Taverna

TAVERNA

Design by Karl Marcelle
Published by Geek Attitude Games
2 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

I guess fantasy creatures such as dwarves, elves and orcs enjoy a good tavern and party as much as humans do.  Indeed, in the world of Taverna, on Saint Averna’s day the denizens of the realm gather in the capital city to party, which usually involves drinking copious amounts of ale and mead.  Capitalism thrives in the capital, as the tavern owners pull out all the stops to attract these visitors to their establishments.  Care must be taken, however, to meet the demands of the Royal Court.

Taverna by designer Karl Marcelle casts players as these innkeepers.  Their goal is to attract visitors and dignitaries to their taverns, attempting to seat their guests at the proper tables and take advantage of their special abilities.

The large board depicts five taverns, each with seating for the various guests.  Apparently it is best to keep the races separated, as the tables are color-coded to indicate the type of guest who should be seated there.  Taverns also each have an affinity for a particular guild, but this can be expanded as the game progresses.  The board also depicts the four “people” tracks upon which players will progress to earn various benefits.  One race is randomly determined as the king’s “preferred” race and marked with the king’s crown token.

Before the game begins, each player purchases two property deeds, claiming an interest in two different taverns, which can have up to four owners apiece.  Deeds cost various amounts, and convey a different amount of victory points when purchased.  Having an interest in a tavern means that the player will receive money whenever a guest visits.  Four customer cards are revealed to form a drafting row.

A player’s turn consists of drawing a customer card and placing a matching customer tile into a tavern.  Each customer card depicts one or two races, as well as one or two guild symbols.  Once a card is selected, the player places a matching token into one of the taverns, and players with ownership interest in that tavern each receive two coins.  If the table at which the customer is placed matches the race of the visitor, the player moves up one space on the matching people track.  Reaching certain spaces on these tracks provide player with the specified benefits (victory points, coins, privileges).  Further, progression on these tracks, particularly the preferred race, will have significant end game benefits.

There is more to consider.  If the guild symbol on the customer card matches the guild symbol on the tavern visited, additional benefits are enjoyed.  These can be extra money, dignitary benefits or an additional spell card.  Some cards have a “Trickery” symbol, which allows the player to remove a previously placed visitor and move up on the people track matching the race of the removed visitor.

Further, if a visitor is placed on the last unoccupied table, the player receive the privilege token from that tavern.  These are worth 1 victory point apiece at game’s end, but can be used during the game to use the power of any dignitary, regardless of his/her location.  This does require the expenditure of two privilege tokens.  There is quite a bit to consider on each turn.

What about those dignitaries?  There are four in play, and they will “bar hop” to the various inns as their powers are used.  When a player places a customer into a tavern, he may use the power of any one dignitary located there.  These powers can be significant, and include purchasing a new property deed (including ousting a previous owner for an extra three coins), add a guild marker to a tavern, purchase “royal favor” tiles or increase on the people tracks.  It is wise to use these dignitaries as often as possible.  Once used, the player moves the dignitary to a different tavern, but each tavern can only accommodate up to two dignitaries.

Throughout the game—until the supply is depleted—royal favor tiles are available to acquire, usually by using the Princess’ power.  These royal favors provide a variety of benefits—moving customers, casting additional spells, adding guild tokens, gaining levels on the people tracks, etc.—and can also provide end game points.

Players may also cast spells, which also provide various benefits.  Players begin the game with three spells, but may acquire more through various methods.  Usually a player may only cast one spell per turn, but may gain abilities to cast multiple spells.  As with royal favors, spells can prove quite useful, particularly when cast at opportune moments.

Depending upon the number of players, the game lasts six or eight turns.  Due to the numerous factors to consider when selecting and placing customers, the game takes longer than one might think.  In my experience, the game takes about 1 ½ hours to play to completion.  At this point, the all-important “Royal Scoring” occurs.  Each player will choose one of the five available scoring methods.  The order of choosing is based on the preferred people track, beginning with the player who has progressed furthest and continuing down the track.  Ties, which are quite possible, are broken by the order on the neighboring tracks, so progressing on all tracks can be important.

The five scoring opportunities are:

King:  Gain 5 victory points and increase one on each people track.

Queen:  Score up to 15 points for the number of royal favor tokens possessed.

Master of Coins:  Score up to 15 points for money owned.

Archduke:  Score up to 15 points for property deeds owned.

Archmage:  Score up to 15 points for spells cast during the game.

Note that each player must select a different scoring method, so once one is chosen, it is no longer available to the other players.  A player can base his strategy during the game on a particular scoring method, but he must make sure he progresses steadily on the preferred people track so he can make his selection before his opponents.  This is a critical aspect of the game and should not be ignored.

Finally, players score for their progression on each of the people tracks.  These points can be up to 10 points per track, but can also result in negative points if a player has not progressed far enough on a track.  Of course, the player with the most points is victorious.

Taverna has left me with mixed feelings.  There are some interesting aspects.  I enjoy the customer placement decisions, but on the other hand there are perhaps too many things to consider, which causes confusion and results in some downtime.  It is difficult to remember the benefits of the various guild symbols and dignitaries, resulting in frequent consultation with the rules .  This, too, causes the game to drag.  Choosing the end game royal scoring methods is interesting and creates tension, but it also places too much emphasis on progressing on the preferred people track.  As I mentioned: a mixed bag.

With five players, the taverns fill quickly and the ability to bump visitors becomes more important.  There is also increased competition for deeds, with more owners being ousted.  On the other hand, this congestion does limit options in the latter stages of the game, and often those turns feel quite bland and uneventful.

Spells are also a mixed bag, as most are not very powerful and only really useful if a specific game situation is present.  If it is not, the spell is useless.  Perhaps making the spells a bit broader in scope, or making them worth victory points even if unused would make them more useful.

I cannot shake the feeling that the game needed further development before being published.  There are some good ideas here, but they don’t seem to have been fully refined.  The game as a whole seems a bit disjointed and somewhat muddled.  Perhaps a second edition would fix some of these issues.  As is, I think my visits to this land are at an end.

Ratings:

4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
2 (Neutral):  Greg S.
1 (Not for me):

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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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