ZENA 1814

reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

Demoela Project, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 45-90 minutes; $54.99

Zena 1814 is one of the 2015 Essen’s releases that most impressed me. Despite the fact it is from a new publisher, Demoelà Project, and from two new designers, Luigi Cornaglia and Alberto Barbieri, it is a great gamers’ game, with some new ideas and a well designed and balanced mechanic. Above all, it is fun to play.zena1814box

In Zena 1814, players are members of rich families during the eight months in which Genoa was an independent city, following the end of Napoleonic domination, lasting until the Restoration of the Congress of Vienna. The aim of the game is to get prestige by placing influence cubes on cards. What makes Zena 1814 special is how the cards are played and influenced in connection with the position of the pawns in the different areas of the city.

Every player controls a family with a Lord, a Lady and two Heirs. Family members can move freely around the map. The map is divided into five normal areas and one special area: the castle. There are three decks of cards: event cards (9 but you will use 8 in each game), action cards and goal cards (used to get points in the end of the game). Each round is divided into four phases: event, actions, resolution and end of round.

In the action phase, every player, in turn order, can move one of his/her pawns into one of the six areas and then has to play a card, influencing it and, finally, may play influence cubes on other players’ cards. The cards belong to one of the five areas and to play and/or influence a card you need to have a pawn in that area. So, it is
important to have your pawns scattered around to be able to play influence cubes. Playing a card and putting an influence cube on it can give you great advantages since all other players influencing the same card will give you a reward.

Every card has one or more slots to place cubes, each with a decreasing cost. Putting a cube in the first slot is usually much more expensive but offers some reward every time other players influence the card. For this reason, coins are very important in the game. There are three type of cards: temporary, permanent and dieroll.

In the resolution phase, all six areas are checked, starting from the castle. First, there is a special reward for the player controlling the area, then all cards of that area are resolved. Temporary cards are discarded but permanent cards remain, continuing to give rewards in the following rounds to players controlling them.

The player controlling an area is the one with more control points on it: Lord is valued at 5, the Lady is valued 3 and Heirs 2. Area control can give you money, cards and points so, sometimes, it can be useful to have more than one pawn in the same area.

Dieroll cards are special temporary cards resolved by rolling a die with a bonus for the number of players influencing. There is also the possibility to use money to increase the chance of success. The event phase determines the income at the beginning of the round and usually activates special dieroll cards in the castle.  At the end of the round, every area can have no more than 3 cards so, sometimes, permanent cards are discarded, starting from the oldest.zena1

Every time you draw a card, you can decide to take it from the action deck or the goal deck. Goal cards offer extra points at the end of the game but are useless during play. Because you can have no more than six cards in your hand, if and when to take goal cards is another tough choice since having them early lets you plan a long range strategy to get more points. After eight rounds, the game is over. All goal cards are scored and the player with most prestige points wins the game.

In talking with the designers, I discovered the game aims to teach something about the history of Genoa. So, for example, there is a rule about the Lady: she can’t control an area outside of the old-town alone, reflecting how women were considered in 1814. The Castle area is something historical too because the event cards usually activate a dieroll card in the Castle representing Genoa’s enemies attacking the city. How the dieroll cards are resolved (more players joining to make it easier) reflects something about this period, where families were fighting for success but joined against Genoa’s enemies. Finally, the action cards in the different city areas work in historical ways because the promoter of the card (the one starting the improvement of an area) has the most expenses but also the greater benefits although other players joining receive some benefits as well.

Zena 1814 has simple mechanisms – resolve an event, every player then moves a pawn, play a card, influence other cards and then there is resolution – but there is a lot of depth. Do you play to control areas or just spread around to have the possibility to influence more cards? Get enough coins to play high valued permanent cards or influence other players’ cards?  I really like Zena 1814. Not only is the game fun but it has the added bonus of being able to teach you something about Genoa in 1814. – – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

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