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Murano

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Mayfair Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 60-75 minutes; $60)

murano1Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges in the Venetian lagoon of northern Italy. This is where players will find themselves, paving roads, placing shops, palaces, special buildings and glass factories, all with an eye towards gathering prestige – and the resulting Victory Points, in this latest offering from Inka & Markus Brand, the aptly named Murano.

Each player begins with a set of 8 tokens (“gondoliers”) and a bunch of cubes in their chosen color. Only five of these gondoliers are on “active duty” as one is placed on the perimeter scoring track at 5 Victory Points and two start the game “in reserve”. Players also begin with 5 gold. Stacks of tiles represent glass factories, shops, palaces and special buildings as well as streets and there is a bag filled with red, blue and green glass “beads” as well.

The board shows the islands of Murano. Placed around these islands are eight gondolas (all black save for one red which may act a little differently later on), starting on spaces marked with anchors. The spaces around the board depict various actions a player may choose. In a variation to the “rondel” method of action selection, these gondolas must be moved by players to a specific space in order for a selected action to be performed.

A gondola may move ahead to a space provided it is not already occupied by another gondola and that space can be reached without passing other gondolas. (No “jumping” or “space sharing” allowed.) To make things a bit easier, you can move a gondola “in the way” for free in order to reach a desired spot. If there is a “traffic jam” that requires more gondolas to move, additional ship movement will cost you gold and, no matter how much you spend, you only get one action per turn. So just what are these actions?

Some spaces allow you to buy tiles. Glass factories cost 1 gold, a special building will cost 2 and a shop or a palace will cost you 2 (if drawing blind from the stack) or 4 (if you’d rather look through the stack for a particular tile). You may want to pay more to do a little searching since the color of a particular shop may impact on what you want to do as may the number of crests (from one to three) found on a palace tile. Bought tiles are placed in a player’s holdings. To get these tiles onto the board, you need to build.

A building action allows you to place up to three tiles on any unoccupied spaces on the islands. Street tiles may be drawn (at no cost) but must be placed on an unoccupied street space (those spaces that are “paved”). Some street tiles depict “customers” that come in red, blue and grey. (Customer colors are important.) Whether the tiles you place are shops, glass factories, palaces or special buildings, they MUST be placed orthogonally to a street tile and all tiles, once placed, can never be moved or removed. Built glass factories earn a player 1 VP, shops earn 2 VPs and a palace earns 3 VPs. Players mark their shops and glass factories with a cube of their color. Palaces receive no cubes as they are not “owned” and neither do special buildings which act a little differently.

2089(1)Although not earning VPs, special buildings do grant a player significant advantages. Upon building one of these, a player draws the top 3 cards from the Special Building deck and chooses ONE of them. The chosen card gives the player an “ability” and that ability stays in effect for the rest of the game. For example, a building might grant you additional VPs on building a particular type of tile or discounts on placement. One Special Building card allows you to bend the rules for the red gondola and move it ONTO a space already occupied. Others may help you generate more money. And speaking of money…

Money, especially at the start of the game, is a scarce commodity. Your initial bankroll of 5 gold is a bare minimum. But you can increase that amount in several ways. First, one available action space gives you 2 gold. Second, you can collect income by landing on the income action space and then choosing one island on which you have shops. Shops, like customers, come in red, blue and grey. You collect 1 gold for each customer matching the color of the shops you have on that island. (So, for example, if you have a red and blue shop on an island and there are three red and/or blue customers on that island, you will receive an income of three gold.) If you are really strapped for cash, you can pass and take 1 gold (but you still have to move a ship WITHOUT using the space’s ability.) But, for a big return, you can put those glass factories to work.

Glass factories produce beautiful pieces of art that help give the area its renown. However, they also spew forth pollution. In game terms, this means you can potentially gain lots of gold – but at a cost. When selecting the glass production space on the board, a player may choose to activate any of his glass factories anywhere on the board. The downside to this is that each factory activated results in a player LOSING 2 VPs. (So, activate three factories and your VP score DECREASES by a sizeable 6!). For each factory activated, a player may draw one bead from the bag. Beads comes in three colors – red, blue and green. After drawing beads, a player may cash in up to three of them for gold: 1 bead for 5 gold, 2 beads for 12, 3 beads for 20! The catch? Only beads of the SAME color may be turned in. Remaining beads may be kept on hand for a later exchange or other purpose.

Money is important not only for buying tiles but for buying Character cards and placing gondoliers. Character cards are available for purchase on certain spaces, the cost based on how many cards you already have. The first card costs 1 gold, the second 2, the third 3 and so on. When purchasing a Character card, a player draws 3 cards from the Character card deck and decides on which one he wants. The rest are returned. Each Character card gives a goal to be achieved worth VPs at the end of the game. Some cards grant VPs for the number of palaces or special buildings on an island, some allow you to exchange certain colored beads for VPS, some grant VPs if certain numbers of one type of building match another type etc. But NONE of these cards will score unless you have a gondolier linked with them.

Two action spaces allow you to place a gondolier at the dock of an island. Four docking spaces are at each island, each matched to a player color but players may occupy ANY docking space. If you place your gondolier on your matching color dock, placement only costs 2 gold. But if the space has already been occupied by an opponent, docking at a different color will cost 5 gold instead. (It is possible, and sometimes, preferable, to have more than one gondolier at an island. Some Character cards only pay off if you have 2 gondoliers at a specific island. Other times, you may have two Character cards which will score big for the SAME island and you need a gondolier at an island to score each card there. Only one gondolier may be used for each Character card and the same gondoliers may NOT be used twice.)

Since you only start with 5 gondoliers, you may want to “recruit” additional ones (everyone has two in reserve) at the final action space at the cost of 3 gold. (You can also sell one of your gondoliers for 3 gold there too – yet another way to raise funds – but that is a desperation move, one to avoid if at all possible.)

Play continues until two types of buildings are completely depleted. The player triggering the finish completes his turn and everyone else also gets one last turn. (For the final turn, if you should buy a building, you may, if possible, place it without resorting to a building action.) Then, Character cards are revealed and scored.

For each Character card revealed, a gondolier docked at an island is chosen, moved ONTO the island with VPs earned noted on the score track. If a player has more gondoliers than Character cards, he gets 1 VP for each unused gondolier at a dock. The player with the most VPs wins (Tie? Then money acts as tie-breaker.)

While there is a certain amount of luck involved with drawing tiles, Special Building cards and Character Cards, this luck is partially mitigated by being able to pay more (to look through a tile stack) and by being allowed to draw three cards before choosing one regarding those Special Buildings and Characters. Since the Characters will be giving you Victory Points (and Victory, if you play your cards right), they are the most important and the way they are handled is the most intriguing.

Sometimes it seems like you have to be clairvoyant to make some cards work – but not really. By getting Character cards early, they act as goals and incentives to steer your placements into the “right” areas (i.e. right for you). Islands are not “owned” by any player so several players may (and often) share interests in a specific island or two. Since multiple players can claim VPs for the same island (albeit in different ways), players may find themselves as unwitting partners with their opponents in building up VP values on a particular island or finding one player doing most of the “heavy lifting” (founding shops or placing customers on an island for increased income, for example) while another player swoops in to gather up a sizeable chunk of VPs for the first player’s effort. (A very satisfying situation for that second player!) Another factor in this equation is that you MUST have a gondolier docked at an island to score it – and if you’re going to score the island twice, that means two gondoliers must be there. This makes the cost for docking rise (and your need for additional funds rise as well), With four players, someone who has an interest in an island may be shut out from the dock, forced to score his Character card elsewhere and, possibly, for less points. If you see an island take shape in a form significantly beneficial to you, dock early! And make sure you make the most of your gondoliers by having enough Character cards so that every gondolier has, at least, the potential to score VPs for you.

Murano is the kind of game that holds your interest in a variety of ways. The gondola-action mechanism works well, the gradual development of the islands is fun to watch and the balance between using your factories to earn funds vs. the loss of Victory Points to do so can create some second-guessing too. Because you can never be sure which Character cards you will end up with, the game and your tactics change with every play so, as the game unfolds, it takes on a slightly different dynamic each time. For some inexplicable reason, this is a game that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention – and it should! Murano is another strong design from the talented duo of Inka and Markus Brand.


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