Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Serenissima

Design by:  Dominque Ehrhard and Duccio Vitale
Published by:  Euro Games
2 – 4 Players, 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Lately, it seems as though most of the intelligent and fun multi-player game designs are originating within the European game companies.  And the quantity of the games is staggering, eclipsing what is being produced here in the states.  To name but a few of the high quality, enjoyable games that have originated in the ‘Old World’:  El Grande, Settlers of Catan, Medici, Lowenhertz, Mississippi Queen, Bohnanza and more.  The list could go on and on.  Serenissima, produced by Euro Games,  deserves a place of honor on this list.

Serenissima (the name that Venetians called their country in its heyday) aims to recreate the trading, diplomacy and conflict that was rife in the Mediterranean during the Renaissance.  Players represent one of four great seafaring powers of that age:  Venice, Genoa, Valencia and Turkey. The aim is to travel to the various ports scattered around the Mediterranean, purchasing goods and then selling them (at a profit) at other ports-of-call.  One must also attempt to take control of the ports and establish monopolies in as many commodities as possible.  Of course, all of the other players are attempting to accomplish the same goals, which usually leads to heated discussions, diplomacy and, occasionally, armed conflict. 

Players begin the game with control of their capital, two galleys and ten sailors.  Each galley can hold a combination of five sailors and/or commodities.  At least one sailor must be present or the boat will sink.  Movement is dependent upon the number of sailors aboard – for each sailor, the boat may move one space.  Also, more sailors allow for easier capture of ports and offer a better deterrent against would-be aggressors.  Leaving space for commodities, however, is important, as players must purchase and transport them to other ports in order to make sales, earn profits and fill their warehouses.  It is always a fine balancing act between sailors and commodities.

Each port produces one – and only one – of seven types of commodities.  If the port is neutral or controlled by the player, the cost of one commodity is 100 ducats.  If the port is controlled by an opponent, however, the price is negotiable –  from 100 to 300 ducats.  Further, if the controlling player controls all ports that produce that particular commodity, then the negotiable price ranges from 100 – 1000 ducats.  Capitalism at its best (or worst, depending upon your economic outlook!).

Once purchased, commodities must be transported for sale to a port that (a) does not produce that commodity, and (b) does not already have one of that type of commodity in its warehouse.  Each port has a warehouse with a capacity of either 2, 4 or 6 spaces.  The sales price is determined primarily based upon how many total commodities the warehouse already contains.  The greater the number, the more profit to the seller.  The seller can also get a substantial bonus (from 500 to 1000 ducats) if he is the first player to sell a particular commodity to that player.  This is known in game terms as “Opening a New Market”.

One has to weigh his selling options carefully.  At the end of the game, players get victory points based in large part on the ports they control that have full warehouses.  This will range from 2 – 10 points.  If a port is controlled but the warehouse is not full, it is only worth 1 point.  So, even though it may be more financially lucrative to sell a commodity that “opens a new market” to an opponent, it will, in the end, likely profit the opponent more at the end of the game if his warehouse is full.  Again, another balancing act.  You must sometimes sell to opponents to secure the bonuses in order to have a good cash flow, but you must also keep an eye of filling your own warehouses.

Aside from purchasing commodities, ducats can also be used to bid for turn order, build new galleys, hire sailors and construct forts.  At the beginning of each turn, players secretly bid ducats in order to select the player order for that turn.  This can be critical.  Going first allows you to move, combat, buy, sell and take control of ports prior to your opponents.  However, it also prohibits you from immediately reacting to an opponent’s move who came after you.  And, of course, you’re bidding precious ducats for the privilege of selecting your order.  A tough decision that must be made each turn. 

Players can also expand their navy by purchasing new galleys.  However, to do this, the player must control a port which has both an iron and wood commodity in its warehouse, or produces the commodity.  And the cost is steep — 500 ducats.  Sailors, too, can be recruited at any controlled port at a cost of 100 ducats apiece.  However, one can only recruit as many sailors at a port each turn as there are commodities in its warehouse.  Sailors can either be placed aboard galleys in that port, or left to defend the port against possible invasions.  We consistently play with a variant (originally suggested by Doug Adams of Australia and further modified by us) that at game’s end, players get 1 point for every two galleys they, 1 point for every 2 forts they own and 1 point for each group of ten sailors.  This makes these purchases worth something at game’s end and somewhat lessens the temptation to launch last turn, suicidal attacks against opponents.  The variant works very well.

The final purchase players can make is the construction of forts.  These help protect ports against invasions, but are expensive — 500 ducats — and they earn no victory points.  Further, the port must contain in its warehouse and/or produce gold and wood.  Gold is fairly scarce, so there usually won’t be many forts. 

At some point, deals and diplomacy will fail as greedy players will covet thy neighbor’s ports and galleys laden with commodities.  Combat is an option.  The system is simple – each player rolls a die and adds the number of sailors they have present (either on the galley or in the port).  Each total is divided by 3 (4 if a fort is present) and the resulting total is the number of sailors the opponent must remove.  The attacker always has the option of calling off a battle following each round of combat.  If all of an opponent’s sailors are eliminated, the victor can take the galley as a prize ship, along with any commodities aboard, or scuttle it.  If a port was attacked, the victor cannot move ashore and claim the port until the next phase.  This is important, for if an opponent was also present in the same sea space and he moves before you, he can move ashore and claim the port first.  Nasty, but another reason turn order is important.

The game continues for a pre-set number of turns (8 with four players).  At the end of the turn, players get victory points as follows:

  • 10 points for control of your own capital;
  • 1 point per 500 ducats in your coffers;
  • 1 point per port controlled, if the warehouse is not full;
  • 2 points per small port controlled in which the warehouse is full;
  • 5 points per medium port controlled in which the warehouse is full;
  • 10 points per capital controlled in which the warehouse is full;
  • 1 point per galley controlled (optional);
  • 1 point per 10 sailors controlled (optional).

The game tends to be very balanced and competitive throughout.  Nearly all of our games have scores which are extremely close.  In our most recent game, the scores were 39, 38, 33 and 32.  In my book, that’s a balanced game.

Another plus for the game is that the rules are fairly simple and easy to understand.  A masterful job was done with the rulebook.  It is easy to read, concise and full of examples and pictures.  One can readily explain all of the rules in ten to fifteen minutes.  After the first playing, the game can usually be played in 2 -3 hours.  All big pluses.

Serenissima ranks high – very high – on my list of enjoyable multi-player games to play.  My only worry is wearing out the pieces from frequent usage!

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Responses

  1. I played this many years ago. My rating from then shows I did not like it much but my memory of it now is positive so I guess I need to play again. The new 2012 edition may help. 5/10


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