The main part of the board is a looped track showing sixteen Venetian palaces and at the start of the game 34 counters representing works of art are distributed among them, 1-3 in each palace. In each of the game's 15 or 16 turns the contents of a palace will be auctioned off and, as you would expect, it is the richest player come the end of the game that wins.
The 34 objects are split into 12 groups -- clocks, busts, goblets, and so on -- and as soon as the last item in each group is sold, all the players who own items in the group cash them in for whatever is the current value. And this is where we come to the clever little mechanism at the heart of the game. As part of the initial set-up, a row of 12 counters is laid out, each showing a number in the range 3 to 16. Your aim is to try and arrange matters so that when items that you own are sold, the ``live number'' is a high one.
At the start of the game, the two tokens -- the ones that don't fit into their stands -- showing a column and a gondola are placed together in one of the palaces. The column marks the palace whose contents are currently being sold; the gondola moves round the track, one space for each ducat in the current bid. When the bidding stops and the items have been paid for, the column rejoins the gondola and the whole process restarts with the next auction. When the gondola end its journey in an empty palace, it and the column are moved along to the next palace that is not empty. So it is the amount of the final bid that determines which collection is sold next and that will determine which group of items gets cashed in next. When more than one group is due to be cashed in on the same turn, the player who bought the current collection chooses the order and that is often a privilege worth paying for. It is a nice tactical brew and further spice is added by the fact that the rule for ending the game means that there will usually be one palace left intact, resulting in one or two groups of objects being worth nothing.
Is the game a recommended purchase? It depends on how many games you buy in the course of a year. If you limit yourself to no more than four or five, then no: Medici is also a bidding game and beats this one on all counts -- play value, looks and price. However, if you are a member of the fast plastic brigade, then it is worth considering. Canaletto is not a prize winner, but it is a game that I am quite happy to play and far from being a candidate for the list of games I regret buying.