Updated: Dec 18, 2020
We originally featured Venice on Board's Eye View just over a year ago, ahead of its launch on Kickstarter. The published version of the game is about to go to backers and we expect it will be appearing on retail shelves early in the new year, so we thought now would be a good time to revisit the game.
Venice is the latest title from Braincrack Games. It's a pick up & deliver game, designed by David Turczi and Andrei Novac, where players each control a pair of gondolas and a single gondolier who usually alternates between his two boats each turn. It is only the manned gondola that moves; moving one space along the canals for free but able to move any distance provided the player pays the coins demanded for each further space. During the course of the game, players will pick up commodities (resource cubes representing silver, cloth and ceramics) and use them to fulfil contracts (referred to in the game as 'missions') to deliver them to particular locations. Completing a mission earns victory points, money and a unique ongoing special effect. Of course, that's just the basics...
Players also have 10 'assistants'. Whenever a gondola moors by a one of the 11 occupiable buildings in the city, the player can place one of their assistants there and activate the building to gain the commodity it produces. If another player's assistant is already there, then your placement bumps that player's assistant; in effect, upgrading them and the actions they can take when that player subsequently activates them. Your assistants are also upgraded when you moor at a location where there's already an assistant in place. The key feature of Venice is that players don't just benefit from activating the location where they end their turn, they also reap the benefit of activating every building they pass provided that building already has one of their assistants stationed there.
All of this makes for a game with very satisfying pacing. You can expect games to start off quite sedately. Players will initially be moving their gondolas just a single space along the canals, conserving coin and going from one location to the next as they gradually place out their assistants. As more assistants are in situ, however, the pace steadily ratchets up as it becomes increasingly worthwhile paying the cost of moving extra spaces so that moves involve multiple activations. Players who have carefully planned their strategy will find they can benefit in this way from chaining activations for especially profitable turns.
And there's more. You can build bridges and you can acquire influence cards, playable at the start of a turn for their special effect. In addition to the coins needed to accelerate along the canals (and to pay taxes when you moor at certain buildings), you'll be tracking 'intrigue' and the scrolls required for some missions, and usable to offset intrigue. You'll accumulate intrigue through various actions during the game, including passing under another player's bridge, but you'll want to get rid of it (or at least ensure that it's lower than that of other players) because at game end the player with the most intrigue is 'arrested'. That means they lose the game regardless of how many victory points they might have!
The outward presentation and particularly the font used for the title, mark Venice out as part of a series with the publishers' previous game Ragusa, and, indeed there are some similarities in that both games allow for chaining activations and both employ devices whereby advancing your own interests also usually results in a benefit to your opponents. Like Ragusa, Venice takes up to five players and has special rules when playing with only two. Venice, however, has different designers and it plays and feels very different from its stablemate. We mostly liked the artwork by Bartek Roczniak but we'd have preferred a lighter colour palette and rather brighter cover picture. It must've been rather overcast when the artist visited the city! Obviously, the canals criss-crossing the board very clearly signify the Venice location but some players expressed disappointment with the decision to go with an aerial view of the city. Though the aerial view is functional it doesn't convey as much atmosphere as a more pictorial cityscape. These are minor quibbles, however, over what is a very good game. And, on the plus side, the published version of the game offers the choice of a two-sided Venice by Day and Venice by Night board: the playing boards are functionally identical but they offer a choice of atmosphere.
The published version of Venice also incorporates some tweaks to the components we originally saw in the preview prototype; for example, making it easier to stack the gondolas when they share the same location. It also adds a solo mode (designed by David Turczi and Xavi Bordes).
We've greatly enjoyed the unusual mix of pick up & deliver with an escalating engine building mechanism. The result is a game that's easy to pick up and play but which delivers a tactically challenging optimisation puzzle to players. And with the randomised set up for the positions of the city's buildings, no two games are ever likely to play out quite the same...
(Review by Selwyn Ward)