Feld-ruary #6 – Rialto

19 Feb

One of the most interesting things I’ve found by playing a whole bunch of Stefan Feld games is that none of them have really felt like anything else I’ve played. There are no other games around that play like Macao, or The Speicherstadt, or In the Year of the Dragon. Rum & Pirates is probably the closest to feeling like another designer could have made it, but there are enough Feld parts to make it his.

And then there’s Rialto. A game which, except for one aspect, feels like half a dozen other games I’ve played. I don’t necessarily mean that negatively, because (SPOILER) I enjoyed the game, but of what we’ve played this month, it’s the most “generic”.

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To be honest, the theme of this game is as boring as boring could be. Players are Nobles trying to populate the various districts of Venice with the most councilmen and the best buildings. Zzzzzzzzzz.

The game itself plays over a series of 6 rounds. Each round is broken up into 3 phases: Get cards, Actions, and Blue Building action phase.

Get cards phase is simple. Rows of 6 cards are dealt face up onto the table, 1 more than the number of players. Whoever is furthest ahead on the Doge track (because Feld loves messing with turn order!) gets to pick first. They simply choose 1 of the rows as their hand. They then draw two cards blindly from the deck. They wrap up this phase by discarding down to 7 cards. If a player has a green building on their player board, they can activate it, usually to draw and/or keep more cards.

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Next up is the action phase. This phase goes down a pre-prescribed order through all the various things in the game (Doge track, Gold, Building, Bridge, Gondola, Councilman). Doge, Gold, and Building actions are super simple. Play X cards, move that many spaces / get that many coins / get a building of that value.

Bridge cards get you victory points. The Bridge action victor, though both gets 1 more point, plus they get to place a bridge between two districts on the board. At the end of the game, each island is worth a number of points equal to their half of the bridge tokens touching it. 

The Gondola action gets players the Councilmen they need to place on the board in the next action. It also allows them to place a Gondola tile between two districts, and place 1 Councilman into one of the two districts. There is a special point bonus if you can be the first player to have Councilmen in all of the districts on one side of the Grand Canal.

Finally, the Councilman action simply lets players dump as many Councilmen as they can into the current turn’s district (denoted by the Doge token).

Any yellow building a player has on their board may be activated during the action phase. All building activations during the game require the use of 1 Gold Coin.

Finally, players can use any of their Blue Buildings to perform end of round actions. Many of these give victory points, or can improve a player’s buildings for future turns.

After 6 rounds, the game ends and final scoring happens. Players get some points for leftover coins and Councilmen in their personal supplies and full points for the values of each building in play. The major points come from district scoring. Whoever has the most Councilmen on each district gets a number of points equal to the adjacent gondola and bridge tiles. 2nd place gets 1/2 that many points, 3rd place gets 1/2 THAT, and 4th gets ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! High score wins.

As we were playing Rialto, I mentioned that it felt a lot like other games. The first one that came to mind was the classic San Marco (funnily enough, San Marco is a district in this game, leading me to consider another theme night of games that take place within other games); A game I’ve never played, but have read enough to know that Rialto has a whole lot of very similar elements. It also reminded me quite a bit of Portabello Market – a quick playing, and kind of forgotten little game by Playroom Entertainment.

Overall, I enjoyed playing Rialto, but felt very much of the time like the game was playing me. I felt many times like I was just at the mercy of the cards I drew, and that I didn’t have many meaningful decisions. Especially once I flat out could not keep up on the Doge track , it became very difficult to wrest control of a turn away from my opponent. I didn’t mention it earlier, but whoever is furthest ahead on that track wins all ties. Since hands of cards are only 7-8 for most of the game at most, the ability to win most actions with 1-2 cards is GIGANTIC. I had 2 turns early on where I didn’t get a single Doge card. I lost complete control of the game at that point. That’s not to say the game is a luck-fest, but I think it has the potential to have a runaway leader issue. I may need to play with more players to know for sure.

Next time, we travel to the tropical island of Bora Bora, and I get angry at fish.

 

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