Ed and Ben joined me Friday evening for a couple of low-key games. Ed had first choice, and selected San Marco, which both Ben and I had been eager to try again since our quasi-inaugural trial run a couple of weeks before.
I was first distributor, and found myself with a quandary right off of the bat. I had two doges to distribute, and it seemed to make sense to combine them with comparable limit points and action companions. Didn't work, though. Ben selected the first doge, rendering the second one useless to Ed and me, based on where he put it. Ed then correctly selected the other collection, leaving me with a useless doge and a lot of limit points. In retrospect, it may have been the right course to put both of the doges in the same pile, and simply to really stack up the limit point penalties for selecting them. I wasn't that creative yet, this being only my second time out.
We quickly learned the various odd ways that luck can rear its head in San Marco. I was the first chooser more than my share of the time early on. Although I was behind on points early, I began to build up a very good position on the board. In the middle game, this began to translate into points for me, and I zoomed past both Ben and Ed during this time.
Then we started to learn something else about San Marco -- getting good luck is itself a mixed blessing, because the game has a real "gang up on the leader" element. Both Ben and Ed turned their fire on me. Ben being the slightly more experienced player than Ed, he was able to take greater advantage, and coming into the end of the game, I had the highest point total, but Ben had the most men on the board and stood to do well in the final scoring round.
I still thought I was going to win, but the end of the game contained some odd twists and turns. Ben presented Ed and me with a choice between one action-card bonanza that would bring the chooser to 10 limit points, and two single district cards, each with a smaller number of limit points. Ben rigged it so that the person who took the bonanza would miss out on the next distribution round by being at 10 points. Ed selected just one single district card. I went for the big collection.
I thought it paid off when, on the last distribution, there was no "1" among the limit points -- meaning that both Ed and Ben would pass me in limit points and I would get a free banishment. But unfortunately, the collection of cards that Ed and Ben divvied up was extremely rich -- two banishments, a doge card, a transfer card -- ouch. They divided the booty between them. Ben used his banishment card to reduce Ed's presence in San Polo.
Then Ed decided to come after me in Santa Croce. It backfired -- he rolled a 6, eliminating all of our pieces between us. This put Ben in a commanding position.
I rolled a '3' to take back Castello from Ben, but it was too little. I had been wiped off of the board by a series of aggressive plays by Ben and Ed, and Ben passed me in the final tally.
Definitely a game with a complex strategy. You definitely don't want to be perceived as the leader in this game.