Strozzi Review

There’s a stack of games in our house we’ve said at some point or another that we’re probably going to sell. But before we do, I force us to play one or two more times to be sure we’re not making a terrible mistake and to try to think through why we didn’t enjoy the experience (if that’s still the case). THESE… are our stories.

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What an okay game. It’s—fine. We’ve owned it perhaps four years and played it maybe as many times? I’d almost always rather play something else. I’m not even particularly bad at it, nor annoyingly overpowered so it’s not fun anymore. I’m average at Strozzi, just like Strozzi is average at being a game.

The theme (you’re a trader in the Italian renaissance!) is slightly pasted on, yey, but not egregiously so. I can feel the mechanics right clunkingly there, but I’m not sure that’s the theme’s fault. I like that because you’re a trader points and money are for once synonymous. This eliminates the dual accumulation systems that attend on so many games, whereby you spend the duration of play garnering coins that are, at the very end, either forgotten or clumsily transmuted into the real material that can enable you to win (here’s a thought—what, if any, Eurogames aren’t screamingly capitalist in their competition systems?).

I almost want to say Strozzi is both too simple and too fiddly. You’re competing to have the fastest ship and the most goods in three areas, and just the most goods in one (scrolls), but this last is a a bonus modifier: you can’t place goods-modifying ships there, and developments here are just a side effect of other ships you play. You can also acquire square tokens with big end-game bonuses (and thus there are almost penalties for not acquiring them, given that your competition will trounce you if they paid attention to having the most of x type of square and you didn’t). It behooves you to watch that ‘scroll’ modifier and your squares, and to pay more attention to goods than to ship speed, both because high levels of goods have a modifier at the end (+5 for making it this far up the ladder, etc.) and because goods levels are cumulative rather than fresh each round. You have three ship options: plus one good, plus one speed, and piracy, which allows you to steal someone else’s chosen ship right before they put it down (or claim your own ship in such a way that no one else can do that to you).

I’m not good enough at thinking about game design to quite figure out why this feels like too much and not enough at once. I’ve definitely read books that give me the same BEHOLD THE ARC OF THE PLOT! A TRY-FAIL CYCLE IS NIGH!! feeling, and not known how to respond to them or even to approach them in an editorial capacity.

If you play with three people you often find that everyone’s scored the same in a given area for a round (fastest ship, least goods; middle ship, middle goods; etc.). Strozzi cannot be played with two, and is probably best with four (someone else said five to six, which would make it better for game club play than for our three person household plus occasional guest). People do praise that it plays through in under an hour, neatly, and I agree that that’s very handy (though in practice I think with a casual group I’d probably play two half-hour card based games rather than cracking this out, or maybe Discworld Ankh Morpork, which strangely even fairly casual groups seem to love the theme and mechanic of).

There’s plenty going on in Strozzi, but it feels fairly single-layer and mechanical: just the ship push-pull, with a ‘gotcha’ modifier layer over it. There’s some competition over ships based on turn order, ship choice and piracy, and a little strategy in your choice to focus on goods over speed, and maybe to concentrate your efforts on specific goods, but you couldn’t imagine much in the way of ‘play styles’ or game-type preferences for Strozzi: this is no Castles of Burgundy, Rokoko or Race for the Galaxy. It might be more like Tokaido (a few acquisition mechanisms, some competition over place, a bonus modifier layer), but it’s less smooth, organically-themed and beautiful that Tokaido. (Strozzi is decently attractive and sturdy but not incredibly so.) I could see myself regularly wanting to play Tokaido, but not Strozzi?

This is such a cool period of history, and you could do a great trading game based around the Strozzis. It’s a little sad they have the name here and not much else.

Here’s a good comment from another review:

On the downside the theme is really dry if that sort of thing matters to you. It matters to me and thematic games and thematically interesting Euro designs are what I go for, but I really didn’t mind this at all and was able to enjoy the mental battle with my opponents.

For others it may be an issue.

Whilst the game plays with 3-6, I suspect the sweet spot is 4-5 players and that is backed up by the recommendation on the BGG game page I see now too. We played with 3 and removing 17 cards from a 29 card deck just seemed ridiculous and I felt the ‘Push Your Luck’ element was a little too chaotic with that number of cards out of play. With 6 players you are looking at some serious competition and a whopping 50% of the players won’t score anything in each of the criterion. Some groups may love that but it feels a little too harsh for my liking.

In the end this is what I would call a ‘classic Knizia’. It’s fairly dry, the math is visible for all to see but I think it is a step above other games of his that I have mixed feelings about such as Palazzo.”

I think this was another £10 offering from The Works, and that feels fair really. We sold it on for that much to the friend who played it with us, breaking even (we threw Wonderword into the bargain, so she could give it to someone she disliked/her mum for mother’s day).

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