The Traders of Genoa
#6 ALBS, English language edition of Die Händler von Genua
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The players take the roles of traders in Genoa. They fulfill orders, deliver messages, and take ownership of important buildings in the city. Of course, this is not possible without the help of the other traders. And that can cost money... and other valuable goods!
The game takes 7 to 12 rounds, depending on the number of players. In each round, each player takes one turn. On his turn, a player may move the trader tower through Genoa. By moving the tower, the players may visit up to 5 spaces, most of them buildings. In each building, specific actions may be taken. On a player's turn, he may take only one of the five possible actions. But, he can sell the other actions, at a reasonable profit of course, to the other players. If he sets the price too high, the other players will refuse to buy and the actions will remain undone. If he sets the price too low, the other players will rejoice and he will lose possible profits.
Through skilled negotiations, the players try to get the actions that will bring them the orders and messages they want, and then they will try to fulfill or deliver them quickly. Clever players will also find that the ownership of buildings and special cards can be very important.
At game end, the player with the most ducats is the winner!
On all levels, one of my very favorite games:
For me, the key mechanism that makes this game so much fun is the following: on his or her turn, each player may determine a path consisting in five fields on the board. Most of the fields represent buildings in which different actions are possible. But the player-in-charge doesn't choose the five fields alone. He (or she) discusses the selection with the others and makes deals (you sell the actions that can be taken in the various places). In this way, it's always your turn. Everybody is always looking at the board and at her (or his) cards, trying to figure out and negotiate the best deal. A bit like Bohnanza.
If you don't have it already, don't wait any longer!
I approached this one somewhat cautiously, in response to all the mention of SO MUCH negotiation. But it turned out that I LOVED the negotiation, and it didn't nearly bog down the game like I thought it would. In fact, it turns out that negotiating IS the game. Take this simple test: when you play Settlers (if you don't, stop now and go play that first), do you consider 'the game' to be a) choosing the right places to build, b) getting lucky with the dice, or c) negotiating the best trades. With a group of experienced players, a) becomes pretty mechanical, b) is out of your control, and c) is what the game is really about. If you agree with that, you will love Traders of Genoa. If not, then you probably haven't played enough Settlers. :-)
The beauty of the negotiations in ToG is that they're all small ones. No (well, let's say very few) big hold ups working on the 'uber trade' like you can see in Settlers, or even Monopoly if you play that way. This game succeeds with gamers as well as the Monopoly crowd, as long as the Monopoly players accept that only the negotiation is the interesting part of Monopoly. Back to the point I was making... the negotiations happen every turn (multiple times per turn, actually), and are so small, that single deals aren't what make or break you (which tends to be case in Settlers when trying to make a sweet play and you don't want to want a whole 'nother round before getting to play again). It's all the negotiations added up which determine the outcome.
Two nice effects: 1) there's very little individual thinking time necessary, i.e. thinking of what you're going to do when it's your turn. 2) It's not obvious who is winning just from looking at the state of the game. Money is kept secret. You *can* gang up and spurn whoever you *think* is winning, but most people don't keep careful enough track, and often it ends up being a surprise who wins after the game is over. With all the money that changed hands during the game, it downright shocked us how close the game ended up, and how far behind the person who we all thought was winning actually was.
I wasn't sure whether I would really like a game so heavily based on negotiation. Now I am.
Game can be played seriously or lightly.
The tower movement mechanism is very unique.
Playing time is not very long, compared to older negotiation style games.
Very hard to know or figure out what a fair trade is.
The two player version of the game is pretty decent.
I like negotiation games and this is one of the best out there. Even my wife likes to play this game.
These streets are paved with opportunities for wandering traders. You visit up to five buildings each turn, one of which has actions that you'll perform for nothing. Negotiate with others to guide your itinerary ("If you want what's offered there, you'll pay me to go there!"), and auction buildings' actions to interested competitors (the winners pay you). Collect Orders that show both the goods you must purchase at a Warehouse and the Villa where they must be delivered. Buildings also offer trading privileges or markers in your color that you can place to earn commissions from visiting traders. Win by finishing as the wealthiest trader. We wouldn't swap this superlative game of negotiation for anything!
This booming city offers many ways for shrewd, industrious negotiators to become wealthy. Each turn, you can visit up to five buildings, which offer a variety of potentially rewarding benefits. You may visit just one building, taking whatever benefit it offers for free; but it is far better to listen to offers from other players, who may want something that another building has to offer. When you go to another building, an auction for its benefits is conducted, and you can accept whatever offer you like best. At some buildings, for example, you can get free extra benefits, or markers that you place in buildings to earn you money when others use those buildings' benefits. At other buildings, you draw Orders, which specify commodities you can acquire at warehouses, as well as places where the commodities can be delivered in exchange for money. The player ending up with the most money wins.
Ravensburger's Alea label has quickly become recognized as an excellent brand. They clearly take time in selecting which designs to publish, and one of their challenges seems to be in maintaining consistently high quality. If I could be critical, it would only be that they failed to make their edition of Adel Verpflichtet playable with six players, something that would have possibly encouraged more owners of the original to shell out their money. This minor nit aside, their latest full box release of Die Händler von Genoa (The Traders of Genoa) continues their string of strong original designs while fostering some similarities to their earlier titles of Chinatown and Princes of Florence.
The scene this time is the town square of Genoa, and each player takes the role of a Trader with all kinds of ways to make money. Each building in Genoa is associated with an action that can help to support these various moneymaking schemes, and the novel mechanism in the game is that each player "walks" through the town for up to five steps each turn. Where they go, where they stop, and what they do when there creates ways to generate cash or build a foundation for future earnings. The board shows 18 buildings laid out across an $8\times8$ grid, with 14 buildings ringing the edge and four more bordering the four-square town center. Empty street spaces separate these sections. Five wooden disks represent the steps, and these get dropped off one by one walks through the plaza. This visible pattern of the walk not only ensures that the proper distance is covered, but also helps to verify that certain moneymaking criteria have been met.
There are four direct ways to earn cash, each represented by a deck of small cards. The "small sale" card (blue) pays you to sell a specific good in a specific location in the city. The "large sale" card (pink) pays you to sell three different but specific goods in a specific location, paying you more in total but less per unit, but also earning you one of five special action chits. The "messenger" card (green) pays you whenever two buildings are connected in any players' walk. The "privilege" card (tan) pays off only at the end of the game, and each represents the privilege (deed) for one of the buildings. Holding the privilege for one building is worth a little, but holding privileges for adjacent buildings generates incremental profits. Each player begins with one of each type of card, and others can be acquired throughout the game.
In addition to these direct methods of raising cash, there are multiple other ways, primarily through negotiation. You see, although you can walk up to five spaces each turn, you can only take one action per turn. "Taking an action" means having the right to use the action associated with a particular building, which can also then allow the sale of goods as described above. Since you can only take one action on your walk, you can sell the rights to other players for buildings you walk through, or even let their incentives determine which way you move through the town. You begin your turn by throwing two eight-sided dice to determine where you'll take your first step, then walk up to four more steps. Since buildings are adjacent along the outside edge of the board, you can generate up to five separate actions to be used by the players if you start and stay on the edge. If you start in the center or walk to the center, you will walk through some empty street squares, but in Genoa even these can create value.
To understand this concept, it is necessary to understand the actions associated with the buildings. The four cards mentioned each have buildings associated with them. The "action" in the Rathaus, for example, is to take two of the blue small sale cards. The action of the Poststation is to take two green cards, and in the Gildenhalle is to take a single pink large sale card. The brown privilege cards can be taken in each of the four villas, but the villas also have an additional use. Each very valuable pink card can only be sold in one of these same buildings and once there you can either take a privilege card or cash in a pink card, but not both. Four spaces near the corners represent warehouses where goods are acquired. Each of these holds two types of goods; by taking the action in that building you take one of each. So, if you have a blue card that allows you to sell silk in the Park, you need to first acquire a silk cube either by trading for it or by taking the action in the Tuchlager. Later on, then, you need to get to the Park to take the action and cash in the blue card with the silk.
Using just the basic cards and the goods, here is how a typical player's turn may look. I begin by rolling the dice that start me in the Rathaus. "Anyone interested in me going left or right?", I ask, trying to gauge interest to maximize this walk's earnings. Larry tells me that he wants some wheat, so if I could get to the Getreidelager (where wheat and rice are housed) he would be willing to deal. Marcia prefers the other direction, since getting more green cards at the Poststation intrigues her and she makes that known. Christian then makes a firm offer for the current building, offering me one of the two blue cards he would collect there. Since he has made an offer, my only choices now are to accept, get him or someone else to pay me more, or take the action myself. Doug offers the same, and since I don't need to take the highest offer this could be a better deal depending on the game situation. Christian adds five ducats to his offer, and I say okay. We split the cards, and then I ask Larry to clarify his intent with the wheat. Since the action of the Getreidelager is to take one wheat cube and one rice cube, he offers me the rice if I give him the action. Marcia can't match this free good so I agree, step into the Getreidelager. Larry takes the action (collecting one wheat and one rice) and gives me the rice as my payment. I still haven't taken an action yet during this walk, but since Christian and Larry have they are out of it for now. I use my last steps to hopefully collect money or goods in exchange for selling the actions off to Marcia or Doug and of course taking one of the building actions for myself. When my walk is over, I pass the stack of five walking disks to the next player and he begins his walk. "I'd like the pink card if you can get to the Gildenhalle", I say...
Not too complicated if all the game had were the four card types and goods associated with them. But, the depth of this game cannot be underestimated as there are two other key features that, combined with the above, allow for the creation of some very detailed and clever trades. The first of these features are the special action chits. There are five of these, and each has a building or buildings associated with them. One allows to choose where you begin your walk rather than roll dice, very valuable to ensure that you get to the place you need to cash in that pink card or pick up that needed good. The second allows you to take any good off the board and use it as part of a sale or trade. The third lets you take an extra action on a walk. So, I can take two actions on my own walk or buy a second action on someone else's. The fourth is a great concept: the 1:1 trade. With this chit, I can trade one of anything for one of anything else on the board, except for cash of course. Simply, I could trade a cube of silk for a cube of copper to better match my cards. Or, I could trade one type of special action chit for another, or for a blue card. Anything for anything, and this can be very useful.
The fifth special action chit, the "building chit", is associated with the second special feature mentioned above. Each player has "possession markers" in their color available at the side of the board. The action of the Kathedrale building is to take two of your markers and place them in front of you. These could also be acquired through a trade with another player or with your 1:1 chit. At the end of each walk, starting from the walking player, players can place their possession markers on buildings adjacent to steps taken in the empty street spaces. These markers have three distinct values. First, the bank pays you 10 ducats when anyone else takes the action in that building. Placed early on an important building, this can generate good income throughout the game. Second, every possession marker on a building at the game's end is worth another 10 ducats. Third, when used in conjunction with the fifth action chit, you can take the action of the building you possess even when you're not there, as long as you've taken the action somewhere else. Let me explain this. Say earlier that I placed one of my possession markers on the Taverna, which allows a player to take a 1:1 action chit as the action. On someone's walk, I purchase the action in the Villa Colini, which gives me a privilege card. But, before ending up my action, I turn in a special building chit (gained earlier through trade or actioning the Palazzo building), and take a 1:1 chit, since my possession marker is on the Taverna and the building action chit allows me to exercise my right of possession.
The combinations of primary cards, special actions chits, possession markers, and an "everyone can take an action on each player's turn" mechanism create an extremely dynamic and interactive play. You cannot rest in this game and stay on top of things, as a winning strategy usually results from a series of small individual decisions about what to bid for, what to keep for yourself, how to creatively trade, and who to trade with. The negotiations in this game can be both simple and complex. Only two-player deals are allowed (fortunately), but even with this constraint the options are quite varied. Splitting items at the buildings where two are earned comes up often, as do simple "cash for this action" offers. More interesting, though not always more profitable, are deals involving changes in possession markers, swaps of privilege cards to possibly give someone a larger string of connected buildings, or swaps of special action chits. It is not uncommon to be in a position of being offered very different things from two people for the right to action the same building, so understanding how each helps them and which offer is better for you has be made quickly and decisively or the game bogs down.
Bogging down can be an issue. With five players, this game can take from one and a half to three and half hours based on the level of detail allowed in the negotiations and the number of options considered before moving on. We've found that it works best when everyone tries to push his or her walk along and not spend too much time trying to evaluate the complete matrix of decisions and steps possible. The game officially ends on the last player's turn when a round marker hits a predetermined spot (which varies based on the number of players). This marker advances each time everyone has taken one walk, however it also advances if a walk begins in the center of the plaza, represented by four grid areas. As a result, the game can randomly move ahead faster through the right dice rolls, or be forced ahead by a player choosing to use a special action chit to begin his walk in the center.
Comparisons to Chinatown are fair in that negotiation is the heart of this game. In Chinatown, however, while you cannot predict what businesses or land spaces will be drawn in future turns, you can often accurately calculate the value of what you get versus what your dealing partner gets in a deal. In Genoa this is much more difficult, because one can't be exactly sure why someone wants that pepper cube and if in fact they'll get to the building needed to sell it in time. The reward gained is not as straight forward in many cases and where it is, a wise player will try to extract much of the value from you.
Like Princes of Florence, a game that shares the artwork of Genoa but feels nothing like it, there is no sure-fire strategy that wins this game but there are multiple ways to consider. In our group's games, people have made significant advances by concentrating on "messenger" cards (the green ones); by collecting connected strings of privilege cards; by using possession markers adroitly; by being highly selective about who to deal with when possible; by making multi-step maneuvers after gaining the action -- maneuvers that involve special action chits and selling cards; and by helping to control the flow of the game by forcing advancements on the turn marker track. There are likely many more subtle and obvious ways as well. Another sign of the strength in the game is the fact that often the final scores are quite close. It is only after several plays that you begin to truly appreciate that paying 20 versus for an action that could have been had for 10 can have real consequences.
I don't believe that Die Händer von Genoa will be as popular as some of the earlier Alea titles, especially Taj Mahal and Florence. It is a very deep and robust game, and in many ways more difficult to get your arms around than the others. Chinatown's mechanisms are much simpler, Florence's objectives are easier to define, and while reading other players' signals is imperative in Taj Mahal its effects are not as cumulative as in Genoa. It does provide a great gaming experience for those who like this style game, and brings a level of sophistication and true strategy that sets a new standard for games using negotiation as their principle mechanism.