The Alea Analysis, Part Eight: Macao (#13), Alea Iacta Est (M#5), Glen More (M#6)

This article is the eighth in a continuing series that analyzes the entire Alea line of games. For past articles you can read about: Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal in Part One; or Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa in Part Two; or Wyatt Earp, Royal Turf, and Puerto Rico in Part Three; or Die Sieben Weisen, Edel, Stein & Reich, and Mammoth Hunters in Part Four; or San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV in Part Five; or Palazzo, Augsburg 1520, and Rum & Pirates in Part Six; or Notre Dame, In The Year of the Dragon, and Witch’s Brew in Part Seven.

In 2009 and 2010, the Alea large boxes were dominated by the production of Stefan Feld, while medium boxes trudged along between the heights of Witch’s Brew (2008) and Vegas (2012).

This article contains my final Alea Analysis from 2009, when I played through all 22 of the Alea games that had then been published in the US. The other two articles (on Macao and Glen More) and the rest of this series as it goes forward are new.  Continue reading

The Alea Analysis, Part Seven: Notre Dame (#11), In the Year of the Dragon (#12), Witch’s Brew (M#4)

This article is the seventh in a continuing series that’s analyzing the entire Alea line of games. For past articles you can read about: Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal in Part One; or Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa in Part Two; or Wyatt Earp, Royal Turf, and Puerto Rico in Part Three; or Die Sieben Weisen, Edel, Stein & Reich, and Mammoth Hunters in Part Four; or San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV in Part Five; or Palazzo, Augsburg 1520, and Rum & Pirates in Part Six.

This article brings Alea thoroughly into the Stefan Feld years, when a single author dominated the large game box production. Many (myself included) consider it a new height. Not only was Feld producing some of the best serious games in the line’s history, but the medium boxes also started excelling beginning with Witch’s Brew. Continue reading

The Alea Analysis, Part Six: Palazzo (M#2), Augsburg 1520 (M#3), Rum & Pirates (#10)

Over the last few years I’ve slowly been updating, expanding, and revising my series of articles on Alea games. If you’d like to catch up, you can read about: Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal in Part One; or Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa in Part Two; or Wyatt Earp, Royal Turf, and Puerto Rico in Part Three; or Die Sieben Weisen, Edel, Stein & Reich, and Mammoth Hunters in Part Four; or San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV in Part Five.

This article brings Alea past the mid ’00s and through the rest of what I think of as its lowest peak. After Palazzo and Rum & Pirates, following on the heels of Fifth Avenue, I was wondering if I should give up on the series … and then the good Feld games started appearing (in part seven!). I think it’s notable that I haven’t played any of these three games since my alea-thon of 2009, though two of them remain in my collection.


Medium Box #2: Palazzo (B-)

Author: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Rio Grande (2005), out-of-print
Alea Difficulty Scale: 3
Other Articles: Knizia-Thon Part 2: Palazzo & Obscurity (11/07)
My Plays: 6

Palazzo ThumbnailThe object of Palazzo is to build Renaissance palaces composed of multiple floors. You bid for those floors in auctions and/or purchase them. Each floor is made of a specific material, has 1-3 windows or doors, and bears a number from 1-5 (which must be placed in increasing order as you build). The final value of each palazzo is dependent on how many floors it contains, whether it’s all made of one material, and how many doors and windows it has.

Strengths: Auctions & Options

Both the auctions and the options in Palazzo include some clever design.

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The Alea Analysis, Part Five: San Juan (S#5), Fifth Avenue (#9), Louis XIV (M#1)

Over the last few years I’ve slowly been updating, expanding, and revising my series of articles on Alea games. If you’d like to catch up, you can read about: Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal in Part One; or Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa in Part Two; or Wyatt Earp, Royal Turf, and Puerto Rico in Part Three; or Die Sieben Weisen, Edel, Stein & Reich, and Mammoth Hunters in Part Four.

This article brings Alea into the mid ’00s with a look at the transition from their old Small Box series to their new Medium Box series. It covers San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV.


Small Box #5: San Juan (A+)

Author: Andreas Seyfarth
Publisher: Rio Grande (2004)
Alea Difficulty Scale: 3
Other Articles: Alea Treasures #1: Louis XIV & San Juan (9/10), San Juan Review (7/04)
My Plays: 37

San JuanSan Juan returned to the gameplay of Alea’s prize-winner, Puerto Rico. On your turn, you pick a role that everyone benefits from, and you try and use the benefits of that role to build production buildings and special-power buildings that will ultimately earn you the most victory points. 

Strengths: Innovative Cards

San Juan’s biggest innovation and its biggest strength lies in the the idea that cards can be used either for what’s printed on them or just as a resource. Generally, I find it an amazing idea. First, it notably decreases the effect of luck in a card game, because you only care about what’s printed on about a quarter of your cards, meaning that you have a lot more choice than you would if you used every card. Second, it introduces a lot of variety to the game, because on a given play you’ll only see a small number of the cards in actual use; it may be many, many games before you’ve played everything.

San Juan built upon this strong basis by adapting the basic roles of Puerto Rico to its new card paradigm. Now, many of the roles focus on different ways to draw cards: through selfishness (the Prospector), through overdrawing and discarding (the Councillor, who also includes another mechanism for reducing the luck of card draws), and through a more complex production-sales mechanism (the Producer and the Trader). It’s an excellent example of simultaneously innovating and holding onto classic play. Continue reading

The Alea Analysis, Part Four: Die Sieben Weisen (S#3), Edel, Stein & Reich (S#4), Mammoth Hunters (#8)

Continuing my series of articles on the Alea games, I’m now moving into what may be the line’s lowest ebb. From 2002-2003, following the line’s well-acclaimed release of Puerto Rico, Alea published a number of games that didn’t get the same level of respect as what had come before. Two of the games weren’t even translated into the English. Some saw it as the end of a tradition of serious gaming. It might have been at least a road block, as I personally haven’t played any of the games since my Aleathon of 2009.

In any case, I’ll be looking at those three games — the ones that were unfortunate enough to be published between Puerto Rico and San Juan — today. I also invite you to take a look at the pervious articles in this series. For Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal, see the first article. For Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa, see the second article. For Wyatt Earp, Royal Turf, and Puerto Rico, see the third article. Continue reading

The Alea Analysis, Part Three: Wyatt Earp (S#1), Royal Turf (S#2), Puerto Rico (#7)

In this third part of my look at the Alea games, I’m moving into the small box set which appeared in 2001 and concluding with Alea’s best known release, Puerto Rico (2002). For Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal, see the first article in the series. For Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa, see the second article. Continue reading

The Alea Analysis, Part Two: Princes of Florence (#4), Adel Verpflichtet (#5), Traders of Genoa (#6)

This continues my series of updates and revisions to the Alea game articles that I wrote for my personal blog in 2009, as I played through Alea’s entire series of (then) 22 games. For Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal, see the first article in the series.


Big Box #4: The Princes of Florence (A)

Author: Wolfgang Kramer, Richard Ulrich
Publisher: Rio Grande Games (2010)
Alea Difficulty Scale: 6
Other Articles: Review (11/03), Alea Treasures #4 (10/12)
My Plays: 3+, with more predating my logging games (2+ when I originally wrote this)

Princes of FlorenceAn auction and resource-management game where you’re acting as a patron for the arts, collecting various sorts of creators who will produce “works” for you; however, you have to provide your clients with the best conditions possible so that they produce the best works, and that means purchasing the buildings, landscapes, freedoms, and other things that they want.

The game is played out over seven rounds, during which the minimum requirements for the production of a work slowly increase. Each round you’ll get to win one auction (which can get you one of six things you need to produce works) and then you’ll get to take two actions (which allow you to get other things you need to produce works — and to produce the works themselves). At the end of the game, points are based largely on the quantity and quality of works you produced, with some bonuses for buildings, extra landscapes, extra builders, and possibly for cards that you purchased.

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