Venetia Deserves Second Look

Photo by Teresa Jackson A few turns in to Venetia Some games capture me the first time I play. I'm looking at you, Sheriff of Nottingham. Others ... don't.

Some never quite work for me, but others take a few plays before I feel like I get them.

I suppose that means I'm not a natural. I felt this way about math in school. I was good enough, but I wasn't like those people in my class who just understood. I had to work at it.

Venetia was a bit like that for me. I wonder if that's why it hasn't gotten the favorable press that other games have enjoyed.

And that's too bad. Because a few games in, Venetia begins to shine.

Here's my full review of Venetia, as it was originally published on News for Shoppers. Links from here on out are to, where, if you buy, I get a small commission. No pressure.

Venetia is a two- to four-player strategy board game for ages 13 and up by designers Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, with art by Matteo Alemanno. It plays in about 90 minutes.

It was published by Stratelibri & Passport Game Studios. It has a suggested retail price of $64.99 but can be found for less than $40 online.

How it works:

Players try to place their influence, moving out on the board from Venice into other parts of Europe and Africa. To do so, they have to have influence in sea areas of the colonies they want to control.

There are major colonies, which enemies are more likely to attack, and minor colonies, which are easier to control but gain fewer points. A player with a majority in a colony (provided there is enough influence there) can gain the title of podestá, which adds points.

Players also vote for the doge, a powerful figure in Venetian history. The doge reveals threats (and can veto them in the advanced version of the game), and rolls the action dice, which determine how much influence players can spread, as well as whether they battle to place influence and whether they place it in one or several colonies. The dice also allow players to take action cards, which give them a special ability or let them gain influence in the next doge election.

If all that sounds a bit complicated, it is. But is it worth learning?

Why you might buy Venetia:

One of the best features of Venetia is the way it integrates history into the gameplay. It comes with a separate 12-page book of history notes, which explains why every threat card unfolds the way it does, as well the role of the families you play.

There is a lot of interaction in this game, especially with more than two players. You can directly thwart your opponents' plans by inciting a riot, often before the end of an epoch, when scoring takes place. (There are three epochs total.)

The board is continually shifting, and you often gain cards on opponents' turns, which means that when it's not your turn, you'll still have plenty to think about.

The action cards, threat cards and dice rolls add up to randomness in the game, which means fantastic variety. It also helps even things out between new and experienced players.

While Venetia isn't easy to learn from the rulebook, it is easy to teach. I was able to explain it to my niece, who plays some strategy games but not many, and she picked it up very quickly.

There's a lot of depth to the strategies, and you can try different ways each game, which I really like.

Why you might not want to buy Venetia:

The two-player game is good, but it's not as good as playing with three. I didn't try it with four, but I think it would be very interesting. There is less tension with two, and more ability to do exactly what you want.

The game isn't as accessible as some others. It takes a bit to figure out how the rules work and what will work best. Essentially, it requires a little patience and a few plays to hook you. At least it did for me.

It does have a lot of randomness. For pure strategy players who prefer that the best player win every time, this won't be a good fit.

My conclusions:

Venetia grew on me, and now I love it. It took three plays for me to stop worrying so much about the strategy that I was able to have fun, but it was worth the work.

I really love the care the designers put into incorporating history, going so far as to hire a historical consultant. The gameplay is intriguing, and the random factors make it feel unlike anything else I've played.

This game won't be for everyone, and you definitely shouldn't introduce it to new players unless they're deeply immersed in the history of the rise and fall of the Serenissima republic.

This game didn't get much press when it came out late last year. It's worth a second look.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Venetia from Passport Game Studios. I was not required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.

Here are a few Serenissima-related products, only one other of which is a board game.

Provincia Romana is fun, people

romana 1 In what is apparently my continuing series on games I like more than other people (at least people on Board Game Geek) do, today I'm looking at Provincia Romana.

Wow, I love this game. That said, at a year and half or so in, I suppose I'm fairly new to board gaming. I don't think of myself that way, but it's true.

I don't have a million city-building games on my shelf. I have ... one. I do have other building sorts of games, and loads of games with cubes.

A confession: I like cubes. I like them better than trackers or cards or pretty much anything except shaped cubes. By which  I mean meeples, animeeples, and the like. I am that person that plays with cubes, stacking, restacking, grouping and dropping them whilst annoying everyone at the table. (I can say "whilst" in a confession, right? Or do I now have to confess to saying "whilst." Anyway.

I'm planning to get a video up, along with links to everyone else's reviews, as soon as I can get my toddlers to be quiet long enough.

For now, here is my review of the game, which was originally published at News for Shoppers.

In Provincia Romana, two to six players use cards to build a Roman city, trying to gain more prestige than their opponents, and thus be named proconsul of Gaul. The game is designed by Pierluigi Frumusa, with art by Giorgio de Michele and Kurt Miller. It's published by Passport Game Studios and Stratelibri.

Two to six players ages 13 and up can play, and it takes about 90 minutes.

Before I get to the overview, I have to point out the obvious. On the surface, this game sounds a bit like Antoine Bauza's huge hit, 7 Wonders. The design of the building cards, which show the resources needed for construction down the side, don't help that image.

But this game is no wannabe.

Photo by Teresa Jackson

How it works:

The game has three main stacks of cards. One deck gives resources: stone, wood, brick, and money. A second deck allows players to construct buildings provided they have the resources needed to do so. A third deck gives favors from the Senate in the form of trade, not paying taxes, and tattling on your corrupt opponents, among many others.

The first player chooses one of the three decks, then draw draws six cards, placing four face up and two face down. The first player takes one of the cards. Each player then takes one of the remaining cards.

The next player chooses a deck, and does the same. Each deck can only be chosen twice per round.

Players play as many cards as they wish from their hand, paying for the cost of any cards and receiving the points for them, but not the benefits from their buildings. At the end of the turn, they must discard down to five cards.

On most turns, the Gauls attack. Players affect how many attack points they or their opponents have with a token that is played anonymously. Then a card with the number of attack points the Gauls have is revealed. If players have enough attack, defense, and morale, they win. If not, they can lose points, buildings, and more.

Players then pay taxes and lower their defense and morale. Only then can they collect the benefits from the buildings they have built.

Why you might buy Provincia Romana:

This game is fun.

It's innovative and challenging, and it's a different spin on building a city. Everything about the design is well thought out and well crafted.

The way players draw cards is fascinating. They can take a sure bet, but everyone will know what they have, or they can gamble, taking a face down card. They conceal their strategy, but they might not get what they want.

The variety of cards — although there are a lot of repeats — keeps the game fresh.

The game builds in intensity as the Gauls become harder and harder to beat.

This game plays just as well with two as it does with six. In fact, it plays much better with two than the aforementioned 7 Wonders does.

The art is quite nice, particularly on the cards.

The rulebook does a good job of explaining what each card does, which is a good thing since the names of the cards are all in Latin.

Why you might not buy Provincia Romana:

If you are not a fan of Eurogames or playing with resource cubes, you probably won't like this one, although the way players get their cards may draw you in.

If you want a Eurogame without any interaction between players, this game may not be for you. While players don't attack each other, they do thwart each other's efforts.

This is not a great game for beginners. It's not especially hard, but some of the icons aren't easy to understand (and occasionally feel contradictory until you catch on).

You have to prepare ahead, since you won't get a building's benefits — including attack or defense — until the end of a round, after you've already faced the Gauls.

This is not an epic, full-blown civilization building game (but it doesn't take three hours to play, either).

My conclusions:

I love this game. After three days of games with different numbers of players, my husband and I were still ready to play more. The need to adjust your strategy based on the cards means you can't play the same strategy every time.

There are some obvious things you must do — like defending yourself from the Gauls — but deciding whether to go for lots of buildings that give few points or a few that give you a lot may depend on the luck of the draw.

The ground shifts just enough to keep you thinking, but not so much that you feel lost. I can't recommend this game highly enough.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Provincia Romana from Passport Game Studios. I was not required to write a positive review. This is my honest opinion.