Grand Austria Hotel

Designers: Simone Luciani and Virginio Gigli

Artist: Klemens Franz

Publisher: Mayfair Games

What a smug looking waiter. Go get me some Strudel! (Photo credits: Luis Olcese@BGG)

Grand Austria Hotel must be a popular game that a Kickstarter reprint with an expansion is currently in the pipeline. Judging from the response, lots of people seem to be on board with the reprint. The game itself features dice drafting as a central mechanism and players draft dice to prepare and fill hotel rooms with guests who are patiently waiting at the cafe, stuffing themselves with strudel and cake and washing it down with wine and coffee. Ultimately, the Emperor will come knocking on the door to decide whether the hotel is up to standards and will reward or mete out punishment to the players appropriately. That in a nutshell is the theme for Grand Austria Hotel. If nothing else, the theme of hotel management is pretty unique as far as Euros go.

The dice drafting aspect of Grand Austria Hotel is actually simple with few twists. This is a plus for the game. Dice drafting as a mechanism is inherently chaotic as both die values and player selection adds a ton of uncertainty to the selection process. By keeping it simple, the game avoids placing excessive attention on the drafting process, which is usually the part fraught with luck, and instead shifts its attention to other parts of game which is also a good thing.

In each of the 7 rounds, depending on player count, a handful of six-sided dice are rolled. Dice of similar values are grouped together and placed in predetermined action slots. Thereafter, the die value loses any meaning and it’s the number of dice in each action slot that matters. For each die drafted, players will remove one die from the main board and place it in their own tableau. They then perform the corresponding action with the number of dice in the action slot determining the value of the action. For example, when taking a die with a 1 value, players can take cakes and strudels, with the number of dice determining the number of items available for pickup so long as the number of cakes you take do not exceed strudels. Similarly a value-2 die allows players to pick up wine and coffee. A value-3 die allows players to prepare hotel rooms with the number of dice indicating the maximum number of rooms prepared. A die value of 4 either gains income for the players or movement of player token on the Emperor track. The amount of dice in this slots determines how much money/movement you have and the values can be divided between both options. A value-5 die allows players to hire staff with each die providing a discount of $1. Finally, the value-6 die is a wild card and by paying $1, one can pick up a value-6 die and perform any of the five actions on the board.

That’s basically the dice drafting portion of the game. No other variables or gimmicks are tacked on to it – Clean. Each round, players select two dice from the total pool and perform said actions. To further mitigate the luck of the roll, players can opt to pass during their turn to select dice and instead wait to perform their actions at the end of the round when everyone else is done with their selections. At which point, the remaining players that pass are allowed to reroll all the dice minus 1 and pick an action from the new die allocation. Just like the wild card 6-value die, this reroll mechanism is also intended to alleviate luck of the dice roll. I appreciate that the designers tried to dampen the effects of the variable dice rolls in Grand Austria Hotel, making it more likely you will get your Plan A, if not Plan B. Don’t get me wrong, even with all these mechanisms to even out luck, the dice can still come back and bite you. So, the luck portion of the game is still very much present.

Part of the fun of Grand Austria Hotel, and also where most of the points are scored, is basically selecting and seating the guests at the cafe and then sending them to their respective rooms. Guests are drafted from a tableau and each red, blue and yellow guest can only be housed in their respective hotel rooms of the same color. The tourist (green) is the wild card and be be housed in rooms of any color. To move the guests from the cafe to their rooms, players must feed the guests with cubes of food and each guest have different taste preferences. Basically, there are 4 different food resources that I previously described (cakes, strudels, wine and coffee). Once the food is picked up from drafting dice, they can be sent to the kitchen or directly served to the guests. Once a guest is completely satiated with the hotel food and the order is complete, the guests can proceed to their respective hotel rooms. However, before doing that, the hotel room must be prepped. These hotel rooms appear on individual player boards where a section of the hotel is shown. There are 4 floors in the hotel section, with each floor having rooms in multiple colors. Each hotel room costs money to prepare, but also provide points during end-game scoring with rooms on the top floor being harder to get to, cost more to prepare but scoring more points. Like food, room preparation is obtained through dice drafting. By drafting dice, players can prepare rooms that are adjacent to each other on the board. Once the guests are shown to their rooms, the room tile is flipped over and is now fully occupied. Players will earn additional benefits in the form of money, points or movement on the Emperor track when a cluster of similarly-colored room become occupied. The individual player board is double-sided with one side giving players a similar board while the other side, room colors across all floors are randomized.

Variety in Grand Austria Hotel comes, not surprisingly, through card play. There are two card decks for guests and hotel staff. Each guest that is successfully placed in their respective rooms will usually trigger victory points and provide other one-time benefits. The other card deck belongs to hotel staff that players can recruit. By drafting a value-5 die, players get to play a hotel staff card at hand and recruit them for their special abilities. Benefits can be instantaneous, recurring or permanent. A small portion of these cards also help in end-game scoring. These cards are extremely valuable and powerful and should complement scoring. Overall, the hotel staff powers can be really potent and can really change the tone of the game. The benefits are also immensely varied and will make the game feel different between sessions. I have to admit, it is pretty fun to see how having a few staff cards can really shape strategy even though the scoring mechanisms are pretty tight and limited.

Precisely because the scoring is not a point-salad affair, the Emperor track is perhaps a welcome, albeit odd inclusion in the game. The Emperor track is unique in a way because it feels somewhat detached from the main game. You can presumably remove the entire Emperor track from the game and the game will still function pretty well. In each of the 7 rounds, players can move up on the Emperor through a variety of actions or mechanisms (drafting dice, hotel staff, serving guests, completing set collection of rooms, etc.). Movement on the Emperor track is critical as in rounds 3, 5 and 7, the Emperor will come visit. After claiming a fixed amount of VPs’ as indicated on the track, the player tokens are moved backwards a number of spots equal to the round number. So, in round 5, the token moves back 5 spots. If the token drops to “0”, players are penalized. Likewise, if the token is on 3 or more on the track, players receive a reward. If the token stays in a neutral region (1 or 2), then the players do not get anything. The rewards and penalties are spelled out before the game when 3 emperor tiles are flipped over showing the rewards and penalties for each of those rounds. The Emperor track is…. different. For one thing, dice drafting games can be cut throat and highly desirable dice can be snapped up quickly. So, turn order is very important and almost all dice drafting game seem to have some sort of turn order track. I was half expecting the Emperor track to be that. Instead, turn order just goes around the table. The Emperor track in this game functions as a “negative event” tension building mechanism. More than just earning VPs’ from the track, players are trying to avoid getting penalized by moving far enough on the Emperor track. In some situations, that can be pretty challenging given the opportunities to move on the Emperor track are limited.

Overall, I think Grand Austria Hotel is dice drafting game done right. I look at all the dice drafting game I have played recently and I think there are more misses than hits for me. Discounting 2 player roll and writes like Ganz Schon Clever, the recent plays of Taverns of Tiefenthal and Tekhenu fell flat for me while Coimbra and La Granja were decent. I think Grand Austria Hotel is up there as far as dice drafting goes. However, it is a very solitary activity and if you are looking for any interaction beyond choice denial, you will be disappointed. But then, many of the dice drafting games and worker placement games are similar in that their interaction between players are somewhat limited. My feeling is that Grand Austria Hotel strikes the right combination of handling the uncertainty of dice drafting with enough compensatory mechanisms to blunt skewed dice rolls without completely eliminating the tension from selecting dice. I like that the dice drafting portion is clean, not cluttered and is not layered with a ton of mechanistic complexity. If you are in the market for a dice drafting game, I think this one should be up atop your list.

Final word: Great!

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