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Brian Bankler
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I play lots of games, and for years when I went to conventions I played prototypes. This frustrated me. First of all, I'd dislike some titles (just like I'd dislike some games). Worse, there are the games I like. Then I never got to play them again.

Several years ago, I instituted a "No prototypes at conventions" rule. [I'll play prototypes at home, because time isn't so constrained]. Right now the only exception I've allowed is for my occasional co-blogger Tom Lehmann.

I went through a summer where I played Outpost a few times a week (and I've played my fair share of it's recent offspring, Sceptor of Zavandor). When Tom said that he had a 'streamlined' version five-ish years ago, I tried it.

I could go over the rules, but they are online (http://ellought.demon.co.uk/jklm/phoenicia.php). (You can play online, too-- see http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/164130).

Phoenicia, like its predecessor, is an economic game. You have people, who can work at hunting or farming (or other occupations). You have money, and you can store a certain amount from turn to turn. (In ancient days, money meant food or other perishables). Each occupied worker gives you income and victory points. And each turn, there are items up for auction. More workers, new technologies (mining and clothmaking) or improvements to old ones, items that earn you VPs or give you discounts on future items.

In this way, Phoenicia follows a path. What impressed me years ago, and continues to impress me now, is:

1. how much has been stripped away,
2. how it solves the problem of compound interest.

Outpost had 8 (?) types currency. Scepter has five, and each of them have a range of values. Phoenicia has cards ranging from 4 through 6, with the bulk (60%, I believe) as '5s'. Final auctions in the other two games range above one hundred. The biggest item now costs 30. This makes the auctions more tense, a single dollar matters. And adding change solves the pause while people optimize payment. That saves 30 minutes or more.

Both other games have a turn or two of build up, where you really want to increase your production before auctioning. (Winning an auction in the either game on turn one, or even turn two, may be fatal). Winning an auction on turn one in Phoenicia may be great (if you get a good price). Or you can increase your production (a bit).

Whereas the prior games allowed you to have five workers (or gem slots), Phoenicia starts you with three, and two are already working (one hunter, one farmer).

The same basic options exist in all three games, but Phoenicia trims away the 'false choices' (or 'no-brainers') as much as possible. Every limit tightened.

The other issue that games have is compound interest. You build income early, then switch to the point track. Look at St. Petersburg (by no stretch a bad game). The first turn "Mistress of Ceremonies" just destroys the game. She gives income and vp, with a too great return on investment. It's not impossible to catchup, but it's tough.

But I've played games of Phoenicia where in the mid game I have less income, less VPs and less 'saved money' and won (and was happy with my position). The game constrains in several ways. First of all, storage. At the beginning (and end) of each turn, you have a limit on cards and change. Like everything else, its been tightened. Two cards. A player who races up the income track will find it useless, unless they spend to grow storage. Also, technologies and workers combine to limit income. If I have an extra farmer right now, my income is above someone who has mining technology. But he has more room for expansion. And with only three workers at the beginning, it's a tight limit.

The extra dimensions (storage, workers, technologies and discounts) mean that you can fall behind, as long as you have compensations and exploit them. You can win with only three workers, or without a better technology, or with only minimal storage improvements, or without the best income.

In fact, the JKLM version has a 'balanced' start scenario (where everyone gets a '5' card as their opening deal). One of the most impressive games we played was where Tom voluntarily started with a '4' card against everyone else's five, and won. I don't recommend new players try that, but its possible.

While accomplishing this, the game takes about half as long (a bit more than half as long with 2-3 players, and less than half with 4-5).

This game has everything that the predecessors have, in So after my first few games of Phoenicia, I played once or twice a year, when I got the chance. And despaired of ever owning a copy. [That happened with Race for the Galaxy, too]. Now I have the luxury of playing 10 games the last week online, and having a copy arrive in a month or two.

Will you like this? If you loathed Outpost or Scepter, I don't see any reason you'll be interested. But plenty of people thought the prior games had promise but were too long, too convoluted, too fiddly. In that case, give it a try. There's plenty of meat, but little fat.

Components [Section added 8/15/08] -- Now that I've gotten a copy, let me comment on the components and rules. The pieces for workers, houses and money/tools are white plastic. When I saw the bag I thought "pawns" and wondered where the rest of them were. They all blend together. Its not the plastic that bothers me as much as the 'white.' Perhaps it will look better during play ... but it would have been nice to see the three types of pieces be different colors (say white pawns, black disks, grey houses).

I glanced at the rules, and they seemed ok but not great. I already knew the rules, though so I can't judge. I imagine if I didn't know the game, they would have required more than one read through.

Edit -- Fixed a typo or two
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Thanks for this most excellent review. Phoenicia went from unknown to almost a buy.
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cvlw Lebron
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Yes - same for me. It is now on my want list.
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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This is certainly a buy for me, tnx for the great review!
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Clinton Paris
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I'm in the same boat: this game went from unknown to a want-list item after the review. After playing it online (Thanks for the tips, Brian!) it's now on my definite must-have list!

meeple
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Crazy Bob
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I didn't really like Zavandor, but for the reason that you say have been done away with. Trying it out next week thx.
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Brian Bankler
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Having now played a few games, the components really aren't that bad. You just need to separate the workers, tools, and houses into seperate bags. It looks fine, although I do wish the icons were a bit bigger/more distinct, and I dislike that amphoras represent income and gold is VPs. It may be correct, but gold as money is fairly ingrained in my mind...
 
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Lukas Simicek
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Well, about the rules - me and a friend of mine were trying to undrestand what the game is about a week ago at a gaming con, and even though we are both experienced gamers, it took us about 2.5 hrs and even then we misunderstood the rules a couple of times...
But afterwards, when all problems were solved, it turned out to be the con's favourite and I believe a copy is coming to our club next week. meeple
Great game, badly written rules.
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Brian Bankler
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As I said, I didn't read them until after I played several times.
 
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Simon Woodward
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My two amphorae: I think the white bits are ok.

There is an excellent rewrite of the rules here at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/28564/phoenicia-novaru...
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