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Richard Berg
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Here's another 10-year old review from the vaunted BROG library, which one can see from the introductory comments meant for an audience not overly familiar with this style of game.



RENAISSANCE DEMOLITION DERBY

SERENISSIMA by DOMINIQUE ERHARD and DUCCIO VITALE

from EUROGAMES

30” x 22” mounted gameboard; 28 galleys; 20 forts; 105 commodity pieces; 180 sailor pieces; Counter sheet of ducats; Sheet of flags (to go with the 28 masts); a few moremarkers; 4 Game Summary cards; Rules (in English). Boxed. Available retail and, probably, through Mail Order. c.$40

Reviewed by RICHARD H. BERG

You folks have probably noticed by now (unless you’re just flipping through), that there is an inordinate number of European published games herein. For those of you who follow the hobby closely - or use BROG for something other than litter liner - this will come as no surprise. The general impression is that, while many of the games lack the intrigue and involvement of many of the systems we provincials come up with, they sure do a better job of presenting the product. And, as I have learned in my non-gaming profession, impression is over 90% of impact. The object lesson at hand is Eurogames’ Serenissima.
This game is so great to look at, it has so many neat pieces, and it’s so accessible, that who cares if it’s any good!?! Well, most of us do and, for the most part, it’s quite good … until you get to the last turn.

Serenissima was originally published both in Germany, as Der Koenig des Mittlemeeres, and in France, as Mediterranée; “Serenissima” is Venice’s nickname for itself, sort of like “The Big Apple” for NYC. It has been around for some time and garnered quite a bit of commentary in, among others, the imminent gaming tabloid, “Sumo”, most of it quite positive. Interestingly, the two European editions seem to have had an important variance in the rules concerning what you could sell, where, and the English version says it uses “the Original Version”, whichever that one was.

Serenissima is a game about trading and expansion during the Middle Ages/Renaissance period, in the Mediterranean, and bears absolutely no resemblance to either Age of Renaissance or anything else we usually encounter. (Although it does have the feel of those big Milton Bradley games.) It is geared to 2-4 players, although it plays a whole lot better with a full complement, as we found with three. The latter configuration gives Venice a major leg up in the Eastern Med, as she doesn’t have the Turks to worry about. (Spain and Genoa are the two other countries.)

As great-looking as La Revolution Français is in cardboard, that’s how striking Serenissima is, but in (mostly) plastic. The map is a mounted, colorful representation of the Mediterranean, with the sea divided into areas and the land inhabited by trading ports (each with “warehouses” of varying size to hold goods), each of which deals in a specific type of goods. E.g., at Tripoli, you can pick up Gold, in Sicilia, wine, in Antioch, spices, etc. Each type of goods - there are seven - has its uses, and some of them, like iron and wood, are necessary for building the forts you will need to protect, and the galleys you need to carry, your goods.

Each player gets a couple of galleys - real, plastic galleys, complete with colorful flags (which you spend about an hour getting installed on the galleys, but it’s not difficult - just time-consuming - and truly well worth it) and space to carry goods and troops, each represented by plastic pieces. After a couple of turns, the board is redolent with fleets of 3” black galleys, covered with multi-colored markers, sailing hither and yon … but mostly yon.

The various goods are spread around the map in clever fashion. There is lots of wood and iron but, for example, only one location to get gems (Cyrena), and the Turks “control” most of the spice ports. Variety is important, because you cannot put more than one type of goods in one of your warehouses, and never what that port produces. So, after some initial mining of local areas, the players start to spread out, traveling to the far ends of the sea … which brings them into contact with the other players. And the main problem with the game.

Galleys can carry either goods and/or sailors, which are used as combat strength. The more sailors, the stronger the galley. In combat, it is usually (more than usually) the galley with the most sailors that wins. The problem is that all combat is resolved after all players have moved. Thus, the player that goes last - determining order of play is related to how much you bid to go first - has a great advantage: he/she can leave areas that are potentially combat disasters and groups his galleys to sink his enemies. In the game’s final turn, this is magnified to an even greater extent, as all players buff up on war galleys, with the “last” player standing around like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. The result is a sort of galleyesque demolition derby.

It would seem that, with the bidding for turn system, players would bid as little as possible. However, the level of bidding raises the price/worth of goods, which provides an interesting dimension. It may be nice to have the military benefit of going last, but, at the same time, you may be in a position to reap all sorts of profits by bidding high and causing massive inflation. Of course, after you get all that money, everyone jumps all over you.

Winning is not restricted to cash on hand, though. Players get major points for controlling ports with full warehouses, more points for the bigger warehouses, such as Venezia. So you have to protect your ports - which can be assaulted - by building forts and loading them with troops. Even so, left undefended by fleets, they are usually sitting ducks to a concerted attack, usually, again, by the player who goes last.

This may sound like it doesn’t work too well. Perhaps, but our feeling was that it just needed some touch up rules, and maybe an adjustment of how/when combat is resolved. Because, even with these endgame problems, Serenissima was a lot of fun to play, and it took about 2 hours to finish. It has a clever system that balances just the right number of factors - if you ignore combat - and forces players to make some hard decisions.

And it sure looks great!

CAPSULE COMMENTS

Graphic Presentation: Magnifico! Loved the ducats!
Playability: A major plus. Best with full complement of 4.
Replayability: Good, but it could decline into Maximum Strategy Land, as it is obvious, after a while, which positions/locations are best … like Sardinia for controlling the western Med, and Venezia, which is easy to defend.
Wristage: Not much
Creativity: Mostly high, but falls short in the combat resolution
Historicity: At a very superficial level, fine. Don’t expect Braudel.
Comparisons: A good game to break for between turns of Age of Renaissance, without losing the feel.

Overall: If they could fix the Last In, Best Out problem, a major winner. Even so, a real Feel Good game.

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Darrell Hanning
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As objective and accurate a review of Serenissima as I have seen.

Good to see you wading back into the thick of BGG, Richard! We're all the better for it. thumbsup
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Seth
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Noord Brabant
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Yeah! This must be an old review… It’s inaccurate too… One does not bid for FIRST in order but to PICK in what your turn will be (either 1st, 2nd, 3rd or last). So bidding high can be to be last. Besides: being first gives you the option of blocking the players behind you. That in itself can be a powerful tool.
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Richard Berg
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Seth_Logan wrote:
Yeah! This must be an old review… It’s inaccurate too… One does not bid for FIRST in order but to PICK in what your turn will be (either 1st, 2nd, 3rd or last). So bidding high can be to be last. Besides: being first gives you the option of blocking the players behind you. That in itself can be a powerful tool.


Actually, it's not so much innacurate as a poor choice of words. Where i said "bid to "Go" first" I shouod have said (and I meant) "bid to SELECT" first . . . . But you are right in that poor word choice does change meaning somewhat. (If you don't say what you mean, you'll never mean what you say.) Then again, that wasn't the point or focus of the review.

RHB
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Greg Low
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BROG wrote:
RENAISSANCE DEMOLITION DERBY


That's appropriate imagery for the last turn.

BROG wrote:
It would seem that, with the bidding for turn system, players would bid as little as possible. However, the level of bidding raises the price/worth of goods


The bid for turn has no effect on the purchase price of goods in a port, nor the sale of goods.

-Greg
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Nomadic Gamer
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The more recent reviews are better.
And don't forget to mention the variants many players have developed which fix the problems. meeple
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