Designer: Emanuele Ornella
Artist: Doris Matthäus
Publisher: Renegade Games
Year Published: 2018 (by Renegade) - originally published in 2008
No. of Players: 3-6
Playing Time: 45 minutes
From the publisher:
In the bustling market of Byzanz, bundles of goods are available to savvy merchants. Bid for the best bundles, catch a deal at the main market, and find the right moment to sell the goods you have collected!
You are a merchant in the Byzantine Market participating in auctions for bundles of goods. In every round, each player will win exactly one auction by offering cards from their hand. The winner of an auction must place their bid into the Market.
When a player has a set of three identical goods, they may sell them in the Market, keeping the highest valued card as profit. The game ends when all the Goods cards have been auctioned and the player with the highest profit is the winner.
Overview and Theme:
Byzanz is a bidding, set collection card game with the lush theme of a mid-eastern Middle Ages marketplace. The suits on the cards are items you could bid for or sell at a market (olives, spices, cloth...) and I felt that the theme suits an economic game very nicely!
I was immediately drawn to the bold artwork by Doris Matthäus:
Components and Setup:
Included in the box for Byzanz are 96 Goods cards and 16 Merchant cards, which get shuffled together, along with six Bidding cards (certain cards chosen for certain player counts), a market board, and the instructions.
Setup is very easy once you check the chart in the rules to see how many Goods cards are removed from the game, how many each player gets dealt to begin, and which Bidding cards are used. The board is laid out in the center of the table, and you're ready to go!
Game Play and Mechanics:
There is an interesting bidding mechanism in Byzanz: a certain number of cards are put up for the first auction (the number of the highest Bidding card you're using for your number of players - in the case of a six-player game, it would be the 6 card). Each player bids on it using cards from their hand. The winning bidder collects the pot, but they must choose one of those cards just won to put into the market, along with the cards they used to win the bid. The bid card from that auction is put in front of the winning bidder. All other bidders put their cards back in hand to prepare for the next auction.
The next auction begins with the remaining players and the next lowest bid card (for our six-player game, that would be the 5 Bidding card, with five cards laid out into the pot). The player who won the first auction does not bid again in this round.
Auctions continue in this way until all players have won an auction (the last player gets the 1 Bidding card and one card from the top of the deck).
Working in reverse order starting with the lowest Bidding card (in front of the last player to take an auction), each player may now choose one column of cards from the market (all the cards spent to buy at auction, plus one card from each pot but the last one) and take those cards into hand to use in bidding during the next round.
This mechanism was quite different from other bidding games we have played, and I really enjoyed it. You know that you're going to win at least one auction, so there's a little safety there, and you know that if you only get to take the last one, you'll get first dibs on all the expensive cards that other players used to win the bigger auctions. This adds some give and take to the game where you are trying to decide when it's in your best interests to bid high and win a big auction, or when you may want to lay low, take a small auction, and get a better choice from the market.
As you collect cards, there is a seven-card hand limit. Any time you're over seven, you need to either sell cards or discard down to the maximum. In order to sell cards, you need three cards of the same suit - the lowest two cards get discarded, and the highest one gets flipped over and added to your score pile.
There are wild cards (merchants) who can help you sell - or, if you're able to collect a set of three Merchant cards, you can sell those to earn a big five points!
The more high cards you can sell, the better - at the end of the game (when you run out of cards in the deck), each player adds up the values of the cards in their score pile, and the highest score wins!
Byzanz is an auction game without the stress of a high-stakes auction. Because of its uniquely balanced auction/market mechanism, everyone can be in a position to get something helpful each round. That makes it a good auction game for people (like me!) who might not rank auctions among their favorite game mechanisms.
Byzanz has the feel of a solid family card game - it is not hard to learn or to teach, and there's just enough take that in the game to keep the interaction high.
From my perspective, there's not much bad to say about Byzanz! My slightly jaded teenager thought it was merely okay, maybe because he's been raised on games with minis and wooden tokens and highly complicated game play. He would prefer a longer, more complex game to a game that's just cards, bidding, and buying.
Players Who Like:
Byzanz is a great card game for families or game groups who have already enjoyed long, chatty evenings around the table playing Shanghai Rummy, Phase 10, UNO, or Hearts. It has the feel of a game that can become a long-time favorite, something to pull out after dinner or at the end of an evening of games.
I enjoyed Byzanz even more than I thought I would! I am not a bidding/auction fan, but I really enjoyed the safety of knowing that if I didn't win a great auction, I'd get a better shot at the cards in the market. Byzanz is a charmingly themed buying & selling card game that already has the feel of an old favorite! Most definitely a keeper!
See more reviews from Alexa and EBG at http://www.everythingboardgames.com/p/reviews.html