Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Strozzi

The Game

Strozzi (2008) is designed by Reiner Knizia, and is the third in a series, after Medici (1995) and Medici vs Strozzi (2006). It is not an auction game like Medici, or an auction-like game like Medici vs Strozzi. However it has many elements that remind me of these games, especially Medici. Yet the rules are quite different. Here's how it works.

The game is played over 3 rounds, and in each round every player has three flags that can be used to claim up to three ships. On a player's turn, he turns over the topmost ship card from the deck, and decides whether to claim it with one of his flags. If he doesn't want it, the next player has the opportunity to claim the ship, and so on. Once a ship is claimed, the owner must send it to Venice, Naples or Rome. Every player can only send one ship to each port. Normally a round will end with every player having sent one ship to each of the three ports.

A ship has four features:

  • Ship speed: a number that varies from 1 to 8. At the end of a round, for each port, the three players with the fastest ships score points. In case of draws, the ship which has arrived first wins.
  • Goods carried: a number of gold, cloth and/or pottery icons. When your ship reaches port, you advance on the track at that port depending on how many matching goods icons. Venice accepts gold, Naples cloth, Rome pottery.
  • Florence track icons (brown scrolls): These allow you to move up the track at Florence. The position on this track determines the start player for the next round, and also serves as tiebreaker under some situations.
  • Achievement tile icons (blue squares): Some ships have these icons, and allow you to pick one from three tiles on the board. There are three types of tiles, science, architecture and art, valued at 1 or 2. They are used for end-game scoring. The value 1 tiles also have a goods icon, which is used in the same way as the goods icons on the ship cards.

The game board is mostly unnecessary. You really just need those four tracks. The rectangular tracks are the ports where you can send ships. Ships that have arrived are placed next to the tracks, in order of ship speed.

When a round ends, players earn points based on their relative positions on the four tracks on the board, and on the relative speeds of their ships. If you reach one of the top few positions on the tracks, you score extra bonus points. At game end, players also score in each of the three achievement categories - science, architecture and art. So throughout the game you have to balance, or more often than not, choose between ship speed and goods carried. You also often need to choose which ports to compete in and which to concede. Throughout all that, you also need to remember the longer term aspect of the achievement tiles. This is quite typical Knizia - tearing you in different directions and forcing you to make difficult choices.

There is a twist in your three flags. They are not just ownership markers. Each has a unique ability. The +1 flag makes your ship faster by one. The extra goods flag lets you move one extra step on the goods track, no matter where you send the ship. The pirate flag lets you rob a ship that has just been claimed and has not reached port, unless it was claimed using a pirate flag too. This means sometimes you want to secure a ship by claiming it with your own pirate flag.

The Play

I played Strozzi with Michelle and Chong Sean. It was Chong Sean's game, but he had not read the rules. I had done so, so I taught the game (not without making some mistakes). From quite early in the game I decided to focus on the goods tracks, to give up on the ship speeds, and to collect as many achievement tiles as I could. We had only 3 players, for a game that supports 3 to 6, so I think this distorted things a little. Due to fewer players, all of us could compete in almost all aspects of the game. Points were awarded for the top 3 players, so everyone gained points. I imagine with more players, the competition would be more intense and players would be forced to focus on fewer areas. Also some players would be excluded from scoring.

I made one rule mistake which turned the game into a memory game too. At the start of the game, some ship cards are removed from the deck depending on the number of players. In between rounds, the cards removed are added back, the deck reshuffled, and some cards removed again. We didn't do the adding back of the initially removed cards, which meant we had the exact same deck in all 3 rounds. So in Rounds 2 and 3 we tried to remember what cards had come out, in order to figure out what cards were still available. Thankfully this didn't really spoil the game. In fact I could claim I invented a variant.

The game was quite close. Me 285, Chong Sean 265, Michelle 245. The gaps may seem big, but in this game scoring is all done in multiples of 5, so effectively we were only 4pts apart. I think I won because I had spent the most effort on the achievement tiles which gave bonus points at game end.

All three of us had arrived at Naples.

My achievement tiles. From left to right, science (total value 1), architecture (total value 3), arts (total value 2). Notice that the value 1 tiles have goods icons too.

The Thoughts

Strozzi is a light-to-medium complexity game, very much like Medici in weight. It reminds me of Ra - there are 3 rounds (i.e. epochs), you can claim at most three ships (i.e. groups of tiles), and you sit out from a round if you have used all three of your flags (i.e. used up your suns). You need to evaluate of the worth of a card, not just to yourself but also to your opponents. Should you claim it or let it go? Is it important enough for you to claim it using the pirate flag? Do you want to wait for better cards to come out of the deck? Also, which port to go to after you claim a ship? Arriving earlier means you are committed, because you can only ever have one ship at any port. But earlier is better in a tiebreaker situation.

There are quite many small decisions throughout the game, and you are constantly forced to choose - between goods, ship speed and achievement tiles, and even between which of the three ports to send your ships to. There is also the lucky draw type excitement, because you don't know what will come up next from the ship deck. Do you want to gamble on better ships coming up later, passing on the moderately good ship that you have just drawn?

The game is well-streamlined and well-crafted. However, to me, it doesn't stand out much from other Knizia games, so I have no urge to add this to my collection of Knizia games. Also, as is often the case with Knizia games, theme is pretty thin.

3 comments:

無聊人士(小雜碎) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Eastlake said...

I've been trying to persuade my gaming group to play this. However, they seem to ignore it purely due to the theme and look.

I have difficulties getting anything that's non-ameritrash onto the table.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

If your group is a fan of Ameritrash game, then indeed getting Strozzi played will be a challenge. :-) The theme completely goes against the Ameritrash style. It has been a long time since I last played this game. I remember it as a clever and elegant game. Not bad, but not particularly memorable either.