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When did you last dream about a mansion in the Caribbean? About a Ferrari outside your front door? Of a yacht in the deep, blue sea? With a little luck and good tactics you can enjoy the finer things in life, unless you have to replace your dream mansion with a run down row house at the end...
66 cards with seven different luxury goods in the values of 100,000 to 700,000 are shuffled and laid out face up in seven rows. Each player has a set of figure card (values of 1-6). Each player in turn puts a card under any row. This continues until each player has played five cards. The value cards in each row are added up for each of the players individually. Whoever has the highest sum gets the bottommost card. Whoever has the next highest gets the next card, and so on. Since the luxury cards are worth wildly varying amounts, you want to try to get specific cards. Whoever doesn't have the right tactics here will get the row boat instead of the yacht.
But things can still change, because in the following rounds you can outwit your opponents. For example, whoever got the 700,000 mansion has to pay attention to keep from getting any other houses. If he gets another house, he puts the dream mansion back and takes the new card, because for each type of luxury good, you can only keep the last one you got. Thus, your opponents will make sure you don't get to enjoy the finer things in life for too long. And if you don't watch out, you'll suffer the consequences: easy come, easy go... Fortunately, there's still a lot of money in the game. That's not so bad, and you can keep every penny you make. After 3 to 5 rounds (depending on the number of players) the game ends. The players add up their money plus the value of their luxury cards. The richest player wins.
Dolce Vita is a game for those who like to think rich. You and your fellow players are trying to get the best collection of some of the basic essentials of living: a mansion, a fancy holiday, a yacht, a watch, some fine jewellery, a thoroughbred racehorse and a holiday for when you have to get away from the daily grind.
There are seven of each of these assets, worth a grand $700,000 down to a paltry $100,000, plus a little cash to be had, at $100,000 or $200,000 a pop. Each of these appears on its own card, with all of these asset cards being laid out in seven columns and nine rows. Now you and your fellow players must try to obtain the best assets.
How you do this is play one of six influence cards (numbered 1 to 6) below one of the seven columns of asset cards. By having the greatest influence in a column you are entitled to the top card of that column. The playing of influence cards goes around the table until everyone has played all but one of their influence cards. You are allowed to put more than one influence card on a column.
Now the columns of assets are distributed to the players, starting with the leftmost column. Each player totals his or her influence in this column. Any players who tie are removed before the asset cards are distributed. (This makes it pointless for two players to go after the one item, because the second player can always equal the first player's influence.) Then the player with the highest influence takes the top card of the column, the next-highest player gets the next card, and so on.
Here's the catch. You can only keep one of each kind of asset. Say you already have a yacht worth $500,000. In one column there is a watch worth $600,000, and below it a yacht worth $100,000. You want the watch, but unfortunately someone else wants it more and beats your influence. They take the watch and you get the miserable $100,000 scow, even though you already had one worth five times as much. Worse still, you have to discard your $500,000 yacht and keep the $100,000 dinghy you just earned! Cash, fortunately, is exempt from this uniqueness rule, so it is always fine to collect cash, even though it may not be worth as much.
This continues for a set number of rounds, and then at the end of the game, you total your assets and cash. The player with the highest total wins.
This is a very simple game to learn - we managed to figure it out from the German rules with no fuss - yet it provides great potential for player interaction. Not only do you need to keep an eye out for the good assets, but you need to know what your opponents want, as often what you want is the third card down in a column. In this case, you have to play the influence card that you hope will be beaten by exactly two other players, unless one of those two players is watching your assets and deliberately undercuts you, forcing you to replace a valuable asset with a less-valuable one. This back-and-forth of bluff and attack makes the game a joy to play (except perhaps when you lose your $700,000 racehorse).
Dolce Vita is beautifully illustrated by long-time artist Doris Matthus, and it feels very much like a game by that 'other' Reiner of the gaming world, Reiner Knizia. Plenty of fun, and lots of opportunity to get into the character of a rich snob sneering at just another $100,000 cash. Now bring me a martini.
I had heard a few snippets about this game from various sources on the net, some favorable, and some less so. Still, when I spotted it on a store shelf while vacationing with my family in Germany, I couldn't resist. The designer is Reiner Stockhausen, a name I am not familiar with. But, being a sucker for just about ANY game, I made the purchase.
The game mechanics are simple enough. There are seven different luxury goods, with cards in each set valued from $100,000 to $700,000. In addition, there are numerous 'cash' cards valued at either $100,000 or $200,000 apiece. These luxury cards are shuffled and set out face-up in a grid of seven rows of nine cards each.
Each player possesses a set of number cards valued from 1 - 6. Players alternate placing one of their `bid' cards face-up underneath one of the seven rows. This continues until all players have only one card remaining in their hand, at which point the round ends.
The player who has the highest cumulative value of bid cards under a row takes the bottom luxury good in that row. The player with the second highest total takes the second luxury good from the bottom in that row. This continues until all players who played bid cards underneath that row have taken a luxury good. If two or more players tie in value, their bid cards are removed and they do not take a luxury good from that row.
This procedure is continued for each of the seven rows. If a player is forced to take a luxury good of which he already has another card in that same luxury category, he must return the previously acquired good in that category and keep the newly acquired one. This can often be to a player's benefit if the newly acquired good is of a higher value, but can also be detrimental if the new good carries a lesser value. The only exception to this rule is that a player can keep as many cash cards as he manages to collect.
After a pre-set number of rounds, the game ends and the player with the greatest value of goods and cash collected is victorious. The rules call for one round per player, or four rounds if playing with 5 or 6 players, but, frankly, that is too many. A player's choices become severely restricted in the later rounds as most luxury goods have been taken and the choices remaining usually aren't very attractive. I have found that three rounds is the optimum.
In spite of a few rantings I have read on the net about not having much control, I disagree. Since all bid cards are placed face-up underneath the rows, one can attempt to place cards in such a fashion to finish in the desired position (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) in that row so you can secure the luxury good at that corresponding position. Sure, this takes a bit of studying, but you still have a reasonable amount of control over your own fate.
I have enjoyed this game far more than I thought I would. In each game, there are constant small battles over positioning in the various rows, and frequent attempts are made to saddle opponents with luxury goods they do not desire. Players seem to take perverse glee in forcing opponents to take paltry $100,000 luxury goods and return valuable $700,000 goods from their stockpile. The game offers much in the way of timing, positioning and nastiness and is one which can appeal to both gamers and family. That's a winning combination.