Greeks have arrived in Magna Grecia. Who can develop the most lucrative
and prestigous cities to attract the attentions of the Oracles?
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Magna Grecia was the name the Greeks gave to southern Italy in 200 BC. In the game Magna Grecia, players represent factions of the Greeks that developed the region, attempting to build cities and roads, and in doing so create valuable markets and well connected cities that attract the attentions of the nearby oracles. Michael Schacht's common "connections" theme, (Paris, Paris, Web of Power), is melded with the abstract game mechanics of Leo Colovini, (Clans, The Bridges of Shangri-La, Carolus Magnus), to create an exceptional game.
Each player starts with four city tiles and four road tiles in their "stock". The board consists of a hex grid with villages scattered across it. Nine oracles are randomly placed on villages on the map. A starting player is chosen, and twelve "turn order" cards are sorted and shuffled. Each player starts with a set number of victory points, which are used throughout the game to lay city tiles and build markets. The first turn order card is turned over and given to the player whose color is shown on the card, and the next turn order card is displayed so players can see what is coming next.
Each turn order card shows four things. First the turn order is shown, with the cards border color representing the start player, and the other player colors arranged in a strip in the middle of the card. In addition, there are three series of numbers, one of which is bolded to represent how many City tiles can be placed, how many Road tiles can be placed, and how many tiles can be placed into a players stock.
On a player's turn, they may perform two of these three actions, (place city tiles, place road tiles, replenish supply), using the bolded numbers shown on the turn order card. The only restriction on these actions is that if replenish supply is chosen, it must be taken as the last action a player performs. A player may also chose to only perform one of that actions, in which case, they can do this action with the next highest number instead of the bold number.
Now before going into the placement rules, which are a bit fiddly, something needs to be said about what the goal of the game is. The goal of the game is to have the most points at the end! But where do those points come from? Two places: markets and oracles. Since the oracles are easier to explain, let's start there. Nine oracles are seeded onto the villages on the board before the game starts. At the end of the game, each oracle will score four points to the player who owns the most valuable city that is connected to the oracle. The value of a city is determined by how many places are connected to a given city. So if a player has a city that is connected via roads to an oracle, a village, and two other cities, that city has a value of four. Which city an oracle is pointing to is kept track of during the game, and to wrest control of an oracle from its existing city, a city must surpass, not tie, the controlling city's number of connection. Markets are the other way to score points during the game, and a market is worth the value of the city or village it is in, again, based on the number of places that connect to that city or village. Markets have another twist, in that they have to be active to be worth anything. A market is active if it is in a city of your color, OR if they are in a city or village that connects directly to a city of your color.
Now that the point of the game has been described, the actions will begin to make some sense. If a player chooses the city tiles action, they can place up to the number of city tiles shown on the turn order card. However, they can only create one new city per turn. So if the turn order card shows a three, they can create one new city, (by playing a city tile on a village), and expand that city or other cities with the other two tiles. Every city tile placed costs the player one victory point, and there are a bunch of fiddly rules for where city tiles can be placed, (not next to oracles, not next to other players cities, not next to a village unless the village also gets a city tile, etc). A city tile can only be played on a village if it is either a green-bordered city, (which are found around the edges of the board), or if that village is connected to a player's existing road. Whenever a new city is created, the creator gets to place a market in that city at no cost. Road tiles come in two flavors, either straight or with a one hex-side bend. There are also fiddly rules for road placements, but the only one that is hard to remember, but very important, is that a road can be played out of any player's city, not just your own. Thus at the start of the game, the first player is at a bit of a disadvantage, as all they can really do with city and road tiles is to play a city in a border village, and then build from there, while the other players can then build off of the start player's existing city and start moving into the interior of the board. Road tiles cost nothing to place.
The final choice a player can take is to replenish their supply of tiles. Each player starts with four roads and four city tiles in their supply, and cannot place any more than that until they have chosen the resupply action. As mentioned earlier, you cannot resupply and then build roads/cities. Building just roads isn't that difficult to do, but building just city tiles is pretty uncommon, so you generally will find the resupply action taken on its own, with a jump up to the next level.
After a player has taken their actions, they may then either buy a market, or sell an existing market. Markets vary in cost, depending on whether or not they are being built in a city or a village, and depending on how many other players have markets there already. Building a market in a village costs one point, plus one point for each unsold market already in the village. Building a market in a city costs one point for each city tile in the city, and one point for each unsold market already in the city. So in general, you want to expand the cities you create, thus making it more expensive for other people to get into them. As the game goes on, you need to be looking for cities that have a lot of connections, with only one market in them, as these are instant points if you can activate that market. As you only start the game with a maximum of 15 points, you will likely need to sell a market or two during the game. To sell a market, you tip it over on its side, and collect that market's value, (number of connections the city has). Midgame, there will be obvious markets that are never going to be worth any more points, (i.e. a single tile city with all six connections made), so selling these makes perfect sense, especially if all of the other players who could have an active market there already do, (sold markets don't count for the cost of new markets). You can only either buy a market or sell a market each turn, so you need to stay on your toes and make sure you do one or the other. Nothing is worse than coming down to the last turn and seeing a 6 connection city that will be active for you with only one market in it that you can't afford to play into because you didn't sell last turn and only have 1 point to spend.
I’ve always been a big fan of low-luck, dry, nearly abstract games, (see my thoughts on Through The Desert for example), and Magna Grecia fits that description to a T. The only luck in the game comes from the order in which the turn order cards come up, and where the oracles are randomly placed at the beginning of the game. The turn order cards are mitigated by the fact that you can always see what the next card is going to be, so you can plan ahead.
The game is full of tough decisions, from early in the game, (what kind of strategy do I want to employ, Markets or Oracles?), to strategic decisions during the game, (when should I resupply?), to tactical decisions, (which oracles should I fight for?). As is often the case with great games, there are always more things you want and need to do than you are able to do. The limited number of tiles of each type, (20 of each roads and cities), means that you must pay close attention to what you are doing, lest you find yourself without any roads as the game winds down.
The biggest complaint about this game came from the original Clemontoni release which featured a yellow board, upon which the tiles, and especially the yellow player’s tiles, were very hard to see. The Rio Grande Version has changed the yellow to a muted tan color which causes far less eyestrain. It is often hard to tell at a glance which color a city tile is, as the markets tend to cover up the tile, but this isn’t a huge problem. Others have said that the game feels far too much like work. I can’t argue that point much, as most dry, luck-less, semi-abstract games do tend to fall on the lower end of the “fun” spectrum. This is a thinking game, and due to that, it does have the potential for analysis paralysis, though far less than in some other games, as your options are somewhat limited in Magna Grecia when compared to other A-P prone games such as Tikal.
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