Masters of Venice Expansion
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U.S. publisher R&R Games plans to release a tiny expansion for its 2009 title Masters of Venice at Spiel 2010. The expansion consists of five new character cards, one of which is depicted below. Says game designer and R&R president Frank DiLorenzo, "They are used by changing the line-up of character cards available to choose from during the game, thus creating all new mixes of powers. Only the Gondolieri character remains a constant in the game."
For those not familiar with the game, head to the Masters of Venice preview that ran on Boardgame News in March 2009. This preview includes a basic description of game play, along with my impressions of the game after four playings.
Update, Sept. 10, 2010: DiLorenzo has passed on the following additional info about this item: "The MOV expansion is a limited edition. It will be available at Essen initially and if we have remainder, the rest will be made available through R&R directly. At Essen, it will be free with any purchase of MOV and €3 alone. (Included with the expansion set will also be the corrected Tax Collector card for the game.)"
In its heyday, Venice was a major economic and political power, serving as the center for trade and commerce between the West and Far East. Today, Venice's major source of commerce is tourism, and the city is now known more for its romantic canals and alleys than for its economic prowess.
It is Venice's heyday of commerce and economics that is the subject of Frank DiLorenzo's Masters of Venice. Players represent merchants dealing in valuable commodities, attempting to strike it rich in the fickle stock market and guild trade. What DiLorenzo has designed is a very intense and intricate economic game that will likely be highly satisfying to folks who don't mind the constant market adjustments and maintenance that the system requires. Many others, however, will find such labor-intensive attention to be cumbersome and simply too much work.
The game itself presents an attractive picture, with components made from sturdy material. The artwork is a mixed bag, much of it being quite pleasing. The board, on the other hand, is far too congested and small, making it difficult to discern the different locations. Everything is contained in one of those now familiar super- thick boxes constructed in China.
The game is played over the course of twelve turns, with four bidding rounds interspersed throughout play. Basically, players will bid for turn order, and will acquire certain roles which give them specific abilities. The turn order and roles will remain intact for three turns, after which a new bidding round is held.
Each turn, players use a dial to indicate where the location they wish to visit. The docks, Mercado and shipping offices allow players to acquire resource cubes, while the shops allow players to sell resources and the Guild Hall allows players to fulfill order and acquire new ones. The stock market is the location to sell and purchase stock in the five shops, while the church is the place to go for favors, which allow players to increase orders for the resources. In a fashion similar to Puerto Rico, most locations allow ALL players to transact business there, so long as at least one player visited that location. However, players who actually visited that location will be able to transact business first, which is usually a big advantage. It is always tricky trying to guess whether another player will visit a location, enabling you to transact business there. Sometimes, it is wiser to visit a place just to be certain you can take the action associated with that location.
The idea is to acquire resources to fulfill Guild orders, each of which takes three specific resources. Victory points in increasing amounts are earned for each order filled, but all or a portion of these points can be surrendered for cash. Another source of victory points is derived from wisely investing in the stock market, using that traditional sage advice of buying low and selling high. Stocks pay dividends when resources are sold at the appropriate shops, or when they split. So, they potentially provide an influx of cash, as does the selling of resources at the shops, which strangely earns double their current value.
With just a few exceptions, EVERY transaction involving resources results in a change in the prices and demand for the resources. They often also involve a change in the share price for the shop's stock. These are all tracked by moving the appropriate pegs on the five shops. While this is essential to the game's system, it is also incredibly fiddly and prone to mistakes. While some of the movements of the pegs makes logical sense, others seem strange. Making matters far more difficult is that the game didn't come with a comprehensive player aid detailing all of the transactions and the effect it has on the various prices and demand. Fortunately, such a player aid was subsequently produced and released, as it is virtually essential to play the game.
As mentioned, every three rounds, players re-bid for turn order and acquire new roles. These roles give players special abilities, usually executed at specific shops. Since a player will maintain that role for three turns, careful consideration must be given to how a particular role may enhance your plans for the upcoming turns.
The game continues in this fashion for twelve turns. At game's end, players convert their stock holdings into cash based on their current value, receiving a victory point for each $100 in value. Cash-on-hand also yields a victory point for each $100. Holding resources and unfulfilled guild orders cost victory points, so players are best advised to sell the resources and fill the orders before game's end. The player with the most victory points is victorious, and named the new master of Venice.
There are a lot more details to the game than I have described here, each adding more nuances and factors to consider and manipulate. They also add complexity and additional rules to remember. Indeed, in spite of the concise and relatively brief rule book, the rules are intense and often not intuitive. In each of my games, we had to continuously consult the rules and player aids. This causes the game to bog down and last longer than it should. No doubt, if one becomes a student of the game and plays regularly, this situation will be alleviated, but I rarely play a particular game that many times. Further, even when I do play multiple times, many of my fellow players are often new to the game, so the struggles persist.
Masters of Venice seems to be a finely tuned economic game, one that rewards careful planning and proper timing. It offers players wide latitude in terms of strategy and options, and has some moments of excitement, tension and satisfaction. However, it is burdened with an abundance of confusing rules and detailed accounting that requires constant moving of small pegs. This detailed accounting is something that would be best handled by a computer application. Indeed, that has been the general consensus of many of the gamers with whom I've played: the game would make a better computer game than a board game.