Guglielmo Duccoli


No. of Players:
2 - 4



First created by DAVINCI EDITRICE and published in Germany by ABACUSSPIELE, the medieval strategy game Gonzaga claims to be a new fashioned game of strategy and conquest which stands in line with great boardgame classics in terms of accessibility and playing depth. Although the titles of these classics are not specified, the aforementioned declaration clearly aims at games like Risk, and so the authors certainly have made a mighty claim in terms of replay and addiction value. Thus, let's have a look if Gonzaga really can meet these expectations!

Upon opening the gamebox the players find a map of Europe which has been slightly re-fashioned to fit the hex-format of the overlaid playing grid. Furthermore, the players also will discover that the box is filled to its brink with strangely shaped playing pieces (fiefs) in the four player colours, and below all these parts some additional cards and cardboard markers can be found. Each player receives his full set of 12 fiefs and matching cards, six rings, a small depot board and a handful of planning and action cards as starting equipment, and it is quite wise to make a short inspection of the different fiefs before the game starts. This is because the players are not present on the gameboard with armies or any kinds of units, but instead they will use their turns to place fiefs to cover different shaped areas. The placement of the fiefs will generate victory points, and the player who has covered the largest connected area will receive a bonus at the end of the game. But as you might guess, the mechanism for placing the fiefs is tricky and demands some strategic assessments of the players.

Before the game may start, the players first shuffle a set of scenario cards which is different for each number of participating players, and one of these scenario cards is revealed to identify the "active" regions for this game. Thus, the gameboard is subdivided into six major regions, and while players are free to place fiefs in any region, placement in the active regions will be more valuable since more victory points can be generated here. In addition, a deck of mission cards also is shuffled, and each player is dealt one mission card from the deck which he keeps secret from the other players till the end of the game. Each mission cards lists a total of six different cities, and a player will receive bonus points at the end of the game for each of these cities which he succeeded in covering with one of his fiefs.


Then the game may start in earnest, and each round is begun with all the players revealing the top card of their shuffled deck of fief cards. The revealed card shows the fief which is player is allowed to place in this round, and so the players sort out the fief displayed on the card and discard the card back into the gamebox. With the fief identified, it is now up to the players to plan how they want to use their fief. For this reason they take up their respective decks of planning and action cards, and while the planning cards list the different regions in which the fief could be placed, the action cards list the conditions under which the fief must be placed.

Thus, the players secretly chose one planning and action card each, and the combination of cards will determine where and how the fief is placed. As indicated, the planning card shows a region, and the fief must cover at least one space of this region in order for a valid placement. The action cards are more tricky, since they take landmarks like cities and harbours into account, and so they prescribe the player in somewhat more detail how the fief must be used.

  • The action card for "Harbours" allows the player to place his fief in a way that it covers one or two spaces with harbours. No spaces with cities may be covered.
  • As might be guessed, the action card "Cities" allows the player to cover up to three cities but no harbours, but as a specialty the card also may be used for placing a fief which covers no cities (or harbours) at all.
  • The "Alliance" action card allows the placement of a fief which covers at least one harbour and one city, but instead of going for such an unrestricted placement the player actually may chose to discard his current fief and instead use up to two of his rings for a special alliance action. Being centered on medieval politics, Gonzaga makes use of a powerful political instrument of these days - marriage. Thus, an alliance option allows a player to place one of his rings on any space of the gameboard, provided that no other ring is present there. The ring even may be placed upon another player's fief, and in effect the ring now makes the covered space count for both players - the player with the fief and the player who has placed the ring. Thus, the rings are powerful playing aids when it comes to enlarging a player's area of connected fiefs, but unfortunately only six rings in total are available for each player.
  • Initially a stockpile of six rings might not sound too bad, but the use of the fourth and final action card "King's Privilege" actually requires a player to discard one of his yet unused rings. Whereas the player order normally is decided by the different kinds of action cards (and a number on the fief card in case the same action was chosen by several players), the "King's Privilege" allows its player to assume the position of starting player for the running turn. In effect, this enables a player to place his fief before the other players, and whereas there is ample space available on the gameboard at the beginning of the game, it will get more and more restricted as the turns progress. So, it becomes more and more attractive to use the Privilege if the players compete for making a particular kind of placement.

[IMAGE]An interesting angle is added by the fact that a player may not use the same action and planning cards in two consecutive turns. As an effect, the cards used in the current turn are placed into a special holding box on the players' depot boards when the turn is ended, and the players only receive these cards back to their respective hands at the end of their next turn. This simple two-step mechanism requires the players to undergo some degree of planning and speculation, since they have to weight the immediate benefit of using these cards with the current fief against the possibility that they might receive an even better fief for placement in their next turn. This perception is strengthened by the fact that the game may end after a minimum of seven turns (provided that only three or less cities and harbours without a fief are left), and so the players will feel burdened right from the beginning to make placements up to a maximum effect.

However, a player is not just restricted by fiefs placed by his competitors, but furthermore placement problems are created by natural borders printed on the gameboard and small castles which are present in miniature scale on the fief playing pieces. Castles may not be placed on water, and natural borders may not be crossed by placing the same fief so that it covers both sides of the border, and taken together these two restrictions make it even more difficult to find good placement positions after the initial two or three rounds.

Victory points are scored both during the game and in the final evaluation. In the course of the game the players receive points for cities and harbours covered with fiefs, and they even have the possibility to pass on the placement of a specific fief and score a minimum of three victory points instead. An interesting option is to go for three of the four harbours which belong to the same group of sea trading harbours, since the covering of three of these harbours means that the player receives a nice victory points bonus. At the end of the game, an additional bonus is awarded to the player who has covered the largest connected area with his fiefs, and furthermore the players receive a bonus for every city on their mission card they succeeded in covering with a fief.

In regard of the theme and geographic orientation Gonzaga shows some similarities with both Blood Royale (GAMES WORKSHOP) and Origo (PARKER), but it offers a much shorter gameplay than the former game, since medieval politics are just represented by marriages and not by complex family relations and succession tables. On the other hand, Gonzaga avoids the more abstract approach chosen in the latter game, since the gameplay is faster and the players feel more involved despite the fact that no armies but fiefs are placed on the gameboard. Talking about the fiefs, their different sizes and shapes and the increasingly restricted placement possibilities may facilitate an appraisal of the game being an unusual Tetris-variant which is played on a gameboard, but such a classification definitely falls too short, since it disregards the possibilities for planning and speculation which are created by the use of the action and planning cards. Here the game succeeds in creating an interesting amount of playing depth while at the same time maintaining a relatively low degree of complexity, and it is exactly this mixture which positions Gonzaga in the proximity of some classic boardgames. Being a competitive game, frustration potential during the game is kept surprisingly low due to the fact that there exist multiple possibilities to make scorings, and the relatively short playing duration is a further factor which guarantees a high player involvement from the beginning till the end. Overall, Gonzaga offers a quite balanced set of rules which forms the basis for an entertaining strategic challenge.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany