Father’s Day on the Mediterranean…

Curious?  Good! 

Ralph’s Father’s Day Post has three components:  Part One is a quick telling of Father’s Day board game fun,  Part Two is a quick review of the board game Serenissima, and Part Three is what is called a “Session Report” on Board Game Geek.   Keep reading!  The Session Report is priceless!

Part 1:  The Father’s Day Blog Post:

After enjoying a great Father’s Day dinner, my children and I headed to the Mediterranean Sea via one of my favorite board games: Serenissima!

Set broadly during the Renaissance, Serenissima allows up to four Mediterranean powers (the old Italian city states) to battle for economic superiority.  Ships travel from port to port, trading goods and occasionally clashing in limited, often costly battles.  The winner is the wealthiest player!

After a lengthy time covering the rules, Ian grabbed Valencia , his sentimental favorite after his trip last year to Spain,  Grace took Venezia (Venice), and I claimed Genova (Genoa).

Ian’s strategy was to lock up the ports of North Africa, gaining monopolies in gold and gems, two of the most valuable commodities in the game.  Grace, being distant from her competitors, had the luxury to explore the northeast Mediterranean while learning the game, and I established a profitable base in Sicilia (Sicily), where I began to build ships.

In the end, Ian and Grace formed a powerful alliance to thwart their father’s plans of economic conquest.  Ian’s growing military might (and his control of gold) cleared the way for Grace to send much-desired spice to Spain, and his sage counsel led the way to her eventual victory as she brought supplies and riches to the Turks in Istanbul.

Part 2:  The Review

Serenissima is a terrific game, filled with lots of delicious, brain-burning decisions: where to build, what to buy, who to confront, even when to take your turn.  Although the economics are abstracted, the laws of supply and demand can result in blatant profiteering, tough negotiations and even desperate military conflict.  It’s a beautiful game to look at, featuring a lovely, customized map of the Mediterranean, and lots of little ships, sailors, flags and crates.

It’s certainly a more complex game than standard Milton Bradley fare or Ticket to Ride, but not as challenging as more advanced games.  It does time to get used to, though, and some decisions can invoke the dreaded Analysis Paralysis, slowing things way down.  It’s not a game for the color-blind, either.  It’s nearly impossible to tell the crates and color-coded ports apart without help.  The plastic boats tend to tip over, too, spilling your poor sailors and goods into the sea!

A new version of this game is supposed to be released soon, featuring streamlined rules, a fifth player option, and a new endgame.  Hopefully, they’ll make the colors easier to tell apart and the ships a bit more seaworthy.  Regardless, Serenissima is highly recommended for more advanced players ages 10 and up, and was the setting for one of my best Father’s Days ever.

Part 3:  The Session Report or How Grace became Queen of the Seas!

From his home port in Spain, Ian dashed to the coasts of Africa and quickly secured monopolies in precious gems and valuable gold, the latter needed to build fortifications.  Grace, enjoying the natural defenses of Venice and her distance from her competitors, sent her ships to explore the northeastern Mediterranean, spreading her influence as she set her sights on the exotic spices offered in Antioch.  I decided to use Genoa’s wealth in building supplies to develop my regional economy, travelling south to set up a strategic shipping base in Sicilia.

While Ian built defenses in Tunis, Tripoli, and Cyrena, and Grace hoarded her income and sailed east, I constructed ships in Sicilia, quickly amassing the largest merchant fleet, and taking an early lead in riches.  However, without Ian’s gold, I’d be unable to protect my ports from raiders, so I travelled to Tripoli to strike a deal.

My wealth was well known to the merchants from Valencia, however, and they asked a much higher price for gold than I was willing to pay, so I petulantly built a warship and sent it out to threaten the port of Tunis, hoping to force my son’s hand.  Ian and I both knew that war is costly in this game, and he left me to bluster and fuss off his shoreline, calling my bluff.

Serenissima: Queen of the Seas!

Grace, meanwhile, secured spice from Antioch.

My wealth increased greatly as I brought much-needed iron to Ian’s cities.  (Traders selling the first rare goods to another player’s ports earn a sizable bonus, especially if the deal occurs in an opponent’s capital!)  Seizing an opportunity, Ian relented and sold me gold and gems at merely exorbitant instead of prohibitive rates, then cruised at top speed to dump those same goods into my capital!  The huge bonuses suddenly gave Ian’s small, but mighty empire money to burn.

Following his lead, I sent my ships to Venice, but the taste of foreign coin had left Ian hungry for more, so he raced to beat me to Grace’s capital, attempting to pass through Sicilia and cut me off.  But, glancing knowingly at my larger, armed fleet, I “encouraged” Ian to stay put in Sicilia, under my protection, of course.

Grace’s eyes grew wide, however, as she saw my ships heading toward her lightly guarded homeport.  Ian, too, was concerned about Genova growing even richer while his sailors sat idle getting drunk on Sicilian wine.  So, a deal was struck.  Ian would offer military protection and shrewd advice to his Venetian ally, if she would only use her well-conserved resources and ships to bring her spices to Valencia.  (At the end of the game, Victory Points are awarded to players with capitals full of all available goods.)

Enjoying what turned out to be the peak of Genova’s power, I sold gold, gems and iron to Venice and added the bonuses to my treasury, while Ian sacrificed his ship in Sicilia to severely damage my fleet and Grace stealthily sailed a spice ship westward.

Seeing time growing short (the game has a limited number of turns), and my options growing thin, I left one ship to bottle up Grace’s hastily built warship in Venice, and tried to snatch some spice for myself from either Modon or Alexandria, but Ian’s ever-growing fleet was there to keep Genova spice-free.  In fact, Ian’s sea power was even threatening my home, forcing me to use my riches for defense instead of trade.

Valencia’s advisors honorably showed Grace how she might basically transfer her trading capital to Istanbul, filling that city’s warehouses and reaping huge rewards.  (The game allows you to break deals and agreements at will, but Ian and Grace honored their words to each other as they teamed up against their Dad.)  I now had a decision to make: Genova’s best days were behind it, but how best to preserve my home’s post-game future: by siding with the Venetian merchants now setting up shop in faraway Turkey, or by trusting the fierce Spanish Armada amassing in the southwest?

The answer was obvious: I withdrew my ship blocking the access to Venezia, and sent a strong blockade to prevent spice from reaching Valencia.  Alas, the Spanish ships were too much for my declining Genovese fleet, and the spice got through, just as Grace filled the warehouses of Smyrna and Istanbul.

At game’s end, while Ian and Grace feasted on highly seasoned delicacies, I comforted myself with Sicilian wine and bland bread, waiting to see if I would need to learn Spanish or an Italian-accented Turkish in the near future.  While Ian controlled more medium-sized ports and owned more forts, Grace held many more small ports and ships, and was the only player left with cash.  Grace’s Venezia was crowned Serenissima, the “Queen of the Seas!”

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