Sunday, 23 January 2011


I played this with Wan, who has written about it at this blog post. Since he has done the hard work of describing the game, I can save a lot of work and just make my description brief. :-)

The Game

Genoa, formerly called Traders of Genoa, is at its core a negotiation game. Your aim is to earn the most money, and there are many ways to do so in the game. On your turn, you can create up to five possible actions, however usually you can only make use of one of them. The others you try to sell to other players, thus making more money for yourself, while likely also helping the other players. At game end, the richest player wins.

The game board is made up of building spaces and street spaces. Every building provides a benefit, e.g. collecting goods, cards, control markers or special action tiles. On your turn, you roll two dice to determine a start building. You place a stack of five action discs on it. After that you may move the stack to an adjacent building or street, leaving behind one disc. You may do so until you exhaust the stack. During the stack movement, since you can only use one of the action discs, you will try to sell your surplus action discs to others. This is where the negotiation comes in. You try to strike a mutually beneficial deal. Sometimes you may choose not to use up the stack of action discs, to deny your opponents actions, but of course that also means you lose out on making money.

Top view of the game board. Round track on the left. The outermost rows of buildings on left and right are just storage spaces and are not part of the play area. The buildings in the play area each has a name and an icon indicating the benefit it gives.

The stack of action disks. It had started at the villa on the right, and had now moved one step to the Spices building. It could now move to the Restaurant, or to one of the street spaces.

Everyone starts with four cards, each representing one of the four key card-based ways of earning money in the game, and $130.

There are various ways of making money in the game. Large orders require you to deliver 3 different goods to specific buildings. Small orders require you to deliver single goods to specific buildings. Privilege cards are worth money at game end. They each represent a building on the board, and if you have privilege cards of adjacent buildings, the values increase. Messages require action discs on the same player's turn (not necessarily your own) to connect two specific buildings. All these four are represented by cards. A fifth way is controlling buildings. To do this you need to have collected control markers, and then use an action disc on a street space to place the control markers on adjacent buildings. Whenever anyone else performs an action at your building, you earn $10 from the bank. At game end, you also earn $10 per controlled building.

And of course, you also earn money from selling off actions during your turn.

The game lasts a specific number of rounds depending on the number of players. However sometimes depending on the die rolls one or more rounds may be skipped. This creates some uncertainty.

The Play

We had a 5-player game - Chong Sean, Wan, Shan, Chee Wee and I - and I think this is the best configuration. At first we were rather slow in striking deals, because we weren't very familiar with the system and with how to value the various actions available. Thankfully the negotiations speeded up considerably afterwards, else the game would really have dragged. Some of us focused more on certain strategies. Chong Sean did many big orders, Chee Wee did many messages, I collected many privilege cards. I also tried to gain control of more buildings. Shan also worked on controlling buildings, and Chong Sean too.

My cards in the early game. A privilege card (brown) shows which building it represents, and lists the total value of a set of cards depending on how many adjacent buildings the set has. A message card (green) shows two buildings that need to be linked by action disks for the message to be delivered. A large order card (pink) shows 3 goods and the delivery destination. A small order card (blue) shows 1 good and the delivery destination.

Chong Sean and I, being the ones who have played more games than the others, are always perceived as doing better, so we were at a disadvantage in this game. We were always perceived as bigger threats, so often when one of us made an offer, another player could offer the same, and the tendency would be make the deal with that player, even though the offer was exactly the same. Chong Sean after having completed a few big orders, and me having started collecting more privilege cards, were quickly thought to be in the lead by far. Not good. Chong Sean pleaded that he had been paying a lot to buy those goods required to complete his big orders, so his net income was not a lot at all. It was true, but at the time I don't think anyone really believed him, or cared. Chee Wee kept a low profile, but he had actually earned a lot of money from delivering messages. It was also hard for me to convince others that I wasn't really doing that well, because the number of privilege cards were open for all to see, unlike the money that Chong Sean had earned from big orders (money is always secret). I kept telling them I didn't have a lot of cash and I had so few orders done. Of course Chong Sean kept telling them that the privilege cards were worth a lot.

I had started collecting more and more privilege cards.

One thing that we missed out during rules explanation was the control of buildings. Chong Sean had explained that building owners earned $10 when the buildings were used by others, but forgot to tell us until halfway through the game that ownership was also worth $10 at game end. He had been distracted by a question during rules explanation. I guess I had gained a slightly unfair advantage due to this, because I was the one who had spent the most effort in controlling buildings. I did earn quite a fair bit of money when my buildings were used. I kept trying to convince everyone that it was just spare change. I don't think anyone believed me though.

Towards game end, I had collected 9 of the 14 privilege cards. Wan had 4, and Chee Wee 1. In the final round, I decided to attempt a big deal with Wan. I asked for his 4 privilege cards for $240. By giving me his 4 cards I would earn a lot of extra money, and I was prepared to split the profit with him, giving him a bigger cut. My gut feel was I needed to do this mutually beneficial deal to give me a surer win over the other players, but at the same time I had to make sure I don't give Wan a cut so big that I'd let him overtake me. So it was a bit of a gamble on what the right cut was. We negotiated, and eventually settled on $240. He gained $140 nett, I gained $70 nett. We did quite a fair bit of maths to work this out.

By now I had nine privilege cards.

Later in the game. I (green) controlled five buildings, Shan (red) two, Chong Sean (yellow) two.

The space at the centre is the marketplace. If the die roll determines that the action disk stack will start at the marketplace, the round marker will advance by one, shortening the game by one round.

Then the game ended, and we counted our money. Wan and I were both the richest, at $850! Tiebreaker was leftover resources, and I won by 1 more resource than him. That was very very close. We checked. I actually would have won without making that trade with him, so I had actually taken an unnecessary risk. I almost offered him $250, which would have cost me the game. Effectively that deal brought Wan from 3rd to 2nd place. Chee Wee who had been quietly making a lot of money was in 3rd place.

This was what I had at game end.

After the game, we realised a mistake that we had made. The goods buildings gave two goods and not one. I guess that would have made completing big and small orders more lucrative.

As I wrote this blog post, a few weeks after our game, I spotted an error in the scoring. Wan was the actual winner, and I was in second place. I wasn't the leading player at all. The final scores were: Wan 850, me 750, Chee Wee 735, Shan 620, Chong Sean 575. If Wan and I had not made that big trade, the final scores would have been: Chee Wee 735, Wan 710, me 680, Shan 620, Chong Sean 575. So, it was correct for me to have closed the deal. It brought me from 3rd to 2nd place. It was good for Wan too, because it won him the game!

The Thoughts

Close-up of the game board.

I enjoyed Genoa. Being a negotiation game, whether the game is fun depends on the people you play with. If not played briskly enough I think the game can be a pain. And of course the game can suffer from perceived notions of the players. The game is most fun with creative and flamboyant people. From turn to turn, the game system presents different opportunities, and it is up to you to make the most of what you get, picking one action for yourself, and trying to earn more money by selling off other actions, while minimizing the help they give to your opponents. On your opponents' turns, you are very much involved too because you'd be trying to sway their decisions and trying to make use of their actions too. It's a very involved game with little downtime. You are always engaged in negotiations.


wankongyew said...

"Chong Sean and I, being the ones who have played more games than the others, are always perceived as doing better, so we were at an advantage in this game."

Surely you mean "disadvantage" here?

So I actually won? Not sure what I did right here. I did a little bit of everything, and as far as I can tell, the main thing I did was get quite good money from selling actions, plus I never really spent much on buying actions myself. I usually only spent 10 to 15 ducats and sometimes passed on buying any at all.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

"disadvantage" definitely. :-) fixed that now.

you won by a biiig margin. if i were to win, in that final deal i would have needed to made an offer where you'd nett earn $90 and me $120. given what we thought were our relative positions at the time, i don't think you would have accepted. unless i did some jedi mind trick.

Chong Sean said...

Actually i think this is the 2nd or 3rd game of Genoa and the last time i played is over 2 years ago...

i am actualy at disadvantage when everyone thought i am at advantage and refuse to trade with me...

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Chong Sean,
Then that means we (Wan, Shan, Chee Wee and I) have been nice to you. At least we did trade with you, although the prices were... ahem... a little different. :-D

KeroKai said...

It's always an extra challenge attempting to convience other players that it's profitable to make a trade. I imagine one of the biggest reason that games like settlers are so successful with most people. I've only found these games bad when everyone stops trading with you even when offering extremely profitable trades. I've always wondered... Are they suspicious that you'll rise from no where, or that they are somehow getting the short deal? Perhaps it could be that they just don't want you to win?

Thanks for the overview. I was quite curious about what Genoa looked like (especially since I recently purchased Chinatown - the game that brought me to your blog).

Do you still play that game?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have not played Chinatown since that one game. I don't own a copy. but I'm interested to try it again. Just that every time I visit Chong Sean again there are new games to play. We seldom get to revisit older games.

SKY said...

Hello Hiew,

I really like this game and I found your review very interesting in several aspects. It seems you guys played the game very similar like we did. In our company with one of my friend we are considered to be more experienced players, so everybody is more suspicious about us, and it is very hard to make good deals. Other thing is that in our games (I played 3 times) usually everybody specialize in something. I mostly collect privilage cards to, but now I think that is not the winning tactic. The best if everybody thinks that you don't have much money and make a I bit from everything, so it is not so easy to track your wealth. And I think you are right about the conclusion, that this games fun-factor is highly dependent of the players (like all boardgames, to tell the truth), but with the right people it is great!

Avravanel said...

Sorry, the last comment was mine. SKY is my sister-in-law :)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Avravanel,
The privilege cards were not as powerful as we had thought they would be. Next time we play we'll know better. Maybe. :-) Wan won the game without particularly focusing on any aspect, so what you said is right, you may not need to specialise in order to win. You need to be convincing. :-D