Rialto

Rialto is a medium area control game by the well known board game designer Stefan Feld. Although I have wanted to try one of his games for a while this is my first run in with one of his titles. I really enjoyed it, there are multiple layers to the gameplay and you have tons of options when you develop your strategy, yet it still is over quickly as long as no one playing is AP prone.



Objective: You are trying to gain control of Venice by developing buildings and seeding your councilmen into the various districts of Venice. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game will be determined the winner.

Gameflow: Rialto is played over 6 rounds and each round consists of 2 phases. In the first phase players will gain cards to use during the second phase. In the second phase players go through a series of stages where they will play as many of a particular card type as they wish.

It is important to keep in mind that the game focuses a lot on having majority control. Each stage in the 2nd phase will give an effect for each card you play and then an additional award to player who played the most of each card type. And at the end of the game each district awards points based on who has the most councilmen there.

In addition to the score track Rialto has a second track on the board called the doge track. This score board is used to break ties during phase 2 and at the end of the game scoring, decide who chooses cards first during phase 1.

Phase 1

During this phase each player (In order of the doge track) will choose one of the card piles available, then draw 2 cards at random and finally everyone gets to activate any green buildings they wish to. It may be helpful to now know what the heck I am talking about.

Lay out a number of rows equal to 1 more than the number of players each containing 6 face up cards.
Card rows available in a two player game.
Here is what each card does:

Doge
Each Card Played: +1 space on the Doge Track
Whoever played the most: +1 extra space on the Doge Track

Coin:
Each Card Played: +1 coin
 Whoever played the most: +1 extra coin

Building:
Each Card Played: +1 building value for the turn
Whoever played the most: +1 extra building value

Bridges:
Each Card Played: +1 victory point, in addition if you do not play a bridge on any turn you lose 1 victory point
 Whoever played the most: +1 extra victory point and you get to place the bridge tile it can go between any open connection and you decide which way to orient the bridge.

Gondola:
Each Card Played: Move 1 of your councilmen from your general supply to your personal supply
Whoever played the most: Place a Gondola tile anywhere on the board then place 1 councilman from your general supply and place him on either side of the Gondola.

Councilmen:
Each Card Played: Place 1 councilman onto the board into the current district, if you do not have any councilmen you may instead move a councilman one space on the game board.
Whoever played the most: Place 1 extra councilman into the current district
Joker:
1 joker: play with a card from any stage to increase the number of cards played by 1
2 jokers: play in place of a card you do not currently possess

Phase 2:
Players proceed through the following stages, you have 1 chance during each stage to play cards and activate buildings, you cannot later add a joker or activate a yellow building to get more than the number of cards someone played after you.

Stage A: Doge
Who Plays First: The first played on the Doge track
Stage B: Coin
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most doge cards
Stage C: Building
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most coin cards
Stage D: Bridge
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most Building cards
Stage E: Gondola
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most Bridge cards
Stage F: Councilmen
Who Plays First: Whoever played the most Gondola cards

Any cards you chose not to use are carried over to the next round, however you must include them in your maximum hand size.

Phase 3:
Players may activate any blue buildings. Cleanup all discarded cards as well as the remaining pile that players could have chosen.

What does all this mean, how do you score points?

At the end of the game:

The player who claimed the district bonus is awarded 5 victory points. To claim the district bonus you must be the first player to have councilmen in either all 3 orange or all 3 blue districts of the board.
Each building is worth its building value in victory points.
The yellow player would score 16 points for their buildings and 5 for having the district bonus.

Every coin and councilman in your personal supply at the end of the game is worth 1/2 of a victory point. Be sure to round up.
Yellow scores 1 point for having 1 councilman in their personal supply.
Each district is scored based on the value of all connections touching it. The player with the most councilmen will score the full value of the district, the player with the second most councilmen will score half that and the player with the third most councilmen will score half of the previous value. Make sure to round down.
White player will score 12 points for having majority control, for having the second most yellow will score 6 and green will score 3 points.
My Thoughts:
I have really been enjoying Rialto because of its many different viable strategies. More than any game I have tried in a while you are able to tweak the game's mechanics to fit your play style and come up with a strategy that is totally your own. That is because seemingly every action you take awards you with points in one way or another with the exception of the Doge which allows you to break all ties.

Start with coins, each coin card played is worth 1/2 a point with the opportunity to gain an extra 1/2 if you played the most cards. How you spend your coins either converts to direct points or to actions that give you more points. Take blue buildings for example (with the exception of the doge building) the 2 value gives you 1/2 point and a substitute for a card action, if you cannot take that action you instead gain 1 1/2 points. The 4 point building allows you to gain 2 1/2 victory points and even the smallest 1 value building allows you to upgrade a building netting you 1/2 point and giving you access to a higher value building. The green buildings for example let you keep more cards to play during phase 2, well cards = actions which = points (with the exception of doge cards). Yellow buildings give you the ability to turn cards into cards of any type giving you an action of your choice essentially, keeping in mind that using any building = - 1/2 points.

Building cards: each card played = 1 point with the ability to spend points to get more points and the chance of gaining 1 extra point if you played the most building cards.

Bridges: bridge cards are 1 point each with a chance of a bonus point, but mainly they let you change the value of each district you will always be increasing the value of any two districts as long as 1 side of the bridge is connected to the current district.

Gondolas: each gondola card is 1/2 a point unless you have no councilmen in your general supply in which case each gondola is worth 1 point. If you play the most gondolas first place a gondola token between any two districts, you now have the chance to place a councilman into the district on either side making it easy for you to snag the district bonus, break or cause ties. This can mean that winning the Gondola can give you 7 or 8 points if it causes you to gain majority control of a high valued district.

Councilmen: Each councilman you place onto the board costs you 1/2 a victory point but will gain you victory points based off the end value of the district you are in, With careful planning you are able to maneuver your councilmen around the board to maximize these points.

I have tried a few different strategies and have come to the conclusion that which strategy you use depends on your starting hand, how many people are playing and what their strategies are.

How does Rialto scale?

2 Players: The rules come with additional rules if you are playing with just 2 or you can use the regular rule set, the rules claim to be advanced but really they don't add any complexity to the game. I really like Rialto as a 2 player but I enjoy playing much better with the regular rule set. The game can be a bit more unforgiving and have a larger gap in points so I would definitely consider the advanced version a tighter game and probably more balanced but I still have more fun without adding a dummy player.

3 Players: Gameplay is balanced well with 3 players and because placing bridges and gondolas will benefit more than 1 district you will almost never see pointless feuds or kingmaking situations arise. I enjoy 3 players because you are able to keep a good eye on what other players are up to and it is easier to tell if you will win a stage in phase 2 and adjust your plans accordingly. I also really enjoy how easy it is to manipulate the bridges in a 3 player game, I think this is subjective to who you are playing with but often our 3 player games feel almost rushed along and most people I play with skip bridges entirely some of the rounds.

4 Players: Voted most popular on bgg, 4 player Rialto is considered the sweet spot for number of players. Adding more players definitely adds more depth to the gameplay and more decision making but also more thinking. This is my main criticism of 4 player Rialto, every single decision matters a lot, even more than usual. For whatever reason our 4 player games bog down the most, think hard but please keep in mind the other players.

5 Players: 5 and 2 player are my favourite ways to play Rialto. I enjoy 5 more than 4 because players do not suffer from AP as much, its harder to keep an eye on everyone's cards making it hard to guess who will win which stage in phase 2, 2 players will not score any points for a district so everyone has an easier time saying no to getting councilment into a district. This also encourages some of the more straightforward strategies such as going heavy into buildings but keep in mind in a 5 player game the limited supply of each building matters a lot more. This also encourages some thinking outside of the box and you will see people try things that you didn't / wouldn't think of yourself or wouldn't try in a smaller game. There are some very interesting ways to score points in Rialto and you will have fun figuring out which way works best. Often one or two people simply dominate the board in our 5 player game ranking first in all of the districts between them.

Criticisms

Mainly, it is fiddly / clunky. There are a few buildings that almost never get used, the game setup / first turn can give 1 player a huge advantage or severely cripple someone. and one very strong strategy is to completely ignore a key part of the game. I will give some examples, the yellow 1 cost building that lets you wait until all other players have played in stage 2, this is an alright benefit but it gets better if you get more card selection and buildings on your turns, definitely not the building you want to start with. When you activate your blue buildings at the end of the round you put a coin on them just to remove it 15 seconds later (fiddly). The player who gets the green building has a significant advantage, the player who got the blue building needs to get building cards in their opening cards in order for their building to be useful and the player who gets the yellow building needs to get joker cards in their hand or enough building cards and coin cards to gain access to a higher value yellow building and pay for the rank 1 yellow building, although if you manage to get jokers the yellow building can be crucial to taking and maintaining doge control.

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Alien Frontiers: Factions

Alien Frontiers has long been one of my favourite 3 player games, its alright with 4 I just have a few other games I would rather play. Playing Alien Frontiers requires a great balance of tactics and strategy, you will need to plan a few turns ahead but not really be concerned about the order or timing of your plans. Of course, Alien Frontiers gives you the opportunity to screw your friends over and over. Even though my group tends to avoid conflict, we seem to all enjoy blocking each other from expanding our space colonies. The Factions expansion makes the 4 player game considerably more enjoyable as well as adding a 5th player, keep reading for more information and my thoughts on if it is worth buying or not.

To read my review of the base game click here:



What Comes in the Expansion?

Faction Boards:
By far the coolest part of the expansion, at the beginning of the game each player will select a Faction, take the corresponding mini board and place it in front of them. The awesome part is that each faction gives that player an extra ability and each board also serves as another location where players can dock their ships (place their dice). These work like the rest of the locations on the board except that any resources spent are paid to the faction's controller.
Faction Owner: At the beginning of your turn receive one fuel plus one fuel for each territory that you control.

Other Players: Dock at the Corex Conglomerated and pay two fuel to the stock to receive one ore for each territory they control at the time of docking.
Faction Owner:  Use the territory bonus of one contested territory, whether or not the player has any colonies in that territory. Use of the territory bonus lasts for the duration of the player’s turn. The only territory bonus that the Uranian Syndicate may not access in this way is the Burroughs Desert bonus.

Other Players: Docking at Uranian Syndicate allows you to pays one ore to move one of their own colony tokens from one territory to another territory or pays two ore to move one an opponent’s colony token from one territory to another territory.
Faction Owner: You may discard up to two Alien Tech cards instead of just one. (Discarding a techcard gives you a different benefit than using it, usually you can only ditch one a turn)

Other Players: Dock at Dark Space Explorers to pay one fuel to gain the top card from the Alien Tech deck. If the card is a duplicate of one they already have, the new card is discarded without effect.
Faction Owner: Launch their colonies from the sixth circle of the Colonist Hub instead of the seventh.

Other Players: Dock at the Homesteader’s Union to advance your colony token one circle at the Colonist Hub.

Faction Owner: may use any sequence of three ships to bump ships already docked on the Raiders’ Outpost. Higher value is not required for this faction’s owner.

Other Players: Docking at the Smuggler’s Alliance requires players to simultaneously dock at the Raiders’ Outpost. Then the player may raid four resources AND one Alien Tech card from any combination of opponents.
Faction Owner: Building a new ship at the Shipyard or acquiring the Relic Ship from Burroughs
Desert, allows you to immediately roll it and use it along with their other unplaced ships.

Other Players: Dock at the Scavenger Fleet to dock two unequal ships at the Shipyard and pay the usual costs to build a new ship.
Faction Owner: Pay two fuel to place one field generator token on the planet or remove one field generator token from the planet. The faction owner may not use this benefit to move a field generator from one territory to another. The faction owner may not place or remove more than one field generator per turn with this faction benefit.

Other Players: Dock at Proxima Centauri Scholars and pay one fuel to move a field generator token from one territory to another territory.

Faction Owner: When another player uses the Terraforming Station, their one fuel and one ore payment is given to the faction owner instead of the stocks. If the faction owner uses the Terraforming Station, their payment goes to the stocks as usual.

Other Players: To dock at New Gaia Engineers, a player must already be docked at the Terraforming Station. The player gets to re-roll the terraformed ship and place it back on the Terraforming Station. The result of the roll determines where the ship will go when it leaves the Terraforming Station, either on the player’s next turn or if blasted by the Plasma Cannon. If it is a 1, 2, or 3, the ship will go to the Maintenance Bay. If it is a 4, 5, or 6, the ship will go to the stocks.

Agenda Cards:
Agenda cards bring a new scoring element to Alien Frontiers. Each Agenda card has two conditional
situations. The condition on the left is an in-game situation that a player may reveal at the time they satisfy the condition to score 1VP. The condition on the right is an end-game situation that a player may reveal at the end of the game if they have satisfied the condition to score 1VP. Only one side of each Agenda can be scored.

Each player starts the game with two Agenda cards that they keep hidden until completed.

A player may have up to three total Agenda cards.

A player may dock a pair of ships at the Orbital Market to draw two new Agenda cards.

A player may keep or discard any of their new or hidden Agenda cards.

With one exception a player may never have more than three total Agenda cards.

When a player meets the condition on the Agenda card they may reveal it (flip it face-up) to score the VP.

Revealed Agenda cards may not be discarded and still count towards your limit of 3.

Ships docked at the Orbital Market may be used for trading or for obtaining new Agenda cards, but not both.

Agenda cards cannot be stolen via the Raiders’ Outpost.

Agenda cards may not be discarded by using the discard power of the Oscillation Capacitor.

If the Agenda deck is exhausted, reshuffle the discarded cards to form a new draw deck


New Alien Tech Cards:
Alien Tech was always my favourite strategy in the base game, sadly the Factions expansion only adds 8 cards. Most of the new cards all involve using fuel which makes solar energy a bit more valuable than in the base game, a bit of a disappointment was that only 1 of the new tech cards involves the new expansion components. However I do like how they give you more options to gain from your opponents' ships, diminishing the strategy to rush to construct more ships resulting in a bit more variance in strategy than the base game.


Should you buy this expansion?

I think Factions is a must for any fan of Alien Frontiers. If you enjoyed AF but felt something was missing, or it lost a bit of its flair then Factions has what you are looking for. I actually like using Alien Frontiers as an intro game because the rules are simple to learn but between bad rolls and player blocking you have to be very tactical but still have an overlaying strategy. Are the additional Factions expansion components enough to make AF an intense heavy game, no but definitely makes the game more fun and interesting without feeling like too much of the same. The agendas build on the feel that the game can change on the last turn and that anyone could come out on top. Also Factions gives you the option to add a 5th player which is good because you now have a lot more options to dock your ships at but at the same time bad because only 4 of the factions are equally balanced in my opinion. Ultimitely being able to give yourself one of the handicap factions that appear to benefit other players more than the faction owner might make AF a better intro experience.
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