Phoenicia Review

A new game that I had the privilege of playing tonight was Phoenicia (keep in mind "privilege of playing" doesn't necessarily mean the game is good or bad - I do like to just learn new games).  Phoenicia is an auction based game in which the players are fighting each other for the best developments, buildings, etc, so that they are able to turn those cards into more money, which in turn leads to even more money and at some point victory points. This game is similar in style to Scepter of Zavandor and Outpost.

In a basic turn of Phoenicia, a player will initiate auctions of various developments/buildings, then will have the option of training and equipping their peasants in order to allow them to start working and earning money (as a hunter, farmer, miner, etc).  The player will also have to be careful to balance his money generation with the ability to store his money, or he will quickly see a lot of it go to waste.

Phoenicia has some solid pros: first, it is an auction game that can be played relatively quickly. Instead of the normal 1.5+ hour play time of auction games, Phoenicia seems like it will average about 45 minutes to an hour to play. Secondly, the game is set up to keep the winning player in check without punishing them for winning. On any given turn, the player that is in the lead will take their turn first. This means that they can initiate all of the auctions that they are interested in, but once their turn is over, they are no longer allowed to participate in any auctions until the end of the round. This means that the other players will have the advantage of having less people attempting to outbid them as the round goes along. Finally, the game seemed to be fairly balanced (at least most of the game). At the end, we had a player that ran away with the lead, but that player only ever led the game for about 3 turns, and all of the players were within 3-5 victory points of each other most of the game. This was also not a game where whoever got the early lead instantly won - as observed previously, the winner of the game I played only led for the last 2-3 rounds.

Now for the down sides: first, the rules seemed very confusing. After reading through them, we were unclear on several points, specifically what different developments/buildings did, and there was no glossary to help clear up the confusion. It took quite a while of guessing before we really felt like we knew how the game was supposed to play. Secondly, some of the aspects of the game that seem emphasized in the game design do not seem to be as important to strategy as you would imagine. Case in point - a large amount of the game design was around having your peasants become trained and start working in an occupation, but a player could easily win the game while having fewer peasants than any of the other players.

Overall, I give this game a 7.5/10. I believe that it played well, and I would not be opposed to playing it again, but its not one that I believe would be popular across the board with gamers (though the ones that do enjoy it will probably really enjoy it and replay it many times).

**Post review note by Josh: After playing this game again, the peasants seemed much more important than I initially gave them credit for, and the game flow seemed to go much better.  I have improved this game's rating to an 8.5/10 after debating between whether I should upgrade it to an 8 or an 8.5.

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