Friday, September 16, 2005

Palazzo is Growing On Me

I played a game of Reiner Knizia's new game Palazzo over lunch today. This is a very nice game that has players bidding on building tiles which they combine to form palazzos. There are several elements in this game that remind me of other games but it all combines in a very pleasant way.

This game didn't really strike me as something special when I first played it, but I find that the more I play it, the more it has to offer. There are subtleties here that I didn't grasp at first.

On each player's turn he may either take money, rearrange his palazzos (according to some simple but restrictive rules), or trigger a build. Triggering a build causes two more tiles to be brought to the board. One tile goes in the middle of the board and the other tile goes to the outside. The building player may elect to buy outright one or two tiles from the middle or he may auction off a set of tiles from around the outside.

A very common newbie strategy is to take money early on... lots of money. Every time you take money you pull a number of cards from the money deck. You get to keep two of those cards and all other players get one. So in theory, you're getting twice as much money as everyone else. This seems like a good deal but there are some clever and subtle checks built into the game that keep this from being the surefire winning strategy that it otherwise might be. Now mind you, that isn't to say that this is a bad strategy; it's actually a pretty good one but by itself it doesn't guarantee the win. For one thing, money is worthless at the end of the game. Also, you may be getting more money than anyone else early on, but they're getting a lot of money too and they're probably getting enough that they can be buying tiles form the middle. That means that they're getting exactly the tiles they want and they're not having to deal with the uncertainty of a bidding war, a bidding war which you would probably win since you've been drawing twice as much money as they have.

Another subtlety is the way new tiles are placed on the outside according to their value. More valuable tiles are always placed farther away from the "master builder" token. The tiles that are auctioned are always the tiles closest to the master builder, which means that if you decide to auction tiles, you might get lucky and have an extra tile included in your auction, but if you do, it's certainly not going to be a very good tile. And if you were planning to auction off a whole lot of tiles, you might find that extra tile spoils your auction because if there are too many tiles in a set, they aren't auctioned off at all but evenly distributed among all the players. That has some implications that aren't obvious at first and I've been hurt by it a couple of times now.

Another thing I really like about this game is that it always feels shorter than you think. Early in the game it feels like you've got all the time in the world but in reality, those tiles go pretty darn fast and the player who sits around and waits for just the right tiles, or the player who buys tiles that he thinks he can reconstruct on a later turn, may get caught flat-footed as the game ends sooner than anticipated. I've been involved in a few games now where the game was won by paying careful attention to when the game was likely to end.

Anyway, I'm glad I've waited before writing up a review of this game because it's definitely impressing me more the more I play it. Of course I did win today's game so perhaps that has something to do with my impression as well. *grin* Either way, look for me to write a proper review of this game soon.


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