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Subject: Res Publica - short(ish) review rss

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Tiago Perretto
Brazil
Curitiba
Parana
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Res Publica is a light game of negotiation. The whole game is basically this: negotiation, but made in a way that you don't really negotiate - either you accept something offered, or you don't. The game goes like this: in his turn the player can offer something (like, 1 saxon and/or 2 vikings - you can offer up to two different things) or ask for something ("I want 2 huns or 1 shipbuilding"). Then, in clockwise order, the players, one at a time, will either try to make a deal, or pass. If the players tries to strike a deal, he must act in the same way: either offering something or asking for something. So a round can go like this:

- Player 1: "I want 1 Viking or 1 Goth and 1 Saxon."
- Player 2: "I give you 1 Goth and 1 Saxon, but I want 2 Huns for them."
- Player 1: "No."
- Player 3: "I give you 1 Viking, and I want 1 Book for it."
- Player 1: "No."
- Player 4: "I pass."
- Player 1 - turn ends, draw cards and pass the turn to the next player.

As you can see, some of these "negotiations" could be made if the game allowed for bargains, talks, haggle and other things. For instance, Player 1 do not have the 2 Huns that Player 2 wanted, but he had 1 Architecture that Player 2 really wanted, and, therefore, they could make a deal.

However, Knizia made Res Publica to work in a smart way: the negotiations, as they are, allow for the game be all about them, without making the game last way too long, something that is rather usual for negotiations game, since these can take a whole lot of time when the players discuss in order to reach a common ground that both will be happy with - and this is because everyone at the table knows it is a competitive game, so the players knows that something that is good for the other player, can be BETTER for him than for you. So the negotiations tend to go in the direction of "I must get more than you, so if you want X I will give you Y, because I think Y will help you less than X and than Z will help me" - and this can take a good while. And, this goes even further, because no one can rise the offer made by someone else - if player 1 offered (or wants) something and you, as the current player, passed on his deal, you won't be able to return to him after the offers of the others went nowhere. Therefore you must evaluate if the offer is fair/good/the best you will have, or risk with the next, then the next; and, many times, you can end your turn, without any deal whatsoever, because you passed on a deal early on, that was good, but you wanted better. Oh, well.

Not in Res Publica - you either give exactly what the player asked for, or you want exactly of the player offered, or you will have to pass. No side deal, no double offer, no "wait, if he wants to give you 1 Saxon, I will give you 2, only for you NOT trade with him!", or anything like this (the butter and bread of Bohnanza, for instance).

Either way, if you made a deal or don't, you will end your turn buying the cards you are allowed (always 1 of the pleople cards, and as many technology cards as you have colonies) and then the turn will pass to the next player. Play will go like this until all the city cards ended or until the deck of the technology cards is depleted (then there will be just one more round).

There are a few types of cards in Res Publica, but they all serve the same purpose: to build things. You want 5 people cards of the same type, in order to build a colony (each colony will allow you to buy 1 technology card in the end of your turn, and are worth 3 points). With 5 technology cards of the same type, you can build a city, which are worth more points the sooner you build them: 9, 8, 8, 7, 7, 6, 6, 5, 5, 4. With two Book cards you can build a Library (which allows you to build colonies and cities with only 4 cards of the same type - basically is the most OP thing you can build in the game, by far). With two Priest cards you can build a Monastery, which is worth 7 points. And that is it. All the deals you will be trying to make is aimed to get enough cards of the same type in order to build these things. The player with the most points will be the winner!

I really liked the way the negotiations work in Res Publica, but it is important to say that the game relies in the players to work. If a player appears to be ahead, it can surely be left out in the cold, with no one wanting to trade with him. Also, several times the player will propose something that everyone else will pass, and, because of the cards he took, next turn he will have to try to offer the same deal. But, these are situational things, and the game is made in a way to lessen the effect of them: the not-trading aspect is treated in the most simply of the ways: there are just oh so few cards of each type - just 12 cards of each. So, if you have 3 vikings in your hand, a group of 5 vikings were already used in a colony, this means that there are only 4 vikings left - and you still need 2 to make a colony. So, if the "leader" offers you a viking, you can pass on him, but you will also risking your position as well (he may have 2 vikings, or even 3, making your colony, if you don't have a Library, and there are only 2 that can possible be build in the whole game, impossible to be build, so you will have 3 vikings that aren't worth a damn thing to anyone else, except "leader" and you. So you will probably be better, in an overall way, by trading with him than not). Against the other possibility, well, this all depends on the player: maybe it is time to add something to sweeten the trade, or simply give up and go for another type of cards.

Well, Res Publica worked really well for us, beign heavier than Pit, basically in the same league of Bohnanza (in weight and amount of trading opportunities - though, as I said, it doesn't push for trading as much, so actual trade can happen less often), but is lasts way less (my plays of of Bohnanza last around 90 minutes, and Res Publica stays well into 45 minutes), also it is easier to manage, since many players of Bohnanza struggle with the "immovable" card in the hands (and the how often mistakes or simply cheating can occour).

So, it is better than Bohnanza? No. I like Bohnanza more, if, for nothing else, because I played more, so my experiences affect my rate and view of the game, but also for the reason the forced trade (when if you keep a card you will have to sow a field you don't want to) makes more deals to happen, also because I see more strategy in Bohnanza, since you can see what players are vying for, then you know what not to pursue (you can estimate, in Res Publica, what cards the other players have due to what they are offering and asking for, but it is harder to have a clear picture).

Also, from what I can see, Res Publica has a little more luck into it, because players won't, usually, trade Books or Monks (it can happen later on the game, when technology cards are more available, but in the first half of the game, or more, it will be harder to happen), so a player that have the luck to take from the deck a second Monk or Book will give one important step in front of the others. Sure, almost the same can be said for having a field with one Red Bean and one or two showing up in the two cards you reveal - but this has more in common with taking two of the same technology card, which is good, but doesn't unbalance the game as much (since, by trading, the others can reach the same amount, just like players planting Stink Beans can reach the same amount of points as a field of Red Beans).

Finally, another problem (somewhat connected to the luck aspect above) that can happen is that, in the final rounds, trading can almost die off, because you might don't want to trade anything that won't give you the necessary to complete set, allowing you to build a city, holding on the trade by the chance that the other will complete a set and you will still require one or more cards, and you know you will have to have the luck to have exactly what someone else wants and that this person also have what you want, you won't even have a chance to complete your set until it is your turn again. I add that this is a "worst case scenario" since I have see this occur (the refuse outright to trade) only in the very last round.

Anyway, even with this not perfect aspects, I enjoyed the game enough to purchase a copy for myself after playing - as I can see many opportunities to play a game that is easy to explain and learn (how the trade works can take a few turns to grasp, but once you "get it" you are good to go), plays almost in the time of a filler, while also allowing for some interesting decisions and lots of interaction between players.

And that is it!

Regards,
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Neil Christiansen
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Mount Pleasant
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A long-tine favorite. Nice review.

Note that I have never played the newest edition with books and monks.
 
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