Designer: Stefan Feld
Publisher: Pegasus/Tasty Minstrel Games
Time: 45-60 Minutes
Times played: 5 (between games at the Gathering of Friends and games with a review copy provided by Tasty Minstrel Games)
2013 looks to be a banner year for Stefan Feld. So far, there have been three major designs from him (Bruges, Bora Bora, Rialto) and one that is scheduled for Essen (Amerigo). Like other designers, I definitely feel that most Feld games share a common backbone. While the theming and particular mechanics might change, most Feld games will provide the player with a multitude of opportunities to score points (and never enough time/actions to score well in all possible choices) and some sort of randomization factor to keep the game lively. Finally, most Feld games have some sort of penalty mechanic which can cause great anguish to the player. Rialto does not truly follow this pattern as it doesn’t have the penalty aspect at all, but it has most of the other Feldian characteristics. It gives the gamer a lighter game to enjoy than some of the other members of the Feld canon.
Venice is one of those recurrent themes in TGOO (these games of ours) – like Rome, Pirates, hedgehogs, ancient Egypt, Renaissance Europe, etc… In Rialto, you are trying to have the most power and influence in the city though your buildings and your councilmen in the city.
The board is a depiction of the city of Venice, split up into six different districts. These districts have spaces where bridges and gondolas could connect them together so that each district has 4 connection points. Other than the map of Venice, there is a turn-order track, the Doge track, at the top. There is also an area that serves as the supply of buildings. These buildings will be built over the course of the game, and each of them can grant their owner a special ability. But more on this later… The game is played over 6 rounds, and each of the rounds follows the same general pattern.
Phase 1 – Drawing cards
A number of stacks of 6 cards are dealt to the table, one more stack than the number of players. Starting with the player leading the Doge track, and choosing in Doge track order, players will choose one of the faceup stacks of cards and also take 2 face down cards from the deck – giving them a total of 8 cards. Players then discard down until they have 7 cards left in their hand. [If players have a green building built, they might have special abilities that they will activate in this phase…]
Players need to choose their cards carefully because they will be using these cards in the next phase to take actions. There are 7 different types of cards: Doges, coins, bricks, bridges, gondolas, Venetian seals, and masks which act as wild cards.
Phase 2 – The Action Phase – in 6 easy steps, A to F – during this phase, you can use the special abilities of your yellow buildings
· Step A: The Doge Track – Starting with the player ahead on the Doge track, players play as many Doge cards and wild cards as they want. Once all players have played, players move ahead one space per card on the Doge track (in the order they were previously on the track). If you land on a space that is already occupied, you place your piece on top of the stack on that space. The topmost piece is considered to be the furthest advanced on that space. After movement, the player who played the most cards gets to move an additional space on the track. If there is a tie, the player furthest ahead on the Doge track breaks ties.
· Step B: Gold – starting with the player who got the bonus in the previous step, players play gold cards (and wild cards). Players collect one coin per card played. The player who played the most cards gets an extra coin. Ties are broken by the Doge Track.
· Step C: Buildings – starting with the player who got the bonus in the previous step, players play brick cards (and wild cards). Once all players have played, players build buildings in turn order, receiving one point of building power per card played. The player who played the most cards gets an extra point of building power. Ties are broken by the Doge Track. More on buildings in a later section
· Step D: Bridge building – starting with the player who got the bonus in the previous step, players play bridge cards (and wild cards). Players collect one VP per card played. Additionally, if a player chooses not to play a card, he loses 1 VP instead. The player who played the most cards gets to place a bridge token. Ties are broken by the Doge Track. The bridge token for the round can be seen by all players, and it has numbers on each end varying from 3 to 6. The player who played the most bridge cards can take this token and play it on any connection site, and the numbers on each end will be used in endgame scoring. (more on this later)
· Step E: Gondolas – starting with the player who got the bonus in the previous step, players play gondola cards (and wild cards). Players collect one councilmen from the supply per card played and place them on their player mat. The player who played the most cards gets to place a gondola token. Ties are broken by the Doge Track. The gondola token has the number “1” on both ends. It can be placed on any available connection site. In addition, the player who places this token gets to take one councilman from the supply (not from his player mat) and put it in either region that was connected by the gondola token just placed.
· Step F: Councilmen – starting with the player who got the bonus in the previous step, players play seal cards (and wild cards). Players will place one councilman (from their player mat) in the active region per card played. In each of the six rounds of the game, there will be one active region – this order is randomly determined at the start of the game. The player who played the most cards gets to place an extra councilman (from their player mat) into the active region. Ties are broken by the Doge Track. If a player does not have enough councilmen on his player mat to place, he may move any previously placed councilman from the board to the current active location.
Phase 3 – Cleanup – In this phase, you clean up any activated buildings. Also, if you have any blue buildings, you can use them now.
Buildings – so now would be a good time to talk about the buildings. As I mentioned earlier, there are 12 different types of buildings, of value 1 to 4 in each of the three colors. The buildings are found in the supply on the board. They vary in cost from 1 to 4 points, and each of them has a different action. Green buildings deal with card drawing and discarding and are used in Phase 1. Yellow buildings involve the playing of cards. Blue buildings are used in Phase 3 – they allow you to score VPs and other stuff.
In order to use a building, you have to place a coin on top of it for the activation cost. This coin remains on top of the building until the end of Phase 3 so that you only do the action once each round. A few examples of the buildings are:
· Green #4: When drawing cards, the player may choose either one face-up card from the unchosen row of cards OR three extra face-down cards from the deck. Additionally, the player may keep two extra cards in his hand for this round.
· Yellow #2: The player may play one card (A) as a card of any other type (B)
· Blue #3: The player advances a number of spaces on the Doge track equal to the current position of his counter (i.e. 1 space if you are in the lead on the track, 5 spaces if you are in 5th place)
Endgame Scoring – The game ends after the sixth round is complete.
· Half a point for each leftover councilman and coin on your player mat
· Points for buildings equal to the sum of their values
· Points for districts – You look at each of the districts on the board. The point value for the district is equal to the sum of the numbers on the side of the four connector pieces (bridges and gondolas) that touch that district. Whichever player has the most councilmen in the area scores that many points (ties broken by the final Doge track standings). Second place gets half the points of the first place person. Third gets half the points of second, and so on…
Like all other ties in this game, if points are tied at the end, the Doge Track breaks that tie as well.
My thoughts on the game
This is a decent effort by Herr Feld, and of his 2013 releases, this one is probably the most accessible to families and more casual gamers. While there are still some parts of the rules that are complicated, I’ve had good games of this with my two boys (aged 12 and 10), and they were easily able to pick up the rules and strategies of the game within the first play.
The game is well produced – the cards are sturdy and tiles punch out easily. I’ve had some issues with Pegasus components in the past, but the current production standards are as high quality as I’ve come to expect from the major German publishers. The trickiest part of the game, the buildings, have very nice iconography on them which should help most players easily identify and remember their function. In addition, the simplistic pictorial phase review in the corner of the board is a nice and elegant reminder for players.
After my first game or two, there was some grumbling about two different points, with claims that either could “break the game”. First, some people feel that the green buildings – the ones that allow you to draw more and/or keep more cards in your hand were more powerful than the other two colors. However, I’ve seen players using a heavy blue strategy – scoring 4 or 6 points in each Phase 3 – be successful against players who were drawing 14 cards and keeping 11 each round. Additionally, there are 5 of each building type in the game, so theoretically all players should have an equal chance to get one of those buildings if they really desired it.
Second, there have been some complaints that the Doge track has too much influence over the game. To those people, I say – buck up! Everyone that plays the game has the same knowledge – that the Doge track breaks all ties in the game (and there are a lot of ties)… so it’s not like this is going to sneak up on you. If you want to break ties, then expend the effort to lead the Doge race. I have also seen players do very well by simply ignoring the Doge track altogether, thus giving them more cards each round to use on other actions. Additionally, the Blue #3 building can allow you to jump back into the Doge race without having to play Doge cards.
This game is much simpler than some of the recent Feld releases (such as Trajan or Bora Bora), and in many ways, it’s a nice break from the “point salad” scoring systems found in his other games. There are a few different ways to score points. During the game, you score for bridge cards played as well as with some of the blue buildings. The majority of the scoring comes at the end in the region scoring… In one game with my boys, we had one region have only bridges on it, and I think it was worth 20 points!
The luck aspect does not seem quite as high here – yes, there is some luck of the draw in the cards, but in most rounds, you’ll be able to see the majority of your cards as you select a pile. Of course, you’ll have better selection if you’re first on the Doge track as opposed to being last, but that’s something you’ll have to decide about as you play. Also, there is some variation in the scoring numbers on the bridges, but the numbers are known prior to each round, so if there’s a tile you really want, you know about it and can shape your turn towards getting it if you want.
So, this isn’t my favorite Feld game. Heck, it’s not even my favorite Feld game from 2013 – that title is currently held by Bruges. But, this is probably the Feld game I’d use as an introduction to his style of game. It’s easy to teach, easy to grok, and comes in well under an hour – all characteristics I like in introductory games. I would not want to wade into Feld-virgin waters with Burgundy, Bora Bora, Trajan, etc. Rialto is a solid game, and one that will keep it’s spot in my game collection.
THOUGHTS FROM OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS
Larry (4 plays): Another solid game from Feld and one of his most accessible ones. I enjoy the decisions regarding choosing the card stacks, how to play your jokers, and which buildings to construct. The placement mechanics mean that the usual tit-for-tat plays found in most area majority games are avoided, which is a nice plus. I hope Dale is right that the building types are all balanced, as that would allay any concerns about a dominant strategy. Like Dale, this isn’t my favorite Feld game, but it’s one I’m happy to play. Of the three 2013 Feld titles that have appeared to date, I rank Rialto behind Bora Bora, but ahead of Bruges; that latter ranking appears to be a minority view among OGers, for some reason.
Dan Blum (3 plays): Another game that isn’t bad but doesn’t really distinguish itself in any way. And I am less convinced than Dale that the buildings are balanced; I am willing to believe that the green buildings are not overpowered, but I have heard a lot of grumbling about the blue building that allows free building upgrades. Even if that isn’t actually a problem, I can’t see actively wanting to play this.
Luke Hedgren (1 play):
Mary Prasad (1 play): I liked some parts of the game (e.g. the card selection) but I don’t tend to like area majority and I really don’t like having to jockey for position on a tiebreaker track, which seems to be very important in the game (I haven’t played enough to know if what Dale suggests is true – i.e. that you can successfully ignore the Doge track).
RATINGS FROM THE OPINIONATED GAMERS
I love it!
I like it. Dale Yu, W. Eric Martin, Larry, Ted C.
Neutral. Greg Schloesser, Dan Blum, Jonathan F., Mary P.
Not for me…