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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Rialto

Rialto is a medium area control game by the well known board game designer Stefan Feld. Although I have wanted to try one of his games for a while this is my first run in with one of his titles. I really enjoyed it, there are multiple layers to the gameplay and you have tons of options when you develop your strategy, yet it still is over quickly as long as no one playing is AP prone.



Objective: You are trying to gain control of Venice by developing buildings and seeding your councilmen into the various districts of Venice. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game will be determined the winner.

Gameflow: Rialto is played over 6 rounds and each round consists of 2 phases. In the first phase players will gain cards to use during the second phase. In the second phase players go through a series of stages where they will play as many of a particular card type as they wish.

It is important to keep in mind that the game focuses a lot on having majority control. Each stage in the 2nd phase will give an effect for each card you play and then an additional award to player who played the most of each card type. And at the end of the game each district awards points based on who has the most councilmen there.

In addition to the score track Rialto has a second track on the board called the doge track. This score board is used to break ties during phase 2 and at the end of the game scoring, decide who chooses cards first during phase 1.

Phase 1

During this phase each player (In order of the doge track) will choose one of the card piles available, then draw 2 cards at random and finally everyone gets to activate any green buildings they wish to. It may be helpful to now know what the heck I am talking about.

Lay out a number of rows equal to 1 more than the number of players each containing 6 face up cards.
Card rows available in a two player game.
Here is what each card does:

Doge
Each Card Played: +1 space on the Doge Track
Whoever played the most: +1 extra space on the Doge Track

Coin:
Each Card Played: +1 coin
 Whoever played the most: +1 extra coin

Building:
Each Card Played: +1 building value for the turn
Whoever played the most: +1 extra building value

Bridges:
Each Card Played: +1 victory point, in addition if you do not play a bridge on any turn you lose 1 victory point
 Whoever played the most: +1 extra victory point and you get to place the bridge tile it can go between any open connection and you decide which way to orient the bridge.

Gondola:
Each Card Played: Move 1 of your councilmen from your general supply to your personal supply
Whoever played the most: Place a Gondola tile anywhere on the board then place 1 councilman from your general supply and place him on either side of the Gondola.

Councilmen:
Each Card Played: Place 1 councilman onto the board into the current district, if you do not have any councilmen you may instead move a councilman one space on the game board.
Whoever played the most: Place 1 extra councilman into the current district
Joker:
1 joker: play with a card from any stage to increase the number of cards played by 1
2 jokers: play in place of a card you do not currently possess

Phase 2:
Players proceed through the following stages, you have 1 chance during each stage to play cards and activate buildings, you cannot later add a joker or activate a yellow building to get more than the number of cards someone played after you.

Stage A: Doge
Who Plays First: The first played on the Doge track
Stage B: Coin
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most doge cards
Stage C: Building
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most coin cards
Stage D: Bridge
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most Building cards
Stage E: Gondola
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most Bridge cards
Stage F: Councilmen
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most Gondola cards

Any cards you chose not to use are carried over to the next round, however you must include them in your maximum hand size.

Phase 3:
Players may activate any blue buildings. Cleanup all discarded cards as well as the remaining pile that players could have chosen.

What does all this mean, how do you score points?

At the end of the game:

The player who claimed the district bonus is awarded 5 victory points. To claim the district bonus you must be the first player to have councilmen in either all 3 orange or all 3 blue districts of the board.
Each building is worth its building value in victory points.
The yellow player would score 16 points for their buildings and 5 for having the district bonus.

Every coin and councilman in your personal supply at the end of the game is worth 1/2 of a victory point. Be sure to round up.
Yellow scores 1 point for having 1 councilman in their personal supply.
Each district is scored based on the value of all connections touching it. The player with the most councilmen will score the full value of the district, the player with the second most councilmen will score half that and the player with the third most councilmen will score half of the previous value. Make sure to round down.
White player will score 12 points for having majority control, for having the second most yellow will score 6 and green will score 3 points.
My Thoughts:
I have really been enjoying Rialto because of its many different viable strategies. More than any game I have tried in a while you are able to tweak the game's mechanics to fit your play style and come up with a strategy that is totally your own. That is because seemingly every action you take awards you with points in one way or another with the exception of the Doge which allows you to break all ties.

Start with coins, each coin card played is worth 1/2 a point with the opportunity to gain an extra 1/2 if you played the most cards. How you spend your coins either converts to direct points or to actions that give you more points. Take blue buildings for example (with the exception of the doge building) the 2 value gives you 1/2 point and a substitute for a card action, if you cannot take that action you instead gain 1 1/2 points. The 4 point building allows you to gain 2 1/2 victory points and even the smallest 1 value building allows you to upgrade a building netting you 1/2 point and giving you access to a higher value building. The green buildings for example let you keep more cards to play during phase 2, well cards = actions which = points (with the exception of doge cards). Yellow buildings give you the ability to turn cards into cards of any type giving you an action of your choice essentially, keeping in mind that using any building = - 1/2 points.

Building cards: each card played = 1 point with the ability to spend points to get more points and the chance of gaining 1 extra point if you played the most building cards.

Bridges: bridge cards are 1 point each with a chance of a bonus point, but mainly they let you change the value of each district you will always be increasing the value of any two districts as long as 1 side of the bridge is connected to the current district.

Gondolas: each gondola card is 1/2 a point unless you have no councilmen in your general supply in which case each gondola is worth 1 point. If you play the most gondolas first place a gondola token between any two districts, you now have the chance to place a councilman into the district on either side making it easy for you to snag the district bonus, break or cause ties. This can mean that winning the Gondola can give you 7 or 8 points if it causes you to gain majority control of a high valued district.

Councilmen: Each councilman you place onto the board costs you 1/2 a victory point but will gain you victory points based off the end value of the district you are in, With careful planning you are able to maneuver your councilmen around the board to maximize these points.

I have tried a few different strategies and have come to the conclusion that which strategy you use depends on your starting hand, how many people are playing and what their strategies are.

How does Rialto scale?

2 Players: The rules come with additional rules if you are playing with just 2 or you can use the regular rule set, the rules claim to be advanced but really they don't add any complexity to the game. I really like Rialto as a 2 player but I enjoy playing much better with the regular rule set. The game can be a bit more unforgiving and have a larger gap in points so I would definitely consider the advanced version a tighter game and probably more balanced but I still have more fun without adding a dummy player.

3 Players: Gameplay is balanced well with 3 players and because placing bridges and gondolas will benefit more than 1 district you will almost never see pointless feuds or kingmaking situations arise. I enjoy 3 players because you are able to keep a good eye on what other players are up to and it is easier to tell if you will win a stage in phase 2 and adjust your plans accordingly. I also really enjoy how easy it is to manipulate the bridges in a 3 player game, I think this is subjective to who you are playing with but often our 3 player games feel almost rushed along and most people I play with skip bridges entirely some of the rounds.

4 Players: Voted most popular on bgg, 4 player Rialto is considered the sweet spot for number of players. Adding more players definitely adds more depth to the gameplay and more decision making but also more thinking. This is my main criticism of 4 player Rialto, every single decision matters a lot, even more than usual. For whatever reason our 4 player games bog down the most, think hard but please keep in mind the other players.

5 Players: 5 and 2 player are my favourite ways to play Rialto. I enjoy 5 more than 4 because players do not suffer from AP as much, its harder to keep an eye on everyone's cards making it hard to guess who will win which stage in phase 2, 2 players will not score any points for a district so everyone has an easier time saying no to getting councilment into a district. This also encourages some of the more straightforward strategies such as going heavy into buildings but keep in mind in a 5 player game the limited supply of each building matters a lot more. This also encourages some thinking outside of the box and you will see people try things that you didn't / wouldn't think of yourself or wouldn't try in a smaller game. There are some very interesting ways to score points in Rialto and you will have fun figuring out which way works best. Often one or two people simply dominate the board in our 5 player game ranking first in all of the districts between them.

Criticisms

Mainly, it is fiddly / clunky. There are a few buildings that almost never get used, the game setup / first turn can give 1 player a huge advantage or severely cripple someone. and one very strong strategy is to completely ignore a key part of the game. I will give some examples, the yellow 1 cost building that lets you wait until all other players have played in stage 2, this is an alright benefit but it gets better if you get more card selection and buildings on your turns, definitely not the building you want to start with. When you activate your blue buildings at the end of the round you put a coin on them just to remove it 15 seconds later (fiddly). The player who gets the green building has a significant advantage, the player who got the blue building needs to get building cards in their opening cards in order for their building to be useful and the player who gets the yellow building needs to get joker cards in their hand or enough building cards and coin cards to gain access to a higher value yellow building and pay for the rank 1 yellow building, although if you manage to get jokers the yellow building can be crucial to taking and maintaining doge control.

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