The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Palazzo Initial Thoughts

We hosted gaming tonight, you can read the session report. The one new game — Palazzo. Good game, theoretically. We played Princes of Florence later, and I got the same feeling. Palazzo doesn’t have that ‘multiplayer solitaire’ vibe. It just feels … subtle. An undercurrent of evaluation, drafting money, working out timing issues. There’s no big “Aha” here. No tactical cut. Consider the money. Values range from 3-7, but with Alhambra style suit management. Wild ‘2s’. Playing three different colors with the same rank is worth 15. Money enters the game for all players at the same time, but it’s drafted with the active player getting two cards to everyone else’s one.

Every single mechanism smooths out differences and bunches the players together. The highest value card slightly doubles the worst, except for the card that can be used in any auction (it triples that). If you pull a triplet, you can ignore the rank, which helps the low value cards and hurts the high value cards. When you get money, everyone gets money. So, unless one player spends everything for one auction, everyone will have roughly the same number of cards. And it’s tough to spend everything because you can only use one suit at a time (barring wilds and triplets).

Now, there’s certainly luck in how buildings appear. But the aspects that deal with purchases and auctions, which the players are control, all push players together.

If you play carefully, counting cards (for drafting) and tracking tiles, I suspect Palazzo has nice depth. But at 30-45 minutes, I’m not doing that and neither is anyone else. So what decides the game are gross mistakes and butterflies flapping their wings.

For some, a deep subtle game. For me, something I break out rarely, admire, and put back in the box. It just doesn’t move me.

Ditto Princes of Florence. I’m done with it for another year or five. [I last played in ’01].

Update:Alhambra done right” strikes me as fair. Palazzo doesn’t claim numbers that don’t work (say, five or six players). But mainly, Palazzo has less luck of the “Hey, that tile/money is just what I need.” [Since some of the tiles that appear are auctioned and money is drafted. Getting good money usually meant you spent an action. But you can still get lucky.]


Written by taogaming

February 11, 2006 at 12:43 am

Posted in Reviews

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  1. I think you underestimate Palazzo. Now, I’m not saying it’s Reiner’s finest, but it is a game certainly there are a lot of little things that add up over a game. And the ordering of buildings certainly can have a dramatic effect on the game. I definitely do not think it’s a highly “damped” game, like Alhambra is. Sure there are many dimensions to everything, but you have to make the right choices at many points and there is no “inertia” to the system, nothing naturally pulling the leaders back, so doing lots of little things right adds up over the course of the game to a win.

    Chris Farrell

    February 11, 2006 at 3:47 am

  2. Sorry about the mangled second sentance. It should of course be something like “… it is certainly a game where a lot of little things add up over the entire game”.

    Chris Farrell

    February 11, 2006 at 3:48 am

  3. I don’t disagree. Palazzo is good, maybe great. And I said it may be deep. But I don’t find it intriguing.

    There is certainly room for skillful play, and a poor player won’t win often; luck isn’t large enough to help (usually). My gut feeling is that great play won’t win much more than good play, though. But even if I’m wrong, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no visceral attraction here.

    There’s a lot to admire. But I’ll do it from a distance.


    February 11, 2006 at 12:03 pm

  4. I, on the other hand, like Palazzo because of its speed of play. There are plenty of decisions to be made, but some of them will be obviated by the luck of the draw (which can be considerable). However, the game just zips along, everyone is involved in every turn, and the game has enough meat to lift it above filler status. Kind of an ideal middle-weight game, but not one I’ll pick if I’m looking for heavy analysis.

    Princes, on the other hand, is much heavier, has far less luck, and is a true gamer’s game (and a tremendous one at that). I believe it has considerable depth (although I usually just play it tactically, taking advantage of how things develop, while keeping in mind certain strategic requirements for different approaches). I realize you weren’t comparing the two games directly, Brian, but they really have nothing in common.

    Larry Levy

    February 11, 2006 at 1:25 pm

  5. Although I’ve yet to play it, I’m more interested in the comparison of Palazzo to Alhambra, as Chris makes. Especially the notion that this is “Alhambra done right.” Think so? I’m one that doesn’t have a problem with Alhambra as-is (thinking mostly of 2 and 3-player games), and even prefer it to Stimmt So–walls and all. I’m probably swayed by the production quality of Alhambra when I say that, but it still works.

    The idea that Palazzo works even better, though–that’s what I’m wondering about.

    Mark Johnson

    February 12, 2006 at 11:23 am

  6. I don’t know how strongly Brian feels about the Alhambra/Palazzo connection, but I (and a lot of other gamers) think it is a surface similarity at best. Palazzo doesn’t feel the least like Alhambra to me. They are completely different beasts, IMO.

    Larry Levy

    February 12, 2006 at 5:41 pm

  7. Palazzo/Alhambra — I’m not sure there’s a deep resemblence, but you compete over tiles to build things. Given the different mechanisms its different, but not apples and oranges. Oranges vs. Mandarin Oranges, perhaps. I wouldn’t have thought of that comparison (and didn’t .. Chris and Mark did), but upon hearing it it seemed reasonable.


    February 12, 2006 at 7:25 pm

  8. Brian, the reason for my strong words is that when Palazzo first came out, the most common comment from those who had played half a game of it was “it’s Alhambra done right”. I thought this was a disservice to both games (and to Knizia as well, since a number of folks implied that he swiped some of Alhambra’s mechanisms when designing Palazzo). Thankfully, that bogus “wisdom” has died down, but I’d rather it didn’t get started up again through comments on this site.

    Larry Levy

    February 13, 2006 at 12:21 am

  9. I was under whelmed by Palazzo – I didn’t think it was anything like Alhambra (which I like quite a bit). You aren’t really competing in categories (i.e., trying to get the most purple buildings; the original Stimmt So scoring mechanic). I think Palazzo is a lot like Moon/Weisblum’s Clocktowers, which I like better because it has most of the same mechanisms in about half the time.


    February 13, 2006 at 7:30 pm

  10. I agree that I find Alhambra and Palazzo entirely dissimilar. I may have muddied things by trying to make a contrast – Alhambra is a game that I do find “damped”, in that the impact of player choices is somewhat degraded. In Palazzo there are enough opportunities for skill to make a major impact that I find it more dynamic.

    The view that it’s a bit academic I find more sympathetic, though. Of all the Knizia games that I liked last year, Palazzo seems the least fundamentally engaging, the closest to the stereotype (an entirely inaccurate one, IMHO) of a dry, weakly-themed Knizia game. It is definitely short a fun factor that Beowulf and Tower of Babel have, for me anyway. But I still like it quite a bit. And the brevity, as Larry mentions, is a big win.

    Chris Farrell

    February 14, 2006 at 2:00 am

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