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Subject: Master Builders vs. Predetermined Randomness rss

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Brian Cherry
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Players of Patrician are Master Builders, competing to contribute the most to the largest towers in Italian towns for the influential "Patrician" families. In short, you get to build towers with colorful wooden blocks.

I heard of Patrician shortly before heading out of town on my last game-buying expedition. Only having a chance to quickly look at the overview and components of the game, I didn’t give it much thought. However, arriving at the store I noticed Patrician sitting on the display shelf. A brand-new game for a reasonable price is something I have trouble ignoring, and after rifling through the box contents I decided to pick it up, leaving Age of Discovery behind.

Contents:
You get a deck of cards (1/8th of which you only use for the 5 player game), a sheet of prestige tokens to punch out, and more tower pieces than you can count. Despite myself, I can’t help but be disappointed by box inserts that clearly were made for other games. The components fit, but not into nice, organized, areas. It’s a small issue, and probably helps to keep the price down.

Some have stated that they were discouraged by the box art and presentation of the game, whereas I looked at it and immediately felt a need to try it out. I, for one, really enjoyed the theme of building towers in Italy’s middle ages. To some the theme may seem tacked on, but to me it fits the clucky wooden pieces. Were I building skyscrapers in New York, I would expect a different tactile experience.

Rules:
The rules are very simple. After reading through once, I was left with a feeling of “is this all?” The rules are well organized, and clearly stated, with many diagrams. I was able to teach this game to my opponent (Happy Wife) in less than 5 minutes, and we only needed to refer to the rules on a couple of occasions.

Setup:
Setup is straightforward. Use one side of the board for 1-4 player games, or the alternate side with an extra city for 5 players. 2 color-coded Prestige tokens (one high and one low value) are placed in each city. The starting cards (watermarked) are taken from the main deck, and 3 are randomly distributed to each player. The remaining starting cards are shuffled back into the main deck, and a card is placed beside each city. This busywork tends to slow the setup of the game, but helps to ensure an even starting hand for all players. The tower pieces each player takes are organized by color. Since the game is balanced between differing numbers of players, a 2-player game needs more tower pieces per player. The correct number of towers has been included for each color, so a 2-player game uses all of the black and white towers, while a 3 player game uses some of the black and white pieces and all of the red (since there are 10 fewer red towers than Black or While. While this eliminates some of the need for counting out pieces to start every game, it also eliminates some choice involved in picking colors. Since I often play my games with only one opponent, most of the other colors will never get used.

Play:
On your turn, you will do (up to) 5 things in order. You will always play a card from their hand, to a face-up stack in front of you. That card will have a city crest on it. You then place one (or two if two crests are shown on the card) tower piece onto either tower base in that town. Then, if your card grants you the ability to move a tower piece you do so. Next, you will take the face up card next to the city you just played a card for and add it to your hand (or take any face-up card if there is no card in this city, or a special ability allows you to). Finally, a card from the main deck replaces the empty space in the city, assuming there are cards in the deck to do so.

When the number of total tower pieces in a city equals the Roman numeral on it’s city crest, the city is scored. The player contributing the most tower pieces to the tallest tower in the city (or topmost in the case of a tie) gets the higher-value prestige token. The player contributing the most to the smaller tower (there will always be a second, smaller, tower) gets the lesser-valued prestige token. Since the number of tower pieces that can be played is equal to the number of pieces that the cards allow, the game will end with the scoring of the last city.

Each card you play decides which card you pick up next, so it is imperative that playing cards to win towers is balanced with playing cards to take better cards. Since every card in your hand will eventually be played, you will often be forced to play towers that will not score you points. At this point, the game tends to feel automated, and a little out of your control. Remember, if you are going to score a city for someone else, you might as well do it when a beneficial card is waiting to be taken, or better yet when there are no cards in that city and you get to pick a card from somewhere else.

Game End:
At the game’s end, each player adds up their points from prestige tokens. Also, they add six points for each set of three matching Patrician portraits in their face-up stack of cards. Highest total wins. The Rummy-esc set-collecting mechanic seems unnecessary to me. When the prestige-leading player gets more portrait points, it feels like a “rich get richer” situation. When a player losing the prestige race wins by collecting portrait points, the victory seems to feel hollow, as the main game action seems to be scoring cities. More often than not, in a two-player game, the Patricians are spread rather evenly between both players, making them rather moot.

Thoughts:
The game succeeds well as a couples-game. It is easy to learn and teach. It sets up and resets reasonably quickly, which is necessary since the games are short and usually played more than once in a row. The game is about vying for position on towers in cities, and as such, there are no hard feelings when an opponent takes a tower you thought you were in control of. The worst an opponent can do to you is to take a card you wanted. There is little to no confrontation here.

In the end though, the randomness of the game tends to outweigh much of the strategy. You begin with 3 cards, allowing you to play to anther site, and take another card. It often happens that you will play cards for cities that provide you cards to build in unrelated cities, and don’t help your cause. Alternately, you can easily be leading in a city, only to find that you never can get another card that matches it and lose control. As a rule, I don’t mind when I make a mistake and can’t win a game. But, when I play to the best of my ability and preset order of the cards seems to force me into a losing situation I can become frustrated. I feel that having more cards available (giving each city a few extras), and possibly a discard mechanic would help this feeling of being out of control.

Now, I have probably used more words in this review than are in Patrician’s short rulebook. I hope that they will serve as a warning, or a guide, to help you make an informed choice about this game. If you don’t like randomness, you may want to try this one before you buy. But, please don’t let an overused theme make you miss out on what I find to be a rather enjoyable way to spend a half-four.

The1Jugg
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Steve Oliver
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Great review!

Sounds like you've played Patrician only as a 2-player game so let me chime in that it also works very well with 4 and 5 players, and it still clocks in under 30 minutes.
 
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Brian Cherry
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steveoliverc wrote:
Great review!

Sounds like you've played Patrician only as a 2-player game so let me chime in that it also works very well with 4 and 5 players, and it still clocks in under 30 minutes.


Thanks for the nice words, and thank you for chiming in about the multiplayer component of the game. I try to make it clear when my review focus' on the two-player elements. I am looking forward to playing the game with more. I think that it would be interesting to have to watch for more than 1 opponent's moves.
 
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Jeff Eberlin
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I played with 4 today and it seemed a little more than with 3. 2 is awesome, and 3 is very good... 4 gets a little more out of control and 5 is just.... crazy. :-)

And I LOVE this game, don't get me wrong.
 
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Steve Oliver
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I'm no longer a fan with 5 players, now that I've played it online where the 5-player option is not available. 4 players is very good, and 2 / 3 players is excellent. Especially if you use the Messengers expansion.
 
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Jeff Eberlin
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Bingo! :-) I can't wait to try it with the Delegates expansion!
 
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