NOTE: This review can be also read in Spanish at CUBO-magazine
The story of the creation of this game is possibly one of the strangest ones. The economic crisis in Spain, real messes with a local bank in the city of Córdoba, and some other factors have had the boxes of the game kept for really a long time. This could have not been imagined by Jesús Torres, the author of the game, when he started to work on it, and tested a million times with multiple people at the site of the cultural association Jugamos Tod@s, organizer of the International Festival of Boardgames in Córdoba, celebrated since 2006 during October.
If you are interested in the whole story, you can check it (in Spanish) here…. But the good news is that now we can enjoy this game, settled in one of the important touristic points of the city of Córdoba (south of Spain), and very related to one of the most delightful festivals to be seen in our country, the Festival of the Patios, celebrated in May, in which you can visit old traditional patios dressed with hundreds of beautiful flowers. I cannot recommend you enough to visit that if you ever have the opportunity. Really gorgeous.
Palacio de Viana is a game for 2-5 players, about 90 minutes long, medium difficulty level, and with a lot of flavor. An original theme and very well implemented.
Códoba in May.
The game comes with a square box, nearly the same as standard KOSMOS size, with a wonderful illustration from Raúl Cáceres, Raúlo, (Official web page of this author contains adult only material) who had already collaborated in another project of this association, the Reiner Knizia’s board game Cordoba. Raúlo is a well known comic illustrator, and has also participated as the main illustrator of the role playing game Aquelarre, the oldest and probably most successful Spanish RPG. The graphic design is completed by David Prieto.
A beautiful cover that shows the majority of the characters in the game.
Inside the box we find a good size board, with good quality, in which we can see the different patios of the palace, and where the game takes place. Another much thinner “board” representing a market, a lot of cardboard tiles, the playing cards for each players, five meeples, three cardboard characters with bases, a piece of wood representing a door, a 12-sided die, and a small cloth bag. Nice to note that there are a few replacements for tiles and characters. Rules come in a good quality booklet, very well explained and beautifully illustrated.
A nice detail is that the back of the board is illustrated with a sketch of the box illustration, in which final version there is a new character. The board represents the patios in the palace, and we see the different positions where the ornaments can be put.
The second board is very basic, just a thick paper where tiles are stored, representing the market to which we could go to the adornos in our own reserve so that we can adorn the patios.
The tiles represent flowers, fountains and vasesthat can be put in the patios. In the tiles I find two problems. The first is the similarity in the colors used for two of the players, pink and red, which are not easy to distinguish. The second is that the identification of the fountains is made by two small flowers in the color of the player, instead of having the whole background of this color. Probably the tile is nicer in this way, but it is more difficult to identify, and it is a kind of inconsistency with the other tiles.
Cards are quite nice, with nice drawings, each one representing a different character which will allow us to perform different actions. Icons have been used to represent the actions, and are very clear and easy to use.
The three cardboard characters are the marquis, the marquise, inhabitants of the palace, and a cat, which is an unwanted guest to the marquise, because she is allergic. Wood pieces representing the three characters would have been fantastic, but they are more than ok.
To sum it up, this is a game which offers very good components and a very nice design, especially if price is taken into account. Palacio de Viana can be bought for just 20 euros at the Palacio de Viana itself. A beautiful game with nice aesthetics representing the 19th century in the city.
Components of the game.
Adorning the patios to the marquise’s pleasure.
Basic idea of the game is pretty simple. We are workers at the palace trying to get the higher consideration from the marquise, obtaining the so called “good work points” (GWP). To do this, our meeple will move through the patios of the palace, adorning them. The marquise will distribute GWP each time she visits an specific patio. In order to adorn the patios, get the necessary elements, move the marquise, or whatever other action we want to make, we will use the cards. At the end of the game, the player with the most GWP wins.
The main mechanics of the game is then the use of the cards, one per turn, covering the one used in the previous turn. But it is due to the principal rule of the game that this mechanism gets really interesting: you cannot play a card that is in play by another player in that moment. That means, if a player plays the marquise card, no other player can use this specific card until this player plays another card in his following turn, covering the marquise card. Such a simple rule makes the management of the cards a nice exercise, being really important not only which card to play, but also when to use it. Stefan Dorra’s Kreta uses a system somehow similar, but the mechanics here is more demanding.
Together with this main rule we get the “horn” rule. Whenever a player makes a mistake and pretends to play a forbidden card, the first player noticing this should say “Moc!”, getting a GWP. This rule is intended to make players aware of the main rule, but to be honest, I don’t like it at all. The good point is that you can ignore this completely, and, as in any other game, try to avoid mistakes, and if somebody makes a mistake, just go back. Just choose your way.
Let’s see what we can do with the cards. We have three different gardeners, each one with different capabilities of movement and gardening experience, so that they are able to move our meeple from one to three spaces (patios), and put from three to one adorning respectively. To do this, we need to have such adorning in our own reserve, and follow the positioning rules of them in the patios. Fountains and vases have their specific sites at the patio, and of course they have to be unoccupied. Flowers have to be positioned in a bush, and each bush can only contain one of the three kinds of flowers. Tiles are put by the side with a circle in it, meaning that they have not been given any points yet.
The marquise, as aristocrats used to do, is just having a nice walk around the patios, enjoying the colors of the flowers. When playing the marquise card her cardboard figure is moved, and the patio she reaches is punctuated. In her movement she cannot pass by or stop at the patio where the cat is, due to her allergy. Punctuation is simple, each player getting five GWP for each fountain, three for each vase, and one for each flower in his color. Following the punctuation, all the tiles of fountains and vases are turned to the “punctuated side”, and they will not give more GWP in the game. Only one flower tile of each player is turned, so that they may yield more points in a following visit of the marquise to the same patio.
The board, with thirteen patios, and two entrance doors, ready to be happily adorned. The big patio at the right side is the garden, which will give points also at he end of the game.
The coachman moves our meeple to any stand at the market, in order to get these adorning tiles from the general to our own reserve, so that we can later use them. This is a very important character, and playing it at the right moment can be a good movement. First, because we may go to much more interesting stand in the market (they are not all the same). And secondly, because the market might be replenished while we are there, and we would get more tiles for free. Finally, we can come back to the palace using any of the two entrances, so that we can change our position in the palace, and have an easier access to different patios.
The cook is the card that allows us to get the used cards back. Besides, when the cook is used, the market is replenished. Thus, it could be bad card to be used when another player is in the market, but we may be forced to use it. It is the only card that can always be used, because when a player uses it, all the cards, including the cook, go back to the hand, so that there is not anyone in front of the player.
The other four cards are not so essential to the game, but allow us a wider variety of actions, and actually add quite a lot of flavor to the game. The housekeeper allows changing the position of the door, a piece of wood which closes the access between two of the patios. The use of this card can be really interesting, to force other players to make a big trip in their movement through the patios, or to avoid the movement of the marquise to a specific patio. Besides, it gives one GWP just by playing it. The marquis is not making anything productive to the palace. He just walks by, and the patio in which he is standing cannot be adorned and if the marquise arrives there, the patio is no even punctuated. But we get a GWP as well by using the marquis. The poet is a character which is not compulsory, except in five-player games, where it is needed to add some more flexibility. But I find it to be a really nice character that is actually quite thematic. By using it, we can move our meeple (which is actually an important thing in the game), and get as many GWP as characters and players are standing at the destination patio. The last card is the girl, one more element of disturbance between players. The girl is very naughty, (you can actually imagine this from the box illustration), and allows us to move one flower on its non punctuated side from one patio to another. She is just a cute little girl, so don’t think about moving fountains or vases. This movement can be very important if we see the final punctuation depending on the number of patios in which we have at least one adorning tile.
This way, playing cards and making the patios more and more beautiful, the end of the game gets when there are not enough tiles to replenish the market, or when somebody hast at least one tile in each of the thirteen patios. Each player has one action more, and the game finishes with the action of the player that triggered the end. Finally there is the final punctuation, in two steps. First, there is a punctuation of the largest patio of the palace, but attending only to the non punctuated flowers. Secondly, each player gets a bonus depending on the number of patios in which he has collaborated. It ranges from four GWP for seven patios, to twenty GWP for the thirteen.
You can see some images of the game in action at the web page of the association Jugamos Tod@s, for expample, here.
The favorite game of the Marquis and the Marquise.
The feeling you get from Palacio de Viana is that it is actually a quite interesting game that starts with a very simple mechanism; just playing character cards, and then adding the little restriction that cards cannot be repeated on the table. It is nice to see how in many cases such a little detail makes a big difference. As a result, all the characters are really interesting and useful, and depending on the development of the game, some could be really important. Gardeners’ and marquise’s usefulness is quite obvious, since the game plays essentially around them. But the rest of the characters, wisely used, will make the victory. In two recent games, both with four players, the game play was very different. In the first one, the housekeeper was not really used, in the second one the door changed its position constantly, and created a lot of problems to the effective use of the marquise, who was trapped by the cat. In the first one, the cook never gave free tiles, in the second game, several players received unexpected presents.
In the game it is important to note that the use of the cards is not only interesting because of their specific abilities, but also because they may allow us to move our meeple through the different patios, which is essential if we want to get a good bonus at the end of the game. The girl is a very helpful card in this sense, since she can move a flower from our collection from a patio where we have more than one, to another where we do not have anyone. Or, of course, take away somebody else’s flower to reduce the presence in the patios. Making friends.
Game length is well adjusted, even though at the beginning it might seem that it will take too long. Sooner or later the cook appears, and the market is replenished several times. Of course, here is a clear random element, since the replenishment depends on the twelve-sided die.
Game experience changes quite a lot with different number of players, which can be guessed from the fact that the poet card is obligatory in five-player games, and makes game easier in three and four-player games. The major problem that players need to solve is how to play as often as possible a useful card, and obviously with the poet the cards hand is a bit wider. I have never played with five, but a four players game, including the poet, is already a complex system, and it seems to me that with one more player it is necessary to be careful to avoid being always in trouble. It seems to me that four-player games work really well, with the right dose of anxiety.
There are possibly several paths to victory. You may try to control the marquise as much as possible, and make her visit several times a patio where you can get many points, especially if you have fountains and vasos, and try to get some points in the final bonus. Or you can go in a kind of race, trying to put at least one tile in each patio, as fast as possible, letting the movement of the marquise to the other players, but getting a good advantage in the final bonus.
On the negative side, I have to admit that to me it is sometimes difficult to get a clear view of the board and tiles on it when the game is advanced. But please note that this is a general problem I have when boards have plenty of information on them.
I have tried the game recently with two different groups, and reaction has been really positive for all of them, including “hard gamers” that were not too attracted at the beginning, thinking that this would be “too familiar”. Despite the text in the box, where it says that it is a general public game, I do not think this a trivial game, and even though it is also not a real complex one, I think it has much to offer to experimented gamers as well as beginners.
During the last edition of the Boardgame Festival in Córdoba, more or less coincidental in time with its definitive release, we could get a mini-expansion. It is a key per player, which he can use to open the door once per game, or keep it till the end for three GWP. Besides, the use of the housekeeper gives two GWP instead of one.
Just to finish, I think it is important to notice how well the theme and characters are integrated, in a way that when playing you really get the feeling of being a worker at the palace, trying to impress the marquise. This gives a good point to a game which is actually interesting by itself.
Palacio de Viana
Created by Jesús Torres Castro
Ilustrated by Raúl Cáceres, Raúlo.
Produced by Tienda de Calidad, 2010.
75-90 minutes, 2-5 players