What're you looking at!
I got interested in this game when I saw it on sale at 50% off at my FLGS, and read that it was by Adlung-Speile, who designed another of my favourite card games, Vom Kap Bis Kairo. But what made me actually want to buy the game is when I read about the mechanic of dividing cards into offers, which your opponent gets first choice on. That reminded me of Des Pyramiden des Jaguars.
We've played Canal Grande about 15 times now, and found it to be a very fun, but down and dirty kind of game.
Canal Grande is a card game in which you get 66 cards: 52 action cards, and 14 number cards.
The cards are of good quality, although the artwork is not particularly beautiful. The action cards look like they were printed on a dot-matrix printer, and the number cards . . . well . . . their background looks like the kind of purple velvet that was so cool 35 years ago. The backs of the cards are a rather unpleasant grayscale.
The rulebook, is not an example of clarity, but adequate.
The number and action cards need to separated, which is not too difficult as there are different letters on the back of them, although of the same colour. You also have to separate out two of each colour of action card, deal four to each player, then shuffle the remainder back into the deck, and you are ready to begin.
The object of the game is to collect one of each of the six houses, or four of one colour to win the game. There are five cards for each of the houses: Cannaregio, green; San Polo, yellow; San Marco, orange; Dorsoduro, pink; Castello, maroon; Santa Croce, purple.
After the initial deal of four cards, you only recieve cards from offers. The dealer takes five action cards and three number cards, and divides them into two piles for his opponent to choose. The piles need not have even numbers of cards, the only restriction being that it must contain at least one card.
Before describing the game any further, I will describe the types of cards:
District cards: They represent the six different houses and are what you collect to win the game. On your turn, when you take your offer you may immediately place them in your hand. They are used to bid on districts that count towards victory.
Doges: On your turn, these cards are left on the table and are used to initiate a vote. The active player lays a district card down and that becomes the district that is up for grabs. If your opponent wishes to bid on this district, he must lay down at least one card of that colour and a second card, either of that colour or of a different colour accompanied by a gondola. Players can take turns upping the bid by laying down cards of that colour, or by laying down cards of a different district accompanied by a gondola card. You have to lay down a higher bid than your opponent, or pass. When the bidding can go no higher, the winner then claims that district card. It is taken out of play, placed in front of the player, and is counted towards victory conditions.
Gondolas: These cards are used to raise your bid on a district by bringing in cards of another district. Cards of more than one district can be used, but each district can only be brought in by its own gondola.
Traitors: On your turn, before any doges are played, you place your traitor cards in the discard, and draw one card from your opponent for each traitor card in your offer.
Spy: Draw two cards from the draw pile and play them if they are a traitor or a doge, or put them in your hand if they are a district card or a gondola. If you draw a spy card, it is discarded and you draw again.
Number cards: These cards are always kept face up in front of you and separate from your hand. They are numbered from 1-3 and are used to determine when the draw pile gets reshuffled: when one or both players have accumulated 10 points on their number cards.
When you choose your offer, you do whatever actions are necessary according to the cards you get. Sometimes there may not be a doge in two or even three offers, and you build up cards. When doges do turn up you lay down your cards to bid on districts, but only the winner of the vote loses all his cards. The loser need only discard his gondolas, and his inital district card. In a single turn, you cannot initiate a vote on a district more than once. That is, if my opponent initiates a vote on San Marco, I can't simply not bid on it, then play my doge and initiate another vote on San Marco, and then play my San Marco district cards.
When someone reaches 10 points on their number cards, a new round begins. If only one player reaches ten, then the lower player gets to immediately draw three cards from the draw pile, redrawing for spy and doge cards. Then the deck is shuffled and the lower player gets to choose first.
If both players reach ten at the end of a turn, the deal passes normally.
You can sometimes find yourself with a lot of cards, and sometimes with no cards whatsoever, depending on how many doges have turned up, and how heavy the bidding has been. If you get a doge and have no cards, your opponent gets to use that doge. If you play a traitor card and your opponent has no cards, you discard your traitor.
Dividing the cards into offers requires great care. If you make the offers roughly equal in terms of the number cards accumulated; cards gained by traitors/spies; doges; and/or district cards, be sure that you will be happy with getting either of the piles.
If you want a particular card, you can put it in the less attractive pile and hope your opponent doesn't psyche you out by taking it. Sometimes if you have a good idea of what your opponent needs, you can load alot of the higher number cards onto the pile, or put the cards you want on the other pile.
There is no sure thing, so you always have to think what you can do with the pile you don't want.
What to do with the doges will depend a lot on your hand. If you have a gondola or two, and most of the colours covered, you can probably compete with whatever your opponent wants to vote on, so you can let them have the doge. If your opponent is low on cards, or if it is early in the game, doges can be a sure thing, so you definitely want them in those cases.
Sometimes, the bidding can get very vicious, and you either are trying to get your opponent to use as many cards as possible, or to take a district at high cost. Unless you are going for the win or staving off certain defeat, it might not be worth bidding too high and depleting your hand. It can sometimes be very hard to recover from a costly vote; moreover you can sometimes pick up a couple of votes while your opponent's hand is low.
Traitor cards are very powerful in this game. Your hand consists of gondolas, essential for voting; districts you have yet to acquire; districts you have already acquired, but need to keep to go with your gondolas. So the vast majority of the time, your opponent takes a vital card. I place as high a premium, and often higher, on the traitor card as the spy card when making offers.
Accumulating number cards is no too detrimental if you get the cards you really want with them; however, a few rounds of your opponent getting the three extra cards is telling. The number cards can be extremely useful for pushing your opponent to take a particular offer by using the three cards as bait.
There are oppportunities for card counting in this game; hence, the votes can be rigged. As there are only five cards per district, you can sometimes know that a single card will take a vote. Letting your opponent burn up his cards on a turn, can sometimes guarantee you the vote on the next turn. If your your holding all the cards of a district, and the traitor don't get to you, you can gain a mojority over the course of a few turns.
That is, the more elections you can rig, the better you will do.
In our first four sessions, this game didn't play as well as it subsequently did. After that we began to appreciate this game much more.
If you like games which are confrontational, and allow you to try to manipulate and psyche-out your opponent, you will like this game. The I-choose, you-pick mechanic give an interesting rhythm to the game.
The artwork could definitely be better, and while the occassional shooting-fish-in-a-barrel feeling fits the theme of a rigged election, it is sometimes a little jarring. Nevertheless, this game is a very good, head-to-head card game.
I give it an 8.
Very disappointed that the title of this review wasn't "A bit Dogey".