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Subject: Ystari Edition: An old friend in new attire rss

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Kåre Dyvik
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SERENISSIMA has a special place in my heart. It was the game that got me started with board gaming after many dry years, and I remember with pleasure the many long and intense sessions we had playing Serenissima back then.
It was with great interest I learned that author Dominique Ehrhard was creating a new version of the game. He was not entirely happy with it as it appeared then, and of course many players have pointed out what is perceived as various shortcomings in the rules. When challenged to rework the game for a new edition, Ehrhard set out to remedy some of these shortcomings and modernize the rules, while maintaining the feel of the original game.

Which points needed adjustment?

The "End of the world" syndrome.
In the original game there was a fixed number of rounds. Everyone knew when the last round was played, and how far away it was. This usually led to rather irresponsible behavior in the final round, where galleys and crews were sacrificed in desperate attempts to capture other players' ports. This broke with the game's simulation aspect, as in the real world there is always a future where you will need your possessions. In the 2012 version, the number of rounds is not fixed, but is determined by drawing a card after each round. The card indicates whether the round counter will be moved forward one or two spaces, or remain where it is. Moreover, the players' assets are scored three times during the game, and bonuses awarded, so it is not only the position after the final round that counts. When the round counter reaches the final space of the track, the game ends. There is a different number of spaces on the track for 4 players and for 2 or 3 players.

Almost full ports were not worth more than an empty port.
You needed to fill the port’s warehouse completely in order to get more points than for an empty port. Filling your capital with 5 commodities (out of the 6 spaces available) didn’t bring you any points; you had nothing to show for your efforts. So it was hardly worth it to even attempt to fill the capital, at least in a 4-player game (too few rounds). In the 2012 version, an empty port is worthless, but it gets more valuable the fuller its warehouse is.

The starting ports are not balanced.
Many would agree that Istanbul had an advantage as the sole port in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, while Valencia and Genoa could both reap the first sale bonus and start producing galleys in the second round if they sold their goods (wood and iron, respectively) to each other in the first round. In the 2012 version, players choose between 5 starting cities (Alexandria is included, balancing off Constantinople (its proper name during the Renaissance)), all of which produce wood. Now wood and iron is not required to produce a galley, it can be built in any of your ports. So it is possible to build a galley already in the first round if you want to.

It's too easy to get knocked out in the early rounds.
An aggressive player can overwhelm a neighbor and sink one or both of his galleys early in the game, and even conquer his capital, effectively eliminating his chances of winning the game. In the 2012 version, players with less than two galleys at the end of each round, may buy two galleys (and any sailors) before the next round begins. Moreover, you can not conquer a player's last city. There is no income at the end of each round, and no bonus for possessing your own capital. Income is derived from buying and selling, and from the 3 scoring rounds in the game (plus maybe special scoring of wine ports).

Galleys, sailors and forts are not worth anything when the game is over.
This led to galleys and sailors being sacrificed in the last round, and players would rather recruit 5 sailors for the same price as a fort (five sailors were considered equally valuable and certainly more flexible than a fort). Galleys still don’t count in any of the three scoring phases, but they are cheaper to build (1 ducat per galley you already own). Forts work in a different way (a fort gets to fire two volleys before the battle starts). You can build basilicas; a basilica adds 5 ducats in income in each scoring phase. Furthermore, there is a limit to how many sailors are available in total, and to how many can be garrisoned in a port. Oh, and what counts now is money; only money. The player with the most money in the end, wins. Money = victory points. Bonuses in the scoring phases are awarded as money. Spending money means sacrificing VPs. VPs(money) earned can be re-invested to make more money/VPs.

Blocking was too easy.
Many resented that a single galley with one sailor could block a whole fleet of warships. To block a player, you now need a fleet with a majority of sailors.

Doubts about the sales price of goods.
There existed two versions of the rules: one where you earn money for goods every time you sell, and another where you don’t get any money if you sell to your own port. It is the last version that survives; a rule which provides some interesting tradeoffs. Moreover, the first commodity bought in your own port is free. Otherwise, all goods cost 1 ducat each; there is no negotiation. Buying from a port owned by another player means that that player gets the money, otherwise, money is paid to the bank.

Too little differentiation between commodities.
Each commodity has its own special features:
Spices: produced in only one port; seller gets 2 ducats bonus for every sale (even to his own port)
Wine: the owner of a port producing wine or containing wine in its warehouse gets 3 ducats bonus during the special wine counting phase (when the round marker does not move)
Wood, stone: necessary to build a fort
Gold, marble: needed to build a basilica. Gold is produced in only 2 ports.

Between 10 and 12 items are available for each commodity.

Fiddly game components.
One thing was the two hours needed to assemble the game before you were ready to play. (Although I believe that many players, like me, enjoyed that task.) Another was that the flags wouldn’t stick to their poles after a while. Furthermore; it was too easy to knock over the galleys, spilling their contents all over the board. And finally, some galleys were curved, and wouldn’t hold their cargo (fortunately, the game came with a surplus of parts, so one could easily discard any faulty galleys).
In the 2012 version, galleys are larger, and the oars are out, stabilizing the vessel. No flags; the color of the players’ pawns indicates ownership of galleys and ports. All you need to do before you can begin playing for the first time, is to attach the 15 numbered stickers to the galleys, and press the cardboard coins out of their frame.

Other differences:

- Smaller board with fewer ports. There is now no more than 5 spaces from one end of the board to another. A galley with five men can reach any other space each round (unless blocked).

- 6 commodities (7 in the original).

- Attacking galley loses 1 in attack strength for each space the galley has passed this round (the sailors are tired)

- 2 ports (Sardegna and Crete) produce nothing, but have room for 4 commodities, meaning more bonus if the warehouse is full. The small ports have 3 spaces in their warehouses, the large ports (capitals) have 5.

- Most striking: a new and original mechanism for selecting actions and turn order. Players select galleys numbered 1 through 15. In each round, each galley gets one action in numerical order. One action is either: 1) buy commodities, sail, and sell (or fight / conquer cities), or 2) invest (buy 1 galley, sailors, fort or church). If you invest in a galley with a higher number, you get one more action in the round. Very clever; offers various interesting tradeoff considerations!

So, how does the game play?
Quite differently from the "old" Serenissima. The original was more of a simulation of a bit of world history, in which players represent a nation, and the rounds were "natural" phases: outfitting of an expedition, sailing, possible war, conquest and sales. Watching your nation’s flags grow up all over the place increased the feeling of building a Mediterranean empire. The simulation aspect is subdued in the 2012 edition (I miss the flags!), and is replaced with more “gamey” mechanisms, which don’t have any obvious parallels in real life, but make the game shine in its own right.

The new version is more tactical than its predecessor. There is something to be done, something to be gained, something to be considered in every move, so the game feels tighter.

The old balancing between trade and warfare is still there. War is not compulsory, it is very costly, as well as unpredictable, but may be necessary. The warfare aspect brings a nice touch of unpredictability; Serenissima is not merely a resource management game. But playing it like Risk will bring disaster to you, and victory to someone else. Its core is still the trading of goods and establishing of trade routes in the Mediterranean, but with some additional ways of earning a profit without having to resort to hostilities.

So, don’t look for that old simulation feeling; Serenissima 2012 is a new and fresh approach to the familiar theme. It contains everything I like about a game: plenty of player interaction, interesting and challenging strategic and tactical choices, a sound amount of randomness, a historical theme, a terrific-looking map as a gameboard, beautiful components, easy-to-learn and logical rules, little downtime, and short playing time (well, we used almost 4 hours for our first game, including rule explanation, but that should come down a bit with experience).

I really look forward to once again set the sails in the Mediterranean, explore the depths of this game, and figure out how to play it well and exploit its new features. It is a rare experience to see an old game reworked like this. I have to congratulate Dominique Ehrhard with a successful reworking of a classic!
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Ben Bateson
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I found this a very interesting read, and I'll tell you why:

I spent a LONG, long time banging on about getting Serenissima to our games table, having been intrigued by the piracy and trading aspects and - yes - enjoyed the assembly process.

However, once there, it fell more than a bit flat, due to the reasons that you have rightly identified.

The problem is that those self-same problems were what gave the game its flair and individuality. So I suppose my question now is: is it actually an improved version of the original game, or is it a game which has had its rules fudged so much that it is indistinguishable from a dozen other mediocre Euro-exploration-conflict games?
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Brendan Daly
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Been looking at this for a while now and your very conscise review has made my mind up.
Purchased
 
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dave boulton
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is theer anywhere i can download the new rules and are they playable with the original edition pieces?
 
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Brendan Daly
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ousgg wrote:
I found this a very interesting read, and I'll tell you why:

I spent a LONG, long time banging on about getting Serenissima to our games table, having been intrigued by the piracy and trading aspects and - yes - enjoyed the assembly process.

However, once there, it fell more than a bit flat, due to the reasons that you have rightly identified.

The problem is that those self-same problems were what gave the game its flair and individuality. So I suppose my question now is: is it actually an improved version of the original game, or is it a game which has had its rules fudged so much that it is indistinguishable from a dozen other mediocre Euro-exploration-conflict games?


Hope not!
 
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John Brownsill
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Protagonist wrote:
Been looking at this for a while now and your very conscise review has made my mind up.
Purchased


Where from ?

I can't find anywhere in the UK that has it.
 
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Kåre Dyvik
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ousgg wrote:
So I suppose my question now is: is it actually an improved version of the original game, or is it a game which has had its rules fudged so much that it is indistinguishable from a dozen other mediocre Euro-exploration-conflict games?


Good question! Difficult to answer. My subjective impression is more a new game than an improved version of the original, while maintaining many recognizable features, e.g. the theme, the look, some basic rules and mechanisms, the balancing between trade and warfare. Admittedly, it has become more similar to other games published these days, but the combination of easy rules and depth of gameplay (along with what I've mentioned above) raises it above mediocrity.

WalkerRedEye wrote:
is theer anywhere i can download the new rules and are they playable with the original edition pieces?


The rules can be found on the publisher's website: www.ystari.com.
And no, you can not use the new rules with the original game.
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Brendan Daly
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Pogle wrote:
Protagonist wrote:
Been looking at this for a while now and your very conscise review has made my mind up.
Purchased


Where from ?

I can't find anywhere in the UK that has it.


Amazon.uk have it on pre order for the 15th jan.
 
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Daniel Berger
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Nice review.

Considering the significance of the differences, I think the game really ought to have its own BGG entry.
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Paul M
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djberg96 wrote:
...I think the game really ought to have its own BGG entry.

Word. Admins, can we get this to happen?
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Nomadic Gamer
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I'll play the old game with fixes in the posted variants as they aren't hard to implement.
 
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Amos
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ousgg wrote:
is it a game which has had its rules fudged so much that it is indistinguishable from a dozen other mediocre Euro-exploration-conflict games?


I always find comments like this interesting because when someone mentions 'a dozen other games just like this' I want to ask, which dozen other games?!

In this case, you mention Euro-Exploration conflict games. I'd love to know which others you think are out there! Especially which ones there are that are actually well balanced and good! Plus, Mediterranean nautical theme if possible.
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stu ma
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The new game looks good. BUT I own the old and I'm not motivated to buy the new considering the differences and the look of the game. For the old problems, we had existing fixes. Like getting money for ships in the end, not attacking in the first 2 turns a.s.o.

I liked the different starting conditions. Made diplomacy more interesting.

Anyway. If I wouldn't posess the old version, I would get the new. Even though I still don't get why they didn't include flags. That was so cool! Nowadays another solution for this would be easy to find. Not assembling but having something already done. Such stuff is standard meanwhile. Anyway, maybe this game will see some fan-Expansion as Eclipse will see, including all the stuff the fans want.

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Geo
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I see no point buying this game again (i own the original), instead of a completely new game. The old game can be fixed - i have seen the variants posted - and a new game will be more interesting to explore...

 
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Roger Howell
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I had been on the fence a very long time about purchasing this game, but I was waiting for the second version to come out before I decided. Then I read somewhere that the game is not that great with 2 players (all of our games are 2 player.) So I eventually gave up on the game and deleted it from my wish list. Then a few weeks ago at my FLGS I saw the game on the shelf. I was so drawn to it that I decided to go home and research the game again, that's how I came across this review, and this review is why I went back and bought the game. Turns out to be an absolute winner, we love this game even with just the two of us. Thanks for the review, a new fan of the game has been born!
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Kåre Dyvik
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A guy in my group recently played this as a 2-player game with his brother several times in a row. He was surprised how well it worked for two!
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Etien
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We played that if a galley was purchased during the Investment Phase, the ship's marker was not placed on the wheel until after the end of the complete round. We felt that the intent of the rule was if you INVEST, you skipped your action phase (for that boat). But as the rules stand, if you purchased a new ship, then technically you were not skipping an action phase because the new boat could do an action that same round -- therefore, there wasn't a penalty. Basically with the house rule, we saw it as the ship was being constructed, but not launched until the next full turn.
 
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