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 Amazon.com, 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.
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.