reviewed by Herb Levy

Mayfair Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $60

   There is a certain undeniable mystique surrounding upper scale hotels. Sometimes it is captured in the movies (vintage film buffs will recall the great classic film Grand Hotel charting the lives of guests portrayed by Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford and more in a lush Berlin hotel in pre-war Germany). Closer to home, hotels are sometimes a springboard for games such as Acquire where hotel grandaustraiboxmergers translate into financial success. The latest “hotel” game inspiration comes from the design team of Virginio Gigli and Simone Luciani: Grand Austria Hotel.

In Grand Austria Hotel, each player is in charge of a hotel catering to four types of clientele and, as the game takes place in turn of the 20th century Vienna, vie to earn the favor of the Austrian-Hungarian Emperor, to, finally, achieve recognition as the best hotel of the city.

As hoteliers, all players begin with a board showing 20 unoccupied rooms in their hotel. (Boards are double-sided, nighttime sides are all the same, daytime sides are all different.) Rooms are red, blue and yellow. Everyone starts with 10 krones (the money used in the game is registered on a track below the rooms, no paper money or chips are used) and there is a “kitchen” next to the money track where the food served in the hotel’s cafe (strudel, coffee, wine and cake represented by brown, black, red and white cubes respectively) is stored. Everyone starts with 1 of each of the four foods in their kitchens. Below that are three tables, each able to service one cafe customer (potential hotel room occupants) at a time. A hand of six Staff cards representing workers that can be hired to help with running the hotel are dealt to all.

Player order is determined randomly but before taking that first turn, players, in reverse turn order, may choose any one of the five Guests on display on the “Main Board”. Guests can cost anywhere from 3 krones to no cost at all (depending on their position on the display) but, for the first turn, chosen guests are free. All guests have an Victory Point value (from 0 on up), an “order” (foods that guest wishes) and a bonus awarded once that guest’s order is met. Guests are immediately placed underneath one of that player’s cafe tables. (Guests, when chosen, slide to fill any vacant spaces on the Main Board and are immediately replenished from the Guest deck). In addition, all players prime their hotel by preparing up to three rooms for would-be guests.

Each hotel board is a grid of four levels with five rooms on each level. The first level costs nothing to prep but the second level costs 1 krone each, the third level, 2 krones and the fourth 3. The room at the bottom left hand corner is the first to be prepared. After that, you may prep any room adjacent to a room already prepared. Rooms ready for guests are indicated by placing a matching colored counter (showing an inviting hotel employee) onto the room space.

At the start of each round, the first player rolls all the dice (from 10 to 14 depending on the number of players) with the numbers rolled grouped together on the matching Action space, all 1s on the first space, all 2s on the second and so on. The number of dice on the space indicates how much you can get out of that action if
chosen. Each turn begins with the active player taking (if they wish) one of the available guests on display (but only if there is a vacant table for the guest). Then, a player must do one of the available dice actions (or pass). So, what are the possible actions?grandaust2

The 1 action allows you to get strudel (brown cubes) and cake (white cubes) with the stipulation that you must take more brown cubes than white. (For example, if there are three 1 dice on the action space, you can take 2 brown and 1 white cubes or 3 brown cubes only.) When choosing an action, a die is removed from the board. Action 2 is similar except this time it is wine and coffee (red and black cubes) but you may not take more coffee than wine. When these goods are collected, they can go immediately onto your Guest cards (to fulfill their needs) or in your kitchen for later use.

Action 3 allows you to “prepare a room”, one room per available die. Prepared rooms are shown by placing a tile (face up) on the room space. Each room you prepare MUST be adjacent to a previously prepared (or occupied) room, the tile placed must be of matching color and, of course, you must have the funds needed to prepare the room (based on the hotel level the room is on).

Action 4 allows you to choose between advancing 1 space on the Money or Emperor track. Action 5 allows you to play ONE Staff cards, the price being reduced by 1 for each die on that action space. Finally, Action 6 is wild. You may use any 6s there are any other number to take any other action – but at a cost of 1 krone.

Every player is allowed two turns per round (player 1, 2, 3, 4 and then 4, 3, 2, 1) with additional actions possible each turn. Once per turn, you can pay 1 krone to add 1 to the number of dice on a chosen action space. You may also pay 1 krone (as many times as you like) to move up to three drinks and/or dishes from your kitchen onto Guest cards. Other options include placing your disc on one of the7 three Politics card (more on them later), activating a Staff card (those with a once per round effect) and moving a guest with a completed order to an available room. Moving a guest to a room means flipping a prepared room tile to its back and collecting any reward that a guest card provides upon completion. Guest MUST be moved into color-matching rooms. (Red guests into red rooms, blue into blue, yellow into yellow. Green Guests, however, will occupy ANY color.) Rewards are collected immediately and range from playing a Staff card for free or at a reduced cost, money, a rise on the Emperor’s track, collecting a new Guest for free and more. And, you can always pass.

If it is your turn to choose an action and you don’t like what is available on the Action board, you may pass. When you pass, you must wait until EVERYONE else has taken their two actions (or passed). At that point, you remove a die, reroll the remaining dice and sort them by number. Then you may take your action or pass again.

As rooms fill, blocks of rooms (“groups”) will be completed. Completed groups bestow more bonuses either in Victory Points (for blue room groups), money (for red rooms) or advancement on the Emperor track (yellow rooms). And speaking of bonuses:grandaust3

Politics cards were mentioned. At the start of the game, three Politics cards are randomly placed. These cards offer goals worth 15 or 10 or 5 Victory Points to the first, second and third players fulfilling them. Goals vary from having 20 krones or getting up to 10 on the Emperor track or completing certain configurations or types of rooms in your hotel etc. Emperor scoring is similar.

The Action board has tracks for charting the Emperor’s Favor earned by the players as well as one for keeping count of the rounds. At the start of the game, three Emperor tiles are placed so everyone knows what potential rewards and penalties are lurking ahead after rounds 3, 5 and 7 in an “Emperor scoring”. At that point, players receive Victory Points on their positions on the Emperor track. Then their markers are pushed back 3, 5 or 7 spaces. If a player’s marker remains on the 1 or 2 space, that player is safe. Otherwise…  A player whose marker is at the 3 space or higher will receive the stated reward (more money, more food, more VPs etc.) But a player whose marker has fallen to zero will suffer and penalties can be harsh (losing all goods in your kitchen, losing VPs, losing prepared rooms etc.)

A final scoring occurs at the end of the seventh and last round. Played Staff cards that grant VPs are added to your score. Victory Points are given for prepared rooms (from 1 to 4 depending on level). Foods left in your kitchen earn 1 Esteem each. But all is not positive. For each guest still remaining in your cafe, 5 VPs are LOST! The player with the most Victory Points have demonstrated that his hotel is not just successful but is the Grand Austria Hotel!

This is the first game for the team of Gigli and Luciani but both are experienced and successful designers. Luciani has made his mark as co-designer for Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar and The Voyages of Marco Polo while Gigli is probably best known for his part in the design team that did Egizia. The rules are well written and organized and lightened with a little humor. (One of the guests is named E.Gizia, a wink to Gigli’s past game design work).

Dice are used to excellent effect here, reminiscent of Yspahan in that numbers rolled are grouped together and the number of each die determines the “power” of the action taken. But players are not at the complete mercy of dice rolls. The option of being able to pass and re-roll (albeit with a one die penalty, significant enough to make you pause before considering passing but not so detrimental as to prevent it if circumstances warrant) mitigates the luck factor. And the “additional actions” available to players each round allow for an expansion of possibilities and add a degree of freshness to each game.

The array of benefits available by satisfying guests compels players to decide where to concentrate their efforts. Fulfilling the needs of your guests, to get additional food and drink, some money, etc. is paramount in making shrewd guest selection (and whether it pays to spend a few extra krones to get a specific guest) an important consideration. Sometimes, a certain available guest (a certain color) becomes more attractive since that guest is needed to complete a set and get the bonus that comes with it. (This is particularly important when it comes to red sets of rooms as these sets can give a large infusion of money into your coffers and money is very tight.) Keeping track of your position on the Emperor’s track is another area of focus. Not only will this supply VPs three times per game but failure to avoid his displeasure can harm your progress to victory. As the game only lasts for seven rounds, these three scorings have added weight.

Graphically, the game works fine. The artwork is pleasing, the goods needed for each guest easily distinguishable and the icons used easy to recognize and make sense. Admittedly, there are a lot of icons so it may take a game or two before they flow easily. (Play aids showing the icons for each player would have been a nice addition.) But there are two glaring weaknesses that could have and should have been avoided.

First, the size of the markers. While markers work just fine in all board areas to which they are assigned, the same size marker used to chart your money is much too big for the track! Money is a very valuable commodity in this game and making an error in charting how much money you have is much too easy here. A bigger sized box on the track (or a small cube in the player’s color) would have eliminated this problem. (Since they didn’t do it, we suggest recruiting a neutral colored marker from any of the hundreds of games stacked on your shelf for this purpose.) Secondly, recruiting the right staff to aid you is critical. In the rules, Staff cards are reduced to an alphabetical listing. Not so bad by itself but the TITLES of the staff are written in such a small font on the cards that a microscope should have been included in the box!

Running a hotel can be a juggling act what with attracting clientele, fulfilling customer orders in your cafe and hiring and using staff to best advantage. But mastering all of these demands is what makes the game challenging and, particularly if you enjoy this sort of balancing act, enjoyable to play. While you may not have thought of what is involved when you check in to a hotel, be assured that Grand Austria Hotel is well worth checking out!  – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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