In Inka & Markus Brand’s game Murano, which is a group of small islands near Venice, you are businessmen and glass is your business. Making glass and selling it. Will you become a successful glassblower, a clever salesman, or both?
I must say that the theme isn’t really there. It’s more of a back story. Murano is a themeless Euro. I do not mean to say that as something negative. Just an observation. It has good looks though, with colourful tiles, a nice board, pretty little gems that you can grab from a tiny cloth bag, lovely big pawns and gondolas that navigate through the channels.
These boats are the engine of the game. All around the board you find a track with several action spaces and at the start of the game you place the gondolas on the designated starting spots around the board. During you turn you can do one action and you choose that action by moving one of the gondolas to an action space further along the track. You cannot pass other gondolas and you cannot stop at a space occupied by another gondola.
Sometimes your desired action space is blocked. No problem, well if you have money that is, because you can move other gondolas by paying coins. The more gondolas you move, the more money it will cost.
This gondola track is pretty interesting. You try to move to a space that’s interesting for you without opening a great action space up for the next player. Sometimes the track just clogs up, a real boaty traffic jam, and you have to pay money if you want to get to these spots. Do you pay for getting to better spots or do you keep your money in your pocket? You need money for everything else, so it is worth keeping.
What can you do with you money then? Well, you can get buildings, like shops and castles. You can build these buildings on one or more islands on the board for points. Some buildings, like glass factories or shops, are yours when you’ve built them and once built you can activate them to get money or glass beads in different colours. Other buildings, like palaces are not yours, but you will score the points when you build them of course.
You can also build special buildings and when you build one, you get a special building card. This card gives you a special ability that you can use throughout the game. Like, it’s cheaper for you to do certain actions or certain actions give you more points. You’ve seen things like that before.
So, players start building buildings on different island, streets are constructed, and the islands are getting fuller and fuller. The end of the game is near, so everybody checks if their gondoliers are stationed at the right island and their character cards can be triggered by the right gondolier.
Why? Well, during the game you can acquire character cards and these cards are the most important cards in the game. You pay some money and you will draw three of them and pick one to keep. These cards will score you the most amount of points at the end of the game. They will give you an endgame scoring condition. For instance, you get 12 points if you are the only player who has a shop or glass factory on the scored island. Or, you have a gondolier at an island with the most special buildings.
Some character cards already show which islands you have to trigger to score, and some cards give you the choice. In both cases the islands and cards only score if you have placed one of your gondoliers at that island. Every player has its own spot at every island and when you take the action to place your gondolier you have to pay some money. Placing gondoliers on your own spot will cost you less money than when you place it on another player’s spot. However, sometimes you have to do that, because you have two cards that score the same island.
The game ends when two stacks of building tiles are empty and after the last round every player triggers their character cards one by one. Every card needs a gondolier at the island that needs to be scored and a gondolier can only be used once. The player with most points wins the game.
Like I said, the character cards are the most important way to score points and because of these cards the game plays very differently when you play with fewer players. With two players it’s easier to pick some character cards and start building toward these goals on your own private island. Later on you will buy more cards that will score points for the other islands. The balance between ‘building because you have a certain card’ and ‘picking a card because there are certain buildings on an island’ is much better in a two-player game.
In a four player game you can try to fulfil the requirements of the cards, but you probably can imagine if you have a cards like I described above, you having the only shop or glass factory on an island, it is much easier for the other player to mess with your plans, knowingly or not. There are four people manipulating the board, changing it turn after turn. It’s more a game of spreading your chances than it’s a game of creating the perfect island for your cards.
Murano therefore feels much more random as a four-player game than it feels when you play with two.
And then there’s this, you can be very lucky or unlucky in this game. You can just draw a character card near the end of the game that scores you a lot of points and everything is already in place (the Ticket to Ride syndrome). You can focus on green glass beets, they give you a lot of points in the end, you got the card, and you just keep pulling blue and red ones out of the bag. It could be that you are trying to get castles tiles with a lot of crests on them on an island and you keep drawing ones with fewer crest. Bad luck, but, hey, it could also be the other way around. Better luck next time.
In the end I must say that I really like this game. You try to make the best of your own character cards and also try to figure out what your opponents are trying to do, so you don’t accidentally give them loads of points by placing a certain building. However you can’t control everything, so you have to make the most of it at the end of the game and see which card scores the most for each gondolier.
The game looks beautiful, it plays rather quickly and is not that difficult to teach. Murano is a nice mid-weight strategic Euro game when you play with two and a more tactical game when you play with four. I like both, there are a lot of things to manage, lots of ways to win, so it gets a solid recommendation from me.
Vote As a Board Gamer up on boardgamelink.com.