of ports along the major trade routes within the Mediterranean is the theme intertwined into Serenissima ("Queen of the Seas", as the Venetians called their city). A beautiful game of heavy commerce, light diplomacy (i.e. intimidation), and occasional warfare. A combination of ingredients that should please any style of gamers palate.

Just seeing a game in play - very nice bits, galleys, flags, and a rendered mapboard - flowers into an eyepopping sight to behold as the game progresses. These moments of rapture will be necessary to get you to forget the painstaking time it takes to assemble the game! There are tons of pieces to break-punch-peel out. Just keep telling yourself, "Itll be worth it; Itll be worth it."

A turn comprises of:

  1. Bid for turn order.
  2. Purchase commodities, build galleys and forts, hire crew.
  3. Move.
  4. Combat.
  5. Control ports.
  6. Collect revenue.

Steps one and two above are the most decisive parts of the turn. There are definite times when going first or last is paramount, while deciding what to purchase will have important ramifications for later turns. The most unique mechanism is the transport of commodities. First of all, there is no land movement (this is, after all, a game of shipping superiority). A galleys movement is determined by how many sailor pieces are aboard - three sailors permit moving three areas, etc. - and the sailors also determine its strength for combat. But, you also need to transport commodities, which take up as much space as a sailor. There are only five positions available on each galley, so there is a constant struggle of what to load on each galley.

My only reservation is, if you are lagging behind in victory points, regaining any ground is difficult. But if bidding, or trade, or war games fit your niche, this one has it all.

 
 
 
 
 
by Lloyd
Great first half, poor second half
January 11, 2004

I think that the board looks good, and the pieces are good too, although they do require some work. You could not open the new box and play straight away in an evening, because it takes a fair while to take all the pieces off the sprues and construct the flags.

The first half of the game is great. There are many things to consider. Should one rush to monopolise gold, but leave one's capital weakly defended? Should one concentrate on filling up the warehouses of one's capital, or seek to conquer ports far away? Players have many options, one of which is bloody conflict, but usually conflict at this stage is too costly and the opportunities for making money too great.

The second half of the game is a different matter, however. The winner of the game is the one with most points, and the only way to get points is to own ports. It is possible to do a quick count-up of who is in the lead with port points. If a player is behind, his only option is to go to war. The second half of the game lacks the balance of the first. The player in the lead is almost impossible to catch up, unless perhaps the other players gang up on him.

Also, combat in the system is too predictable. There is a die roll involved, but the system is such that, for example, in a fight between an attacker with 5 units against a defender with 3, the attacker will ALWAYS win, although the casualties he suffers vary slightly.

I have tried a couple of variations. One is to change the combat system to something more unpredictable (I've tried two systems so far, one a bit like Risk), and this makes the end game a bit more interesting. The other was to give people income from ports that have full warehouses. The effect of this was to make people richer in the end-game, but all this meant was that the battles in the second half were bigger, so this variation was not a success.

Conclusion: a pretty game, with a great first half to it, but catching up a leader is too hard, and the second half forces players into bloody and rather predictable conflict.

Having now read the reviews on this site, I may try giving players points for galleys and forts at the end, as these would indicate the potential for future success of the players' cities. This might, I hope, stop the all-out bloody scrum that has occured at the end of every game so far. At the end of my first game, only one ship remained afloat.

Recommended tactic: your first priority is to build more ships.

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