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Subject: Renaissance Man: A Man For All Seasons (a review) rss

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David McMillan
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Madison
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It is the Renaissance. As the religious establishment begins to loosen its vice grip tight control on free thought, creativity and ingenuity abounds. There has been a new surge in artistic expression. New inventions make the everyday lives of men and women easier than ever before. Brilliant minds have come to the fore and world trembles in anticipation wherever they go.

You are one of these minds. A man of inestimable talent and skill, you have the power to shape and mold the minds and hearts of those around you. You are a brilliant man… an amazing man. You are a man of your time. You are a Renaissance Man.

In the game of Renaissance Man, the players take on the role of an individual blessed with a wide range of talents who are trying to produce a master in one of four schools of skills and abilities – scholar, baker, knight, and merchant. This individual has a talent for identifying other people to assist them in these endeavors. The players will hire workers and then assign these workers to assist new workers until a master of one of the schools emerges. It’s not going to be easy, though. Not every worker is going to be helpful and there are going to be tough decisions that will need to be made. Will your student be the first to rise to the top of the class?

CONTENTS

Renaissance Man comes packaged in a sturdy, cream colored box. On the front of the box, we see the classic Renaissance Man image that was drawn by Da Vinci, but this one is slightly reimagined. Our Renaissance Man is fully clothed. He wears robes of red and blue. In his outstretched arms we see an item in each hand. In one right hand he holds aloft a sword. In the other right hand, he holds half of a load of bread. In the left hands are held a book and a scroll. Above his head floats the name of the game as well as the name of the game's designer. Beneath this image is a brief description of the game.

Nestled within this box, we will find three sets of cards. First, there are the double sided round summary cards. One side of these cards contains a brief breakdown of a typical round of play and the opposite side of these cards features a brief breakdown of the special action that each of the worker types provides (this and all other unfamiliar terms and concepts will be discussed later).

The second set of cards is the single sided Foundation cards. There are five of these per player and they are all exactly the same. The first card features the baker. Garbed in a green tunic, he stands proudly with a very long loaf of bread slung over one shoulder. The second card is the knight. He stands there ready for action. On one arm, he holds a shield. In his right hand, he holds aloft a sword. Next up is the merchant. Dressed in his best finery, he stands with one foot atop a treasure chest. In his right hand he grips a scroll (presumably a ledger of some sort). Then there is the scholar. Draped in a simple brown robe, he stands there holding a book open in his hands. At his feet stands something resembling an astrolabe. And finally, we have our Renaissance Man. The image on this card is the same as the one on the front of the box.

The third set of cards is very similar in appearance to the Foundation cards. They contain images of the same workers, but there are a few notable differences. Firstly, at the top of each of the Foundation cards, there are three icons. In the upper right and left hand corners, there are two icons that represent a worker action and, in between these, is a much larger icon representing the worker action that the worker depicted on the card can do. In the case of the Foundation cards, these three icons are the same. The baker, for instance, has three loaves of bread depicted. The only worker that does not have an action that they can perform is the Renaissance Man. The Renaissance Man has all four icons in both the upper left and upper right hand corners of the cards. The backsides of these cards are empty.

Like the Foundation cards, these other cards also have three icons across the top and like the Foundation cards, the icon in the middle represents the worker action that the worker depicted on the card can do. Unlike the Foundation cards, however, the two icons in the upper left and the upper right do not always match. I fact, all three of the icons along the top of the card could be entirely different from one another. Additionally, there are also two icons in the bottom left hand and bottom right hand corners of the card. The backsides of these cards feature the image of a Renaissance Man and all four icons decorate each of the four corners.

Also included in the box is an additional game board that contains an area where four cards can be laid out side by side. Each of these areas corresponds to one of the worker actions. in the top middle of this board is an icon of a shield. This is the Recruitment board. Additionally, there is a small drawstring bag included that includes 16 wooden knight pawns in four different colors (white, brown, tan, and black), four wooden action pawns in the same four different colors, and 48 double-sided action tokens. Each face of the action tokens contains one of the worker action icons.

Next, we find four player boards. Vaguely triangular in shape, these are the boards the cards will be laid up against during the course of the game. The boards are divided into four areas, each marked with a line and some text reading 'Action 1', 'Action 2', etc. all the way up to 'Action 4'. The bottom right hand corner of the card contains four circular areas. Each of these circles has one of the worker action icons inside of them. There is a similar area at the top of the board, but the backgrounds are different. The icons on the bottom correspond to the 'Barter' (bread) action. The icons at the top correspond to the 'Teach' (book) action. The entire color scheme of the game is warm tans, rich browns, and dark maroons.

The only other item worthy of mention is the rule book. This rule book is very well laid out and incredibly detailed. The rule book includes plenty of details and illustrations. After reading through it once or twice, you shouldn't ever have to refer back to it.

SET UP

To begin, each player chooses a color and then takes into their possession all four of their knight pawns, one player board, one set of Foundation cards, and a round summary card. Once each player has received all of their starting items, the Recruitment board will be set up. A Dealer is chosen for the game and that person will shuffle the worker cards together into a deck, place the Recruitment board into the middle of the table, and will then deal one worker card face up into each spot on the Recruitment board. Then each player will lay out their starting tableau at the bottom rung of their player boards, side by side, in any order they wish using their Foundation cards.

Then, the double-sided action tokens are placed within easy reach of all player, each player is dealt 4 cards apiece from the worker deck, and you are ready to begin playing. You might notice here that I did not mention a starting player. This is because, theoretically, every player will be performing their actions at the same time that every other player is performing theirs. In action, though, this is often not the case, but it does make the game go by quicker if you try to adhere to this as much as possible.

BUILDING UP YOUR PYRAMID (HIRE ACTION)

The object of the game is to be the first person to complete your pyramid structure of workers, culminating with the Master at the very top. In order to play a worker to your pyramid, though, the icons at the bottom right and bottom left of the card must match the icons at the top right and top left of the cards that the new worker is being laid upon.

For instance, if you have a baker in your hand with an icon of the merchant in the lower left hand corner or the card and the icon of the baker in the lower right hand corner of the card and you are playing him onto the second tier of your pyramid, then the baker will be laid on top of a merchant card who is directly to the right of a baker card. Each card is laid over the tops of the two cards directly beneath it.

STORING UP ACTIONS (BARTER ACTION)

As the pyramid gets higher and higher, there become fewer and fewer workers available to perform their actions for you because once a worker gets covered up by another card that worker can no longer perform any other actions. The 'Barter' action, however, allows you to choose a worker from your hand and discard it. Then, you take an action token that matches the type of action that the discarded worker can perform and you place that action token into the storage area at the bottom left of your player board.

Only four actions can ever be stored here and, if you wish, they can all be of the same type. In future rounds, when it comes time to perform an action, you can simply choose and discard one of your tokens and use the appropriate action.

MAKING RENAISSANCE MEN (TEACH ACTION)

During the course of the game, it is highly doubtful that you will always have precisely the correct worker combination available to you to quickly build up your pyramid. This is where Renaissance Men come in handy. Since the Renaissance Man card has all four icons in all four corners, it means that this card can be placed anywhere in the pyramid and the top corners of the card will always match the bottom icons of all of the other cards regardless of what they might be. This is incredibly helpful once your options begin to become much more limited.

In order to build up a Renaissance Man, a player may choose and discard a card on their turn. When they do this, they will take an action token of the type of action that the discarded worker can perform and then place that token onto its appropriate space in the top left area of their player board. There can only be one of each type of action there at any given time. Once the player places the fourth action token, all four tokens will be discarded and then that player will draw the top card from the worker card deck and place the card face down into their pyramid structure following the aforementioned placement rules.

PURCHASING WORKERS (RECRUIT ACTION)

You will recall that there was a Recruitment board laid out at the beginning of the game and that this board had four cards laid atop it. Each of these cards has one of the worker action icons floating above it. In order to recruit a worker from this board a player will discard a worker card from their hand whose provided action matches the icon that is above the worker that they wish to recruit. Once they have discarded a card in this way, they will then place one of their knight pawns in front of the card.

A player can use the recruit action, but they will not necessarily be the one that will be recruiting this worker. In order to successfully recruit a worker, a player must have a majority of knights present in front of the worker. This will be discussed in a bit more detail when I discuss the action phases.

ACTION PHASES

As was mentioned earlier, each player board is divided into four sections that correspond to four different action phases. Also, as was mentioned earlier, every player will theoretically perform their action at the exact same time that everybody else does. My gaming group finds it useful to have one person designated as a caller to call out the action phases one by one.

First, the caller calls out the present action phase. If anybody has a worker that could perform an action (i.e. – that worker is NOT covered by any other cards) then the player may choose to perform that worker’s action. Bear in mind, though, that a player is only allowed one action per turn. So, if the caller is calling out action phase 1, the players would select their actions from any of their uncovered workers on the first tier of their pyramid and then move their action pawns onto the action label on their player board to signify that they have made their choice. Once all players have done this, then they will simultaneously perform their actions. Then, when action phase 2 is called, they will look at their second tier, etc. until they have reached their fourth level and performed their fourth action. The caller will never call for an action phase if nobody has any workers on that tier of their pyramid, though.

There is one important thing to note when deciding which action to perform during your turn. You may, at any time, discard unwanted and uncovered workers from any of your tiers of tier 2 or higher. Doing this does NOT count as an action. So, if you wanted access to a different worker’s action on a previous tier, then this would be a way to go about gaining access to it.

TURN SEQUENCE

Each turn of the game is comprised of three phases. The first phase, the action phase, is actually comprised of several smaller phases and has already been previously discussed. The second phase is the discard phase. Players may only hold a total of four cards in their hand, so in the discard phase they may freely discard as many unwanted cards from their hand as they would like to. In the third phase, the refill phase, the Dealer will refill each person’s hand up to a total of four cards.

WINNING THE GAME

Once one player has completed their pyramid structure by building their master (their 15th worker), then they will win the game. Should two or more players manage to pull this off in the same round, there is a tie breaker included in the rule book to deal with the situation.

THOUGHTS

The first thing that drew me to this game was the artwork. The artwork for this game is just beautiful. And that aesthetic is reflected in every single element of the game from the player boards to the pawns to the drawstring bag that some of the game elements come packaged in. Everything about this game simply screams Renaissance.

Initially, I was reticent about playing the game. At first glance, it seems like it should be a game with a lot of depth to it and then you open the box and find out that there really aren’t very many pieces to the game overall. Plus there is the aspect of the cards involved and that always introduces an extra dose of luck into the equation. Going into it, I assumed that this was going to be a strategy light, luck based game wherein my decisions didn’t really matter very much when it came right down to it.

However, putting my fears and my worries aside, I hopped right in and started playing and this is what I discovered: this really isn’t such a bad game. Yes, there is a ton of luck involved, but I found that I was able to mitigate my luck by carefully planning ahead for those turns when my luck ran out or when I found myself in an action phase without any uncovered workers to use. It is making these careful planning decisions that make up the meat of this game as far as strategy goes.

Even though it’s a really good game overall, there is one glaring issue with the game. Aside from the slim possibility of you trying to recruit a worker that some other player is trying to recruit, there is absolutely no player interaction in this game. At times, it feels like you’re just playing a game of solitaire with other people who are doing the same. I feel like there are plenty of opportunities here design-wise that the designer could have taken to liven things up a bit (even if it were just an included game variant). For instance, why not let me recruit workers directly from an opponent’s pyramid? That would really make things interesting!

As it is, because of the lack of player interaction, the game can sometimes come off as being a little boring. And that’s a shame, too, because this game has some very solid mechanics and it’s a very enjoyable game to play. However, with a world full of much more exciting, interactive games to play, this is just one that doesn’t make it to my gaming table very often. I wish it weren’t this way, but that’s how it is.
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Mike DiLisio
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Nice review. I like this game quite a bit. I agree with your comment about little to no player interaction. This really is as close to multi-player solitaire as you can get, but in this game it doesn't bother me. I've commented about this game before that it's definitely not for everyone. There are people who find it dry and boring, and I completely understand why they feel that way, I just happen to enjoy the puzzle that the game presents.
 
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