Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Die Saulon von Venedig

Designers:  Christian Fiore and Knut Happel
Publisher:  Gold Sieber Spiele
2 – 6 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

NOTE:  This review first appeared in Counter magazine.

Venice is consistently touted as one of the world’s most beautiful cities.  With three vacations to Serenissima under my belt, I can certainly vouch for that assessment.  The city is lovely, with great architecture, romantic settings, and incredible atmosphere.  It is no wonder that the city has been the subject of numerous board games, including the latest entry, Die Saulen von Venedig from designers Christian Fiore and Knut Happel and published by Gold Sieber Spiele

Unlike other Venice-based games, here you actually get to construct the city on wooden pilings.  Players drive pilings and construct sections of the city upon them, hoping to properly align neighborhoods for extra points.  While the production is nice, it would have been gorgeous if it used three-dimensional pieces for the buildings.  Of course, the cost would have been substantially higher … but it may have been worth it!

The rectangular board depicts the pre-construction lagoon of Venice.  This means that it is all water, with the Canale Grande winding its way across the board.  Ready to be constructed are four-dozen city sections, varying in size and shape, as well as a healthy supply of the required pillars upon which they will be built.  Each player begins with two “city” tiles, an assortment of pillar markers, and five cards. 

Each turn, players will simultaneously play a card and execute their power in turn order.  Cards each depict a particular character, and are the driving force of the game.  The most common characters allow the player to obtain new city tiles, drive pilings, or erect city tiles.  However, there is cast of other characters – including arsonists, spies, beggars, inventors, and, of course, the requisite lawyers – which convey an assortment of other special abilities.  Some are speculative in nature, and reward handsome profits if the specified character is played by an opponent during the round.  This does require some educated guesswork, which may be off-putting to some.  However, there are enough choices each turn that these cards can be overlooked if desired.  In all, there are multiple cards of eleven different characters, and managing these cards is an important skill.  

When constructing pillars, the card played will depict the number of pillars a player must take from the general supply and place onto the board.  It will also depict the number of pillar markers a player must place onto these pillars.  Pillars must be set on free spaces and placed adjacent to either the Grande Canal or a previously placed pillar.  All pillars placed on a player’s turn must be adjacent to each other, and none may be placed IN the Grande Canal, as that would obstruct traffic! 

Players must possess city tiles in their personal supply in order to construct them.  To obtain these tiles, the “Ratsherr” card must be played.  This card lists the number of points a player has to spend to acquire city tiles.  Each city tile has a point value, and the player may spend these points as he sees fit in acquiring the tiles. 

To construct a city section, a “Baumeister” card must be played.  As with the Ratsherr, the card lists the points a player may spend to construct city tiles.  These tiles must come from a player’s personal supply, and the tiles must be placed on existing pillars.  Each section of the city tile must rest upon a pillar, UNLESS it is crossing the Grande Canal, in which case the tile becomes a bridge, and the section of the bridge which overhangs the canal will be free of pillar support.    

When constructing a city tile, the player earns the victory points listed upon the tile.  In addition, if he is able to align matching neighborhoods with adjacent city sections, he earns one additional point for each properly aligned section.  The challenge, then, is to not only construct building supplies that deliver substantial victory points, but to also properly align them with previously placed tiles.  

When constructing a building, if any pillar stones are covered, they are returned to their respective owners and those players earn three victory points per stone returned.  The active player does not receive any points for any of his own pillar stones that are displaced.  So, one should try to avoid consistently giving opponents points by covering their pillar stones.  Conversely, you want to place your pillar stones where future construction will most likely occur, thereby potentially earning you points. 

Further points can be earned by controlling the gondola.  The “Gondoliere” card allows the player to place one of his markers onto the wooden gondola, which floats freely along the Grande Canal.  If any player constructs a city section that has at least one edge adjacent to the Grande Canal, the owner of the gondola receives two victory points.  This can be quite a lucrative position, so ownership of the gondola usually changes hands often. 

After all players have executed the power of their played card, each player gives his card to the player seated to his left.  So, when playing a card, one has to factor into the equation that the card will be in the possession of your opponent on the very next turn.  Sometimes this causes one to hesitate before playing a powerful card.  On the other hand, carefully watching how the cards move can provide valuable information, and allow you to play one of the “speculation” cards with a modicum of confidence.  No, you won’t be able to guarantee with certainty that an opponent will play a particular card, but it will be more than just blind guesswork. 

The game concludes IMMEDIATELY when a player attempts to acquire pillars, but there aren’t enough in the general supply.  No further turns are completed, and no further victory points are awarded.  The player with the most victory points emerges as the most influential family in Venice, and wins the game.  I’m not fond of this end-game condition, as it gives complete control to the leader of the game as to when the game will end.  Someone has suggested that this can be mitigated by allowing all players to complete the current turn, which seems like a reasonable solution. 

While Gold Sieber’s production of strategy games seems to have declined over the past several years, I’ve enjoyed a few of their most recent releases, including Kreta from 2005.  I’m happy to say that Die Saulen von Venedig is added to that list.  It is one of those games that can satisfy both serious and casual gamers, so can fit in a number of gaming environments.  I enjoy the clever “pass the played card to your neighbor” mechanism, and thought it was quite original.  However, another Essen release – Salamanca from Steffan Dorra – uses this exact same mechanism.  I understand a similar mechanism was used in a few games in the past, including Cherubim and Daymio.  In any case, it is quite clever. 

Die Saulon von Venedig requires players to properly time the play of their cards, and best utilize the actions they provide.  As in many games, there is more control when playing with less than the full compliment of six players.  While the water in the lagoon (so-to-speak) isn’t terribly deep, at least it isn’t polluted as it is in the actual Venice!  What we have here is an entertaining game that requires some thought and planning.  Expect more and you may be disappointed.

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Responses

  1. Here is my comment from BGG after one play. “I don’t know what happened. It seems like a good game though.” This may be why I don’t remember anything more than playing the game. I guess you had better try this one and decide for yourself. (7/10)


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