English language edition
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Medina is an old Islamic city in northern Africa with interconnected buildings, colorful domes, narrow streets, and a mighty city wall.
The year is 1822. After years of being tortured by sun, wind and sand, Medina, the great city set at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, looks a bit shabby and rundown and needs to be rebuilt. As the players work together to rebuild the majestic palaces and the crumbling city wall, the cobbled streets once again carry the running feet of small children as their elders stroll through the markets filled with exotic goods from all over the world. Thus, life returns slowly to the old city as it again becomes the great city of Medina.
Medina--a treat for all! The beautiful components and simple rules belie the interesting strategies the game provides. Players will want to play Medina over and over for the joy of participating in the rebuilding of this beautiful city and for the challenges the game's strategies provide.
Players: 3 - 4
Time: 60 minutes
Ages: 10 and up
Weight: 1,495 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English. This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item.
Average Rating: 4 in 8 reviews
Having played this game over 30 times, with 3 and 4 players, and even with 2 players using the official variant, I think it is about time I wrote a review for what I now consider to be one of the best games I have ever played.
The premise is simple enough: all players are working together to rebuild the ancient city of Medina from scratch. The board is a beautifully illustrated desertscape that has a square-grid overlaid in the center of it where the pieces will be played. Each player is given the same distribution of pieces as the other players which he then hides behind a screen: an equal number of palace blocks in 4 colors, wall pieces (which award bonus tokens AND blnus points for palaces that touch walls), 'meeple' / marketperson pieces (which give bonus points for each meeple that touches a palace), stables (the only way to expand a palace after the palace has been claimed), and 4 roofs in the player's color.
Now the game begins. Your turn couldn't be more simple: place any two pieces. But, as with any tile-placement game worth its weight, this game is fraught with difficult and important decisions throughout! First of all, you may only claim 4 palaces. And there are 4 colors, so each player must claim one palace of each color. Each block the palace is one point for the owner. The catch is that there are also bonuses for have the largest palace in a color, with different colors haveing different values and therefore creating oft-fierce competition for say, orange (4 bonus points for largest), and little competition for gray (1 pt for largest.)
Walls are simple: you may place a wall next to any other previously wall piece (all walls start at the corner watchtower pieces), but walls from different corners may never join -- they must always have a 'gate' (one space between them.) Every wall piece that touches your palace gives you an extra point. There are bonus point tiles avalble for walls too (the idea being the prestige for being the person entrusted with watchtower duties), with varying values which makes some corners much more important than others. Who gets those tiles? Whichever palace was the most recent one to touch the wall from that corner (and each building may only claim it once.) This means that having palaces on the edge, but away from the corners, makes for the best, but also most risky positions to score bonus points from. Also, walls are often used to waste time while trying to see what your opponents will do with their pieces.
'Meeple' aka marketpeople aka 'conga line' are little wooden men that form one continuous line in the city representing the busyness of commerce. Like walls, each meeple touching your palace gives you an extra point -- but that doesn't mean you can use the line to try and curtail an opponent's expansion plans, or to ensure that the conga line stays far away from their building and meaders next to all of yours!
But the main part of the game revolves around the placement, expansion, and possession of the 'palaces'. Palaces are constructed with good size wooden pieces that give the board a very pleasing visual as the game progresses. A palace is a collection of orthogonally connected palace pices of the same color. The only rule for placing palace pieces is that once a certain color palace has been started on the board, all further palace blocks of that color must be added to that palace until that palace is either claimed by one of the players or has no more room to expand.
So when is it wise to claim a palace? Well, that all depends. On what? On everything! On how much space is left on the board, on what palaces your opponents have claimed, on whether or not you (or they) have palace pieces), whether or not that palace can be expanded with stables, whether by claiming the palace you can ensure the starting position of that color's next palace (make sure it's lousy so they can't get many points from it!)
So you see a good sized brown palace (5 blocks = 5 points) and so you decide to claim it. For the rest of the game, you are not allowed to claim any more brown palaces. So you are going to try and make sure that your opponents' borwn palaces are smaller, allowing you to have the bonus tile for largest brown building. That is, unless you want then to use their time and space to try and steal the brown bonus from you so that you can save your blocks and stables for to take the orange bonus points. Or maybe you don't care so much about largest building bonuses -- maybe you'll try and pull in extra points by try to claim the wall watchtower bonuses, and by using the walls and marketline to generate more points for yourself. The best part is that you are going to have to stay flexible and react to things that are happening on the board. Are the other players fighting for largest orange? Let them, while you focus on developing other parts of the board or work on making expansion difficult for them.
Stables are invaluable in that they are the only way to expand a palace after you have claimed it. For this reason alone they would be precious, but also because, like everything else in this game, they can be used to limit your opponents expansion plans.
Do you like colorful wooden bits? Check. A game requiring flexible strategy? Check. Beautiful illustrations? Check. Simple ruleset? Check. A game that requires all players to play well? Check. Manageable duration, say 45-60 minutes? Check. For me, there is nothing to dislike or even be indifferent about with this title. It is wonderful. There is a huge element of chicken involved as players try and feel out how many pieces their palaces will need to be the largest, and there are times in the game where you are desperate for your turn not to come, not wanting to have to decide if a 5 unit orange palace is good enough to claim or if you should focus on anything else and let the next guy grab it.
This game is tense. And tight. And tough. And tricky. And I enjoy it immensely. I play this things so much I think I may want to grab a second copy. This is a gem of a game that seemed to get lost in the shuffle (though it won 2nd place for the DeutscheSpiele Priese!) Honestly, the first time I played, I wasn't really wowed. It tooks a few playing to really understand how well this game played and how rich the payoff is for playing it. And slowly but surely, all my friends are coming around to it and enjoying it as much as I do (even my non-gamers friends and my mother!) The amazing visual presentation sure helps a lot in this regard. Get one quick before they are gone!
Medina earns a five star rating on several fronts. First off, the components are excellent. Wooden palaces, walls, stables, domes, and 'inhabitants' as well as thick colorful cardboard scoring tiles come in a hefty box, and all are well done.
Next, the game itself is very simple to grasp, much harder to play well. You must choose two wooden pieces each turn to play onto the board, representing the rebuilding of Medina. Four colors of palaces, plus the other choices of walls, stables, and inhabitants. If you want to claim a certain palace, you must play one of your 4 colored domes. You can only claim one palace of each color.
The trick is knowing when to claim a palace, as all players can (and usually do) help build palaces, regardless of whether they have claimed a particular palace color not. As long as you have the pieces, you can play them. Indeed, at times you may have no choice but to play pieces that add to a palace, which in turn may help another player claim a larger palace than your own!
Needless to say, the game is intense at times, requires guile and skill, and the ability to plan ahead. No luck in this game either. It's all up to you, the player.
Points are awarded for largest palace in each color, adjancency to walls, stables and 'inhabitants' (which represent markets), as well as who has the palace connecting last to a corner tower which have varying point values.
Medina plays fairly quickly and is sure to entice you into playing it again and again. Each game is very different from another, it has no luck involved at all, and you get quality components too!
No doubt Medina will rank near the top of my favorites list for a long time.
Get the game, build a city, and you will certainly be glad you did!
Five stars, well deserved.
The visual appearance of a game, I think, is exceedingly important. Occasionally a good game can get away with plain, ordinary components, but its always better when a game looks as good (or better) than it plays. For one reason, it helps draw people into the hobby. Seeing a fantastic game being played can often bring a crowd, and its good for the hobby. Fantastic components often also help with the theme of the game. I bought Medina (Rio Grande Games, 2001 Stefan Dorra) based solely on the components one hundred sixty-nine wooden building pieces.
Is Medina as good as its components suggest? I found it a fun game, with a slight poker-type element. Others dont like it as much because of the lack of instant gratification when playing. Ill have to explain a bit more, starting with the details of game play.
Medina is a three to four player game. Each player, at the start of the game, receives a screen in their color (yellow, blue, red, or green), and fifty wooden pieces (three players) or forty-one pieces (four players). These pieces include 4 domes, of that players color, 20 or 24 palace pieces in four colors (brown, gray, orange, and black), 8 or 10 wall pieces, 6 or 8 inhabitant pieces, and 3 or 4 stable pieces. A board is set up in the middle of the table. The board represents a city and is composed of a square grid that is 11 x 16 squares. Fifty-eight rectangles (wall spaces) surround this grid giving the board a total of 234 spaces. Four palace tokens, with values from one to four, and four tower tokens, also with values one to four, are placed next to the board. Each player hides their pieces behind their screen, except for their domes, which are kept in the open in front of their screen. The youngest player places one of the extra inhabitants on a space on the board, then takes his first turn. Each player takes a turn following in clockwise order.
On a turn, a player must place two of their pieces on the board. Each piece has some restrictions in placement and benefits for placing it.
- Palace pieces: The first palace piece of each color may be placed anywhere in the city, as long as it does not touch orthogonally or diagonally on any other palace piece. Once the first palace piece of a color has been placed all remaining palace pieces of that color must be placed adjacent to the same color, until the palace is finished. Once the palace is finished, another palace of the same color must be placed elsewhere in the city.
- Domes: A dome may be placed on top of one of the pieces of a palace. The player who places the dome owns that palace and will score points for it at the end of the game. Once a dome is in place, the palace is finished.
- Stables: Stables may be placed adjacent to any palace piece, becoming part of that palace. Once placed, no other palace piece may be put down that is adjacent to that stable.
- Inhabitants: The inhabitant on the board at the start of the game is the market. Any inhabitants added during the game must be put at either end of the market, adjacent to only one other inhabitant piece on the board. If there are no legal spaces for inhabitants, then a new market may be formed by a player placing an inhabitant on any empty city space on the board.
- City walls: These are the only pieces that may be placed on the outskirts of the city. Any city wall must be placed either adjacent to a tower, or another city wall. Also, at least one space on each side of the city must be left open to form a gate.
Whenever a player completes a palace of a color, they get the matching palace tile of that color. They only receive this tile if their palace is the largest of that color (obviously the first person gets it easily). Whenever a player completes a palace that is adjacent to a city wall, that player claims the matching tower tile, even if another player holds it, regardless of whose palace is larger. Once a player cannot place any longer or runs out of pieces, they are finished with the game. When all the players are finished, the game is over, and scoring occurs.
Each palace scores its owner one point for every piece in the palace. Also, each stable attached to that palace adds one point. If a palace (or stable in the palace) is orthogonally adjacent to a wall, one point is scored for each wall piece touching in this way. Inhabitants are scored the same way as walls, but may score points for more than one palace. Each player adds up their points for their four palaces plus the number on any tiles they have, and gets their final score. Whoever has the most points is the winner! (Ties are not broken)
Some comments on the game:
1). Components: As stated earlier, components are what caused me to buy the game. Folks, there is a lot of wood in this game, more than any other game I own (except Carabande). And once the game is finished, the completed city looks absolutely fabulous. The pieces are simple, but look good, and are very easy to handle. I especially liked how the four palace colors clashed well with the four dome colors, eliminating any confusion between colors. The board is nicely decorated, and certainly gives the view of a city in the desert.
2). Rules: Fabulous rules are included in the game. As with any good rule set, this eight-page color booklet includes a listing of components, with pictures of each. Also included is a picture of initial setup, showing what each player should have behind their screen, etc. The rules are very, very thorough, especially on the rules for placement, but they are not very complicated. The game is very easy to teach and learn, although I found that the strategy to playing was not picked up that easily by beginners.
3). Strategy: There is absolutely no luck in this game. This usually causes me to dislike a game, as I like a little element of randomness in most of the games I play. A player is presented with quite a few choices on their turn, but the choices arent so excruciating that turns take a long time, except
4). Bluffing: Its very hard to determine when a player should claim a palace. Should they do it quickly, before anyone else grabs it, or should they wait it out, hoping to get a huge palace with many points. I found that waiting too long caused me to get an extremely poor palace at the end of the game (one piece!). So there is an element of bluffing here. How many pieces should I add to a palace, to make it worthwhile to me on a future turn, but not so worthwhile that an opponent will claim it. Some players have found this frustrating. They do not like setting up a palace, only to have another person claim it. And in a four-player game, six pieces will be placed between each of your turns. Thats quite a few pieces, and that means the board will change quite a bit before a player can place again. I found this an endearing feature of the game. Others, however, found this intensely annoying.
5). Fun Factor: I will admit that theres not a lot of joyous fun in the game, however. The theme is there, but its mostly just layered on top of a nice tile-laying game. The ideas are unique and interesting, but the game is so strategic as to stifle a lot of table talk. Games seem to be extremely quiet, with each player so intently studying the board that they dont talk much. I had fun playing the game, but it was really only from the bluffing aspect.
6). Time: The game isnt very long, and can be finished in an hour or so. If some players determine in their hearts that they will drag it out until all players reach retirement age, the game could slow down, but I found that it moved fairly quickly. Placing only two pieces a turn helped speed things along, and a player doesnt have to wait too terribly long until their next turn.
I have to recommend Medina, for it is a game that I enjoyed. However, I do not recommend it to those who like a smattering of luck, or a lot of theme. The way palaces are placed means that players usually have to place pieces and hope that later it will bring them great gain. Then later, all the work theyve put towards building a palace may go to waste when somebody claims it. This is an edgy feature, and not one that everybody enjoys. But for those who like a little risk, and dont need the instant gratification of placing big things each turn will really enjoy this game!
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The first thing you notice about this latest game from Stefan Dorra is that it contains the biggest and best collection of wooden bits to come your way since the building bricks that kept you quiet when you were a toddler. "Viel Holzmaterial" it proclaims on all four edges of the box and "lots of wooden pieces" is certainly what you get. They represent palace buildings, sections of city wall, roofs, goatsheds & people and with them the players rebuild the city of Medina.
The board shows a 16 by 11 grid surrounded by a border, which will be the site of the new city wall. On the grid itself the buildings will be grouped to form palaces, some of which will have goatsheds as outbuildings. The people will be placed to form the market area and the roofs used to denote ownership of the various palaces.
Palace buildings come in four colours and each palace will consist of buildings in just one colour. By the end of the game, each player will own a palace in each colour. The palaces will then score points according to size, number of outbuildings, adjacency to the city wall and adjacency to the market. There will also be bonuses for the largest palace in each colour and for the "wardenships" of the four towers at the corners of the city wall. The player with the most points is then the winner.
At the start, each player has four roofs in their colour (blue, green, red, or yellow), buildings in each of the four palace colours (black, brown, grey and orange) plus walls, goatsheds and people. Everyone has the same initial selection. On your turn you play two pieces on to the board and this is where we have the first major departure from what is the norm for such games: building is a communal activity. Once on the board, palace buildings don't belong to anybody, leastways not to begin with. They pass into ownership when one of the players decides that a palace is now valuable enough to be worth having and places one of their roofs on to it. No further buildings may then be added to the palace, though goatsheds still may. The problem posed by the game is therefore how to ensure that you end up with the desirable residences and it is not an easy one to solve. You are only allowed to own one palace of each colour and only one palace of each colour can be under construction at any one time. The second palace in, say, orange will not be started until the first one has been claimed. When do you make your bid for ownership? Leave it too late and someone else will step in before you; move too early and you will be stuck with a palace less valuable than ones that will be built later (and which you will be forced to help build).
The people will be placed on the board in a long ribbon representing a market lane and the obvious aim is to have it running past your palaces. Each person that is adjacent to one of your palace buildings or one of your goatsheds is worth a point at the end of the game. The same is true of wall pieces and so if your palace is on a site that touches the edge of the grid, you will want the rebuilt wall to reach it. The wall rebuilding starts from the four corner towers and there are only enough pieces to get it just over half finished. So even if you have a palace on an edge site, the wall won't automatically reach it; if you want it to get there, you will have to use your wall pieces to extend it far enough.
When everyone has a palace of a particular colour, buildings of that colour which have not yet been placed are unplayable and are removed from the game. Otherwise players continue to place pieces until they have none left, even though this will probably make for an uneven finish and may mean that you are placing pieces that will boost another player's score and not your own. Working out how best to deal with that is one of the problems which you have to solve. Palaces score 1 point for each building they contain, 1 for each adjoining goatshed and 1 for each adjacent market figure and piece of city wall. There are also eight bonuses to be allocated. Four are for the largest palace in each colour, where for this purpose "largest" means the greatest number of buildings plus goatsheds. The allocation of these is handled using tiles. The owner of the first palace to be completed in the colour receives the tile initially and then keeps it until someone else builds a bigger one, a process that tends to favour the earlier completions. The tiles are worth between 1 and 4 points and the four colours are not equal. Similar tiles go to the "wardens of the towers". There is a tower at each of the four corners of the city wall and the rebuilding of the wall proceeds outwards from these. As soon as a palace becomes joined to a tower by the growing wall, its owner becomes the warden of that tower. The wardenship passes if subsequently another palace comes into contact with the section. So this time the bias is towards later buildings.
Medina is thus an abstract building game, but one where most of the edge is taken off the abstraction by a combination of very attractive components and a scoring system that meshes well with the theme. Abstract games don't normally grow from a theme, but it would be easy to believe that this one did. It is restricted in its number of players to 3 or 4 and plays noticeably differently with the two numbers. The total number of pieces to go on the board is the same in the two versions, but the number of palaces to be constructed is not and this matters, because the building rules require space for a "lane" between any two palaces. This means that the last palaces to be constructed in the 4-player version are more likely to find good sites hard to come by. I think that the 3-player version is better, but I have seen the contrary opinion expressed.
Is it one to buy? Difficult to say, because it seems to be one of those games that appeals strongly to some but is a big turn-off for others. It is still early days, but the "boring" and "fascinating" banners are both already up. From what I have seen so far, the latter camp is larger but those who do dislike the game dislike it a lot. I think that it is very good: a clever game where simple, logical rules produce interesting and delicately balanced situations. My one worry is that it may, in the hands of experienced and overly thoughtful players, turn out to be too dominated by what chess players call "zugzwang". This is the term they use for positions which would be sound if only the player wasn't obliged to move. In a game of Medina, goatsheds, people and walls are pieces that you wish to defer playing until you own palaces which they can benefit. So in the early stages most of the pieces that are played will be buildings. In this situation there must come a point at which someone is forced to play the piece that will turn one of the palaces from "almost worth claiming" to "definitely worth claiming". This puts them in zugzwang. The next player now adds a building and roof to whichever palace has been tipped over the edge and gains not only a palace but extra placement options (goatsheds and the like) for the future. It is an advantage; the question is how much and how permanent. Also, will the future course of the game be just an inching from one zugzwang position to the next? If it is, the game could become tedious. However, this is just instinct and speculation and if you like this sort of game, you will get a lot of fun from exploring the tactical and strategic options that Medina has to offer before deciding that I'm right, even if I am.
And if my fears do turn out to be justified in the long term, you could always try adding a rule to the effect that on a turn on which they claim a palace, a player must play a third piece. This must be after they place the roof and must be the addition of a building to a palace that is unowned and already contains at least one building. (If no such palace exists, the third piece is not played.). This would mean that a player can't just play "building, roof" and then sit back; they have to advance the overall position in a way that is likely to benefit the next player. This won't stop the zugzwang forming, but it will stop it being stable and will mean that not all the advantage from it goes to the one player.