Murano

Design by Inka & Markus Brand
Published by Lookout Games / Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 1/2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Murano - cover

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.

Murano - board2One 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.

Ratings:

4 (Love it!):  Greg S., Melissa
3 (Like it): Erik Arneson, Larry
2 (Neutral): Mark Jackson
1 (Not for me):06

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About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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12 Responses to Murano

  1. Murano is indeed an interesting game. The action selection is really nice. As is mechanism for increasing (or decreasing!) the number of workers. Unfortunately, the game has a fatal flaw, which I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned.

    This game has the most fragile scoring of any game I’ve ever seen. You get personal HIDDEN scoring goals (Character cards) which make up a significant, if not majority of your score, and many of them will be worth worth either a lot of points, or zero, depending ENTIRELY on whether someone else happens to take an action which unbeknownst to them, cancels (or completes) your scoring card. This is far to much invisible randomness/chaos for a game with the core gameplay that it has.

  2. gschloesser says:

    I do not see this as a fatal flaw. Rather, I see it as a challenge to make sure you secure the scoring position before an opponent can scoop it from you, whether intentionally or not.

    • Dan Blum says:

      It’s not all about the positions. There are many cards which require precise setups on the island, e.g. same number of blue customers and shields on palaces, you have more shops than anyone else, etc. Unless you wait until the island is full before placing a gondolier it is often impossible to be sure that such a setup won’t be wrecked by someone else. The last time I played the game, I made sure not to take any such cards.

  3. You do need to get your dudes on the docks, or whatever that’s called, and you need to get there before your opponents scoop them up, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the conditions on the character cards. Like Dan said, it’s not about being prepared. You can complete your goal, and then at the last second, someone else can do something to complete their goal (or something not even related to a goal) that completely breaks your goal. And they weren’t even intending to affect you at all. They just happened to accidentally wreck you. Or, they happened to accidentally complete your goal. It has nothing to do with opponents “scooping” anything from you.

  4. And to Dan’s point about just not taking any such cards: The points on those are just too big. Which leaves me with the feeling that with close play, the player who wins is the player who happened to get luckiest in terms of other players’ play randomly helping them the most, or hurting them the least.

  5. I like this game quite a bit. For those who have not played, be aware that when you choose the ‘Recruit a Character’ action, you draw 3 cards and keep one. This mitigates some of the luck of the draw.

    Let’s take a look at the Character cards. There are 40 cards in the deck, all unique:
    – 14 pay out points on a sliding scale, for example 4 points per blue shop on the island
    – 9 look for a minimum set of buildings/customers/gondoliers on an island. Once you have the set assembled, you are good to go.
    – 6 ignore the board entirely and pay out points for glass you have collected
    – The remaining 11 are all-or-nothing cards. They check for a very specific combination (like same number of glass factories and crests) that, once assembled, can be disrupted by another player (unless that island is full, in which case you are safe).

    Clearly the last set is contentious. Would I pick one as my first character? No, but I have grabbed one mid/late game when the board state was favorable. Perhaps an additional symbol on the card indicating the higher risk (red exclamation mark) might help new players make more informed decisions?

  6. gschloesser says:

    Excellent analysis, Jeremy, and sound advice.

  7. It’s not about the luck of the draw, it’s not about being warned that those 11 cards are risky, and It’s not about new players not understanding them. This is a problem most of all for players who have played, who do understand the risks, and who understand the cards.

    Yes, the problem is most acute on the 11 specific combination cards. But the problem also exists on the minimum set cards. “Gee, how am I going to complete this goal? It’s going to be really hard to get one more X on island Y… Oh wait, someone just did it for me! Woohoo! And they had no idea they were helping me! Hahaha!” That really sucks the tension out of the game. I’m all for games where players both compete and cooperate with others at the same time, but it tends to work well when players do so deliberately, not unwittingly.

    • In Ticket to Ride, another player can accidentally hurt you by taking a critical route.
      In Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a player setting a low/high price on a building featured on one of your goals can help/hinder you.

      I suspect the ability of other players to accidentally affect you is part of the territory that comes with games featuring secret goals. Do you have any recommendations for games that solve/mitigate this issue?

      • Great examples. Let’s look at them.

        In Ticket To Ride:
        A) Once you’ve completed your goal, it’s complete. No one can accidentally un-complete it.
        B) Until you complete your own goal, no one can accidentally complete your goal for you.
        Even with all goals are hidden. Murao fails both of these criteria.

        In Ludwig, the hidden bonus cards only apply to each player’s own personal constructions. Again, Murano fails this test.

        It’s one thing to be “affected” by other players. But the pendulum swings too far when “affect” can mean “complete” or “uncomplete” goals (effectively randomly) with enough points to decide a game.

        There are plenty of games that do hidden goals just fine. Stauffer Dynasty is a recent one that I quite like. Again, only you can complete your goals.

        • Dan Blum says:

          I would also note that for Ticket to Ride, intentional blocking is at least as common as unintentional, since it’s often possible to guess what other players are trying to accomplish. And it’s also a significantly simpler game than Murano, so I at least am more willing to forgive the occasional accidental screwage in it.

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