Grand Austria Hotel
- Designers: Simone Luciani and Virginio Gigli
- Publisher: Lookout Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 60-120 min
Time for another sneak preview – this time from one of my other favorite publisher houses, Lookout Games. Each year, Lookout usually has two or three new games, and the level of complexity is usually right where I like it. For 2015, there are three games, each with a different target. There is an 18xx game, which is likely the most complex of the set – though I’m essentially an 18xx novice, so I’m not the best person to preview that one. Grand Austria Hotel is the “traditional” strategy game, and Hengist is the annual 2p offering for the year. I will hopefully have a chance to look at Hengist as well prior to the show.
Grand Austria Hotel (GAH) is set in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna. You are the owner of a small hotel (maybe even a hostel) and you are competing against your opponents to develop your guesthouse into the best hotel in the city. Hopefully, you will catch the eye of the Emperor and have your hotel called the Grand Austria Hotel.
Each player gets a player board that represents the (potential) rooms in your hotel and your three table hotel bistro at the bottom. The hotel rooms are of three different colors and they are placed in outlined groups of 1-4 rooms, all in the same color. (NB: well, at least that’s what it looks like in the rules that I have.) The boards are two sided – one side has an identical layout for each player (for the basic game) and the backsides are all different if players want a more complex game. There are two other boards that are placed in the center of the table – the action board which shows the 6 possible actions available to the players and the score board which is filled with stuff: it has the score track, the round track, spaces for the 5 travelers (who will hopefully become your guests), the Emperor track and the three special scoring (Politics) cards.
To finish setting up the game, each player takes a guest from the line on the scoring board and places it in their bistro, and each player can take up to 3 rooms and place those tiles on their personal Hotel board. You must start placing rooms in the lower left corner, all later rooms must be adjacent to a previously played room and you must pay the cost of the space as printed on your board. The dice are rolled (14 in a 4p game) and they are placed on the space that matches the rolled number on the game board. Someone is given the start player Turn order tile and play begins.
The game is played over 7 rounds, and there is an interim scoring after Rounds 3, 5, and 7 – this is easily seen on the round track. Play starts with the player with the lowest turn order number showing on their turn order marker. On that turn, the player MAY choose to take a guest from the line on the game board, then the player MUST take a die from the game board and execute the corresponding action. Finally, there are a bunch of supplemental actions that may be taken during the course of the turn.
If you want to take a guest from the board, you can choose any one of the 5 guests that are available. There is a cost printed on the board beneath the guest, ranging from 0 to 3 krone. If you choose to take one, it is placed in your bistro. Then, the remaining guests in the line on the game board are pushed to the right and a new guest is placed in the leftmost (and most expensive) space.
Then, it’s time to take an action. As I said earlier, there are 6 action spaces on the game board, and the dice are rolled at the start of each round and placed in their matching slots. In general, the number of dice on any given space determines the strength of the action you take. To take an action, you first count how many dice are in the chosen column, then remove a die from the column of the action you take and place that die on your turn order tile, covering up the lowest number. You may elect to pay 1 krone to the bank to add one die to the number of dice in your chosen column when you calculate how many are there.
Action #1 – for each die on this space, you can take coffee or cake cube, but you may not take more cake than coffee
Action #2 – For each die on this space, you take take wine or strudel cubes, but you cannot take more strudel than wine
Action #3- for each die on this space, you can prepare a room. Take a room tile from the game board and place it in your hotel, but you must be able to afford its cost (printed on the matching colored space on the hotel board) and it must be adjacent to a previously placed room.
Action #4 – for each die on this space, you can advance one space on the Emperor or Money tracks. You can divide between the two tracks any way you choose.
Action #5 – as long as there is a die on this space, you can play exactly one Staff card. The cost of playing this card is reduced by 1 krone for each die on this space.
Action #6 – pay one krone and then play any of the other actions (#1-5). The number of dice showing 6 in this “6” column are what you use. For instance, there are 4 dice in the 6 column. You choose to take action 1, and take 2 coffee cubes and 2 cake cubes from the supply.
Any time that you get cubes from an action, you can choose to place them directly onto a guest card in your bistro (to work on their order). All other cubes are placed in your kitchen area.
Additional actions – you can do these following actions as many times as you want on your turn
- Pay 1 krone to move up to 3 cubes from your kitchen to your guest cards
- Place a wooden disc on a Politics card for victory points – there are 3 Politics cards randomly selected for each game from a supply of 12. Each card has a criterion on it (have 20 krones, have 3 occupied rooms of each color, etc). If you meet the criterion, you can place a marker on the tile. The earlier you place, the more VPs you score.
- Use a previously played staff card (that has a “once per round” action)
- Move a guest whose order is complete to a matching room in your hotel. Guests are placed in hotel rooms that match their color, with the exception that green guests can go in any room. You immediately receive VPs and other bonuses as printed on the card. Turn the room tile over to the occupied side and discard the guest card. If you have filled the last room in a group, you also get a group bonus at this time (Emperor track advancement for blue rooms, VPs for yellow rooms and money for red rooms)
When you are done with your turn, play then moves to the player who has the lowest turn order number showing. The tiles are (#1, #8), (#2, #7), (#3, #6), (#4, #5). You could choose to pass on your turn and not take an action. This likely will happen if the combination of dice on the game board doesn’t work for you… If you pass, you must wait until either every other player passes or has taken both actions on their turn order tile. When this happens, the dice are collected, one is discarded, and the rest are re-rolled and again placed on the matching numbered spaces on the board. Players then take turns from lowest to highest visible on their turn order tile. The round continues until all players have taken 2 actions or there are no more dice available. At the end of the round, pass your turn order tile clockwise.
If this is the end of rounds 3, 5, and 7 – there is an interim Emperor scoring. Each player looks at where they are on the Emperor track and scores VPs as printed under that space. Next, you move your marker back a number of spaces equal to the round number. Finally, you look at the emperor tile placed underneath the round number. If you are on the black 0 space of the track, you take the penalty on the tile. If you are in the gold section (3 or higher), you get the bonus printed on the tile. Like the Politics cards, there are 12 Emperor tiles in the box, and three are randomly selected for each game.
After the final round (and the third Emperor scoring), there is a little final scoring
- Points from staff cards
- VPs for each room on your hotel board (points equal to the floor of the room)
- 1VP per krone and cube left over
- Negative 5 VP per guest in your bistro
The winner is the player with the most points.
My initial thoughts on the game
I love games where you have a fixed limited number of turns – such as this one and Princes of Florence. Here, you will end up with a total of 14 actions, 2 in each of the 7 rounds. While you want to have the most VPs at the end of the game, there are multiple ways to get them, and you simply have to make the most of each of your limited actions.
The difference here (and the intriguing part for me) is the random roll of the dice each round. You will have to continually be making value decisions on the different options as the number of dice available in the column will affect how many things you get or what cost you have to pay. There is also a bit of gambling involved as you can also decide to pass on your turn and hope that the re-rolled dice offer you a better option than what you see in front of you. You are also gambling that there will be enough dice left over for your re-roll that you will likely get the action that you want.
The level of interaction here is pretty much in my wheelhouse – it is typical for most modern Euros in that the interaction is only indirect. There aren’t any actions which directly target other players though you could limit their actions based on what you choose, and you are always in a race competition for the spots on the Politics cards. But, other than that, each player is in their own happy little Eurogamer sandbox of a hotel.
Though it will be hard to tell until I’ve actually played the game, it does appear that there are more options for you to take in a game than you will have actions for – thus, you’ll have to figure out what you want to do. The Emperor track looks to be a constant battle – and I’m guessing that my decisions on this will be partially based on what the possible bonuses or penalties are as well as what the dice give me. You’ll also have to keep track of the automatic reduction in Emperor status after each score – just because you do well in the first score doesn’t many that you’ll still be there after the second round.
At this point, this is one of my most anticipated games of Spiel 2015, and not just because I’m a Lookout fanboy. This one promises to be a challenging 60-90 minute game filled with tough choices, and the addition of the luck of the dice is a plus for me.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor