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Martin Ebel





The Italian City of Venice always has been a popular background topic for atmospheric boardgames, and with games like Inkognito, Die Säulen von Venedig or San Marco many authors have shown how diverse the topic could be interpreted and shaped into a fine boardgame. However, with the late Alex Randolph one of the world's most famous game authors had his domicile in Venice, and with Venice Connection (one of his last games) he had shown how simple and elegant the background topic of arranging canals in Venice could be shaped into a minute but challenging tile-placement game without unnecessary embellishments or titivations.

Having told this bit of background information, you will understand that Martin Ebel had taken on a difficult task when he decided to create a boardgame about Venice which was supposed to be as straight-lined and strategically challenging as Venice Connection, and with Ponte Del Diavolo he has now published a game which seems to match the high aim he has chosen to pursue.


The playing equipment is rather functional, with the gamebox including just a 10x10 spaces gameboard showing water-spaces, 80 square tokens (in red and white colours, 40 for each player) and 15 curved bridges. No setting up is needed, but the game can be started right away with the first player placing two of the white tokens on spaces of the gameboard of his choice. The other player then decides whether he wants to play with these white tokens or whether he prefers to play red, and when the decision has been made it will now be the red player who may place two of his tokens onto the gameboard.

Alternately taking turns, the players now have the option either to place two of their tokens onto the gameboard or to place a bridge to connect two of their tokens on the board. As might be guessed, it is the rules for the placement of the tokens which add spice to the game, since a few restrictions are imposed on the players so that they may not place they tokens anywhere they like. Thus, a player may place his tokens next to tokens of his colour only as long as he has not formed an island. To form an island, the player must have aligned four of his tokens in a way so that they touch each other either horizontally or vertically. If he should have succeeded to create an island, he may not add any more of his tokens to this mass of land, but he must place his other tokens leaving at least one water space (horizontally, vertically AND diagonally) distance to the completed island.

A land mass which not yet consists of four tokens is considered to be a sandbank, and during the course of the game each player will create several sandbanks of different sizes which he hopes to turn into islands. However, the creation of islands only is half of a player's objectives to win the game. As indicated, the players also are allowed to place a bridge instead of two of their tokens, and these bridges may be used to make connections between a player's islands and sandbanks. Concerning the rules of the placement of bridges, the players must observe that a placed token only may carry up to one bridge, and since a bridge has a length of three spaces there always must be one space below the bridge (or two spaces - depending on the placement of the bridge) which may not contain a tile bust still must show the water surface of the gameboard.

The game comes to its end when both players in turn were not able to place either a tile or a bridge, and then the final positioning on the gameboard will be evaluated. A player now receives one victory points for each stand-alone island, but he receives multiple victory points for the number of islands he has connected (points are awarded following a table printed on the rules-sheet). Sandbanks do not count for victory points, but the players were allowed to use sandbanks in intermediary positions to make connections between their islands. Of course, the game is won by the player with most victory points.

Sometimes a game is more than just a game, and in the case of Ponte Del Diavolo the author Martin Ebel not just created a challenging strategy game but also a very affectionate homage to the late Alex Randolph. The game stands in the tradition of Randolph's great classic Twixt, and although the contents of the gamebox may be considered to be a bit spartan if compared to the suggested price for the game, it is the atmosphere and care which was put into this game which gives it a high degree of uniqueness. Martin Ebel created a short set of rules which shows a high degree of Alex Randolph's handwriting, and if you closely examine the cover of the gamebox you will discover a smiling Alex Randolph standing on the name-giving bridge in his favourite city...


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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany