Reviewed by Pevans

PAPA PAOLO (Quined Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 20-30 minutes per player; $50)


Double pepperoni, hold the anchovies!

Pevans reviews Papà Paolo

When I saw the title Papà Paolo on Quined’s stand at Spiel ’16, my first thought was that it was about shenanigans in the Vatican. A closer look showed the game’s theme to be more Papa John’s than Il Papa. Yes, it’s a game of delivering pizzas – nominally in Naples, but I don’t think this has any effect on play. The game is played over five rounds, during which players expand their “neighbourhood”, make pizzas and bid for contracts to deliver them. Delivered pizzas are worth points at the end, with bonuses for players’ “experience” and penalty points for any leftover pizzas.

Each player has their own small “experience” board with tracks showing how good they are at four different things. (A clever touch is the L-shaped markers that show players’ progress on the tracks without obscuring the value of the space they’re on.) The yellow track shows how much money the player will get when they take the ‘sponsorship’ action. The blue how many extra pizzas they produce. A table on the left of this shows how much players have to pay to produce 1-5 pizzas and they get their extras on top of this. The red track indicates the maximum number of pizzas the player can deliver when they take the “instant delivery” action and the green track denotes how many different routes they can take when delivering – in effect, how many delivery bikes they have.

Players start with a rectangular tile – two squares – from which they will build up their own neighbourhood by adding the square tiles they acquire. These starting pieces have the player’s pizzeria on one square (with an initial stock of pizzas) and a section of town on the other. Like the other neighbourhood tiles, the town section will have one or more streets and 1-3 houses with roofs in red, green, blue or yellow. (As an aid, there’s always a delivery van in the same colour shown on the street and each colour of roof has a specific – though tiny – icon on it.)

These houses are where players deliver pizzas, leaving them for the end of game scoring – and also preventing any further pizzas being delivered there. The bonus for delivering to all the houses on a tile is to advance your marker on the matching experience track – hence the colour coding. As each starting tile has a different colour of house roof on it, each player has an initial nudge towards one of the experience tracks. They are also numbered, giving the initial turn order.

Players’ other pieces are four delivery bikes (chunky wooden pieces in their colour with stickers showing an moustachioed delivery ‘boy’ on a scooter), one chef – another chunky wooden piece with stickers – and a heap of pizzas. These are square wooden blocks in the player’s colour with red, green and white stickers on to make them look like pizza boxes. Note that the usual player colours are already in use, so players’ choice is between purple, brown, orange and white.

At this point I’d better make it clear that I’m describing the four-player game, as I’ve not played Papà Paolo with two or three players. The game’s main board has a two-player side and a four-player side and there is an overlay for the three-player game. This makes the game subtly different with different numbers of players. There are two main sections to this board: a 4 x 4 grid where players take city tiles or actions (it’s a 3 x 4 grid in the three-player game) and the Piazza where players bid for “delivery contracts” and “investments”.

At the start of the round, the grid is filled with city tiles, the round’s delivery contracts go at the top of the Piazza area and four investment tiles (red, green, blue and yellow) are placed beside the Piazza. In addition, a selection of coins is distributed randomly, one at the bottom of each column in the grid and at the left of each row. These will be taken by the player with the most (or closest) pieces on that row/column once all pieces have been played. This money forms a useful boost to players’ funds and adds another factor to weigh up when deciding where to place on the grid. Amusingly, these coins are called ‘kickbacks’ in my (first edition) game but ‘tips’ in the second edition rules.

The first stage of a round, then, is to place your ‘action’ pieces (the delivery boys) on the grid. The first player places their first piece and carries out their action. Then the second places on an unoccupied space and so on until everybody’s placed and “actioned” all four and all 16 spaces are occupied. After placing a piece, you have two options: take the city tile from that space or carry out an action. My experience is that you’ll want to take 1-2 tiles every round, taking 2-3 actions as well. However, there may be tactical reasons (or necessities) for doing something different.

Taking a city tile means adding it to your neighbourhood. As you’d expect, there are rules on how to place it: orthogonally adjacent to another tile, matching the square grid, but in any orientation as long as it’s connected by streets to your pizzeria. Streets cannot end against the buildings of another tile, but some tiles show dead ends – there are also cross-roads, T-junctions, straights and curves. The crucial thing to think about, however, is how you’re going to deliver pizzas from your pizzeria to the houses on the tile – both in terms of connections and distance.

The four possible actions are shown both across the top and along the right of the grid. Thus, initially, each action is available in seven places. As the grid fills up, this rapidly decreases, so you need to keep an eye on what actions are still available to you. The “Sponsorship” action gets you as much cash as shown by the marker on your yellow experience track. You’ll probably need to do this at least once during a game, but remember that money doesn’t count towards winning. “Buy Ingredients” lets you make pizzas, spending money according to the table and adding any extras due, as shown by the marker on your blue experience track. Be aware that each pizzeria has a maximum capacity, though.

“Express delivery” costs two cash and allows you to immediately deliver pizzas – up to the number shown on your red experience track. This has to be a single delivery route (so no back-tracking), but can be any length. If you can deliver to all the houses on a square, of course, this pushes your marker along the matching experience track, potentially improving what you get with your next action. The other reason for doing this is simply to get more pizzas delivered – or to allow you to bid for a smaller contract. Finally, the “build” action lets you add another pizzeria to your neighbourhood, providing another position to start deliveries from. These cost cash according to their capacity and come with a couple of pizzas on them, so another reason for buying one is simply to get more pizzas into your neighbourhood.

With all that out of the way, it’s time for the tips to be given out and play moves on to the Piazza. At the top of each column here is a delivery contract, showing the maximum number of pizzas that can be delivered and the maximum range (from a pizzeria) the delivery can go. Each delivery must be able to trace a route along streets from a pizzeria to the tile/s it is delivering to. The number of deliveries you can make depends on the current value of your green experience track, of course. Thus a contract for 5 pizzas at a range of two means your route must go across two city tiles at most. If your experience lets you make two deliveries, this can be two separate routes, each crossing/reaching a maximum of two city tiles, but you’re still limited to delivering 5 pizzas in all.

Players bid for the contract they want, placing their ‘chef’ piece (which has been denoting turn order until now) in the appropriate column. How high up the column they place it depends on how much they want to spend (probably everything in the last round, making it useful to have cash at that point). Once everybody’s bid, anyone who’s been outbid must move their chef: either higher up the same column (above the high bidder) or to the same or higher level of a different column. Only when each player has a column to themselves is the auction over. It’s been a while since I saw this mechanism in a game and it remains very clever.

From highest bid to lowest, players now pay their bid, take their delivery tile and choose an investment tile. These match the four actions/experience tracks in colour and can be used either to take the corresponding action or to increase experience on that track. Being able to take an action at this point can be really useful. For example, using an instant delivery when you’ve ended up with a smaller contract than you wanted. Or buying a pizzeria to enable you to fulfil a large contract. However, most of the time these will be used to improve experience. And the order they’re taken matters, too, as it’s an opportunity to thwart your opponents!

The turn order for next round is the reverse of the final bids in the Piazza – a reason to think about bidding low, when you generally want to bid high, for the larger contracts. And players finally deliver pizzas according to their contract, observing the restrictions of number of pizzas, number of routes and lengths of routes. As always, when all the houses in a square have a pizza on them, the player increases their experience on the corresponding track on their board. As city squares have 1-3 houses indicated on them, 1-house tiles make it much easier to increase your experience. However, each pizza delivered is a point at the end of the game, so 3-house tiles score better. Yes, this is another factor to consider when choosing which tiles to take.

Rinse and repeat, as they say. As there’s a specific set of delivery tiles for each round, the contracts get bigger: more pizzas for longer distances. This is very necessary as players’ neighbourhoods get bigger and clogged with pizzas already delivered – a second pizzeria can be very handy. It also matches the strategy of going for one-house tiles early on, making it easier to increase experience, and three-house tiles later, for the points, when you have the capacity to deliver more pizzas.

After five rounds, it’s time to score up. Most of players’ points will come from the pizzas they’ve delivered: 1 point each. Players get a bonus according to their lowest experience track – an incentive to develop all of these. And there’s a separate bonus for each marker that’s reached the end of its track – an incentive to specialise. my experience suggests hitting the max on two tracks can definitely be done, but achieving three probably means no points from your lowest track. Finally, any undelivered pizzas go in the bin, subtracting one point each from the player’s score. (I won my last game when my main opponent had a pizza left over – it tends to be a close game.) 32 is the top score I’ve seen, with 25 of those from pizzas delivered.

I wasn’t expecting too much from Papà Paolo when I picked it up – as it was from an unknown designer and a small publisher – but I have found it thoroughly enjoyable and something of a hit with my games group. It certainly gives players an awful lot to think about. Simply choosing which city tile to take involves a lot of factors. Early on, you want tiles with few houses and lots of streets. Guess what: tiles with lots of streets have lots of houses! Then it’s a question of which colour. And its position on the grid: does it offer a large tip? Does it block an action you want to take? Aagh!

Luckily, the game is relatively forgiving, providing opportunities to recover (a bit) if you do get something wrong. This means scores are usually close and it’s a fight right to the end. Physically, the production is good with chunky wood and solid cardboard pieces. The stickers make everything look bright – one quibble is that the illustration of the board is a bit too busy, particularly when the city tiles are laid out on the already printed squares. It all adds up to a fun, challenging game that I’m usually happy to play: I give it 7/10 on my highly subjective scale. – – – – Pevans

(Papà Paolo was designed by Fabrice Vandenbogaerde and is published by Quined Games in the Netherlands [the first edition sold out a while ago, but a second printing is due to arrive soon]. It takes 20 minutes/player to play [that’s the official figure, I suggest more like 30 mins/player and longer for your first game]).

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