When it comes to board gaming, 3 players can sometimes be the ugly duckling of gaming. With a couple of exceptions, games involving direct conflict are usually a disaster with only 3 players. Invariably, one player ends up being the target of the other two, making for a miserable experience for the player on the receiving end. Usually, when you have only three players, you are better off just reaching for a non-confrontational euro game.
Well the new card game Trieste, from Victory Point Games, seeks to solve that aforementioned problem. Trieste is a card game for exactly three players where each player takes one of three unique roles as they vie for control of this coastal city. Does Trieste really solve the 3 player problem with conflict games? Let’s find out!
Trieste is a quick playing, unique role card game that plays in about 20 minutes. You can only play Trieste with 3 players.
In Trieste, each player takes on the role of the Merchant, the City Watch, or the Thieves. Each turn, players will be playing either character or action cards from their hand in the hopes of accomplishing their unique victory condition. Each card played must be paid for with money cards from a players hand and many of the cards will affect other players. During the game, players will also have the ability to call upon the assistance of a hero character in the hopes of turning the tide in their favor. Turns will go by quickly in Trieste, and the first player to achieve their victory condition will be the winner.
If you are not familiar with Victory Point Games (VPG), they are a different kind of publisher. They print their games “in-house” and a lot of it is print-on-demand (I believe). The game comes in VPG’s familiar red box in a sleeve with custom artwork. This red box approach might feel weird to some people, but I found it worked fine for Trieste.
The game comes with 4 different decks of cards (Merchant, Thief, City Watch, and Money), all of which are well designed with some great looking artwork. I found the design and layout of the cards work perfectly for the game.
I do need to mention some printing issues I noticed with the game. The color on some of the cards didn’t quite match others, and the backs of the cards seemed to be slightly off-center from other cards at times. None of this affected our ability/enjoyment of the game though, as the issues were varied enough to avoid any card being considered “marked”. Still it’s something to be aware of and has the potential to frustrate people who have a keen eye for colors and layout. I did end up sleeving my cards so they didn’t suffer from wear due to the frequent shuffling.
Finally the rulebook was well laid out and easy to understand. I was able to learn the game very quickly and it even included a sample game turn. It was printed with a partial white border on the edges that annoys the graphic designer in me, but I’ve learned to live with it.
How to Play:
The game play in Trieste is very easy to learn. First, each player selects a faction to represent. A player can choose to be the City Watch, the Merchant or the Thieves. Once a player has selected a faction, they then select one of their 3 heroes to use (if playing with heroes). After that, all decks are shuffled, and each player takes 2 copper cards and draws 2 cards from their faction deck.
In Trieste, the City Watch player is always the first player, followed by the Merchant player, and then finally the Thief player. The game is played out in a series of rounds, with each round having 5 phases:
1. Draw Phase: Each player draws 2 cards; these can either be from the treasure deck or their faction deck (or a combination).
2. Play Phase: Each player chooses a card from their hand and places it face down in front of them.
3. Payment Phase: In turn order, each player reveals their selected card and discards treasure cards to pay for their chosen card.
4. Effect Phase: In turn order, each player resolves the effect of their chosen card and then discards it. This will sometimes affect other players cards, for example, if the City Watch arrests the chosen Thief card, then the Thief player will have no action this turn.
5. End Phase: Each player checks to see if they’ve met their victory condition, if not the game continues. Any player may buy back a character card of level 1+ from their discard pile by paying its cost. It then goes back into their hand.
Speaking of victory conditions, each player has their own way to win. The City Watch player wins when they arrest 7 thief characters. Many of the watch cards are characters that will arrest thief characters, both helping them get closer to their victory condition and also annoying the Thief player.
The Merchant player wins by have treasure cards in their hand of 11+the total levels of thieves in jail. That’s right, the Merchant needs to amass some wealth and also pay to keep the thieves jailed.
Finally, the Thieves win when they’ve acquired all 9 of their infamy cards. They gain an infamy by successfully resolving a thief card. These usually have the added bonus of robbing the Merchant (thus gaining money for the Thief player).
During the end phase, players check, in turn order, to see if they’ve won. The first player to achieve their victory condition will rule the city.
I really like Trieste, a lot. It’s a quick playing card game where each player will play the game just a little differently. Any regular reader of this site will probably know by now, I love variable powers in games. I like to feel unique when I’m taking on a role. I also really enjoy when I can approach a game differently than my fellow players. So I absolutely love how differently each player must tackle the game in Trieste. The Merchant wants to horde those treasure cards, the thief wants to steal them and the City Watch is playing both ends; taxing the merchant and arresting the thieves. I’ve found that the City Watch is almost like a balancer in the game. They will have to devote their efforts to both arresting thieves and taxing the merchant. If they ignore one of these two, the ignored player can make a lot of progress towards their victory goal. It’s a fun game of cat and mouse that I really enjoy playing.
And that also is one of the best things about Trieste, it’s highly thematic. I know it’s a little cliché to say a game is “dripping with theme” (which is why I avoid using that phrase), but Trieste designer Matthew Ma did an absolutely fantastic job keeping this card game tied securely to its theme. The Merchant is a money grubber who just wants to get his hands on as much treasure as possible. Most all of his cards involve allowing him to draw more treasure. Almost all of the Thieves’ cards involve him either robbing the merchant or breaking thieves out of jail. And then there is the City Watch. He spends a lot of time arresting thief characters but also spends some time taxing the Merchant. When you look at it as a whole, it just all makes sense.
Trieste is also a game that will get better the more you play it. It’s really helpful to have an idea of what is in the various decks. The City Watch will be playing a lot of cards that directly affect the thief’s deck so it’s helpful to know what kind of cards the thief might be playing. I think three players that are very familiar with the decks in Trieste will approach the game much differently than new players. But I can see all of them having fun with this card game.
Once you are familiar with Trieste, it will take around 20 minutes to play. I like that it goes so quickly because after every game, I almost always want to play another round. Usually I’ll also want to try one of the other decks, just for variety’s sake. I’ve played Trieste around a dozen or so times already and the game feels quite well balanced in my opinion. I have seen multiple victories from all three of the factions, with the Thief probably having the most. I think the City Watch role is probably the hardest to play. You really do have to keep an eye on both of the other players to make sure neither gets out of control.
Trieste is also a game that’s begging for an expansion. I love using the hero characters, but I really wish there were more of them and sometimes they don’t quite feel balanced against each other. For example, one of the Merchant’s hero’s, Little Antonella, clearly feels better than any other the other two options. As one of our players said “I don’t see why you’d ever use one of the others.” So while I love using the heroes and the variety they give the game, I’d really like to see more of them.
So originally I asked the question “Does Trieste succeed at creating a 3 player game with conflict that works?” and the answer is a resounding yes! Trieste is incredibly successful in creating a fun and engaging 3 player game. Unfortunately it’s also a victim of its own success because the game can only be played with exactly 3 players. While I wish there were a 2 or 4 player version just to make it easier to get to the table, I understand why there isn’t. The 3 player dynamic is fantastically balanced and adding or removing another player would really change the dynamic of the game. But the game is cheap enough that it can easily hang out on my shelf until I have the appropriate player count. And Trieste is absolutely staying in my gaming collection.
Trieste is a very unique card game that I’ve really enjoyed playing since game one. The rules are easy to learn, each of the three factions plays very differently, and the play time feels spot on. Victory Point Games has a winner in Trieste and I’d love to see an expansion with more heroes some day. But from now on, Trieste has become my go to game when I have 3 players. It’s absolutely worth checking out.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $25
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A highly thematic and unique 3 player card game. This one is worth a spot in any gamer’s collection.
• Some component issues
• Needs more hero cards.