Design by Inka & Markus Brand
Published by Lookout Games / Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 1/2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
My wife and I are travel fanatics, and particularly enjoy traveling overseas. Europe has been our main focus of concentration for most of the past 25 years, although we have explored a bit in Asia and Central America. Of all the places I’ve traveled, my favorite city has to be Venice, Italy. What an enchanting place! The fact that it is a former country that is isolated on a collection of small islands off the coast of Italy is itself fascinating. Add in a maze of canals that crisscross each island, the opulent architecture and the rich history and you have a locale that appears more storybook than reality. Venice is both.
One of the areas (actually several islands) that comprise Venice is Murano, which has become world renowned for its glass making industry. It is this island that is the setting for Inka & Markus Brand’s Murano, a boardgame about the development of the island and it economic growth. Players will establish businesses, recruit powerful locals to assist them, and attract customers to earn wealth and fame.
The central board depicts the collection of islands comprising the Murano district. Five of the seven islands will be available for construction, while the remaining two are depositories for game cards and tiles. The five main islands have docks wherein players may place their gondoliers (boatsman) in order to score special character cards acquired during the game. Each player begins with five gondoliers, but may acquire new ones–or fire current ones–as the game progresses. Players begin the game with five gold, and will usually be struggling to maintain a steady supply of cash throughout the proceedings.
One of the very clever aspects of the game is the selection of actions mechanism. A water route encircles the islands and is comprised of 18 spaces, each of which allows the player to perform a specific action. There are eight boats placed on this track, and on their turn, a player will move one these boats in order to perform their desired action. A player may move a boat as far as he desires, as long as it does not encounter another boat. No two boats can occupy the same space, nor can they pass each other. So, if a desired action is being blocked by one or more boats, the player must first move those boats out of the way.
No problem, right? Well, not exactly. You see, the first boat movement is free, while all other boats moved cost coins at an increasing rate. After the first “free” move, the second boat costs one coin to move, while each subsequent move costs one more coin than the previous boat moved. So, if a player needs to move four boats in order to reach a desired location, the cost is going to be a total of six coins (0, +1, +2, +3), which is a princely sum in this financially strapped game. Often, a “log jam” of boats is created, forcing a player to move numerous boats to vacate spaces so he can move a boat to the desired action space.
After moving, the player conducts the action for the space to where he moved the last boat. There are a variety of possible actions, including:
Take 2 Gold.
Purchase a Glass Factory, Shop, Palace or Special Building. There are separate spaces for each of these actions. Most cost 2 gold, while the glass factory only costs one. Regarding the shops, the player may pay 4 gold in order to sort through the stack of tiles and choose the one he desires. Special Buildings, when constructed, usually give players benefits during the course of the game. For example, the Tavern grants a 2 gold discount when recruiting characters, while the Guild Hall grants a victory point each time the player produces glass (beads).
Recruit a Character. Character cards grant end-game victory point for meeting the criteria specified. The player must have a gondolier present at the island to qualify. For example, one card grants 2 points per palace on an island. The player can select any of the islands at which he has positioned a gondolier and earns 2 points per palace on that island, regardless who constructed them. Other cards grant points for certain types of shops or customers on an island, glass factories, special buildings, gondoliers, etc. Character cards can be a tremendous source of victory points, so they should not be overlooked. There is no limit to the number of cards a player may possess, but the cost escalates with each one acquired.
Place a Gondolier. As mentioned earlier, gondoliers must be placed for 2 gold at specified island docks in order to earn the victory points granted by the Character cards. There is one space per player at each island, but players may pay 5 gold and take any spot. This may be necessary if a player has multiple character cards for the same island.
Gondolier. Players begin with five gondoliers, but may purchase up to two more for 3 gold apiece at the gondolier space. Alternatively, if a player is cash-strapped, he may dismiss a gondolier form his employment, earning 3 gold. That dismissed employee may be hired back at a later time.
Build a Street and/or Building. When taking this action, a player may construct up to three tiles. To construct a building, the player must have previously acquired it, whereas streets are taken as needed. Buildings are placed on a vacant non-street space on any island. However, buildings must have access to streets, so players may also construct streets, which often depict customers in one of three colors, which match the three types of shops. This is important when choosing the income action and for end-game victory points based on the Character cards.
Most buildings–glass factories, shops and palaces–give immediate victory points when constructed, while special buildings allow the player to take a special building card, which gives the player special in-game powers as described above.
Income. In addition to granting an immediate 2 victory points, shops also are a major source of income. There are three colors of shops, matching the colors of the customers found on many street tiles. Shops are quite discriminatory and will only sell to customers of a matching color.
When choosing income, the player selects one island and up to three of his owned shops on that island (but no more than one of each color). All customers of those colors that are connected to the selected shops earn the player a gold. This can be quite a hefty amount if planned properly.
Production. For each glass factory constructed by the player, he may produce glass, randomly drawing a glass bead from the bag. However, glass factories are notorious polluters, so the player loses 2 victory points for each glass factory activated. Ouch.
There are ten each of three colors of glass beads, and a player may keep or sell beads of one color after drawing them. The income received can be substantial. For example, two of a color sold yields 12 gold coins, while three sold yields 20 gold coins. Glass beads can also be worth victory points at game’s end if the player has the corresponding Character cards.
The glass strategy can be quite lucrative and formidable if the correct combination of Character cards are gathered during the game.
The game continues in this fashion until two different stacks of building tiles (including streets) are depleted. Each other player gets one more turn, after which final victory points are tallied. During this final turn, any buildings purchased may be constructed immediately. Players tally the points earned from any Character cards they possess, as well as 1 point for any unassigned gondoliers. Of course, the most points wins, and the player becomes the top business mogul in Murano.
Murano is an exciting and challenging game to play. As mentioned, the action selection mechanism is highly creative and original. It can be quite frustrating to have one’s pathway to a desired action blocked, which encourages players to keep a healthy supply of cash available to deal with such occurrences. There are a wide variety of actions from which to choose, many of which have multiple spaces on the track. This helps in preventing too many log-jams.
There are numerous sources of victory points, some of which can be quite powerful. I have seen a balanced approach result in victory, but I have also seen a heavy concentration on shops or glass production also produce winning results. Character cards are certainly an essential part of any strategy, so in spite of their cost (which escalates with each one owned), a wise player will collect several of these.
As with many games, some may perceive a particular strategy or tactic to be formidable. I have heard some complaints that the glass production strategy can be too powerful. That can certainly be the case if only one player is pursuing it. Collecting the right combination of Character cards with this strategy can yield a huge amount of victory points at game’s end. However, if multiple players have glass production as part of their strategy, it is highly unlikely one player will be able to assemble an unbeatable juggernaut.
While the game isn’t necessarily cutthroat, there is often keen competition for construction spaces on islands, as well as the Gondolier locations at the docks. Often opponents construct shops or buildings on islands on which you had other plans, but this interference is mostly caused by opponents pursuing their own objectives and not based on open hostility. Still, I like this aspect, as it does often force players to readjust their strategies.
The design team of Markus and Inga Brand have published dozens of games, including such popular titles as La Boca, A Castle for All Seasons, Saint Malo and Village. In my opinion, Murano ranks right up there with their very best. It is clever, original and very challenging, with lots of options to pursue and pathways to explore. In these respects, it has much in common with the enchanting city of Venice. And just like Venice, I can’t wait to visit it again!
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson (1 play): This is a clever game with some interesting choices… but I haven’t found myself needing (or particularly wanting) to play it again. (Note: I don’t want to take anything away from other’s enjoyment of the game – but I didn’t find it to anything particularly new or compelling here.)
Melissa Rogerson (5+ plays): When I play Murano, I am always surprised by how much I like it. You’d think I’d remember. I find the action selection mechanic to be clever and just the right amount of frustrating when I am blocked. The board and cards are attractive, but we didn’t like the little plastic beads so bought some Murano glass beads to replace them. Thematic and beautiful – what’s not to like?
Larry (1 play): Hard to tell too much with only one play, but this struck me as a good, but not great design. The luck factor was higher than I’d like it to be and the traffic jams from the action selection system were often more annoying than challenging. I’d like to play it again, because it was reasonably enjoyable, but unless there’s more here than I saw the first time, I don’t think I’d rank this as one of the highlights of last year.
4 (Love it!): Greg S., Melissa
3 (Like it): Erik Arneson, Larry
2 (Neutral): Mark Jackson
1 (Not for me):06