Posted by: gschloesser | August 6, 2011

Medina

Design by:  Steffan Dorra
Published by:  Hans im Glück / Rio Grande Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 – 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

I had the pleasure of playing this new Steffan Dorra game twice at the recent Gathering of Friends convention in Columbus, Ohio.  I immediately pre-ordered a copy as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 

Medina is at its heart a tile placement game, but instead of flat, 2-dimensional tiles, the game uses impressive three-dimensional wooden pieces to represent the palaces, roofs, walls, towers and people.  This really makes a tremendous difference in the overall experience and enjoyment level.  It also creates quite a spectacle at the conclusion of the game when you step back and survey the completed city.

The theme is the re-building of the worn and tattered desert city of Medina.  Somehow, the city has been wiped clean by the harsh, blowing sands of the desert, so players are starting from ‘scratch’.  Each player receives palace pieces in four different colors (the number of pieces varies depending upon the number of players), wall pieces, stables, roofs (one in each color to match the palaces) and ‘meeples’ (little appendage-challenged people). 

The game is really rather simple.  On their turn, a player simply places two pieces onto the board … no more, no less (unless they can’t legally play a piece, which is VERY rare).  The restrictions on placement are actually fairly easy to learn:

1) Palace pieces:  A palace piece can be placed just about anywhere on the interior of the board (NOT on the wall spaces) IF a palace of that color has not already been started.  If that color palace is already under construction and has not yet been claimed, then any other piece of that color MUST be placed adjacent to that palace (adjacent is considered orthogonal and NOT diagonal … this is important!).  The only exception to this is that if the ‘under construction’ palace is completely ‘hemmed-in’ and cannot expand any further, than a new palace of the same color may be started elsewhere in the city.

2) Roof pieces:  When a player wishes to claim a palace that is under construction, he simply places the appropriately colored roof piece from his supply onto the palace.  No further palace pieces may be added to a ‘claimed’ palace.  A player may only claim one palace of each color during the course of the game, so players must exercise caution and proper timing when electing to claim a palace.

3) Wall pieces:  As mentioned, the town was swept clean by the blowing desert sands.  Well … not quite.  The four corner towers were left intact.  Wall pieces must begin at these four towers and expand outward, attempting to eventually surrounding the town.  An opening must be left on each ‘side’ of the town to serve as a gate.  Other than that, the placement of wall pieces is very straightforward and easy.

4) Stables:  Each player only possesses 3 stables.  These must be placed so that they are adjacent to a palace, preferably one you have already claimed.  They ultimately add to the value of a palace and make connections to the wall and/or the Conga line of meeples easier.  These are the only pieces which can be used to expand the size of a palace once it has been claimed.

5) Meeples (aka, the ‘Conga’ line):  One lonely meeple begins the game in the city.  He represents the marketplace.  New meeples must be placed on either end of the existing ‘line’ of meeples in a fashion reminiscent of Big City.  This line can twist, turn and weave around palaces, but the two ends must never meet.  Kinda like a Brazilian Conga line.  Only if both ends of the line terminate may a new conga line be begun. 

So what are you trying to accomplish with these placements?  Score points, of course!  Points are only tallied at the end of the game and are scored in several fashions:

1) Palaces:  Players score 1 point for each piece in their four palaces.  One point is added for each stable connected to a palace and each wall piece that a palace touches.  Plus, each meeple which touches a palace piece (again, orthogonal, not diagonal) scores an additional point.  Thus, it is wise to steer the Conga line so that it wraps around your buildings.  It is also wise to build palaces next to a section of wall.  Combine the two and you have a rich palace, indeed!

2) Largest Palace:  This works sort of like the ‘Longest Road’ in Settlers of Catan.  The first player to claim a palace of a particular color receives a token worth 1 – 4 points, depending upon the color of the palace.  A player loses that token if a larger palace is eventually constructed and claimed.  The player who possesses the largest palace of a color at the end of the game earns the indicated number of points.

3) Tower Bonuses:  Towers, too, carry a value of 1 – 4.  The first player to connect to the wall section receives the appropriate tower token.  However, this token is easy to lose, for the next player to connect to that wall section steals the token from that player.  This token can change hands several times during the course of a game.  Ultimately, the LAST person in possession of the token receives the points.

Other than some rules which help prevent weird circumstances from occurring, that’s about it.  The game is easy to learn and easy to play.  Still, there are lots of touch choices to be made along the way, most of which involve a question of timing.  “Do I claim that orange palace now, or hope that a larger one will develop later in the game?”  “I want to steer the Conga line towards my building, but if I place meeples, then Jim might place a stable and steal the red largest palace token from me.”  “Do I go ahead and connect to the wall now, or wait until later in the game and try to be the last one to connect to it?”  Players are faced with these and similar dilemmas throughout the game.  I’ve said it a thousand times, but it is these constant avalanche of tough questions and dilemmas which usually endear a game to me.  Medina possesses these questions in bunches.

Still, the game does have it’s potential flaws.  For one, it can easily suffer from the ‘Weakest Link’ syndrome (also known as ‘Fossil-itis’).  It is VERY easy to take advantage of placements made by the player on your right.  So, if that player isn’t careful, you can easily swoop in and make some very advantageous placements.  Thus, it is a game wherein experienced players may have a bit of an advantage over ‘newbies’, so if you are playing with a group with mixed experience, pay careful attention to the seating order AND give advice freely to the newbies in the early stages of the game.  Make it a ‘learning’ game.

Second, and I don’t necessarily see this as a flaw, but some do, as the game progresses it often becomes one of exercising ‘delaying’ tactics.  Often, you are simply trying to place pieces which will help your opponents the least.  Some have complained about this, but I find it an interesting twist which requires a you to plan for this potentiality.  Again, planning and proper timing are essential.

I guess you can tell I like the game, can’t you?  I do.  I’m finding that the recent Nürnberg crop is the best in a long time.  Wyatt Earp, San Marco, Capitol, Medina … all have been to my liking, while many others I have not yet tried are beginning to hit the shores of the U.S. and are receiving decent reactions.  My biggest problem is that ALL of these games are designed for 4 players and it is becoming increasingly difficult to get 4 player games to the table due to the number of attendees at our weekly sessions!

Still, even with this purely personal problem, the game was a must-buy for me.  It offers challenges and choices which are not readily present in many other games.  It somehow feels ‘new’ … which is a good thing!

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Responses

  1. This is big game of chicken. Do you wait to claim a section or just grab what you can? Can you get the people around the corner or should you forget them? Are you going to get stuck with pieces, and if so, how do the pieces that will play help everyone? Lots to think about. 7/10


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