Ragusa Review

Back before the USA was a thing, there was Rag-usa, the legendary hub of trading and industry! Looks like you will be taking a role in the construction of Ragusa itself, and helping to set up a bustling industry in the town. You will need to think carefully about where you set up your buildings, as the geography of this town is very important to what you can do here! Work to create enhance and protect the city the most, and you will solidify your family’s position in the aristocracy.

2-5 Players | 1 Hour | Designed by Fabio Lopiano

While trading in the Mediterranean is a massive cliché within the boardgaming world, I do believe that Ragusa is actually the first game to kind of fits this description that I’ve ever reviewed. Published in 2019 by Braincrack via Kickstarter, Ragusa saw a wider retail release in the US (and Australia) through Capstone Games. I picked up a retail copy of the game after playing a friend’s Kickstarter copy in 2020 and being pretty impressed! Ragusa is also the first in a ‘series’ of sorts from Braincrack, which now includes sequels Venice, and Florence.

The city under construction

How does it work?

Ragusa is a ‘worker placement-ish’ game with some engine building and point salad involved. The worker placement twist in Ragusa is that your workers are buildings, and once you’ve constructed them on an action space, they stay there forever. Players will allocate their small number (9-12, depends on player count) of buildings to action spaces earning resources and ultimately doing things that get them points, hoping to be the most powerful house at the end of the game.

On your turn in Ragusa, you select an available space on the board to place one of your houses. Assuming you can place there (based on requirements), the placed house will ‘activate’ up to 3 adjacent hexes containing resources or actions. If it’s a resource hex, you increment your counter for that resource, you now have access to more of it. If it’s an action, then you perform that action. Each other house already placed around that action (including yours), then gets to perform the action too! Some actions include producing refined goods (e.g. wine from grapes), or building walls and watch houses to protect the city.

Several of the actions contribute towards earning points for the end game. While building the wall earns you end game points, you will also get points from fulfilling contracts, selling goods, and picking up more end game scoring cards.

Once everyone has run out of workers houses, the game ends and players tally up their scores to see who won.

A completed 3 player game

What do I think?

Ragusa is a very streamlined game and it plays well at all player counts. I found the two player variant particularly interesting as it adds a really cool additional element to the game that I actually missed when playing with more players. I found most games ran for the stated box game-length time of 1 hour, though it can get a little slower with 4 or 5 players.

The Good Stuff

  • Ragusa has a lovely presentation. The artwork is vibrant, clear and engaging. The iconography, board layout and other graphic designs are all well done. The colourful pieces make for a great table presence when the game is underway. One thing I often comment on is box size, and I think Ragusa‘s is appropriately compact. I also like that there are cardboard component trays included for players to use in the box!
  • The game is quick to learn from the well written rulebook, and especially quick to teach to new players. Gameplay itself is very simple, so all players need to know is how to place a house, and then a quick run through of what each space does will have you on your way.
  • It’s not often I think this, but the design of Ragusa is simply ‘elegant’. A small set of mechanics at the game’s core lends itself to deep strategy and engaging game-play. Every time I play I’m seriously impressed with this, I think if it had come along in the Catan era it could very well have been one of the ‘classics’. (It’s not too late!)
  • The mechanics found in Ragusa are fairly unique, giving it a solid ‘spot on the shelf’ that isn’t satisfied by another game.
  • Game-play itself flows quickly, and because you can trigger other player’s buildings on your turn, there is pretty much constant engagement for all players. By half way through the game it’s likely that between your turn you will get to do an action on most other player’s turns too!
  • Getting to do up to 3 things on your turn feels really good, and allows for some very cool chains/strategy. I also think it’s interesting to think about taking a spot because it will be really good for another player, or you don’t want to miss out on having access to a particular action whose spots might be quickly running out.
  • I like that Ragusa supports up to 5 players. It’s usually pretty standard that a game of this nature (euro, economic) will allow for 4 players but often when I have 5 players around and want to play something like this options are few and far between.
  • Ragusa‘s two player variant actually makes me want to play two player, which is something I typically don’t enjoy (unless it’s a co-op). I really like how the variant works and often found myself missing it when playing with more players.
  • There are many avenues to victory in this game, and you won’t feel forced in any particular direction really. There are scoring cards that have conditions on them, but they are usually pretty easy to satisfy incidentally, and you can also get more of them easily so not fulfilling them isn’t then end of the world.

The Bad Stuff

  • Often then game feels like it is over too soon, with a final round that jumps suddenly at you from out of nowhere. I know this is a hallmark of ‘good’ game design (to stop the game before things runaway) but it always makes me a little sad. Maybe … an expansion with a bigger board (or sideboard?) … hint hint…
  • Ragusa‘s ‘worker placement’ rules (the building placement constraints) are a little oblique and can take a bit of explaining to make clear. I’ve found showing examples of placing houses on various spots of the board works best, but often players will still ask a lot of questions about it during the game. I think this is a similar issue to one found in 7 Wonders which also has a system of ‘virtual resources’ that you have access to but don’t spend. Here we have to get over that hurdle, plus the rule of counting up how many buildings you have on touching hexes to place something.
  • The trade contracts are sort of boring. You take the action, scan along for the cheapest contract you can afford and pay for it. There’s nothing more interesting to it than that, unless you have a scoring goal. I feel like there is some set collection missing from here.
  • Drawing ‘bad’ scoring cards can make or break your score, especially if you spend a lot of actions getting them and not getting points elsewhere.
  • The refined goods economy (the tracks for the wine, oil and silver values) is fiddly and feels pretty inconsequential, especially as it’s basically random based on what cards come out. I’ve never seen anyone even consider buying a card based on it’s effect on resource values, but that could be us not playing at the ‘next level’.
Check out my ‘Rag-thedral’

This is a review that’s been a long time coming. I got Ragusa a couple of years ago now and have been meaning to write about it since. For a game that sounds ‘ordinary’ on paper I am continuously impressed by how ‘good’ it is and I feel like it’s hard to quantify exactly why, but I hope I’ve conveyed some of why I think it’s good here. I think one of its main strengths is the lack of ‘Bad Stuff’ the game has. I really struggled to come up with my meagre list of negatives above, it feels like my weakest criticisms ever in a review. Ragusa is a game with a lot of good stuff going on, and very few flaws. I highly recommend giving it a try if you come across a copy, its certainly earned its place on my shelf and gotten me interested in the rest of the games in this ‘series’ published by Braincrack.

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