October 3, 2006

Leonardo Da Vinci - First Impressions

by Susan Rozmiarek

We got to try Leonardo Da Vinci this past weekend, a game which is soon to be released by Mayfair and daVinci Games. It is already getting some love on BoardgameGeek and Iíll bet the buzzing will really pick up after the Essen fair in a few weeks.

This is the game that Emira wanted to be, or should I say the game that *I* wanted Emira to be since some people seem to like Emira just fine as is. Both are the type of snowballing games where you start building up the ďengineĒ that by game end you hope will have you pulling in the victory points/money/pretty princesses/whatever. However, unlike my first and only playing so far of Emira, here I felt like I had more control and more options to pursue. Not only that, but Leonardoís many, many little auctions are cleverly disguised within the theme without all the tedium of Emiraís. However, Emiraís fun and original harem theme beats that of Leonardo hands down. Do we really need yet another game about Renaissance Italy? Please. Spare me! Fortunately, the game is quite engaging and the mechanics fit the theme well so all is forgiven.

I have to confess, it took me three tries reading through the rules before I was ready to play. Some of the explanations were really confusing. Not only reading the FAQ but also remembering it too is an absolute must as I found out to my detriment.

Players are Renaissance inventors competing for fame and fortune but mostly fortune in Florence, Italy. A central game board depicts the city and its various locations. Players have their own personal little boards representing their two laboratories. They also have wooden apprentice meeples and one master who counts as two apprentices when played. Players will be trying to complete requested inventions that will require certain resources and a number of weeks to complete. They will earn florins when they complete an invention; more if they are the first to do so. As the game progresses, the inventions get more valuable, but require more resources and more weeks to complete. In fact, the invention deck is stacked before the game to insure this which is fiddly but important. Nice little player aides summarize the inventions and what they require so youíll know what is possibly coming up. Players send apprentices to various locations on the board to upgrade their lab, get more apprentices, and collect the various types of resources. These are all little once-around auctions going on simultaneously with apprentices as the bidding currency. On your turn during this phase, you may place any number of apprentices on a location. You can never add more to that particular location that round with the exception of your master or vice versa. You can also place apprentices on your laboratories to perform weeks of work. This goes round and round until everyoneís apprentices have been placed. This is quite a neat mechanism as it doesnít feel like a bunch of auctions. Rather, it feels like you are sending out your men to their work assignments. Next, each location gets resolved. The player who placed the most apprentices (ties broken in favor of who placed first) gets that locationís action or resource for free while subsequent players must pay increasing costs. The council location allows a player to perform one of four various special actions.

The winner is the player who collects the most florins. As a nice twist, there are rewards at the end of the game for completing different types of inventions as denoted by a symbol on the corner of the card. However, if you complete the same types of invention during the game, the cost in weeks to do so goes down, making a nice dilemma as to which inventions to try to complete. Oh, did I mention that if more than one player completes an invention on the same round there is a closed fist auction to see who gets the card. More angst! There are too many things to do and not enough manpower to get them done.

Iíve left out some things, but thatís the gist. Youíll have to wait for a formal review for the rest after Iíve played it a few more times.

Ed, Shea and I decided to use the beginner setup which gives everyone variable numbers of starting resources, labs, apprentices and florins. I think this nudges players into different starting strategies. Ed the Wise immediately concentrated on long term goals and committed his manpower towards getting more apprentices and upgrading his labs. I started with an upgraded lab so I focused on the short term goal of completing the cheap inventions that were available. So did Shea, who also was quite entranced with the council and its special actions, particularly the one which allowed him to move a worker to another location and thereby overtake someone elseís high bid, usually mine. What he didnít do early on was get more apprentices and hence more bidding power which hurt him, I think. I made several fatal errors that involved the endgame. I didnít do the necessary upgrades to my laboratories to complete the higher cost inventions available in the last rounds and I didnít fully understand how the last two rounds worked (clarified in the FAQ). Shea and I were distant losers to Ed, who was able to complete a final, valuable invention. Yes, I was dead last behind a ten year old kid. He was able to complete more different types of inventions than me. Boy, did I really mess up at the end!

Leonardo appears to have all the required hallmarks of a good game of this type. Fans of ďgamerís gamesĒ should be pleased. There seem to be multiple strategies to pursue and you have to decide between long and short term goals. To accomplish those, youíll have to spend some of the money that you are trying to collect to win which makes for some tough decisions. Iím interested in seeing how the game works with more players. There were a lot of inventions that never got turned up. I imagine the competition for them will be brutal with more players.

By-the way, our game clocked in at very reasonable 60 minutes.

Leonardo Da Vinci board mid round.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at October 3, 2006 9:01 PM

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