Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Patricians: Building towers and memories

Patrician is not one of my favorite Michael Schacht games. However, it was a watershed game for me as far as his designs are concerns. And, even though I don't consider it to be one of his greats, it is still a pretty fun game and one that has stayed in my collection.

In Patrician, you are competing to build towers in Renaissance Italy. The theme is pretty thin. You could just as easily be building sky scrapers in US cities or rockets in the moon or just abstract symbols. 

The two-to-four player board shows nine cities while the five-player board has ten. Each city has a distinctive crest of arms, two spots for towers, two spots for scoring tokens and a space for a card. Every card had a city crest on it, showing which city it will let you build in. In addition, every card has another symbol, giving some of a bonus. These include a second crest of the same city for another build, the power to draw a card from any city, the power to move the top piece of a tower and patrician heads which are worth points at the end. Everyone gets tower blocks in their own color, which are slotted so they can stack up without slipping.

Game play is very simple. Play a card. Place a tower block in one of the spaces in the matching city and take the face-up card from that city. Each city has a number over the city crest to show how many tower blocks can be in it, which is also the number of its higher score token. Going through the deck will complete every city.

When a city is full, you score it. Whoever controls the higher tower gets the higher score token and the shorter tower gets the lower token. There's an odd number of blocks allowed in each city so there will always be a higher tower. Whoever has more blocks in a tower controls it with the top block being the tie breaker.

At the end of the game, when every city is full, players also get points for having sets of heads from the cards they played. And, of course, whoever has the most points wins.

I was initially interested in Patricians because of the stacking towers. So I picked it up and tried it as a two-player where it fell flat. Not enough tension, too easy to do what you wanted to do. So Patricians went to the back of the closet to gather dust.

Months later, Patricians was one of the games Mayfair was running as part of their ribbon quest at Origins so I played it with five players. And it was so much better. With five people, the board was so much smaller and there was so much more struggle to control the board and get any points. Since then, I've played it with three and four as well and it was good at those numbers too.

So, they should have just put three-to-five players on the box.

As it turns out, stacking towers up isn't really what makes Patrician interesting. It is the very simple decision tree that ends up being intriguing when your simple decisions collide with everyone else's. Patricians has a simple but almost hypnotic rhythm, playing a card while knowing what card you will be taking, plotting out your moves to the entire table.

Patrician sits in a weird place for me. It's a bit too long and set up is a bit too involved to be a game I just plunk down at the drop of a hat. At the same time, its not as long or as heavy as, say, Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne, a game that could be the centerpiece of a quiet game night. So it never came out that much back with the old game group, although everyone liked it when it did.

However, what Patricians really did for me was have me look up who made it. And then I looked up what else this Michael Schacht guy had done. That's when I realized I had been playing his games for years.

Patricians did not make me a Michael Schacht fan. It made me realize I was one.

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