Games (not) for Two: Ventura

We recently broke open the last of the games we picked up last year in Fantasy Flight’s big sale; Ventura. This is a game of strategy as you play one of four families vying for control of Italy during the Renaissance period. It’s designed for 2-4 players which is why we picked it up for our Games for Two adventures.

The basic premise of the game involves the players competing for control of territory, in the form of hex tiles, in order to achieve domination over each other. Through the use of armies, you defend your land and conquer new land while trying to gain Victory Points to win. You can also win by taking over your opponents capital city, though the victory points is the easier route.

The game consists of rounds made up of several phases. The round begins by picking the First Player. This is awarded to whomever has the least victory points. Aside from getting to go first, the First Player also automatically gets a Victory Point, which can help keep the person behind from remaining too far behind. This is a nice mechanic that I like for the game. In so many competitive games it’s very easy to get behind and be stuck there.

After the first player is decided, the next few phases involve your usual matter of drawing cards, buying new units, claiming new territory. This is followed by each player taking a turn moving their armies to try to conquer territory or to defend their territory. The army mechanic is one of the games best strengths.

There are two components to your military force; Companies and Captains of Fortune. Each side has a total of 5 Troop slots. These slots can be occupied by a single Company or a Captain of Fortune commanding up to 5 Companies in an Army. Companies and Captains cost money each turn to maintain so if you grow your army faster than you expand, your upkeep can easily exceed your income.

Captains of Fortune, in addition to allowing you to form Companies into armies, usually provide some additional bonuses to attack or movement. You can also deploy new Companies directly into a Captain’s Army; otherwise Companies can only be spawned in your capital. This makes them essential for getting reinforcements out to the front lines.

Combat is a matter of deciding what order you want to use your available troops and then doing damage to the enemy. Each Company has four stats:  Movement, Ranged Attack, Melee Attack and Resistance (hitpoints). You will almost always lose a few units in each fight, even if you are victorious. It’s a matter of trying to be the last one with a Company still standing.

There’s some tactical planning involved. Combat consists of two rounds; Ranged and Melee. Each round only involves a max of two Companies.  If you have a huge opening salvo on the Ranged attack, you can easily wipe out your opponents two first units. However, any excess damage is wasted and there is only one round of Ranged per fight.

The game’s strength lies in positioning your forces to take territory while still being able to defend your own. It’s a classic strategy situation that fans of Risk, Axis and Allies, and Chess can all get into. Where the game begins to fall apart is that it doesn’t rely on that aspect more.

You can win the game by either acquiring 30 Victory Points or taking the other players capital city. It can be crazy easy to get Victory Points.  By taking the two Papal territories, you automatically get two points per tile. That’s 1/15 of a win. Winning a battle awards 5 points. You can also spend money to buy Victory points. In both games we played, it was never an issue to have enough money to spend. You only had to be the first person to get to 23 points and could then spend 5 Florin (gold) to get the last 7 VP.

Because each round you have the option of playing a new territory card, you can set up a strong defensive position and then just add new territory behind this tile and it will be safe from the enemy taking it. This can easily net you a positive income if you only maintain a minimal defensive army, allowing you to purchase victory points each round.

In many ways, the victory point concept really ruins the main point of the game; taking territory and fighting other armies. Having it as an aside to keep games from running forever is nice. The primary way of getting points should be winning battles, not buying points though. In both games we played, we only ever fought each other once, and usually to standstill with neither of us a victor.

I’m sure that the game changes significantly with 3 or 4 players. There would be more territory and more people to contend with. That’s why I don’t recommend Ventura as a two player game. If you eliminate the buying VP rule, and reduce the amount you get for controlling the Papal states, it can probably work. But overall, probably works best as a 3-4 player game.

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