Introducing Rialto
 

Don't you love to learn new words? It can be fun learning how words work - whether it’s the definition of a unfamiliar word, the subtle shades of meaning for a familiar term, or even the history and etymology of familiar phrases. As such, our first encounter with Rialto proved to be something of a double pleasure, because it mixed together two favourite things: learning new games and learning new words.

To begin with, we're told that the goal of the game is to become the Eminence Grise of Venice. Eminence Grise? That certainly wasn't a title we had come across before, and we were keen to learn what it meant and how to pronounce it. It turns out that the term eminence grise refers to an individual who, in effect, functions as a ‘power-behind-the-throne’ – i.e., a powerful decision maker operating just out of sight. With the help of some quick internet research, we also learned that grise is pronounced ‘greese’.

We're not done learning about words just yet, however, because probably you're still wondering about the game's title, Rialto. Well it turns out that Rialto is the financial and commercial centre of Venice, and is an area of the San Polo district, famed for its markets and the Rialto Bridge across Venice's Grand Canal. That also is the setting of this game. We will be taking on the role of Italian nobles in Venice, vying to gain influence and power within the city by controlling the various city districts, as well as through the construction of buildings and bridges. The player who most successfully spreads their influence throughout the city will win the favour of the Venetian doge and become the eminence grise.

Doge, you say? Oh that's right. Another new word. It's a Venetian word meaning "leader", and was used for the elected chief of state in places like Venice and Genoa. See, wasn’t that fun – we get to learn a new game and expand our vocabulary!

But there's one more important word to add to this list. Feld. As a gamer, you probably knew that one already though didn't you? Yes, this is a game by famed designer Stephen Feld. Feld is well known for games such as Notre Dame, In The Year of the Dragon, Macao and Castles of Burgundy. In 2013 Feld has proven to be Herculean in his output, releasing Bora Bora, Rialto and Bruges – all of which have received a degree of critical acclaim - and Amerigo still forthcoming later this year. With Rialto, however, Feld has skewed to the lighter side of the complexity scale. Suitable for two-to-five players and lasting about an hour, this is a game that is very accessible in terms of rules and game play.

So new words aside, is the game-play any good? Well, let's find out!



COMPONENT OVERVIEW

Game box

Our first glimpse of the game happens when we greet the cover art on the game box, which has a minimalistic but attractive design, that features some Venetian gondolas, as well as a business deal happening on one of the overhead bridges. My best guess is that the guy on the left is handing over his cash for some new TMG Kickstarter project; subtle that!


Game box

The back of the box indicates some key essentials about the game, i.e that it's suitable for 2-5 players, and plays in about 45-60 minutes. There's also a picture of the game in play, a list of the components, and a short overview of what the game is about:

"Venice, the city of bridges and gondolas, Your goal is to gain power and influence: you want to become the eminence grise of Venice. Assign councilmen in the town districts, build precious bridges and buildings, but keep your eye on your finances and the Doge!
Rialto is an easily accessible tactical board game. With an elegant card mechanism, award winning designer Stefan Feld succeeds in keeping the players involved throughout the game.
"


Box back

Component list

So, here’s what you’ll find when you open up the box:

● 1 Game Board
● 5 Player Boards
● 77 Cards
● 90 Councilmen (18 in each of 5 player colours)
● 10 Player Markers (2 in each of 5 player colours)
● 6 Round Tiles
● 1 District Token
● 6 Bridge Tiles
● 6 Gondola Tiles
● 2 Bonus Tiles
● 60 Building Tiles
● 30 Gold Coins
● 1 Rule Book


All the components

COMPONENTS

Game board

The board for Rialto depicts the city of Venice, divided up into six districts. Each of the districts is connected to four other districts by spaces that will later be filled with either bridge or gondola tiles. Over the course of the game you will be placing your councilmen in these districts in an effort to gain control of them, and thus be awarded VP at the end of the game.

Along the top of the board you’ll find the Doge track, which you’ll use to help break ties and to help provide player order throughout the game. Along the left hand side of the board you will find both an area to stack the building tiles and a place to store the coins and players' councilmen. In the bottom right hand corner of the board you’ll find a very helpful, iconic summary of the flow of play from phase to phase. Finally, around the outside edge of the board there’s a scoring track.

It isn't the most beautifully illustrated board that you’re ever going to come across – but it’s clearly and cleanly illustrated, well constructed, and functional.


The main game board

Player boards

In addition to the main board, each player will receive their own player board. This is where you will be placing any building tiles that you acquire, as well as where you will store your available councilmen and cash. These are nicely sized and clearly organized boards that are easy to use, and do the job well.


One of the individual player boards

Councilmen

Well this is a Feld game – and that means it’s a euro game – so that means there’s gonna be ‘cubes’. In this case, the cubes represent councilmen that you’ll be placing in the various districts of the city in an effort to obtain majority control of said districts and thereby score VP. They come in five different colours, one for each player. They're shaped as octagonal cylinders, so they do feel slightly more human than the standard cubes we've come to see in most euros. The ones that came with our game were of a rather uneven quality, in varying heights and some even skewed. But in the end they're coloured wooden bits that get the job done, and function is more important than aesthetics.


Councilmen in five player colours

Player Markers

Each player will also use two player markers in their colour. These markers will be used to keep track of your position on the Doge track and also to track your VP on the score track. Again: wooden, coloured, functional – standard stuff.


Player markers

Cards

So how do we get to place our councilmen on the board, and do other fun stuff? That's where the cards come in, and in many ways these cards represent the heart of the game. The game plays out over six rounds and in the first phase of every round you’ll be dealing out a certain number of rows of cards, each with six cards in it. Players will take turns choosing one row of cards to take into their hand and then using those cards to bid for and participate in actions that will be resolved during the second phase of the round. In terms of types of cards, there are seven different types: doge, gold, building, bridge, gondola, councilmen and joker cards – each of which will provide you a different benefit or action during the second phase of a round. These cards have been attractively and clearly illustrated and printed on quality glossy card stock.


Seven types of cards

Bridge Tiles

As noted already, there are open spaces on the board which connect the various city districts and one of the things which can be placed in these spaces are the bridge tokens. Each token has two numbers on it (from three to six) and these bridge tokens will be used to calculate the importance or prestige of each district during final scoring. You can win the privilege of placing these bridges by being the one to play the most bridge cards during phase two of the round. These are nice thick tokens and the decision about how to most advantageously place them represents one of the interesting decisions that you’ll have to make during the game.


All six bridge tiles

Gondola Tiles

The other item that can be placed in the spaces connecting different districts are the gondola tiles. These tiles also contribute to the calculation of a district’s final value, however, every gondola tile only contributes only one point of value to whatever district it touches. The value of the gondolas is not just that the tiles can be used to de-value an opponents’ district, but also that the player who plays the most gondola cards receives the privilege of ferrying one of their councilmen into the either one of the districts connected by the newly placed tile - which could just help tip the balance to win the majority control you need!


All six gondola tiles

Building tiles

While the cards might be the heart of the game, the building tiles are not far behind in importance. There are three types of building (differentiated by colour) and four specific buildings within each colour group. The green buildings (which provided their benefit during the first phase of the round) focus on drawing and/or retaining more cards in your hand. The yellow buildings (which are activated during the second phase of the round) allow you flexibility in using and playing your cards. And the blue buildings (activated during the final phase of the round) focus on gaining VP and/or gaining councilmen, improving your position on the doge track. We’ll say more about the function of these buildings later, but for now it’s worth noting that they’ve been printed on good thick cardboard stock and that acquiring these buildings early and using them often is one of the keys to success in this game.





Round Tiles

The city has been divided into six districts and at the start of the game you’ll randomly place one tile in each of the districts. The tiles are numbered one through six and they will indicate the order in which the districts will be fought over during the game, helping make the way each game plays out different from game to game.


Round tiles

District Token

This handy little token serves no other purpose than to indicate the district that currently being contested. Continuing with a long standing tradition of naming random game components (such as "Steve", the trusted friend from Notre Dame), you might want to consider calling him something like Giuseppe!


The wooden district token

Bonus tiles

There are six districts in the city, however, these districts have been loosely federated into two allied areas – each of which has three districts associated with it. The first player to place one of his councilmen in each of the three districts of an allied area will receive the associated bonus tile which comes with a reward of 5VP.


The two bonus tiles

Gold coins

Much like the councilmen tokens, these are pretty standard cardboard gold tokens which serve as currency in the game. The main use for gold is to activate the building tiles that you’ve acquired and you’ll find that staying flush with cash is something of challenge.


Money tokens

Rules

Rialto comes with an eight page, full colour rule book that for the most part has been logically laid out. There is an explanation for the function of every card and every building tile and that’s very helpful. The rules are relatively few, and although they aren't always the most intuitive, you shouldn't have too much difficulty getting up and running. This is definitely one of Feld’s lighter and more accessible games that’s for sure. The explanation about turn order has caused some confusion, and although everything you need to know is arguably in the rules, a quick search of the forums here will quickly answer any questions you might have.

The English rulebook is available here: Rialto - English Rulebook


Sample spread from the rulebook

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

One of the things to appreciate about the rules for Rialto is the section dedicated to setting up the game, which include a helpful image of the board and components, with each step carefully marked.

Predictably, you begin by placing the board in the middle of the table. Place the six round tiles randomly on the board in the six different city districts. Shuffle the bridge tiles and then place them face-up in a stack on the bridge space on the board, and similarly place the gondola tiles in face-up stack on the gondola space. The bonus tiles (the square 5VP tiles) go on the bonus spaces, one on each side of the Grand Canal. Place all the gold coin tokens and the councilmen tokens in the supply box located in the bottom left corner of the board. Shuffle all of the cards thoroughly and place them near the board as a draw deck.

At this point, before giving each player their starting components, choose a starting player, and then give each player a player board and five of their councilmen tokens. In reverse player order, each player should place one of their player markers on the first space of the Doge track, while the other player marker goes on space ‘3’ of the scoring track. Yes, there are ways to lose points in this game!

There are two remaining details to be taken care of. First, you’re going to need some cash. Beginning with the start player and proceeding clockwise, each player takes a number of coins as follows: 2 players: 1/2; 3 players: 1/2/3; 4 players:1/2/2/3; 5 players: 1/2/2/2/3. Finally, in reverse player order, you may each choose a starting building with a value of one (with two or three players each player must choose a different building, and with four or five players no more than two players may take the same building). That’s it – you’re set up and ready to play!


Complete four player set-up

Flow of Play

Rialto will play out over six rounds, with each round consisting of three phases.
1. Card selection and activating green buildings
2. Card action resolution and activating yellow buildings
3. Activating blue buildings

There's a helpful graphic on the game-board that serves a useful visual reminder to help work through these phases, especially the second phase in which you work systematically through the six different types of cards.



Phase 1: Get cards and activate green buildings

This phase is basically about each player getting 8 cards and keeping 7, activating green buildings to get or keep more cards in the process.

District token: You’ll begin this phase by moving the district token into the district being contested this round. This shouldn’t be hard because you just follow the numerical path laid out by the six round tiles.

Lay out cards: Now, you’ll need to lay out columns of cards from the draw deck, equal to the number of players plus one, with each column containing six cards, making sure that all of the card icons are visible.


Card rows in a four player game

Select cards: Players select a column of cards in turns as dictated by the Doge track. Ties on the Doge track are always resolved in favour of the player whose token is on top. So on your turn, you’ll select one column of six cards and take them into your hand. Then, you’ll draw two additional cards face-down from the draw deck. While doing this you can activate any green buildings that you have, which will give you benefits like being able to draw extra cards or keep more in hand. At this juncture we won’t talk about how all of the various buildings function, but note that to activate a building you need to place one coin on it.

Reduce hands: The final step of this phase involves reducing your hand to your specific hand limit. You have a base hand limit of seven cards, although activating some green buildings may increase this limit. When you discard cards, do so to your own face-down discard pile; these are shuffled together in the event the draw deck ever runs out.


An opening hand of cards

Phase 2: Play cards and activate yellow buildings

This phase is basically about players using their cards over 6 stages to carry out different actions, activating yellow buildings to support these actions in the process.

During this phase of the round you will be playing the cards in your hand to get your councilmen onto the board and perform other actions. The six types of cards will be played in the order indicated by the diagram located in the bottom right hand corner of the board: i.e. Doge cards, Gold cards, Building cards, Bridge cards, Gondola cards, and Councilmen cards. During this phase you may activate any yellow buildings that you have at the cost of one coin per building.

Turn order: Before describing them in detail, first some general rules on how this phase plays out in terms of turn order. Normally turn order for every aspect of the game is determined by the Doge track, but the playing of cards is the one exception. During the first stage of this phase (playing Doge cards), the starting player is the player who is the furthest ahead on the Doge track; while in each of the following five stages, the starting player will be the player who received the bonus during the previous stage.


The Doge track in action

Playing cards: Players then get one opportunity to play cards corresponding to that stage, and these are played in clockwise order. It’s important to note that you don’t have to play cards during a given stage – even if you have cards in your hand that match the current stage. You may hold over cards until the next turn if you so desire – remembering of course the need to discard down to your hand limit at the end of the first phase of the round.

Performing actions: After all cards have been played, players carry as many actions associated with that stage as cards they played, and this is done in regular order determined by the Doge track.

Bonus: The player who played the most cards (ties resolved using the Doge track) receives a special bonus, and becomes the start player for playing the cards for the next stage.

Card overview

This playing of cards is best explained via a quick overview of the various types of cards that will be played during this phase, and describing their associated actions:

Doge cards: Beginning with the player furthest ahead on the Doge track, and in clock-wise order, players can play as many Doge cards from their hand as they wish. Then in Doge turn order, each player moves their player marker one space ahead on the Doge track for each card they played. The player who plays the most Doge cards gets a bonus: they can advance their marker an additional space on the track. Remember, in all following stages the player who last received the bonus will play the first card during the next stage.



Gold cards: Players now play their Gold cards, and receive one gold coin for each Gold card they play, with the player who played the most cards (ties resolved by the Doge track as always) receiving one bonus coin.



Building cards: Players can choose a building from the supply with a value equal to the number of Building cards they played. So if you play three Building cards, you can take a three value building and place it on your player board. Multiple copies of the same building are allowed. If you play the most Building cards, then as a bonus you will be able to build a building with a value one greater than the number of cards you played.



Bridge cards: You’ll receive one 1VP for each Bridge card that you play, while you’ll lose 1VP if you don’t play at least one bridge card. As bonus, the player who plays the greatest number of bridge cards can take the top bridge tile from the stack and place it onto an open connection between two districts, deciding to orient the tile as they wish.



Gondola cards: For each Gondola card that you play, you will be able to take one of your councilmen tokens from the general supply (on the main board) and add it to your personal supply (on your player board). If you have no more councilmen to take, you’ll receive 1VP per missing councilman instead. As bonus, the player who plays the most Gondola cards can place a gondola token on an open connection between two districts and can also place one of his a councilman from the general supply into one of those districts.



Councilmen cards: For each Councilmen card that you play, you will be able to move one councilman from your personal supply into the current district. As bonus, the player who has played the most councilman cards may move one additional councilman token. You will also need to be aware of and remember to score the district bonuses, which award 5VP to the first player to place at least one of their councilmen in each of the three districts on one side of the Grand Canal, which could happen when Gondola or Councilmen cards are played (turn order isn't taken into consideration for the latter, so more than one player can earn the bonus if they place councilmen in a third district on the same turn).



Joker cards: A player may add one or more Jokers to the cards they have played during any of the above stages in order to increase the amount of those cards played. If you have no cards of a particular type, you can use two Jokers to count as one card of that type.



Phase 3: Activate blue buildings

This phase is basically about players activating blue buildings to get their benefits.

Players may now activate any of their blue buildings by placing one coin on them.


View from a player's board

Building overview

Note that buildings can only be activated once per round. At the end of each round, remove all coins from activated buildings, returning them to the general supply, and proceed to the next round.

In case you’ve been wondering, here are images of the buildings and a description of the benefits offered by each of them:

Green buildings:


Yellow buildings:


Blue buildings:


Game End & Final Scoring

The game ends at the conclusion of round six – to be followed by final scoring carried out as follows:

Districts: VP for majority area control in each of the six districts. The player with the greatest number of councilmen in a given district receives VP equal to the total value of all adjacent bridge and gondola tiles. The player with the second most councilmen receives half the amount of VPs (rounded down); the player in third place will receive half of that, etc. Ties are broken by relative position on the Doge track.

Buildings: VP equal to their value.

Councilmen & coins: VP equal to half of the total number of councilmen and coins remaining in your personal supply (rounded up).

Whoever has the most VP at the end of final scoring is the winner.


Battling for majorities in Santa Croce

Advanced Two Player Variant

Although you can quite comfortably play Rialto as a two player game without altering the rules at all, if you are looking for a more challenging and satisfying two player experience, additional rules have been included which add in a ‘dummy’ player. We won’t present all of the rules for the 2P variant here, but what we will say is that the dummy player will participate in the bidding of cards during phase two of the round, effectively adding an extra player into the mix for determining whether someone gets the majority bonus.


End of a standard 2 player game

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Decent components: Let's get the negatives out of the way first. From a quality perspective, all the components for Rialto are decent, although not without room for improvement. For example, the quality of the councilmen figures was uneven, and the scoring track isn't as intuitive as we would like, although these weaknesses shouldn't be overstated either. The artwork for the city of Venice on the main board isn’t the most inspiring or stunning, but it’s clean and it works. The colours of the icons on some the different card types is also a little closer than we'd like to see, and they aren't as quickly distinguishable as one might like. But there's a lot of things to like and appreciate about the components too, and overall it's a solid effort.

Less than elegant: Despite being cleaner and simpler than most Feld designs, this isn't the kind of game that you can expect to completely `grok' when you first play it, and there are even aspects of the game that are somewhat clunky and counter-intuitive. The turn order rules can be a bit finnicky and confusing on your first play, and although it's important to remember that the order is always determined by the Doge track, the fact that the turn order for playing cards works differently can take some getting used to, and doesn't feel completely intuitive, and similar things can be said about the reverse turn order used for some aspects of setup (though necessary for game-play reasons). Similarly, end game scoring requires rounding up for some things and rounding down for other things. These aren't reasons not to like the game, but just mean that you might find yourself stumbling occasionally in your first play or two. You'll also need to allow some time for sorting buildings and tokens at set-up and take-down, and especially in your first game it will be difficult to judge the relative merits of the different card stacks available, and the relative merits of the different buildings available. This kind of experience with your first play of Rialto seems quite common, but the good news is the initial awkwardness does wear off soon enough, so don't allow any negative initial impressions weigh too heavy in your final assessment of this game. It's not as streamlined as other Feld titles like Notre Dame, but fortunately long-term relationships don't always require love-at-first sight!

A lighter Feld: Now to the good stuff! This is certainly one of Feld’s lighter designs and despite the reservations just expressed, overall it is quite accessible in terms of rules and gameplay. As such, this makes Rialto an excellent game to employ if you are looking for good "next-step" game after the usual gateway fare like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. The fact that it's largely card-driven also adds an element of luck-of-the-draw, and assists in giving the game a somewhat lighter feel. The upshot of all this is that Rialto has the potential to be well received in settings where heavier Feld games might go over like a lead balloon. It's quite streamlined and the different mechanisms are woven together neatly in an accessible package. It is very suitable as an introductory Feld title, and even might work in the context of families with children or with non-gamers looking to stretch themselves.

Strategy and decisions: Even though Rialto is a fairly light game, there are still tough choices and difficult decisions to be made. One of the toughest is which row of cards to select during phase one of the round. Should you select a row that allows you to specialize in a particular area and decisively win that category and lock up its appropriate bonus? Or is it best to select a row that will allow you to participate in several of the stages of the phase? Of course, your partial knowledge of what cards your opponent has chosen will also shape this decision making process, because you'll have to use what limited information you have regarding your opponents’ hand in order to make effective choices. The fact that players always get to draw two random face-down cards (plus more using building abilities) ensures that you never have perfect information to work with, and helps add to the suspense and keep things interesting. Another important element that helps add flexibility and suspense is hand management, particularly in deciding how best to manage your jokers – which are very powerful tools that should never be employed without care or thought. Turn order on the Doge track is also critical - but how much of your resources should you invest to advance on this track? All these elements helps create a great tension that makes the game both thought-provoking and enjoyable. There's more going on than meets the eye, especially as you try to maximize your cards and your buildings, and squeeze out small majorities that tip extra bonuses in your favour wherever possible. As a result, there's a lot to think about, and choices are often tense and not immediately obvious, resulting in a very satisfying game to play despite the straight-forward appearances.

Majority control: One of the most interesting elements of Rialto is how the majority bonuses work. To begin with, players are trying to place their councilmen in such a way that they will have the majority in a district, and thereby score the most points. This aspect of majority area control is hardly something new in itself, but what Feld has done that really makes the game interesting is give the players themselves opportunity to determine the value of the districts as the game progresses, through winning the bonuses that allows you to place the bridge and gondola tiles. Ideally you'll place these tiles in a way that benefits districts where you are likely to win the majority, while hurting districts where your opponents are winning. But winning majority control applies not only to end-game scoring, because Feld has also cleverly incorporated special majority bonuses for the player who plays the most cards of a type, thus making the idea of winning majorities central to all aspects of game-play. The majority bonuses obtained by card play is really slick, and the small benefits that can be obtained in this fashion can be critical, giving players opportunity to leverage small bonuses that apply to a range of abilities, thus giving them a lot of flexibility and creating tension. The more you play, the more you come to realize the importance of trying to win these majorities, and focusing your energies on particular areas so as to acquire them.

Healthy interaction: Rialto feels much more interactive than many other euro games, including ones by Feld. This interaction is generated in the first place by the race for majority control of the different districts. However, interaction also plays a key role when competing for the majority bonuses while playing cards. As a result, there's a constant feeling of being in competition with your fellow players, and the game never feels multi-player solitaire, while at the same time never feeling vicious either.

Good strategic balance: There are different ways to score points in Rialto, and while end-game scoring of the districts' area control is the primary way of earning points, acquiring buildings and playing bridge cards can also be lucrative. The different ways of scoring seem fairly well balanced; on one occasion you might focus on winning the bonuses for being first to control the three upper/lower districts, while on another occasion you might choose to completely ignore this and focus on gondolas. Getting control of turn order can be decisive, but also comes at the cost of investing cards and resources to do so. You'll often find yourself wanting to do everything!

Variable building abilities: The buildings add a real interesting element to the gameplay, by giving you special abilities. The suggestion has been made that certain buildings are unquestionably better than others. Some folks favour starting with the blue buildings (especially the level one upgrade building) as a surest path way to victory. Others consider the green buildings too powerful, and it does seem hard to overlook the strength of buildings that give you extra cards. The fact that there are different opinions about which buildings are best to start with is an indication that different approaches can all lead to success.

Smooth scaling: Rialto has been designed to play with two to five players and it plays well with any number along that spectrum. On average, expect games to take about 15-20 minutes per player (more for your first game), so while a two player game will take around 45 minutes, a three player game around 60 minutes, and a four player game up to 90 minutes. There is potential for some AP, especially when making the all-important decision about which card row to select, but much of the game keeps players engaged and involved, so down-time never feels like it becomes a big issue.

Two player friendly: Rialto works fine as a two player game, and the shorter game-time actually makes it attractive to play with just two. However the district scoring tends to be less interesting (see discussion here) and can become a straight-forward battle with both players winning 3 districts, or perhaps 4 vs 2. Adding a dummy player as described in the advanced rules doesn't introduce much complexity and makes the two player game even more satisfying. The dummy player has an active presence on the Doge track, as well as having the capacity to place bridges, gondolas and to compete for majorities via the placement of councilmen; furthermore the dummy player has the potential to ‘block’ the human players from receiving the bonus during a given stage of phase two by ‘outbidding’ them for the majority of cards played. It works effectively (which isn’t always the case in games that employ this mechanism) and controlling its actions isn’t terribly onerous or cumbersome, and so we're happy to recommend Rialto as an excellent game even with just two players.


Activating a building

What do others think?

The criticism

Rialto isn't an instant favourite for everyone, and as always it's worth taking the time to consider some of the reasons why some critics didn't like the game. Some feel that the key decision of the game is the card-drafting, and this phase of the game is over too quickly. Other concerns have been raised about whether the buildings are sufficiently balanced, and whether there is a runaway leader issue. In some cases, critics dismissed the game after an unfavourable first and only experience. It is generally agreed that Rialto is the kind of game that does require at least a couple of plays to fully grasp and appreciate, so the reports about first impressions being less than stellar shouldn't surprise. Even the critics do laud it for being as streamlined and clean as it is, however, especially in contrast to some of Feld's heavier games, and for offering a lighter Feld-experience. Overall the negative comments don't reflect any real consensus, except perhaps some disappointment from Feld fans who appreciate his heavier designs. All this really means is that you don't want something lighter than what Feld typically delivers, Rialto might not be for you, and that you shouldn't judge the game too quickly after your first play.

The praise

So let's hear from some of the more enthusiastic commentators, such as these:

"Refreshing game from Feld: quick, quite straightforward BUT still very challenging. Well made game which is one of the best designs Stefan has made." - Tero Hyötyläinen
"Another solid offering from Feld. This one plays quicker than most (except maybe for Speicherstadt), but still has deep strategy and interesting decisions, plus multiple paths to victory." - Tony Fanchi
"Subtly complex with no easy decisions. Mechanics make it different each time, enhancing replay value. Good solid game." - Mikhael Weitzel
"A lighter Feld ... It plays very smoothly and is easy enough for non-gamers, yet offers enough depth for the experienced players." - Ninja P
"This is billed as a lighted Feld game and while that's true, I feel like there are still interesting choices to be made. I also feel like it has more interaction that some of Feld's other games." - Rodego
"Simple game play and great depth. Can't wait to play it again." - Steve Bauer
"Absolutely superb Feld game. A little lighter than some of his real brain-burners but that is no bad thing. Make no mistake, this is a great game and by no means a light game and there are many decisions to be made at every turn. Also there are still various routes to victory: buildings, majorities, bridge/gondola VPs, all equally valid paths." - P Duckworth
"Love it. It has easy to learn rules, and very simple gameplay, but also provides tough decisions to make on every turn." - C Bazler
"I would consider this a great entry point into FELD games." - Brad Pasmeny
"Stefan Feld has done it again... very good gateway game. Lots of good decisions and several different ways to play." - Louie Knight
"Another great Feld game! This game has more to the eye than it seems. It seems to have easy choices but they are actually very difficult, and all of them make a huge impact on yourself and those around you." - Chris Halvorson
"Plays fast with decent amount of decisions. Excellent gateway game for medium heavy games." - Muziq
"Much to like here. Good small package of decisions. Easily understood rules. Limited number of rounds keeps game time down." - Doug Richardson



87 vs 86 points - end of a close 2 player game

Recommendation

Rialto is unlikely to be considered Feld’s masterpiece because it's a lighter game than some of his other designs, and in the long run it probably won’t be mentioned in the same breath as titles like Castles of Burgundy or Trajan. Nevertheless, this is a very solid game that does exactly what it sets out to do: provide an accessible, interactive, satisfying, and fun light-weight euro. The components are attractive, the rules fairly straightforward, there are interesting choices to be made, and yet there's enough hidden information and random card draw to prevent things bogging down into pure calculation, and keeping it genuinely fun to play. Having enjoyed it as much as we did, we suspect that Rialto will find a comfortable and appreciated place on many gamer shelves in the foreseeable future. It's an excellent and interactive game in the light-medium weight category, and has the potential for a broad reach.

So is Rialto a game for you? Well, ask yourself these questions: Are you a fan of Feld’s games? Are you looking for a lighter weight euro that could serve as a good next step after your typical gateway game? Do you enjoy games that make use of the area control mechanic, and require good hand management with cards? If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes, then Rialto is definitely a game for you to check out!



Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and jtemple.

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Brian Boyle
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An excellent review as always. I am pleased that you highlighted the area-control aspect (rather than the card drafting or bidding) in your title, because that for me is the core of the game. The area control is wonderfully subtle, with actions simultaneously allowing one to influence the value of area, tip the majority and block off regions. I feel I am being made to work for my VPs here.

Along with Der Speicherstadt, one of my favourite Feld designs.
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Todd Barker
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Just got my hands on a copy haven't even punched it out yet, you are making me excited for the weekend
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Steve Kennedy

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Excellent review as always!

We play mostly with 2-players and you are right that it takes a run through to begin seeing what strategy is needed. We have not tried the variant dummy player yet.

We missed that you did not need to play all your cards in a round so we will need to add that reminder for our next play.

I was disappointed that there was not a player aid--like a small 3x5 card outlining the bonus stuff and what happened with each played card. Right now it means having the rule book open to that page.

We may have to just get ourselves some dressed up meeples to make this feel like we are placing people (a la Fresco). Not sure why they just didn't use meeples anyway it would make it much less abstract (though you could say that of NOTRE DAME too I suppose, which we both love).

The one "intuitive" thing we had to figure out was the bonus tiles and we just had to assume the color coding was the clue to which "sides" of the canal it was referring to. Missed the "quick" play rule columns that I've come to appreciate in other Feld games.

We both find it a great 2-player game that actually plays pretty fast (you can knock out a game in 35 minutes sometimes) so that makes it attractive as well. Might move up our favorites.
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Andy Andersen
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Another WOW of a review/tutorial.
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Curt Carpenter
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This game feels like it was designed 15 years ago and sat on the shelf unpublished until now to fill a void the publisher had. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, except that game design has evolved, and this one feels like it just hasn't kept up. I bought it, I'll play it, but probably not for the long-term. Even for the same duration/complexity, there are better games. Among recent releases Il Vecchio comes to mind. The most fun I had with Rialto was arguing about the TMG logo.
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David B
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curtc wrote:
This game feels like it was designed 15 years ago and sat on the shelf unpublished until now to fill a void the publisher had. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, except that game design has evolved, and this one feels like it just hasn't kept up. I bought it, I'll play it, but probably not for the long-term. Even for the same duration/complexity, there are better games. Among recent releases Il Vecchio comes to mind. The most fun I had with Rialto was arguing about the TMG logo.



Some awfully good games came out 15 years ago. Game design has certainly evolved and branched out since then. But not every branch has eveolved into something necessarily better. Rialto, to me, does not feel overly bloated. But I enjoy certain types of cardplay and Rialto is the type of cardplay I enjoy. Now I will admit, though, there are other games that have a similar feel I would rather play with two. Thurn and Taxis is one such game. But, that's kind of old, too. I see a trend here.
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Phil Hendrickson
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stev4uth wrote:
...
I was disappointed that there was not a player aid--like a small 3x5 card outlining the bonus stuff and what happened with each played card. Right now it means having the rule book open to that page.

We may have to just get ourselves some dressed up meeples to make this feel like we are placing people (a la Fresco). Not sure why they just didn't use meeples anyway it would make it much less abstract (though you could say that of NOTRE DAME too I suppose, which we both love).

...


Good points. A player aid describing the bonus for each type of card would be nice. Using meeples instead of the abstract cylinders for councilmen would certainly improve the thematic feel.

The play strengths of this game are subtle, so improving the thematic experience would help players hang in through a few plays to pick up the underlying depth.
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Clyde W
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pfctsqr wrote:
curtc wrote:
This game feels like it was designed 15 years ago and sat on the shelf unpublished until now to fill a void the publisher had. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, except that game design has evolved, and this one feels like it just hasn't kept up. I bought it, I'll play it, but probably not for the long-term. Even for the same duration/complexity, there are better games. Among recent releases Il Vecchio comes to mind. The most fun I had with Rialto was arguing about the TMG logo.



Some awfully good games came out 15 years ago. Game design has certainly evolved and branched out since then. But not every branch has eveolved into something necessarily better. Rialto, to me, does not feel overly bloated. But I enjoy certain types of cardplay and Rialto is the type of cardplay I enjoy. Now I will admit, though, there are other games that have a similar feel I would rather play with two. Thurn and Taxis is one such game. But, that's kind of old, too. I see a trend here.
I think the real question here is, Alan R. Moon designed a very similar (albeit limited to 3-4 players, with a fan-created 2p variant) game in 2001 with very similar mechanisms. How does this game compare to San Marco?
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David B
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clydeiii wrote:
pfctsqr wrote:
curtc wrote:
This game feels like it was designed 15 years ago and sat on the shelf unpublished until now to fill a void the publisher had. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, except that game design has evolved, and this one feels like it just hasn't kept up. I bought it, I'll play it, but probably not for the long-term. Even for the same duration/complexity, there are better games. Among recent releases Il Vecchio comes to mind. The most fun I had with Rialto was arguing about the TMG logo.



Some awfully good games came out 15 years ago. Game design has certainly evolved and branched out since then. But not every branch has eveolved into something necessarily better. Rialto, to me, does not feel overly bloated. But I enjoy certain types of cardplay and Rialto is the type of cardplay I enjoy. Now I will admit, though, there are other games that have a similar feel I would rather play with two. Thurn and Taxis is one such game. But, that's kind of old, too. I see a trend here.
I think the real question here is, Alan R. Moon designed a very similar (albeit limited to 3-4 players, with a fan-created 2p variant) game in 2001 with very similar mechanisms. How does this game compare to San Marco?


I have not played San Marco, but I have read about it and have read comment from several people who have played both. From everything I have seen, the themes are obviously the same but the game play is very different in the two games.
 
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pfctsqr wrote:
I have not played San Marco, but I have read about it and have read comment from several people who have played both. From everything I have seen, the themes are obviously the same but the game play is very different in the two games.
I agree, they're definitely different. Which is better?

All we know is what BGG tells us:

Rialto, 7.26/10, rank #566, weight 2.6 (funny, given "light-medium" in the OP's title)
San Marco 7.24/10, rank #244, weight 2.7
 
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Julio

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clydeiii wrote:
[q="pfctsqr"][q="curtc"]I think the real question here is, Alan R. Moon designed a very similar (albeit limited to 3-4 players, with a fan-created 2p variant) game in 2001 with very similar mechanisms. How does this game compare to San Marco?


You can find an answer here: http://boardgamegeek.com/video/31482/rialto/drivethrureview-...
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Ralph Bruhn
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DrumPhil wrote:
Using meeples instead of the abstract cylinders for councilmen would certainly improve the thematic feel.
Yes, we thought about this!
But there's a simple reason why we couldn't do this: Meeples are much bigger than the octagons and there is not enough space in the smaller regions if 5 players put their meeples in them. And we didn't want to have them stacked for several reasons (countability, handling). For the same reason we didn't use crest-shaped tiles (like in Il Vecchio), which was my first intention: The stacking of them was just too fiddly.
But at least we decided against cubes ...
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Steve Kennedy

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The octagon's in our copy were also a bit off (slanted, hanging "chads") so I think that was the other reason why I felt miniature meeples would have been better--and the coins would just go off to one side on the table anyway.
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Alexander Portland
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Ender is a Master of Reviews. Summa cum laude!
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Greg
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Awesome review!

I played a friend's copy of the game last Saturday and enjoyed it okay.

One thing that took us by surprise was how fast it was and how little time you have to do certain things in a round, but after the first round we figured that out and adjusted.

Lots of different ways to go, as you can get into buildings for what they offer or concentrate more on straight up area control. The Doge track is important too as I lost a couple tie breakers because I was usually last on the track in a 3 player game.

I didn't mind the wooden components, as it doesn't really matter in a eurogame about any added theme from component shapes, as it would be just tacked on anyway IMO.

I didn't care for the map of the city, as the colors were blah and some too similar. I really, really hated the scoring track.
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Jeremy Frank
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Fantastic review! Got a chance to play Rialto last week and really enjoyed it.

I love that the players can determine how many points each area scores at the end of the game as the game progresses (as opposed to the point values being printed on the board). As Ender mentioned, the design is very clean, and it is filled with decisions to make (especially if you get the A=BB or Joker buildings). In fact, I bought it the next day!

I now have both San Marco and Rialto in my collection, but the decision on which to play is easy: If I've got 3 players, it's San Marco all the way. For 4 and 5 players, Rialto will come out.
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Tim K.
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I really appreciate your roundup of criticism of the game. Saves me the trouble of taking the temperature myself thumbsup
 
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Great review, thanks!

I think this might work well for my family.
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