(This review was originally published on our site Two Moms Game. Click the link to read the review in its original, recommended format)
A fast-paced worker placement and commodity game for 1-5 players
Designed by: Fabio Lopiano
Published by: Braincrack Games and Capstone Games
Situated on the banks of the Adriatic Sea, Ragusa (aka modern-day Dubrovnik, Croatia) served as a critical trading port over the centuries since its founding sometime in the 600s. Because of its location along the Mediterranean, Ragusa was a strategic target for many would-be conquerors, and this game mirrors that long history. Players mimic the historic struggle for control of this enterprising nation as they fight to collect resources, ship goods, and build their city walls.
On the surface, Ragusa may appear to be an unassuming euro game. It has all the hallmarks of the typical euro: worker placement, goods production, selling goods, and an evolving market based on demand. And then it throws it all on its head with some clever twists.
*This is a general overview and not a comprehensive how-to-play
In Ragusa, players place houses at the intersection of hexagons spaces (hexes) on the central map to gain access to resources and to complete actions. Shipping and selling goods drives the market economy, making some of the production action spaces more or less valuable throughout the game.
Ragusa is played over a set number of turns based on player count. On their turn, players:
1. Place house on an available space (cost check after placement and gaining access to resources)
Rural Hexagon Spaces (Hexes)
Action: Gain access to resources
Cost: 1 wood per house of the player’s color on the hex
Action(s): Gain advanced resources, sell or ship goods for points, build walls/towers, end-game scoring benefits, and more!
Cost: 1 stone per house of the player’s color on the hex
Note: players do not decrease their resource cards to pay for placement – see detail below.
2. Activate City Hexes (If Applicable)
Active player chooses which hex to activate first and does the associated action
Hexes with ⟳ symbol reactivate for all players who have a house on the hex in clockwise order
Hexes withsymbol do not reactivate
Continue until all hexes at the intersection of the active player’s house placement have been activated
3. Game ends when the final houses are placed
What do we think?
Ragusa is a different sort of worker-placement game with unique mechanics that makes it refreshing to play. We always say that a sign of a good game is one that you want to discuss afterward to figure out what worked and what didn’t work. This is definitely one of those games, and we haven’t found one strategy that overpowers all others. In reading through the rules and watching a few playthroughs, we initially thought this game would be lighter than it ended up being. There’s a lot of nuance to it, and that’s mostly due to the unique mechanics.
Resources - do you want to try something new?
Resources management is interesting in Ragusa. Most board games have players collecting little piles of resources on or around their player mats (we put ours in little silicone cupcake liners). In Ragusa, players do not actually gain the resources but rather gain access to them. This is important because the basic resources (wood, stone, silver ore, grapes, olives) are never consumed (except fish can be exchanged for other goods). This is managed via the player mat and numbered cards (see image). As players gain access to additional resources, they rotate the card to increase the value. The wood and the stone resource cards have handy iconography to remind players how many houses of that player’s color are allowed on a hex border. In the image example, a player could place up to 3 houses on the border of a rural hex and up to 2 on a city hex.
Reactivation - you won't get bored on other player's turns
Another twist to traditional mechanics is that the active player almost always triggers “reactivation” actions for the other players. It works like this: on their turn, a player activates multiple hexes by placing houses at the junctions. Houses placed along city hexes not only grant actions to the active player, but also reactivate for all players that have a house on the hex. This means that even when it isn’t your turn, there’s something to do, especially as the game progresses and the city fills with houses.
This is a really neat mechanism that has the same upside and downside. On one hand, it’s great to always have something to do during other player’s turns. It’s engaging and keeps the game interesting. On the other, it means you have to pay close attention to other player’s turns, and we found ourselves getting mixed up a few times near the end of a 4-player game about what was happening and whose turn it was. It’s not a big deal in a two player game, but with more players – especially distractible players *Emily* – you might want to designate an “active player” marker (a water bottle? Dinosaur toy?) to pass around.
There is a lot to like in Ragusa. Gameplay is streamlined, yet the weight of the decision making increases as the game progresses and spaces become more limited and the reward for having more houses on a hex increases. If you play for the first time and feel like you’re zooming through your houses, don’t worry it slows waaaayyyy down in the second half.
Pro Tip: The first time we played Ragusa through, we played it like we would any other worker-placement game- get as many resources as early on as possible so that later you can do cool things. It turns out that a better idea is to streamline your resource gathering so that you can get some houses in the city pretty early on. That way, you get maximum benefit from other players putting their houses on your city hexes with the “reactivation” mechanic. If you take too long to build up a ton of resources, you could miss out on a lot of “free” actions.
2-Player vs. 4-player
We do have a regular section below for player count, but we also want to highlight it here because we felt it’s important for the experience of the game. So far, we have played with 4 players (shoutout to our COVID-approved game group Kyle and Brittany!) and the 2-player variant with power houses. 2 player vs 4 player games are very different as far as feel and strategy.
The 2-player variant has each player add 2 black houses to their pool called “power houses”. These give you the ability to leverage the other player’s houses and amplify your action one time, but then they don’t “belong” to you for the rest of the game (or during end-game scoring). It’s like a massive, one-shot boost that is great if you need a ton of something like walls or commodities (wine, olive oil, silver bars). The addition of a unique mechanic to the 2-player version is a nice touch and definitely makes us want to play again and again.
At 4 players, the board is a LOT more crowded and encourages both competition and playing off one another. With 4 players, it’s a lot more important to get houses onto the city early so that you can benefit from others going there. At the same time, you have to think a lot more critically about whether a placement is more beneficial for you or one of your opponents. Playing at a higher player count definitely makes the game heavier from the perspective that paying attention to your opponents becomes a lot more critical to your own strategy and success in the game.
There is also an issue we ran into at 4 players where there seems to be a first player advantage. The first player at the beginning of the game is always the first player, which means they lead placement throughout the game. If the other players follow their lead (especially in the early game), then they get more of the reactivation bonuses. It can be overcome by the other players choosing to place elsewhere, but there are just a few spots that make the most sense to start out in the city. This didn’t impact our enjoyment of the game because it’s just another piece to fit into the strategy, but it is worth noting.
I really enjoy Ragusa. It plays fast and there is always something going on so there’s no worry about downtime while Emily takes foreverrrrrrr to take her turn. The worker placement is really neat and it’s very satisfying to get to do a bunch of things on your turn.
I will admit that it took me a bit to wrap my head around not consuming resources, but once I did I really appreciated that only needing access to resources kept the game smooth. Taking physical resources and consuming them would bog the game down to almost an unplayable level I think.
This game fills a great niche in our game collection. At two players it’s not quite as heavy, mostly because there are more choices available and less competition for spaces, despite using more houses. We can get through a game – including the very quick setup and takedown – in about 30 minutes or less, which is great for us with trying to fit it around the kids and general life. I wouldn’t quite call it a sandbox game (where players have a million choices and can wrack up a million points) but it has that kind of feel for me. There’s no one way to win that I can tell, which for me makes for a good, re-playable game.
The only real complaint I have was that I had a hard time tracking what was going on in the 4-player game for the last few turns. I do tend to get distracted sometimes (Sarah might say this is an understatement) during other player’s turns. I got more than one, “Emily, it’s your turn” reminders. So on those last few turns don’t go to the bathroom, start petting your friend’s adorable fluffy dog, or accidentally zone out thinking about your next few moves.
We were pleasantly surprised by how quick the first play went. We played the first game 2-player with the 2-player variant and found it very approachable. New gamers might need a bit of extra time, but for experienced players (or a mix), it should have a fairly low barrier to entry.
The rule book is well organized and easy to understand the basic gameplay. We liked the big, clear pictures that spelled everything out really well. The first time we played we realized we had misunderstood the cathedral scoring, which seems to be a pretty common blunder and is clarified on BGG here.
After our first play we placed much less emphasis on rural hexes getting only the bare minimum of necessary resource access and focused on the city spaces. This definitely bumped up the feeling of getting to do a lot of stuff and is really where the game shines – the activation of multiple hexes and with other players getting to reactivate their houses.
Play Time, Best Number of Players
Ragusa is really quick playing at about 20 minutes per player. We can knock a two player game out in about 30 minutes which is awesome for naps or when the kiddos bedtime routine is straight out of a horror film. Even though the playtime is quick, it is still a satisfying game and doesn’t feel like a filler or quick game at all.
The four player game does take a bit longer, we played a 4 player game with teaching in about an hour and a half. The major slowdown at higher play counts comes from multiple activations on the hexes on the last 2-3 turns of the game. We do think it played better at 4 just because of the increased pressure and more interaction really makes the reactivation mechanic shine and that seems to be the real heart and soul of the game.
We love how fast Ragusa plays at 2-player. There’s minimal set up and clean up which means we can just jump in and start playing relatively quickly. It’s not a great game if there’s a lot of interruptions though. Since you are constantly doing something, interruptions will stop play for the entire table, not just one player.
Ragusa is also a pretty compact game for its physical size. Yes there’s a decent sized game board, but all the other components are pretty compact and there isn’t a ton of them, so if you are playing on a small table to be closer to kids fighting the neverending bedtime battle, this works really well.
4: Likely to play again
*See our rating scale on our site