Another review from Stuart “The Judge” Platt and – blimey – it’s another game from Stefan Feld! This time Rialto comes under his watchful eye, the English version of which will be coming out later this year from Tasty Minstrel Games. An avowed fan of the designer’s work, does Rialto come up to scratch for our favourite wrestling reviewer?
As a confirmed Feldian, I was champing at the bit to get hold of the second of this year’s offerings by the German wunderkind. Prior to its arrival, I had been warned about it being a lighter Feld, a simpler and less satisfying effort or – heaven forbid – just not very good and perhaps evidence that he is stretching himself too thin! To this I say balderdash! Rialto is something altogether smaller but beautifully designed and a very satisfying game. Feld in about an hour? I’m in!
Brace yourself, confessed Feldites – Rialto has a strong theme of Venetian noblemen deploying councilmen, bridges and gondolas to earn glory… Only kidding! We are right in ‘do things and stuff to earn victory points’ territory and hooray for that! We all know that we’re here for the mechanisms, and Rialto has some very interesting ideas.
Rialto is a card-drafting, area majority game with Venice split into six districts (resolved over six turns) to be fought over. The core mechanism is the selection of a set of six randomly drawn cards (one more set than there are players) – dealt face up from a communal deck – that makes up your hand for the round. Two further cards are drawn blind, and then discarded down to make a hand of seven to play the round. The players now go through a series of turns, bidding a number of cards (and utilising wild cards to boost bids) relevant to a specific action that turn. The person who plays the most on each turn will ‘WIN’ that set, gain a bonus and have to lead the play on the next set of bidding.
Unusually for one of my reviews, here is a light rules summary for options available to you on each turn:
– The Doge: Each card played moves a player further up the Doge track. Your relative position on this track breaks ties and determines turn order for drafting cards at the start of each round. The player who commits the most Doge cards gets an extra space along the track.
– Gold: Each card gives the player a gold piece. The ‘most cards played’ gives you one more gold.
– Building: The number of cards played determines the level of ‘special ability building’ that can be built. Most cards allow one level higher to be built. Special buildings offer cumulative abilities to break the rules of the game e.g. Draw more cards; increase hand size; add a ‘wild’ card etc. All cost 1 coin to activate every round.
– Bridge: 1 Victory Point per Bridge card, -1 Victory Point if NO cards are played. The winner places a bridge token connecting two of the areas on the board and increasing their value for the area control battle at the end of the of the game
– Gondola: Take 1 councilman from the general supply to your player board for each card played. The winner then plays a Gondola token between two areas and places a councilman directly from the supply into one of these areas.
– Councilman: Place one councilman from a players’ personal supply to the region currently being resolved. Most cards played adds an extra councilman. The BIG points given out at the end of the game refer to a straight majority of councilmen in a region (ties broken by the Doge track.) The value of each region relates to the bridge and gondola tiles that have been added during the game.
So, as usual with my mate Stefan, everything is important! You need to be high on the Doge track or you will constantly lose out to your opponents on tied bids and (most importantly) the end-game scoring. You need buildings, and coins to power those buildings, to support your play and combat the randomness inherent in the card drafting. You need to control the placement of bridges and gondolas otherwise that region that you dominate could only be worth 4 points at game end. But all of this is for nought unless you get your councilmen from the supply and actually get them on the board. Well played Feld… Well played.
The magic comes from the way that the bidding works. Now I HATE auction games. Despite everything that it does well, Power Grid leaves me cold [WHAT?! – Michael] . As much as I respect its legacy, I think Modern Art is terrible. So what makes this auction work? Well, the game uses a once-around open auction, so the last player knows how much they need to play to win. Turn order, therefore, is critical. Deliberately not winning a round to put you later in the turn order for the following action is not only a viable tactic – but can be game winning! All very clever and very ‘Feld.’
Any negatives? Well, the production is solid throughout – with high quality Hobbit-sized cards featuring clear iconography that is visible from either end of the table. The score track, however, is a nightmare and one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Difficult to read and adjust – this is a disaster for practicality and aesthetics. That’s it though…
I refer to Rialto as the thinking gamer’s 7 Wonders, offering a similar sort of feel and card-drafting , but with far more decisions, more interesting decisions, and much better player interaction. This may be a lighter, quicker game than Feld’s masterworks (Castles of Burgundy, Trajan, Macao, Bora Bora and the like) but like The Spiecherstadt (which I’ll be looking at soon) it offers a unique and interesting combination of mechanisms and interaction which further cements Stefan Feld as one of the most prolific and in-form designers in the hobby.
Rialto was designed by Stefan Feld and was originally released by Pegasus Spiele in 2013. As mentioned above, Tasty Minstrel will be releasing the English language-only version later this year. Between two and five can play, and a copy can be pre-ordered from the folks at Gameslore right now!