Playing meaty games with a crowd of gamers makes me want to try these games at home, even if it might only be 2-player. For my three games tonight, I picked El Grande, Antike, and Princes of Florence. After a one-minute explanation of each, Mary Ann picked El Grande. Her three games were Keythedral, Magna Grecia, and O Zoo le Mio. I chose Magna Grecia, but I would have played all three.
This is one of those games where the box says 2-5 players, but really shouldn't. We played using my own variant which was easy enough to explain once the very elegant default game was understood. My variant involves the following 2 changes from the basic rules:
One, score two values instead of just one as the rules suggest. This provides a much better dynamic. Consider a 5/3/1 territory. If you use the rules as written, then whoever is ahead gets 5 points. If someone is ahead by 5, the other player may as well not bother. If two numbers score, then placing even one Cabellero takes 3 points from the first place player. The scoring possibilities change from just 5-0 to 5-0 and 5-3 (or 2-0). There's much more impetus to compete, and the "score only the first value in all regions" card still has meaning.
Two, rather than the first player choosing one of 5 action tiles, then the second player choosing one of 4, I provide an additional dynamic. Say player A played the higher power card. Player B starts by removing one of the 5 action tiles. Player A now chooses one of the 4 remaining and takes his actions. Now Player A removes one of the 3 remaining action tiles. Player B chooses one of the remaining 2 and takes his actions. The effect of this is to make the 2 players act like they are going 2nd and 4th instead of 1st and 2nd. It also keeps the decisions interesting.
This variant worked really well. It's still not as incredible as a 5-player game, but it's completely playable where the normal 2-player game isn't. I wasn't particularly nice, but I didn't try to absolutely crush her either: 75-62.
It's been so long since we played this that we almost had to learn from scratch. The rules for building cities and roads refuse to lodge themselves in my brain. For some reason, it didn't really click before that Magna Grecia is a stock game that uses a spatial system to drive the economy. With that in mind, I found it much easier to plan my actions.
Our game was relatively non-confrontational. We started from opposite sides of the board, and built towards the Oracle-heavy center. I used every action tile with a 5 resupply to perform an extended resupply action and get 7 cities/roads. By the end of the game, I had built all my roads and all but 4 cities. Mary Ann was able to secure 4 of the 7 Oracles, and almost caught up: 32-31.
Magna Grecia image by warlock