In 2006 I went on a Venice kick. I bought maps until I had one big enough that I could mount on a board and then make little paper boats and my children and I lived on the canals and boated all round to visit each other and shop, etc. After that kick wore off, I had just found BGG, and notice the newish game Doge and I ordered it from my favorite hobby store (now out of business) and the day we were traveling 400 miles to my sister's house for Christmas time they called to say that “Doggy” was in (and this was from an employee who was a history major in college). So we picked it up on the way down, though I kept it secret, and surprised them all after Christmas with Doge and hoped we could play. That was over three years ago, and I even tired of toting the game back down to sisters house, knowing we would never get to it. It seemed formidable and difficult, and no one wanted to play it.
But since the last review of Doge on BGG is from 2008 and the last session report from 2006, I thought I'd fill in a gap and finally play this game and write a report on it. I was also greatly encouraged by the remarks at how quickly the game actually plays.
So my two oldest sons and I set it up and went over the rules, which were weird, but after having thumbed through Mowbray and Gollmann's analysis of the election of a Doge (a paper available on the web but copyrighted so I didn't upload it to BGG) and looking at the Doge list on wikipedia, I told my second-oldest son that while this may seem complicated, take some solace in the fact that it is actually greatly simplified. He didn't seem to be encouraged by that truth.
This paragraph is a quick overview of the rules, please skip to the next for the continuation of the session report. Players secretly put votes on the seven areas of the board and winning those areas gives you a house or two and maybe control of a advisor, who gives you another house or the ability to move a house. The houses can be traded in to buy palaces in those areas, at ever increasing costs (the first palace is three houses, second four, and on up). The first person to build so many palaces in so many districts (there are three different possibilities) wins.
We began knowing that we knew nothing, and my eldest son immediately started strategizing and I thought that would do him well. After the first round, the results were as follows:
(D=Dan, J=Joshua, C=Caleb A=Advisor, P=Palace, H=House)
San Marco: J-A,P
San Polo: D-A,P
Santa Croce: D-P, J-H, C-H
and looks like this:
So I am winning with two palaces, and my sons each have one. The second round, my eldest son and I think we know what is going on, Caleb still has no clue. The results are as follows:
San Marco: J-P,2H, C-A,2H
Castello: C-P, D-2H
San Polo: D-A,P,2H, C-H
Cannaregio: J-A,P,H, C-2H
Dorsoduro: C-P, D-A,2H
Santa Croce: D-P, C-P, J-H
What? Second-eldest son Caleb has taken the lead in palaces with three to Joshua and me having two! Caleb's not sure how he did it, and Joshua and I sure don't know how he did it. After round three:
San Marco: J-2P, C-A,P
San Polo: D-P,2H, C-P
Cannaregio: J-P,H, D-A,P
Dorsoduro: C-A,P,4H, D-P
Santa Croce: D-P, C-P, J-A,3H
Now Caleb has jumped to five palaces, and needs only a palace in Cannaregio to win! I have four palaces, and if I can build in both San Marco and Castello, which vote before Canneregio, I win. So Joshua and I fight to keep Caleb from getting Cannaregio. We manage for another round, round 4:
San Marco: J-2P, C-A,P
Castello: C-A,2P, D3H, JH
San Polo: D-P,2H, C-P
Cannaregio: J-A,P,3H, D-P,H
Dorsoduro: C-A,P,4H, D-P,H
Santa Croce: D-P, C-P,2H, J-A,H
Now Caleb only needs a palace in any district, and Joshua and I see that's almost impossible to stop. I still have a chance at winning as well, so we play part of round 5, but Caleb defeats me in Castello, winning the advisor to win his Dorsoduro palace, his seventh palace in five districts, and wins the game. You might be wondering about the advisors and what they do, and they are crucial to success or failure. The results above do not show their whole influence on the game, as they change hands during a round and influence votes. I only listed them above because I knew who held them at the end of the round. A complete report would list how the districts voted and who had the advisors during each vote. Far too dry for me.
The game took almost two hours, but some of that time was me writing down these statistics and taking pictures after each round (which BGG would not let me post because they were too similar to the first picture, which I understand because they only have so much space and I have not, at this point, been able to become a patron, something I plan to do if I ever make money again).
I would liken this game to Diplomacy, but without the negotiation and much, much shorter. There's some negotiation too, especially towards the end as a leader must be stopped, and the negotiation is crafty too, because stopping the leader might also mean your ally might win. Also, as in Diplomacy, there's the second- and third-guessing your opponents and what they are attempting, while tending to your houses and palace-building. I could see where this game could come in under an hour, which is amazing considering the brain-usage and social aspect contained in that hour.
I love the Venice theme, and I do sometimes get a sense of the venerable families of La Serenissima, but I don't really pay attention to the geography of the city or float around its canals. It's just a good game placed on a game board that happens to have Venice on it, though pronouncing the names of the districts helps with the theme a little. I guess I want a game of Venice that has boats and jobs to do in and around Venice. Might have to invent it myself.