Friday, 4 January 2008

Thief of Baghdad, Palazzo, Vinci

On 31 Dec 2007, Michelle and I visited Carcasean (again!). This time we played Thief of Baghdad, Palazzo, and Vinci. Chong Sean joined us for Palazzo and Vinci.

Thief of Baghdad was one of the finalists for the Spiel des Jahres this year, although it didn't win. There are six palaces, each with four treasure chests. There are guards protecting the palaces, some of which are yours, some are your opponents', and some are neutral guards. And then you have some thieves to help you steal the treasure chests. To steal a treasure chest, you need to get enough of your thieves into the palace. The first treasure chest in a palace requires four thieves, followed by 5, 6 and 7 thieves.

You play cards to place thieves, to move thieves (accompanied by your guards) or to move your guards or neutral guards. To place a thief into a palace requires at least one of your guards at that palace and at least one more guard not belonging to you. I think of this as you need your guard to bribe the other guard, and a guard not belonging to you needs to be present so that the sultan will not know it was your guard who let the thief in. I don't think this is in the rules, but explaining it this way probably helps in understanding and remembering the rule.

The beautiful board of Thief of Baghdad.

The tall guys are the guards (black ones are the neutral guards), the short guy is the thief. There is a stack of treasure chests in the inner section of the palace. Each treasure chest requires a number of thieves to steal it. This particular one at the top of the stack needs four.

This copy of the game came with a wrong figure. That one of the left is a Carcasonne meeple.

Very nice cards, especially the joker - a beautiful dancer.

So, basically you play cards, and you draw cards, and you race to steal a number of treasure chests, depending on the number of players. The game is quite simple. There is, of course, luck in terms of what cards you get, but the game also allows for clever usage of the cards you get, which I think is the best part of the game. You try to be as efficient as you can and as quick as you can to steal the treasure chests. The rules are very clean and simple, so this is an easy game to teach. This is an OK game. I don't need to own it, but I don't mind playing occasionally.

Palazzo is sometimes called an improved version of Alhambra (Spiel des Jahres winner in 2003), because they share some similarities in how money is handled. But I find that is the only similarity. The game is otherwise quite different. I like Palazzo more, despite it not being an SdJ winner.

In this game, players compete in building palaces (palazzo = palaces). You buy single floor tiles either directly or through auctions, and you use these floor tiles to construct your palaces. Each floor tile has a number, and you must build in ascending order, without repeating any number. Each floor tile is made from one of three types of materials, and making palaces of a single material earns you bonuses. The floor tiles also have different numbers of doors and windows, which also give you points. You need to build tall palaces to score more points. In fact, a single floor palace will give you negative points.

To buy palace floors, there are two ways. If you choose to buy palace floors on your turn, you reveal two floors, place the first in the centre warehouse, and the second in one of the four quarries surrounding the warehouse depending on the number of windows of that floor. Then you choose whether to buy from the warehouse, or to start an auction for the next group of floors in the quarries. Buying directly from the warehouse is "safe", as in noone else can stop you, but you can buy at most two floors, and you must be able to afford the price. Starting an auction means other players may compete with you. However, you have a slight advantage of $3. As the player who triggers the auction, you are automatically considered having started the bidding at $3, i.e. if you win, you effectively have a $3 discount. Of course the most important factor when deciding whether to buy direct or to start an auction is whether the floors available at the warehouse or at the next quarry are useful to you.

Palazzo. Warehouse in the centre, and four quarries surrounding it. The brown figure is the architect, and whenever an auction occurs, he moves to the next non-empty quarry, and the floors at that quarry will be auctioned.

My four palaces in the middle of the game.

During the game, you can also take money and do renovation. Money is, of course, needed for the purchasing and the auctions. Renovation is important to improve your palaces. You can insert a single floor tile into a palace, or pull out a single floor tile from a palace, or completely discard a single floor palace. Doing a renovation costs you one turn, but sometimes it is very worthwhile.

I enjoyed Palazzo. I like building things and matching colours. It's like playing with Lego, my favourite toy in my childhood.

Vinci is an out of print game ranked highly at BoardGameGeek. It is one of the games people call a "Civilisation Lite". There is some similarity to History of the World, which I own, but it is much shorter, and there is no dice.

We played a 3 player game, but we only played up to 100 victory points, instead of the standard 150VP meant for 3 players. We just wanted to give it a try to get a feel. I wonder whether playing a shorter version distorted how good the game is. I found the game to be a little flat.

Each player starts the game with one civilisation. Each civilisation has two special abilities (e.g. being harder to defeat, or scoring additional victory points for certain types of terrain occupied). Each turn, you try to expand your empire, and at the end of the turn, you score points based on the provinces you control. Conquest is deterministic. You just count a few factors to determine the number of people you need for conquering a province, e.g. terrain type, number of defenders, any civilisation special abilities. As your empire start to run out of steam, you can spend one turn to bring it into decline, and then choose a new civilisation to play starting the next turn. Your "old" civilisation will continue to give you victory points, even though you can't use it anymore, as long as they are not yet completely destroyed by your opponents.

"That stack is too tall!". Vinci in play. This is a stylised European map.

Different colours / patterns mean different terrains. The coloured discs are players' people. The non coloured wooden disc is a local tribe.

Ireland and United Kingdom.

The broken pillar indicates an empire in decline. Declining empires are passive and are just waiting to be conquered by others, but they still score points for the owning player until they are completely wiped out.

Near the end of the game. Notice how different the distribution of the player colours are compared to the early game.

In our (short) game, Michelle had 3 civilisations and both Chong Sean and I had 2. Each turn we try to maximise our score by conquering as many provinces as we could, and sometimes when certain terrain give bonus, or are easier to conquer, we go for those. I had high hopes for Vinci, since it is quite highly regarded. However after our game, it seemed a little boring. It is indeed short, and simple, and it does simulate the rise and fall of civilisations. The design is clean, even though there are many different special abilities. You don't need to remember all. There is a handy reference card. Maybe playing a shorter game made it not as good as a full game.

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