Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Pegasus Spiele, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $49.95)

The beautiful city of Venice provides the setting as players, in the role of Venetian nobles, compete to exert influence while constructing bridges and gondolas to become the “eminence grise” of Venice in the new Stefan Feld design, Rialto.

rialtoboxRialto comes with player boards for each participant, councilmen pawns (in five different colors), gold coin counters, bridge and gondola tiles, a “District Token” along with building tiles, a deck of 77 cards and a mounted board. The board depicts the city of Venice divided into six districts. Number tiles, randomly distributed on these six districts, determine the order that each district comes into play. Those important building tiles are placed on their spaces on the board. Two “5 point bonus tiles” take their noted position on the board as well.

All players begin with five councilmen in their chosen color on their individual boards with remaining pieces placed in a holding area on the board. A starting player is randomly chosen and money distributed (from 1 to 3 gold coins depending on turn order) but before play actually begins, each player, in counterclockwise order from the starting player, places one of his tokens on the Doge track (the other token beginning at 3 on the scoring track) and chooses one level 1 building in the color of his choice. (When more than three are playing, no more than two of a particular building may be chosen.)

Rialto is played for six rounds with each round made up of three phases. In the first phase, the District Token is moved into the district of the city that will be the center of the action for that round. Now, the decision making begins.

The card deck is shuffled and rows of six cards (one more row than players) is placed face up. In the order of the Doge track, each player chooses ONE row of cards. In addition, a player will draw, blind, two more cards from the draw deck. (If a player has cards left over from a previous round, those cards are also added to his hand.) Now, a player MUST discard cards (into his own personal discard pile) so that he only holds seven! Choosing which cards to keep is one of the many important decisions you make – and one of the most difficult – because ALL cards do something useful, valuable and, possibly, game-changing!

There are seven different card types (11 of each) and, in an unchanging specified order each round, players play each type to gain some sort of advantage. Beginning with the first player, each player plays one or more of a particular card. (Passing is also allowed.) Each time, the player who played the most cards will get a bonus. (The player earning the bonus leads the next turn of card play.) So, what precisely are these cards?

For each Doge card played, a player advances one space on the Doge track. Play the most? Then you advance one more space.

For each Gold card played, you get a gold coin. Play the most? Get one more!

For each Building card played, you may add a building of a level equal to (or less) than the number of cards played to your player board. Play the most? Then you can add a building one level higher.

Each Bridge card played scores 1 Victory Point. (Bridge cards are a bit different in that there is a potential penalty here. Failure to play at least 1 Bridge card makes you LOSE 1 VP.) Play the most and you get an extra VP AND get to place a bridge tile on a free connection between two districts. Bridge tiles carry number designations (for instance, 6-3 or 4-3). This impacts on the scoring value of the districts, scoring that takes place when the game is over.

Each Gondola card played will bring one of your councilmen from the reserves into your personal holdings. Play the most and you may place a Gondola tile in similar fashion as the Bridge tile. The difference? ALL Gondola tiles have a value of 1-1, a significant drop in potential VPs in the area they are placed. But there is another bonus here. The player placing the gondola may take one of his councilmen from the general supply and add it to EITHER district the gondola connects! (This can be important since the first player to place at least one of his men in the three blue or three orange districts claims the appropriate bonus tile and receives an immediate 5 Victory Points!)

Councilmen cards played allow players to transport that number of councilmen from his board into the current active district. Play the most and an additional councilmen gets placed.

Finally, there are jokers. Jokers may be played along with any other card to increase the number of a particular card played. In a tight spot. TWO jokers may be played together as ONE of another card.

But what about those buildings?

Buildings come in three types (yellow, green and blue) in four varieties (levels 1, 2, 3, and 4). Not only do buildings give you Victory Points at the end of the game but they also grant you advantages when activated.

rialto2By activating green buildings during phase 1, players may, for example, draw more cards or pick a card from those not chosen or stretch your hand limit to more than the allotted seven. Yellow buildings, activated during phase 2, aid in playing cards by allowing you to pass during bidding (so you may go last) or play 1 card (or 2) as a card of a completely different type or use a building as a joker card. Blue building activation occurs after cards have been played and make up the third phase of a round. Blue buildings assist in getting higher level buildings, aid in advancing on the Doge track, and grant you more Victory Points and councilmen. In all cases, activation of a building costs 1 gold coin which is placed directly on the building and removed once the round is over. Multiples of the same building are permitted but a player may only have 7 buildings. If more than seven are built, one building, at the player’s discretion, must be returned to the stock.

Once a district has been resolved, the district marker moves to the next numbered district and the new round commences. Once all six districts have been done, final scoring occurs.

Players receive Victory Points equal to HALF of the number of councilmen and gold coins remaining on his player board (rounded UP). Added to that, are VPs equal to the levels (1, 2, 3 or 4) of the buildings on his board. Finally, we score for influence in each of the six districts.

The player with the most councilmen in a district scores the full value of that district as determined by the numbers on the bridges and gondolas bordering it. The player with the second most councilmen scores HALF that value rounded down, third most scores half of that (rounded down) and so on. Ties, in ALL cases (be it card play or councilmen), are broken based on relative position on the Doge track. The player with the highest combined score wins. Tie? Then the Doge track serves as tie-breaker again!

The theme to Rialto (building and occupying the beautiful city of Venice) is thin but there is enough atmosphere to assuage any trepidation felt by those who abhor abstract games. The card drafting aspect of play, coupled with the “unknowns” of drawn but not exposed cards, makes “perfect information” just out of reach and makes for a certain uncertainty in the potential actions of your opponents. All the while, you have to weigh what you want to accomplish with what the cards you hold will allow you to do. You also have to consider whether to hold back a few cards for the next round to have the firepower to make a stronger play while, at the same time, balance that approach with the fact that there are only six rounds to the game and you still have to whittle your hand down to the specified hand limits. This can be a very tricky balancing act.

Hand management also plays a factor in councilman placement. Generally, placed councilmen come from your personal supply and, once placed in a district, are locked in and cannot be moved – except…. Should you play councilman cards but have no councilmen in your personal supply, you MAY move councilmen already on the board to the new district location. Shrewd play here can liberate councilmen in a district tightly under your control and position you to claim a share of Victory Points in another.

Going last in any sort of “bidding war” is definitely an advantage so it might appear that being first on the Doge track (making you open the bidding at the start of a round) works against you. In actual practice, however, not so. After the first round of bidding, the player who won the previous auction leads so being ahead on the Doge track does not necessarily leave you in the opening position. More importantly, having the Doge track lead is a tie-breaker and ties happen all the time in Rialto. Doge position can really be a “make or break” determination during the course of the game.

While many games overwhelm you with hundreds of cards that provide thousands (millions?) of possible permutations, Rialto opts for a simpler but not simplistic approach with its buildings. Each of the three types of buildings come in four (and only four) varieties. This makes decision making regarding which buildings to purchase and when to upgrade numerically easier but still very challenging and very satisfying – an excellent design decision. Interplay between the buildings, the card draws and Doge track position demands the players’ attention with luck a minimal factor and repeated play has shown that there are multiple viable paths to victory.

As noted, the order in which districts will be resolved is determined by randomly placing number disks in each. The oddity here is that the flip sides of these number disks display the same numbers, dark but clearly visible. It might have made more sense to have no numbers on the flip side of these discs at all (and avoid any subliminal seeding of the board). Another graphic oddity is the abysmal scoring track where “dots” (created from “lights” on the roofs of “buildings”) don’t line up with numbers – totally and unnecessarily confusing. What were they thinking?

Over the past several years, Stefan Feld has managed to consistently – and prolifically – come up with “gamers’ games”, tough, meaty and demanding fare, on a scale that few (if any) other designers can match. While Rialto may fall on the “lighter” side of Feld designs, lighter is a relative term. The typical Feld design “gymnastics” (think of Trajan, Luna or Macao among others) are not as pronounced here but, more to the point, the mental challenges are! I’ve enjoyed much of Feld’s work and Rialto is Feld at his finest. It sounds so cliché to say that this game is “easy to learn but hard to master” and yet, that phrase rings true in Rialto, a masterful Stefan Feld design.

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

Summer 2013 GA Report Articles


Reviewed by: Kevin Whitmore (Rio Grande Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 30 minutes, $34.99) The year is 2097, the world is swathed in ice. Civilization has been swept aside, leaving few survivors who must band together for mutual defense and the quest for food. Tribes compete for limited resources, and only the biggest tribe will reign… It’s a bleak future that ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Herb Levy (Hurrican, 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up; about 30 minutes; $39.99) With the death of Julius Caesar, Octavius, his adopted son, rose to power. In 27 BC, Octavius was awarded the title of Augustus and soon became the first Roman Emperor: Augustus Caesar. Players, in the role of representatives of the Emperor, compete to gather Senators to their side, ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser (Alea/Ravensburger, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 90+ minutes; $59.99) Stefan Feld has developed quite the reputation for designing highly intricate games that contain a multitude of mechanisms, many of which are original and very clever. His designs are typically aimed at the strategy gamer rather than the family market. As such, dedicated gamers usually eagerly anticipate his ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Herb Levy (Ravensburger, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $39.99) Subtitled "a Strategic Construction Game", Casa Grande lives up to its name as players compete to build as many structures as they can in a relatively small area where the sky is the limit! Casa Grande, a Günter Burkhardt design, comes with building blocks, building platforms and player markers ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Chris Kovac (Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 13 and up, 60 minutes; $54.95) Cinque Terre is a "pick up and deliver" game, designed by Chris Handy, challenging players to pick up and deliver produce to five scenic villages on the Italian Coast. The person who has generated the most points by the end of the game wins. Each player starts with a ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Herb Levy (Mayfair Games, 3-5 players, ages 12 and up, 75-100 minutes; $35) In the mid 19th Century era of power politics in New York City, the Five Points area of Manhattan was known for crime, gangs and political corruption. Against this background, Andreas Steding has designed a game placing players into the heart of the struggle, competing to control neighborhoods and install ...
Read More
[This issue features an analytic look at Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar by Joe Huber. To better understand Joe's "balancing act", it might be a good idea to refresh your memory of how the game works. Towards that end, we've "flashbacked" to the review of the game as it appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Gamers Alliance Report.] Reviewed by: Herb Levy (Czech Games Edition/Rio ...
Read More
[In this issue, we welcome Derek Croxton. Derek remembers when putting "dice" in a game title was only done sarcastically, as when referring to Avalon Hill's War at Sea game as "Dice at Sea". He got into the hobby via Dungeons & Dragons but quickly moved on to Titan and wargames. Like many gamers of a certain age, he has found his time too limited ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Herb Levy (R&R Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, 60 minutes; $29.99) It's back to the track with the latest entry in the stable of horse racing games: Homestretch, designed by Frank DiLorenzo. This game allows players to enjoy two sides of horseracing: ownership and betting. Each player begins with his own set of Bet tokens and a player token ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Herb Levy (Nürnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag, 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, about 15 minutes; about $10) Dice are one of those game components that are game constants; you see them almost everywhere. But after years and years of taking them for granted, the attraction that gamers have for dice can wane until dice can often be, well, boring. And that's why, when a game ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Herb Levy (Pegasus Spiele, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $49.95) The beautiful city of Venice provides the setting as players, in the role of Venetian nobles, compete to exert influence while constructing bridges and gondolas to become the "eminence grise" of Venice in the new Stefan Feld design, Rialto. Rialto comes with player boards for each participant, councilmen ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Andrea "Liga" Ligabue (Matagot/Asmodee, 1-6 players, ages 13 and up, 30-45 minutes; $34.99) As probably you already know from reading my reviews, I'm not a great fan of collaborative games. What is collaborative in the intent often degrades into a solo experience where one player drives the game for all. Throughout the years, designers have cleverly opted for different tricks to avoid this ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Herb Levy (Out of the Box Games, 3 to 10 players, ages 10 and up, 20-30 minutes; $19.99) In the Old West, travelling salesmen often attempted to convince the local populace of the benefits of whatever elixir they had with them. The elixir, of dubious quality at best, was commonly and contemptuously called "snake oil". But whether that concoction had any value was ...
Read More
The 3 R's Meet the 3 E's Growing up and going to school, all of us were inculcated with the three Rs - reading, writing and 'rithmatic. And those 3 Rs have served us well. Not only in our regular everyday lives but in our lives when it comes to gaming. Reading has been put to good use in pouring over hundreds (thousands) of rules ...
Read More
Reviewed by: Pevans (Feuerland Spiele/Z-Man Games, 2-5 players, ages 12 and up, 90+ minutes; $79.99) I came to Terra Mystica late. I missed it at Spiel ’12, but noticed when several people mentioned it as one of their favourite games of last year. I somehow got the impression it was a card game, a notion that was rapidly dispelled when I saw the deep box ...
Read More
[Throughout the years, Gamers Alliance has been fortunate in attracting to our pages some of the finest talent in the World of Games. One of those talents is Joe Huber. Not only is Joe knowledgeable about games from a design standpoint (after all, he is the author of several successful published games - with his Starship Merchants - co-designed with Tom Lehmann - recently featured ...
Read More