PATRICIAN (Amigo/Mayfair Games, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, about 50 minutes; $35)
It is the Middle Ages in Italy. Noble families of the time showed their power and influence by constructing tall structures, called "Patrician towers" in the cities. This is the setting for Patrician where each player takes on the role of a master builder, constructing towers in key cities throughout Italy, to earn prestige (and Victory Points).
Patrician is a Michael Schacht design and comes with a two sided game board, prestige tokens, 149 wooden tower pieces (in five colors), 55 building cards and relatively simple rules.
The two-sided gameboard shows nine Italian cities on one side, ten on the other (the side used depending on the number of players in the game). Each city displays two areas upon which towers may be built. Cities also have a certain value, ranging from 5 to 9, with the highest tower worth the high value of the city, the lower tower netting the controlling builder a smaller value. In addition, each city is dealt a card which remains to be claimed.
Cards are the driving force behind the game and each player is dealt a three card starting hand. Each card will show at least one crest of one of the cities. Some cards display two crests. If such cards are played, a player may place one of his tower floors onto a space (or already built tower) in that city at the rate of one floor per crest. The only restriction on placement is that one tower may not contain ALL possible floors. So, for example, if building in a 5 valued city, one tower may have no more than 4 floors. But cards may sometimes display different icons along with the crests.
Some cards display the portraits of nobles. (One of these portraits is used on the cover of the game.) Three types of nobles appear. At game's end, each set of three portraits of the SAME noble will add 6 points to your final score. (Sometimes, these cards contain "double portraits" and playing such cards counts as two portraits towards your goal of three.) Other icons allow players to move the top floor of a tower on a DIFFERENT city than the one whose crest appears on the card to the other tower in that city. Once you play a card bearing a city's crest, you replenish your hand by picking up the card sitting at the site. (A card from the draw deck is then placed on that city site available for the next player to go there to claim it.) However, some cards have an icon which gives you a bit more flexibility. The question mark icon allows you to pick up ANY card on the board! Cards played are stacked in front of you, one on top of another. You may look at your stack but no other play may do so.
As the game continues, floors played in a city will reach the maximum allowed. At that point, the city is scored. The player controlling the higher tower (i.e. the player with the most floors of his color in that tower) earns the higher valued token. The player controlling the other tower gets the smaller valued token. (Should there be a tie, the player controlling the top most floor gets the token.)
As cards are played, there will come a time when the draw deck runs out and cards are not available for replenishing. At this point, players placing floors in a city without a card may take ANY card remaining on the board. When all cards have been played, all cities will have been scored. At that point, players tally up their prestige tokens, adding their sets of nobles to their totals. The player with the highest grand total wins. (If tied, the player who has the FEWEST towers on the board is victorious.)
While it sometimes seems that the game plays you (rather than the other way around), repeated sessions have shown that players able to set up runs of desirable cards so as to create sets of nobles as well as constructing towers under their control will come out on top time and time again. If you can hold back some of those double crest cards until the latter part of the game, you can make sure you manage to dominate the higher valued tower. Couple this with a card to shift a floor from one tower to another and you can sometimes claim BOTH prestige tokens of the city. This is, of course, more difficult as you increase the number of players. The more at the table, the more the board will change by the time it comes around to your turn again. And, for players wishing to add a little something to the game, Michael Schacht has devised a little expansion for the game, called Die Boten/The Messengers adding messengers to link cities and possibly earn (or lose) extra points. The expansion can be found on Mr. Schacht's website at http://www.michaelschacht.net/p/patriXPUS.pdf.
Despite the fact that Patrician exhibits some of the aspects of Schacht's brilliant design Web of Power (featured in the Summer 2000 GA REPORT) in using cards for piece placement and the competition for positioning to garner Victory Points, Patrician has "flown under the radar", not getting its due. Perhaps that can be explained by the fact that the game is much much lighter. But that shouldn't be held against it. Because of its easy learning curve and quick playing time, Patrician can serve as the perfect opener or closer on a game night, making it another noble effort from the talented Michael Schacht. . - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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