I played this recently with the full complement of 5 players (my only previous game was with 3 players, and 5 is definitely more cut-throat). One of the 4 other players had played before with a different group. He remembered a rule MUCH differently that we did. The rule in question was the one which penalizes a player one action card in the next turn, if they lose any citizens to emigration in the "Voice of the People" resolution. The group with which he played, and which taught him the game, maintained that this only happened to players who lost citizens during the "Feed the People" phase. He was very disappointed to learn the "correct" rule (in the sense that it was the rule intended by the designer or at least that represented in the translation).
My copy of the game is a German one, but the translation that came with it and the translation I found here are both identical in assigning the penalty to players who lose citizens by emigration. Does the English reprint actually have a different rule, or did the other group just misread it?
Anyway, it occurred to me that since this rule has such a critical impact on play (anyone who "guesses" right on the Voice could have a 5:4 advantage in actions the next turn), the game is ripe for variants which alter the rule. For example:
o Change the penalty so that they don't lose the action, but instead must use it to build a "simple" building of the "Voice" from the last turn (to mollify the angry people who didn't get their University last turn, we were forced to build a school this turn.) Or they can only use the action to collect 2 gold.
o Perhaps penalize anyone who loses *two or more* citizens. So you could have one city that was lagging in development, but as long as you could keep your other cities "up-to-date" with respect to their neighbors, you wouldn't lose an action.
o Or you could penalize anyone with a *net* loss of one or more citizens. We noticed that quite often 2 or 3 players would lose an action because one of their cities lost a citizen, but that same city gained a citizen from a different city. Thus,
A takes from B,
B takes from C,
C takes from D
and only D would lose an action card. This rule would have more impact on those turns when the Voice was tied 2:2, and then when A beats B in one color, but B beats A in the other color, neither player would lose an action (instead of the current rule where both would lose an action).
In our game, we had only one turn (the first) where everyone got all 5 actions, and thereafter there was usually only one player who got all 5. (I think there was one turn when everyone lost one, and one turn where 3 of 5 lost one.) That's something like 20 actions "lost" from the game.
La Citta seems like a great game, based on my two playings of it. Not a lot of interaction or negotiation, as there would be in something like Settlers or Lowenherz, but still a good strategic battle.
Re:Loss of action card; questions and variants
I believe that your outsider is correct on the card issue. i don't have my own copy yet (it's ordered), but the rules here on the geek seem to make it clear.
Looking at the rules (the HTML version is what I have up), we find that the card penalty is part of section 8: Feeding the Citizens (which is the first hint that the penalty has to do with food). We also find that in the first section:
"If a player has more citizens on the board than he has food tokens lying in front of him, he must take away the surplus citizens and return them to the stock. (These citizens are considered to have emigrated because of the food shortage.)"
... and later:
"If a player has lost citizens as a result of emigration, he may only play 4 cards in the next game year."
So basically, "emigration" means citizens that completely leave the map (as in out of the country/game)... the confusion comes from the fact that it's being used as a euphemism for "starved to death" (which is what most people assume has happened).
Re:Loss of action card; questions and variants
I would say that your guest player has it right. Quite possibly this is an erronous rule introduced into the initial translation.
The Rio Grande version spells it out on page 7:
"Penalty for having unfed citizens.
Normally a player plays 1 action or politics card in each of the 5 political rounds.
-If a player has lost citizen figures because he could not feed them, he will only play 4 action or political cards in the next game year".
If that isn't enough proof for you, your clues are:
1) You yourself noted that your interpretation seemed awfully harsh.
2) There is no tallying of gained minus lost citizens. Only the penalties for "gaining too much" (unfeed citizens), and "losing too much" (unsupported buildings).