Masters of Venice is a game that was a long time in coming. I toyed with this concept for well over 3 years and drove it through 20 different variations before settling on the final version. I had incredible help from some very key people who helped this game evolve to publishable form. Three times I received feedback that it was a finished game, but I held back as I wasn’t truly satisfied with it. Well, now I am satisfied and I can finally say I am happy with how it turned out.
The base concept grew from a mechanic I developed to represent the rising and falling prices in a wholesale market. That goods entering a city would increase supply and prices would fall. From there I chose the player’s objective to revolve around playing a wholesale merchant who buys goods coming into the city and sells them to the craftsmen of the city. So he would buy at one price, but sell at twice that price for his profit. And every time a good changed hands, it’s mutable base price would steadily increase.
As a counterpoint to simple buying and selling being the way to make a profit and win, I added two side tracks to complement it. One, the Guild Hall, was originally just a way to make quick cash, but gradually evolved into a separate path where gold and victory points came together. The second track was the Stocks, whereby players could take ownership stakes in the very Shops where they sold their goods. This served as a way to multiply their profits. A player can win this game by balancing all three paths or by excelling at one or two.
Venice was chosen as the city for the game due to the fact that buying and selling of stock originated there. Plus I love the city and thought it was time for another game centered there.
Originally the game was actually quite simpler. There was no specific demand for any resource. You could sell however many you wanted of a resource. While this was okay and straightforward, I felt it was too basic for this type of game and it left me wanting more depth. In order to increase the strategy level, I added shop demand in the form of the Orders. It gave the game one more level of complexity but it forced players to have a sense of urgency regarding when to sell. Originally it was simply too easy to stockpile resources then make a killing in one fell swoop. Now you can stockpile, but you have to keep an eye on demand and use the tools available to adjust it. Timing is also a part of it, as an opponent can sometimes beat you to the punch and eliminate the Orders that you planned to use.
As the game evolved through the design process, a large variety of features and player options were tried out. Many were eventually discarded. The bulk of the changes had to do with balancing the play of the game and keeping players involved to the end. The game began with a fixed movement system and the board locations were all separate. This was an idea that I was strongly attached to and I tried repeatedly to build around it. This method stuck around for the first 10 iterations of the game before I finally realized it created incredible downtime in between turns. It also could be very frustrating to players who would try to follow a specific strategy only to be foiled by the restrictive layout of the board.
The canal started out simply as a movement barrier with the gondola as the timekeeper. Player turn order never changed so one player always went last and was the designated Gondola mover. This proved problematic as that player often was at a disadvantage. Thus was born the idea of giving the Gondola player an advantage to counteract that problem. At first, this was in the form of paying the Gondola player to use the Gondola as a shortcut to cross the canal and thus move to locations faster. In the end, the canal's final incarnation combined the time keeping feature with the source of the Gondolieri character's advantage.
I love games with stock holding, so of course that is a central mechanic in this game. Originally, stock shares could be purchased to earn a share of the profits in any location on the board, including two stock markets and the Guild Hall. That proved hugely unbalancing, particularly since the values were different depending on the location. So eventually, only shares in the Shops and Shipping Offices were available and the Shipping Offices became more of a fixed price bond instead of stock.
There was also a Tavern location where you could purchase special cards to adjust things in your favor. The Tavern lasted a long time before it was replaced by the Character cards to pare down the luck factor of the random draw of Tavern Cards. But the Character cards weren't enough to replace all that was in the Tavern. One of the last additions to the game, the Church, was added to fill the void.
In the end, it's interesting that the original core idea of 6 items coming into a city with a canal, and players buying and selling them remained the untouched basis of the game. But virtually everything else was molded and shaped around this core, constantly being tweaked or discarded to reach what I felt was the optimal balanced game. The playtesters I thanked in the credits all were instrumental in this process, often making very key suggestions or opening my eyes to flaws that I wasn't seeing. Honestly, I can't thank them enough for their dedication and perseverance in helping develop this game.
Obligitory Smart-Ass Comment Here
Thanks for posting this. I always really appreciate when the game designer has a presence on the Geek. I especially like the insight as to why the game ended up the way it did.