Rossio Review


29 April 2021
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Laid back tile laying

Have you ever failed a recipe? Bought all the correct ingredients, following the preparation and cooking instructions to the letter, but somehow what you created didn’t manage to capture the look or taste you wanted? Because that’s how I felt playing Rossio, with the same sense of uncertainly on whether it was me or the game at fault.

On paper, Rossio makes an appealing prospect: you and up to three other players work together to build the famous tiled Rossio Square in Lisbon, competing to gain the most approval from the community for repeating specific coloured patterns. Each turn players play a card from their hand, adding it to a personal tableau. Cards exist here for a maximum of three turns before being replaced, with every card being played face-down to earn coins or face up to earn points.

Once cards have been activated, players can then add up to four tiles from their board onto the communal square, earning more coins for laying more tiles or completing columns. The more tiles they lay, the more options they’ll have when selecting a new card to add to their hand, encouraging players to always build just enough of the square to keep their score engine at maximum efficiency.

Coins are spent to play cards face up (with easier point earning cards usually costing more) as well as letting players rearrange their tile order, as all tiles must strictly be played from left to right and are always replaced by random selection.

Randomness plays a large role in the game’s mechanics. Because gaining tiles is random and knowing which cards you’ll be able to pick up and play is always changing, the game becomes less about finding the most optimal way to score points and more about being the most opportunistic at the table. Players will quietly calculate point potential based on the board’s current design and hope that no-one notices when they’re about to snatch away a winning combination of cards. 

Even tile-laying becomes a messy mixture of precision pattern production and random obstruction. Players are always able to see what patterns will score for their opponents currently, so it’s often in their best interest to lay out new tiles to fulfil their current and future designs whilst also sabotaging their opponents as best as possible.

So with a solid engine core, a relatively stable balance of luck and strategy and an aesthetically pleasing progression of creating a colourful tiled square, why did this game fail to entertain me or any of my playtesters? This is the most I’ve ever been conflicted about a game, because I know in my head that there’s nothing bad about the game’s design and it co-ordinates well together, but in my heart I just never had fun with the experience. 

The game felt less like playing and more like processing. While options were limited, I could always find a couple of card combos to claw ahead of the group. You’re supposed to play enough tiles to keep you scoring points, but gaining tiles randomly meant that I felt obliged to lay as many as possible to increase my chances of getting tiles I needed, a sentiment encouraged with my experiences of playing with game’s Solo mode, another neatly designed element to the game which still left me feeling ambivalent.

Fundamentally, this is a tile laying puzzle that captures that mechanic as literally as it possibly can. For fans of the genre you’ll find something amusing for a couple of games, but for me there was just something missing to engage my gaming enthusiasm. 

Matthew Vernall

PLAY IT? MAYBE

If you can never have enough tile laying games in your life then this is an easy purchase. But those who are lukewarm on the mechanic will find little of engagement here.

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TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Azul...

The titan of literal tile laying, Azul’s focus on singular achievements and high production design means that Rossio’s communal tile placement and affordability provides a thoughtful contrast for fans of the former.

Designer: Orlando Sá

Publisher: Pythagoras

Time: 30-45

Players: 1-4

Ages: 8+

Price: £26

What’s in the box?

  • First player marker
  • 4 Player boards
  • 12 Modular game board pieces
  • 59 Cards (including Solo variant deck)
  • 96 Cardboard Calçada tiles
  • 34 Cardboard coins
  • 66 Cardboard VP tokens

This review originally appeared in Issue 50 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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