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Subject: Genoa - depends on the personalities rss

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Cameron Crawford
United States
Colorado Springs
Colorado
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I finally got a chance to play Traders of Genoa. It’s always important to me that when a person reads any of my reviews, whether it’s for games or movies or philosophical ideas, that they understand where I’m coming from, because my history and preferences set a tone in what I like or don’t like about things. Never has it been more necessary than for this game.

I have an extensive gaming background and consider myself a lover of most board game styles. I have a tendency to favor theme and fun over strategy and mechanics. I can easily overlook flaws in the rules if the game has what I call imagination factor. Yet, I hold many Euro-style games dear to my heart, despite my attraction to the more luck dependant adventure game.

Genoa is odd in that I like and appreciate it. It fits the theme well and is a great addition to the evolution of the commerce game. However, since I tend to favor games for the sake of fun and entertainment, not to practice and excercise my negotiation skills, I do not believe I would choose to play it very much. For those out there that don't like a lot of 'in your face' confrontation in their gaming, you may want to look elsewhere. But don't get me wrong, this is a high quality game that deserves it's high rating for the design and originality.

For those of you who know nothing of the game, Genoa is an auction game at the very core, but not what you would think of as an auction game. Many times I kept thinking how I felt I was in a Pit competition or even Spoons. It gets loud and it gets rowdy. It also seems that at times there are no rules. It’s almost as though we’d somehow segued into a game of Flux where the rules are "there are no rules". But I digress…

The basic concept is that there is a grid board with different buildings laid out to form a very small town. Each building has a special ability. Imagine if the Puerto Rico buildings weren’t tiles but spaces on a community board. Each time a building is activated by moving onto it one of the players will be able to use the special ability of that building. The abilities revolve around taking an item: goods, a tile coupon that allows for special ‘powers’ to be used at another time, or cards that give you goals to aim for.

One player is put in charge of what the instructions call the tower. The tower is a stack of 5 large wooden discs. The start place is randomized using dice and from there the chaos begins. The other players then try to ‘influence’ (that’s putting it politely) where the tower player will go. Every time he moves a space around the town he leaves a disc behind so eventually he’ll run out and the path that he forms dictates which buildings come into play. Only one player may take an action (make use of a building’s special abilities) once per turn, including the tower player. So the influencing can be done through money, the coupons, the goods, other cards… it gets loud and it gets mean. The tower player could even choose not to accept any offers although most of the time that’s a bad strategy considering that’s how you make the big bucks in the game.

Most of the game leads up to the ‘large orders’. These are cards that require you to collect three specific goods from all around the board and then deliver them to one of the four corner buildings. To complicate things further, to turn in a large order you must use an action, so if it isn’t your turn, you have to do some fancy talking to allow the tower player to let you take advantage of the corner buildings since he knows there’s a chance that you’ll be making a very nice profit shortly.

There is a random Settlers of Catan element in another feature called the privilege cards. Each privilege has one of the buildings written on it that corresponds with the buildings on the board. If at the end of the game you can get a series of those cards in a row (like the longest road victory condition) you get a progressively larger payoff at the end. For each single building you get 10 ducats, each two is 30 ducats, each three in a row is 60 ducats, and so on. This is a fun part of the game to try to put the pieces together but it can be a shot in the foot too if things don’t work out. In the game I played I had 7 of the cards and somehow managed to alternate every other building until the very end. So I had a series of three buildings and then a bunch of 1’s. That was frustrating since I spend most of the game dealing and trading in privilege cards.

I understand why many people favor this game, but it's not my personal preference. This is a game that I would fluctuate my rating depending on who I was playing it with. It could be killed by one of the two extremes: You could end up with a crowd that hates to barter or the crowd that is willing to use a knife to your throat to convince you that their way of thinking is best.

You have to think outside the box of cohesive rules here. There is no turn order when it comes to shouting out offers. If you are turned off by disorganization or pandemonium it would be easy to get left behind. Once players fall a few hundred ducats behind, there is little chance of catching up—unless players are silly enough to be making 100+ trades. Polite individuals will get eaten alive. Gentle spirits can get bruised or just not heard and if several of those are together, a polite game of Genoa would be slow and stagnate.

Similarly, if you have no sense of manners, have a loud voice, and can bully people into accepting offers that are obviously good for you and not so good for them, you’ll do well but completely kill the game for other players. The exception to this is if everyone playing is that way... then you'd have a stock exchange going on that would probably invigorate all the players involved. In that case, go with my blessing. Have yourself a ball. I just won't be showing up. I have been involved in a few games where the strong personality is rewarded and it can make for a boorish evening. Anytime bullying or strong salesmanship is a key component, someone else seems to get stepped on. It's just a game, right? Yes, but you can almost predict who will win the game based on who is able to convince people of their way the best.

However, if you have a group of players that easily get along with each other and are all on an even level personality wise, this can be an immensely fun game. I like that there is no solid turn order structure. You are participating all the time, whether you’re the tower player or not. So down time is a non-factor.

It's also a puzzle in how the person that won, won. In other words this isn't like a war game where you can go back and review exactly which move or decision or dice roll won you the game. The last time I played Genoa, the guy who won was convinced that he was only going to be second or third. It's truly impossible to see exactly what is going on in the profit and loss department for each individual until the game is over. I would love to take a sheet and watch a game happen making line item reports from turn to turn to see which deals were the best and which were completely bone-headed. But that would slow down the game too an excruciating level, I fear.

Overall it’s a great game that forces players to think about profit and loss and challenges individuals to use their relationships as game components. It’s almost reflective of poker in the way people try to make it look like the deal they just closed wasn’t TOO helpful to them. Avoid easily offended or gentle personalities as well as the strong outspoken personalities when choosing whom to play with and you will find this a fun and refreshing change of pace.
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Chris Pimlott
United States
Cleveland
Ohio
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As a 'gentle spirit' myself, I like playing Traders as it forces me to be more assertive and to speak up. If you don't speak up for yourself, you will get trampled upon. Unlike other games in which you can do your own thing and still have an avenue for victory there's no way to avoid dealing directly with others in Traders. It's a good practice for the real world for me in that way.
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