Sep 27

Special Delivery: A Review of Papa Paolo

Quick Board Game Reviews That Pack a Punch. No Rules, Just Opinions. 

Papà Paolo brings you to the beautiful city of Naples, birthplace of one of the world’s favorite dishes: pizza.

In Papà Paolo, 2 to 4 players compete to deliver the most pizzas to the hungry customers of Naples. To do this, you must outsmart your rivals by being a clever investor, bidding on the right city tiles, and creating your own little district of Naples.

Over the course of five game rounds, players first have to plan their actions carefully, choosing whether they want to invest in new pizzerias, make express deliveries, get sponsored by the bank, or decide to expand their district. Once all players have used up their action tokens, players get rewarded by receiving Lira, which they can then use in a bidding phase to determine how many deliveries you can make, and how many pizzas you can deliver. Once you deliver pizzas to your hungry customers, they reward you by boosting your abilities, making each action more powerful as the game progresses. Every decision counts, but Papà Paolo is a very accessible game, which will charm players of all ages alike.


In Papa Paolo there are two phases and five rounds where the goal is to score as many victory points as possible. In phase one, you grab tiles to build your neighborhood, earn money, buy ingredients, expand your restaurant into the neighborhood, and do express deliveries of pizzas. The second phase has you bidding on pizza orders that tell you how many you can deliver and how far from a restaurant you can go. When you deliver your pizzas, you will have to have enough pizzas at a restaurant, houses to deliver to, and delivery drivers and restaurants in the right places. Papa Paolo is a game that rewards planning, and paying attention to your opponent's actions.

Papa Paolo places you in charge of your personal pizza empire in true eurogame fashion -- arranged as a series of interconnected minigames, that is. But what Papa Paolo doesn’t do is hand you a frosty plate and motion you over to the point salad bar. You’ll only be scoring the pizzas you deliver, plus a small bonus on how well you advanced your tech tree. You won’t be able to do that effectively unless you plan properly, sending your workers out to snag neighborhood tiles or perform one of the four actions (get money, get pizzas, get a new restaurant, or special delivery) in a way that will net you enough cash, pizzas, and hungry homes in the first phase to win the pizza contract/special bonus auction in the second phase and then deliver as many pizzas as you can at the end of the round. Mama mia!

There is so much going on in Papa Paolo. You mix Carcassonne’s tile laying and majority control, with a civilization game tech tree, a Knizia style auction and scoring, a little worker placement and a little pickup and deliver and somewhere in this run-on sentence my internal narrator gained an Italian accent. Yes, there is a lot going on here, but it’s all so familiar and taken individually the mechanics are not complicated. I like my complexity to be in the decision tree and not in the rules and while Papa Paolo is a bit convoluted it’s not hard to comprehend.

Papa Paolo takes a variety of ingredients -- area majority, auction, route-building, tech tracks -- and cleverly layers them into a delectable deep dish pie. The tech tracks are pretty simple but it’s fun to ramp it up as your empire expands. Route-building can be tricky. It’s possible to actually build yourself into a corner and wreck your plans if you don’t pay attention. My favorite is the auction, not surprising to anyone who checked out our last review. Taking place on the stairs of the Piazza, workers are placed on a grid of bids, but only one worker is allowed in each column, and you can never move down the steps to select a lower bid. Somehow the recipe works, and never feels too daunting.

Every game seems to start with a rousing chorus of PAPA PAOLO! Why?!? I dunno, but it’s fun to get yourself into the idea of competing for the Prince of Pizza’s title in Naples and kick the French Fry Cartel to the curb. It’s weird but it carries the theme throughout the game... or maybe it’s just my group that’s weird. After that, there is a mish-mash of mechanics that functionally tell a story of running a pizza joint. Besides the role-playing of delivering pizza, the theme is apparent in the gameplay, but it's not overly inspiring.
Papa Paolo’s pizza delivery theme stands out among a sea full of Mediterranean traders in it’s weight class. Like running a pizzeria, you’ll be juggling different aspects of a restaurant empire -- buying ingredients, hiring delivery drivers, and staking a claim to certain neighborhoods -- all in a quest to deliver the mostest pizzas. The thematic connection to the mechanics helps make it fairly simple to pick up because the actions are almost chained to each other in a way that narratively makes sense.

Have you ever tried to carry too much into the house and then tried to carry a box of freshly made piping hot meaty pizza on top of it? And then right as you are trying to open the door, the pizza falls upside down onto the ground? So you take it inside and try to put it back into a semblance of a pizza, and it just doesn’t look right. That’s how I feel about the overall production of Papa Paolo. It’s like they tried to make is too much like an Italian neighborhood throwing in all sorts of little touches that it overwhelms the playing area. The graphic design is a hot mess that fails to create easy to see spaces. The color choices are maddeningly hard to differentiate. I just don’t see how those with color blindness are going to navigate this game, much less being in a somewhat dark room and trying to read the board. If this game ever gets published in North America, I hope they consider redoing that aspect of the game. UPDATE: I just looked at Quined Games website and apparently there is a second edition that fixes many of my complaints.
Papa Paolo takes the “form over function” aesthetic, gilds it, sticks a propeller on top and places it on a pedestal. It’s not that the art is bad, it’s that there’s so much of it that is causes distraction and confusion. The detailed route tiles have so many layers and textures on them that it can be difficult to see just how many delivery destinations they contain. The auction stairs have a flock of pigeons pecking about, but they are so tiny and the harsh light on them casts such a shadow that from across the table, it looks like someone ashed their cigarette on the board. For a game with so much going on, a cleaner, simpler design would have made for a much more pleasant experience. Instead, the game is festooned with theme at a detriment to playability.

So the $50 price tag is about right for it being an import with lots of chunky wood bits and gameplay that gives you plenty of room to explore. I did not enjoy all the stickering that I had to do. Would I have paid an extra $10 to have all the pizza boxes silk screened? OMG Yes! But I have seen people of Twitter extoll the virtues of stickering as a meditative exercise in mindfulness, so maybe that will comfort some of you would be buyers.

An MSRP of $50 seems about right for a game of this type, and that’s how this one is priced. There’s a pretty solid game here from which you’ll probably get your money’s worth. The randomness of the tiles revealed and the area majority money rewards will keep you on your toes through repeated plays. It comes with about $30 worth of stickers, too! Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, but there are a bunch of wooden bits to put stickers on and the rest of the components, barring the artwork, are a nice quality.

When I initially saw this game, I thought delivering pizza, cool!, so I bought the game. The first game or two was awkward, but now 5 games in, I feel completely comfortable. One thing I haven’t mentioned is player count. I have only played this at 4p, and I think that’s the only player count for me. The game does scale, but I like my auction games super competitive, and that means the more the merrier. Finding out that Quined has listened to the complaints and addressed them gives me the warm fuzzies, and while I was at a 4 initially, it’ll get a bump into the 5 range. Why? because I will rarely turn down a play of this as long as there are 4 players hungry enough to beat back the french fry craze and restore the great name of PAPA PAOLO!
It’s an unwritten rule in our group that you have to shout “Papa Paolo!” every time you make a delivery, which makes for a funny game experience, yet there’s still enough thinky, meaty goodness here that rewards clever planning and careful money management. I’ve always had a great time playing Papa Paolo … but I can’t quite bring myself to open up my wallet and add it to my collection. It’s kind of a weird teach, and it looks like a nightmare on the table. It belongs in a duchy, just maybe not my duchy? So I think I’m awarding this one a 4, because even when it's bad, it's pretty good.

The Dukes of Dice Rating System
1 = Poorly designed but playable. Not necessarily fun.
2 = Game has some merit but has significant detractions.
3 = Game is okay, not exciting. Will play in the right situation.
4 = A good game. Worth playing, just not all the time. Belongs in the Duchy.
5 = A great game, will rarely turn down a play of it.
6 = An all-time favorite that is a contender for the top 10

If you want to connect with us you can find:

Matthew on Twitter as @uncouthtooth or matthew@dukesofdice.com

Matt on Twitter as @matosowalker

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