Tiago Perretto
Brazil
Curitiba
Parana
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Thinking about my next move.
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So, if my only options are these, then I shall...
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About Gonzaga:

1) What is it?
Gonzaga is a tile (truly, more a piece) laying game, mixed with hand management, area control and simultaneous action selection.

Gonzaga is a game that constantly puts players in tough situations, as players are frequently blocking the others, and not only that, the need of making the best use of the pieces, alongside the action and place, make for some difficult decisions (even if not complex ones).

The rules are simple, but create a fine base, as the board became a tetris-like screen, but with several persons trying to fill the gaps.

The production value is good, not great, as the pieces, cards, board and tiles are well done, but the player boards are flimsy and the there is a single card serving as player aid - and the game plays up to 4.

Replay value is high, as Gonzaga have several scenarios, the hidden goal of the players change and also the order of the pieces have a big impact in the decisions made.

Overall, Gonzaga is a very unique game, playing differently than almost everything. It has a good pacing, with some downtime issues (as the person can try its piece in several ways in the region chosen before settling, and this can take a while, but this can easily be controlled), and offers a good amount of decisions in a relativity short playing time.

2) How do you play?
After the set up is done, there will be flourishing regions and inactive ones (1 to 3). Then, at the same time, players will draw a piece card, which will show which piece each person will have to use in that round. Afterwards, players, simultaneously, will choose a region and an action to do in that region, using the piece they draw. Everyone reveals their choices at the same time, and the actions are carried following the order of the actions and, if the same, by the numbers on the piece cards, from lowest to highest.

The actions are:
a) Harbors: with your piece, you must cover one or two harbors, and no cities;
b) Cities: with your piece, you can cover 1, 2 or 3 cities, and a space covering no cities nor harbors. You can't cover harbors with this action;
c) Alliance: with your piece you must cover either 1 harbor and 1 city, or 2 harbors and 1 city, or 2 cities and 1 harbor. Or, you can use the action to do a Wedding. With the Wedding, you use 1 or 2 rings (each player starts the game with 6 rings), to put on a hexagon of the board - it can even be above the piece of someone else. That hexagon is also considered to belong to you, for purposes of connecting your Fiefs (your pieces), for your hidden goal and for the formation of Sea Leagues. If you put a second ring, it must be in an hexagon adjacent to the first;
d) King's Privilege: this isn't an action per se, it only allows the player to play first, regardless of the action chosen. When chosing the King's Privilege, the player also picks the action she will do, putting it on top of the deck. Once all the actions and regions are revelead, she picks the action chosen from the top of the deck and executes it. There is a cost to use the King's Privilige: one ring.

The turn order, as mentioned, is done by actions: King's Privilege -> Harbors -> Cities -> Alliance. A tie in actions is broken by the number of the Fief piece.

The piece must cover at least one hexagon of the region chosen by the player, following the rules of covering of the action, can't pass over mountains, can't be placed above the piece of someone else, and the castles must remain on land hexes. If the player can't or don't want to put her piece on the board, she can donate the Fief to the Church, and receive 3 points.

After the piece is put, the player receive points:
- 3 points for cities and harbors covered in flourishing regions, or 1 for each in inactive regions;
- 3 points for donating the Fief to the Church;
- 10 points for forming a Sea League (covering 3 or 4 harbors with the same symbol).

Very important: both the region chosen and the action done won't be available in the next round. Players keep these cards above their players boards.

The game will end if, starting by the end of the 6th round, there are less than 3 cities or harbos uncovered in flourishing regions. When this happen, the next round will be the final one. Otherwise, with 4 or more cities and harbors uncovered, the game will carry on. Regardless, the game will end, at the maximum, by the end of the 12th round, with the use of the last Fiefs pieces.

Then players will score their hidden goals - the more cities in their goal each person covers, more points they will receive: 0, 2, 5, 10, 15, 25 or 35. Finally, the player with the highest number of connected Fiefs will gain 15 points.

The person with the most points will be the winner!

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
It boils down to two main decisions:
a) Which region to pick;
b) Which action to do in that region.

These aren't complex decisions, but do required a lot of thought and timming. Since all the other players are constantly adding Fiefs to board, covering coveted cities and harbors, things quickly starts to become tight. Fiefs start to not fit properly in the spaces, connections are broken, and so on. Weddings, serving both to take what was already lost, and as a 1 hexagon Fief, can enter in small places, but, can give half, or 1/3 of the points a nicely laid Fief can get.

Also, if that wasn't enough, there is more depth to the decisions, as the region and action chosen won't be available in the next round. Therefore, even if you can do something now, maybe you will want to wait, as you next Fief can fit better in your plans for that region.

Therefore, you start the round pretty sure that you would build harbors in Hispania, only, after some thinking, end up doing Alliances in Europa Orientalis. That is Gonzaga in a nutshell.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- High replay value;
- Though decisions coming from a simple set of rules;
- High amount of player interaction, all by blocking, and not by attacking directly;
- Good production value;
- Quite easy to teach;
- Language independant;
- Very unique, both in feel and rules.

5) Which are the bad news?
- Requires a good amount of spatial awareness in order for someone to do well;
- Has some randomness in the draw of the Fief pieces, (but the region and action used with the piece is left to the player);
- Abstract in nature, though some names and and actions have thematic reasoning, there is nome theme coming out of the play;
- Best with 4 players.

6) How do you feel while playing?
Like in a multiplayer and competitive match of Tetris, all done in a single screen with some dots behind, and only the ones that cover the dots gain points. It can be brutal! Or you could feel like playing a more complex version of Ubongo: making everything fit in the proper place. And there is so much blocking going around that you would take a time out from it by playing Ticket to Ride: Europe with 5 people.

Gonzaga have many positives going on for it: constant set of tough decisions, short-ish playing time, fine level of interaction, good production, and high replay value. It do suffers somewhat for the lack of theme, and it enters in a type of skill (spatial awareness) that many don't like. Which means it ended falling in that sort of grey area in the ranking, between 1000 to 2000: good, but not enough to be talked about or be remembered. For most of the time it stays hidden. Still, with is unique style and strong points, it is, deservely, a gem. Recommended!

Regards,


Image credit: muka



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Paolo Desalvo
Italy
Country side area north of Rome
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I'm a feder-allergic and I blame the Klingon for not having smashed the Federation in time to save us from Star Trek serials.
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You just missed saying one thing: you can play it on-line at YouPlay.It. It is a for free site and among the Gonzaga frequent players there is Guglielmo Duccoli, the game designer.
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