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Hard Decisions Ahead!

21 May

Rialto Review

Box Cover

Box Cover

It’s been a while since my last review. Somehow I just been busy with other things (exclude playing games) like making player aids, pnp games and such. And to mark my comeback a decent review of Rialto should pay off the debt,

Stefan Feld released 3 games on 2013 and this one being one of the three. The title is unique and catchy, but not known to most people, even myself at that time. So, what is Rialto? The Rialto is and has been for many centuries the financial and commercial center of Venice. It is an area of the San Polo of Venice, Italy, also known for its markets and for the Rialto bridge across the Grand Canal.
The above description should let you know the theme of the game. The game takes place on Italy, somewhere around Venice through it’s canal system and the famous and unique Gondola boats.
As you can see from the box description, the game is played around 45-60 minutes and can be played from 2 up to 5 players. Judging from the game time, the game is fall upon the category of light to medium Euro.

I’m a collector of Stefan Feld games and this one was surely a no brainer purchase for me. I snatched the game before Bora-Bora since Bora-Bora was hard to find that time. I read the rules in an instant and found the game to be quite straight and simple. Okay, let’s move on to the meat of the review.

1. Theme
As you can see like other Feld’s games, the theme is not very strong on this one. You as might say that it’s completely pasted onto the game. Come on seriously, assigning councilmen throughout the district to gain as many points / influence, that sounds… very common. But aside from that, in this game players place their Councilmen into each district and gain points based on majority.

2. Artworks
The game has impressive artwork I must admit and the artist tried to give different approach on the style compares to other Euro games (or Feld’s games). Euro games has a distinctive visual appearance on the art style, mostly they are wrapped with illustration / painting style of middle age or classical theme. But not this one, though you can feel the classic approach of the artwork but it has different style, without using basic painting or illustration on the cover but more like vector graphic with subtle coloring (Gold color over burgundy red background). The cover image is pretty much represent the theme, with a bridge over canal and gondola boat runs through it. Andreas Resch and Hans-Georg Schneider did a good job not only with the cover but also the card arts and map on the game board.

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Some people (including me) found that some parts of the game board invite a question mark. If you pay attention to the detail of the 6 districts, there are 2 major color that separate the district into 2 parts (these are called Grand Canals), the yellow and blue districts. But as you give more attention, the 2 colors have different tones from each other. The artist might have a good reason for this but people that I introduced the game kept asking why they have different colors and I had to give some extra explanation to it. Not that it’s bad and not suitable, since I understand that they want each district to be easy to recognize from each other. I guess, putting a fine white / black outline on each district edge should solve the issue. The other issue is the scoring track, it’s hard to differentiate, by using only a small symbol of flower as the separator between spaces.

Game Board

Game Board

3. Game Components
Now, straight out of the box. You can find some basic components of Euro games inside, game board, cards, wooden tokens and tiles. I use a copy from Pegasus spiele for this review. The game board is a 3 folds board with colorful artworks and good quality with the back side of the board is shown not blank cover but blue cover background with a big centered Rialto logo. The 77 cards are one size small cards (45x68mm) and though they’re in good quality, I suggest to sleeve them for they will be shuffled often in each of your game. I sleeved my cards with premium sleeves since standard sleeves are easy to worn out. Building and coin tiles are thick and in good quality while some of the wooden components are not in perfect condition, but not an issue. The player mats are made fro thick paper material, if they used the same material as the tiles, it could have been much better.

Game Components

Game Components

4. Game Play
The game plays over 6 rounds (shown by the 6 districts on the map) which each round has 3 phases that must be completed. During phase Cards, players starting with the turn order on the Doge Track, each player choose 1 column of cards available on the table (there always number of players plus one rows of cards laid on the table at this phase. Each column has 6 cards and after each player choose and take a column of cards, he draw 2 more from the face down draw pile. This let 2 cards in his hand unknown to other players while the rest are known. During this phase players may activate green buildings they own by paying a coin for each building he wants to activate. Each building can only be activated once per round. After all players are done activating the buildings, they reduce cards from their hands to it’s hand limit (normally 7 cards, so each player need to discard 1 card from his hand face down) which can be modified with some green buildings.

Districts

Districts

In the next phase, players play cards from their hand in specific order from stage A to F. In this phase the player who is in the most advance space on the doge track continue in clockwise order opens the first stage, Doge action. Each player plays Doge card(s) he wants to play into the table. For each Doge card he plays, he advance his marker on the doge track. Player with the most doge cards played each round gets the bonus of the Doge action, which is advance 1 more space on the doge track. In case of a tie, the player with marker on the right and top most doge track win the bonus.

And then player who obtains the previous action bonus open the next stage and continue clockwise. The next stage is Coin action, for each Coin card played, the player gets 1 coin from the general supply and place it on his personal supply. Player with the most Coin cards played get 1 additional coin.

Next stage is Build action, players can build building by the total value of Brick cards he played. There are 3 types (colors) of buildings and each type has 4 different levels. This levels are also the value of the building itself. Players place the building they acquired into available spaces on their player mats which are limited for 7 buildings. Player with the most Brick cards gets additional value of 1 on the sum of the brick cards played.

Next stage is Bridge action. In this phase player gets 1 points for each Bridge card played and if a player does not play at least 1 Bridge card during his turn, he lose 1 point. Player with the most Bridge cards played, get the bonus 1 additional points and gets to place the top most Bridge tile on one of the available slots that connect two districts on the board.

The next stage is Gondola action, which players take 1 of his Councilman token from the general supply into his personal supply for each Gondola card he played. If there is no Councilmen left on the general supply, the player scores 1 points for each excess card. Player with the most Gondola cards played take the Gondola tile from the stack and place it on one of the available slots and take 1 Councilman from the general supply and place it on one of the two districts connected by the Gondola tile that he had placed earlier.
Oh yeah I forgot to mention that there are two minor scoring of the Grand Canals. There are 2 scoring worth of 5 points which each represent one side of the Grand Canals (blue and yellow) that happens on the Gondola and Councilman stages, and only restricted for the first player(s) that complete the objective. To acquire these points, players need to have at least 1 Councilman in each of the three district of a Grand Canal (blue or yellow), If a player complete this objective at the Gondola stage, then he get the points alone and flip the tile corresponding to which Grand Canal and no other player may score this points again. If the objective is completed during the Councilman stage, and more than 1 player completes it, those players receive the points.

A-F Stages

A-F Stages

The last phase is the Councilman action, which players place 1 Councilman token from his supply to the current district for each Councilman card played this round. If there is no Councilman left on the personal supply, player may move his Councilmen from other districts to the current district. Player with the most cards may place 1 additional Councilman.

During this phase, players may activate yellow buildings during their turn. The next phase is only about activating blue buildings and play continues to the next round.

After the last round ends, the final scoring takes place. The final scoring comes from three different aspects, from personal supply, buildings and districts scoring. Each player gets points from the total sum leftover coins and Councilmen left on his personal supply and divided by 2 rounded up, total sum of owned buildings (sum the levels). The districts scoring are special, each district are scored by calculate all the value from Bridge and Gondola tiles that adjacent to that district, player with the most Councilmen in that district scores that many points, while the 2nd player scores the half of that points and so on (rounded down). The doge track always break ties whenever necessary.

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5. Replay Value
Though the game is quick but the replay value is quite high. Th cards are random but the main factors that make this game has high replay value are the combination of buildings, randomize rounds over districts and the players interaction itself. There are 12 different buildings with different effects which can be combined and used based on your actions and strategy. The cards that form the columns also affects game play and can change player’s strategy in the middle of the game.

My Thought of The Game
Some might say that Rialto is one of Feld’s games that has the highest luck element by the drawing of the cards. But, the essence is how to manage your specific hands to your benefit and how decision making is really hold the key on the game. In the game players will face hard decisions over their action on the course of the game. This boiled down upon the first phase, which determines players actions on subsequent phases and rounds. Generally, in Rialto you need to balance all aspects (stages) each round. The game makes sure that there are consequences for give away one or more aspects in the game. You need to advance in the Doge track which is essential to break ties (especially in the district scoring) and to keep you choose columns first, you also need coins to keep your buildings effective, and you also need to acquire buildings before you can use it afterwards, they’re essentially points after all. And you also need to actively contributing on the bridge, since bridges give you points and also strategic positioning for the final districts scoring. With bridge tiles you can adjust when and where you want the scoring beneficiary for you. Gondola is your resources, you cannot place Councilman if you don’t have any in you personal supply and Gondola tiles are also useful to hold or block your opponents districts scoring. In the end, Councilmen are important to fill districts with your Councilmen tokens.

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So every decision is important and can change the course of the game. I personally think that since how important your actions are, player usually takes time when deciding which column of cards he should take. Other than that, the game is quite fast and each round can be played from 5-10 minutes. I like the game, though it’s quite unfamiliar from other Feld’s game (considering the area majority and hand management mechanics). It’s a great fun medium game.

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