You are a merchant in Byzantium and you are trying to have the most profit from the markets inside the city.
Bid for the best stock of goods and find the right moment to sell your collected wares. And do not forget to go to the main market for a good deal!
2008 (new version in 2018)
Auction, Set Collection
Designer: Emanuele Ornella
Artist: Doris Matthäus
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios, Lautapelit.fi
Category: Auction, Set Collection
Price: $15.00 Amazon.com
Byzanz is an auction card game for three to six players. After a decade of relative obscurity, Renegade Game Studios has released a new version of it, making it available in North America for the first time. With fast-moving gameplay and a simple rules set, Byzanz is a great choice for established gamers, as well as those just getting their feet wet in the gaming hobby.
One thing I’ve always liked about Renegade Game Studios is the diversity of what they publish. While most of their games are on the lighter-weight side, I appreciate their broad range, from the dungeon-delving Clank! to the serene Lanterns to the brain-tickling Gravwell (which is AMAZING, by the way).
When Renegade announced that they would be publishing the card game Byzanz, I was surprised to learn that it was almost a decade old, yet I’d never heard of it. (I guess I’m not as much of a board game hipster as I thought.) Turns out it was only ever published in Germany, but years after its initial release, Renegade and Nordic publisher Lautapelit.fi are widening its distribution.
Byzanz is an auction-style game for three to six players. Included in the box are a small market board, a set of “offer” cards numbered one through six, and a larger deck of goods cards which form the main game deck. The goods cards show an item that can be traded at the bazaar, as well as a value between one and four (basically, each card has a type/color and a number). Additionally, there are a handful of gray-colored “merchant” cards with value zero.
Depending upon the number of players, a certain number of offer cards are used. In a three-player game, for example, the “2,” “4,” and “6” cards are used, and in a six-player game, all offers are used. Offers are placed in a stack in descending order, such that the highest-numbered card is on top.
Each player receives a starting hand of four cards. A number of goods are dealt face-up on the table, corresponding to the topmost offer card (e.g. six goods when the offer is “6,” as shown below).
Players then take turns bidding to buy the entire lot of cards. To do this, players place one or more goods cards from their hand in front of themselves, using the total value as their current bid. Each person, in turn, must either add cards to her own bid to make it higher than anyone else’s, or pass. The winner of the auction places her bid cards on the market board, along with one of her newly-acquired cards from the lot. This means that, if she wins a set of six cards, she only actually receives five, because one goes to the market. Additionally, the winning bidder takes the current offer card, placing it in front of herself. Each player may only win one auction, after which they may no longer bid in the current game round. Auctions continue until all players have won a group of cards. At this time, the market board will look something like this:
After auctions are complete, players each take a set of cards of one color from the market. This happens in reverse order, meaning the person with the lowest offer card (i.e. the winner of the last auction) gets to pick first. The selected goods go into their owners’ hand, which leads me to discuss how points work.
The ultimate goal of Byzanz is to collect the most points. If a player ever has a set of three cards of the same color, she may immediately score them. Of the three cards, the highest-valued is kept, and the player receives that many points. The other two are discarded. Using the image above as an example, the first player to take cards from the market would likely want the blue goods, since they already form a set of three; basically, they are free points. If the player were to take these and cash them in immediately, she would score three points, since the highest-valued card is a “3.”
The gray merchant cards act as wilds. Because they are value-zero, they cannot be used for bidding, but they may instead be used as part of a set. Suppose that the first player did indeed take the blue cards from the market. The second player, seeing that he has a merchant in hand, might decide to take the two purple cards. He could immediately cash them in, with a merchant, for one point, or he could choose to hang onto them in hopes of getting more points in the future. In a clever twist, if three merchants are played as their own set, that player scores five points (note the small “5” on the card).
At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.
Mechanically, it feels clean and balanced. The reversal of turn order makes a cool push-and-pull; on the one hand, it’s great to win a bunch of cards in the first auction, but it’s a bummer to be stuck with the last pick from the market. In the same way, the final auction yields little, but its winner might get some sweet cards by having first crack at the market loot. Players have to plan their bidding strategy carefully, as any cards they use in a bid may end up in an opponent’s possession. Though Byzanz is not a deep game, it does have meaningful decisions.
With a straightforward rules set, this game can be learned in under five minutes. The number of rounds adjusts according to the number of players, so the game length is pretty consistent no matter how many people are involved. (Decisions actually get tighter with more players.)
Byzanz is another awesome entry in Renegade’s diverse catalog. It hits that great “filler-plus” sweet spot with fast-moving gameplay and a combination of easy rules and subtle decisions. In the current tabletop renaissance, games come and go quickly, so it’s neat to see a relatively obscure, decade-old title get a second look and a broader release. I think a lot of people are going to dig this game.
A review copy was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
+ Very easy to learn and understand
+ Plays quickly, with little downtime
+ Scales well with various player counts
+ Turn Priority creates interesting decisions
- May lose some luster after repeated plays