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By Guglielmo Duccoli
My reviews will not focus on the rules of the game. There are better reviewers on that format than I could ever contribute. The purpose behind my reviews are to highlight one, and only one, overriding aspect of any game: fun. That’s it. As a big kid at heart, I play games in order to have a good time. In the end, all I really care about is if I’m going to want to play the thing again, and will anyone else. Hence, I’ve chosen five areas to highlight that are all aspects of the game’s funness. Examined from this paradigm, these are all aspects that I believe should be enjoyed during the whole experience of playing board games.
1. Out of the Box:
Gonzaga is a semi-abstract, area-control-ish game that features hexagonal, Blokus-like pieces called fiefs. The components for the game are top-notch, I am very impressed. The game is very lavish, and has a wonderfully luxurious feel to it.
The board is large, with clear markings on it to help with setup/playing. And it actually lays decently flat for a change.
There are four player boards that, while a little on the thin side, work very nicely with where/how you place your cards during each turn. There are a series of 16 cardboard tiles and 6 cardboard chits that illustrate different scenarios, depending on the number of players. This combined with the “secret objective” cards alone makes the game highly replayable (more on that later).
Each player is also equipped with their own identical decks of fief cards, action cards, and location cards. The cards themselves are beautifully illustrated, language independent, and are very functional and clear. There is a single play-overview card, and while I would have loved it if they provided one for every player, I really didn’t find it necessary when you finally learn the game, so it’s not entirely crucial, because the game isn’t terribly complicated or anything.
And lastly, each player has an identical set of 12 fief pieces, 6 rings, and 1 score marker. These are made of hard plastic and will not break easily. (Obviously, if you really wanted to, you could break them, but my point is that they’re not flimsy or delicate to start.)
All in all, I am extremely pleased with the production value of this game; it just has class written all over the pieces. Honestly, I’m just tickled at how good this game looks.
- Great production value through and through
Fun-o-meter: 4.9/5 – Only because the player mats are a tad thin. But honestly, the rest of the components more than make up for their flimsiness.
The rules are nearly flawless. They flow in a very logical manner and have many clear, color-illustration. If I had to nitpick, I wished they would expound a bit more on the secret objective cards. Granted, they’re pretty self-explanatory, but I couldn’t “get it” from reading the rules online alone. Also, the difference between flourishing and non-flourishing regions was a tad vague without having to purchase the game and playing with the components. But really, I’m grasping at straws here because I can just be dumb; the rules are otherwise very clear.
Teaching the game is a pretty easy task, too. First, I explain the board and show the difference between cities and harbors, borders and which regions are flourishing. Next, I explain a simplified version of the object of the game, saying that the fiefs have to cover various harbors and cities, according to the secret objective cards and placement rules. Then, I show them how to use their player boards and their action/location cards. Lastly, I explain how the king’s favor and the rings work. Then I talk them through the first round as we’re playing, and before you know it, everyone is off and playing. I can teach this game between 5-10 minutes flat.
- Simple rules (yet not a simple game)
3. Ease of Play:
Flip over the top fief card and find the matching plastic fief; pick an action card (tells you how you’re going to place it) and a location card (tells you where you’re going to place it); reveal action card and location card to resolve player order; and place fief on the board and score points. That’s it. In terms of actual steps to remember, the game is really easy. Okay, there are, like, two “placement” rules to remember, but they are very natural to think about. There is a fun-ness to planning your cards out and how to place your fief. The brevity of this section should indicate how simple the game is. It’s pretty much a “pick-up-N-play” type of game.
- Really natural and intuitive, simple game play
4. Weight/Length Ratio:
While the game is straightforwardly simple, where the game really shines is in the meaningful and satisfying decisions that have to be made in the game’s brief playing time. On the one hand, the game is a stylish area-control game. But on the other hand, the game can totally become a tactical one, as players vie for certain positions or cities & harbors with the king’s favor, if not for their own advantage, for the possible purpose of blocking opponents.
Then there’s the whole aspect of the rings, which can be utilized in their own right to benefit/hinder players. Do you go for sea leagues, or do you just try to get a steady number of points. There is a hefty bonus for having the longest string of fiefs, not to mention the secret objectives cards, which reward you if you cover only certain cities. And if you think you’re strategy is going to work because you’ll just simply place fiefs ONLY on flourishing regions – well, you can fughedaboudit. It is nigh impossible to play exclusively to flourishing regions, so you’re strategy will have to be pliable in every game. And you won’t have any given action/location card (if played) back in your deck until 2 whole turns later!
The options and paths to victory are not stupidly overwhelming, but always feel sufficient for a healthy dose of thinking and decision-making.
Because about 75% of every turn is played simultaneously, downtime is practically invisible. And analysis paralysis is only as bad as you’re slowest player (I know, a “duh” statement) but it’s nominal, really. These feel like the kinds of decisions that you enjoy making, so one shouldn’t linger over what to do next.
Overall, I really dig the strategies. They’re really good, and not too much for a game that shouldn’t take much more than an hour with max players.
- Really good multiple strategies, but not too overwhelming or difficult
5. The “F” Factor:
So, the bottom line – is the game fun? The answer: a heartfelt, resounding yes sir, you betcha. I find the game terribly fun, even playing it against myself…and losing! (Or winning? I don’t know.) Anyway, the game is highly underrated, I gather, and for unfounded reasons, IMHO. The game scales very nicely, too, which is always a major plus, right? It honest-to-god plays equally well with 2, 3 and 4 players. Each scenario may feel slightly different, but each is just as effective as the next.
For some, the theme may be lacking. Don’t be fooled by the smiling characters on the box cover, the game is not about shipping goods across seas or bickering factions in Old World Europe. (Perhaps that’s why the game is cruising under the radar – because it is unfairly being lumped in with all those other dime-a-dozen games, but I digress.) Truth-be-told, aside from the beautifully illustrated cards, the game is a little abstract. But if you were willing, I’d contend that the game scratches an itch that you never knew you had.
There really isn’t much to find at fault here with this game, in any of the areas about which I’ve just written. I, for one, am very happy and proud to have this game in my collection.
- A fun, short, strategically satisfying game…are you kidding me?
Overall: highly recommended
- Last edited Tue Apr 13, 2010 12:04 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Sat Apr 10, 2010 11:41 pm
I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
Agreed. Brilliant game. I really need to get this played soon.
Excellent review, Kevin. I've played Gonzaga six times now with 2,3, and 4 players, and I agree with your assessment.
I'd like to buy it either, but everytime Im goin to buy it is always in restock!its quite a success here in italy!
As is to be expected, the game is really special. I'm glad to hear that it's doing well over in Italy.
Now you can play it online: www.youplay.it
I strongly agree with the reviewer. Gonzaga is great gateway game and good game for gamers not wanting to exploit their brains too much.
Saying that, the game is really great, you have look what others are doing and plan and fight for your points.
Thanks for a great review. About time to bring this game to the table.