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Subject: A Brief Look at Leonardo da Vinci rss

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Larry Levy
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The Italian gaming industry is growing by leaps and bounds and releasing some very impressive designs. Most of these tend toward the light and fluffy side. But one recent release bucks that trend and is a genuine gamer's game. The game is Leonardo da Vinci, which I've played twice, once with four and once with three players.

I think it’s very good. Probably not great yet, but it may reach that stature, once we all get more familiar with the strategies. I think the thing that impressed me most with the game is how smoothly it plays. This is a fairly ambitious and involved design, but once the rules are explained, they’re very easy to grasp and the turns flow very easily from player to player. Probably this is because you can only do one small thing each turn. At any rate, this can be a hard thing to achieve, particularly in a meaty game, but it’s very rewarding when a set of designers can pull it off.

I think there are two key rules in the design. The first is the decision to jump the payment for an item from free for the first place player to 2 florins for the second place player. This really increases the competition for first place in the different city areas, which adds to the game’s interaction and tension. The other is that you can’t add apprentices to an area if you’ve done so earlier that turn, so you have to add them as a group. This means when you play to an area, you have to decide how many of these fellers you’re going to want to have there, which definitely rewards forward planning. It also helps to speed the game along and means that the player with the most apprentices isn’t necessarily going to be the one to place last.

Although you can play this game by the seat of your pants and probably have fun doing so, to do well, you really have to plan pretty carefully. Know exactly what you want to accomplish each turn and formulate your strategy to achieve it. Once players get experience, I don’t think people will be too successful saying, “Oh, I’ll just hold back and take what’s cheap.” With good players, ain’t nothin’ gonna be cheap, honey. You’ll either have to be able to swoop in at the end and plop down more men than your opponents can muster, or, the most likely option, just dedicate a big chunk of manpower there. I learned that lesson in my second game, to my woe.

When Susan Rozmiarek reviewed Leonardo on the Geek, she said that she found the potential of other players to mess with your best laid plans to be frustrating. I understand this sentiment, but for me, it’s been the kind of frustration that makes me want to get better at the game, rather than avoid it. I got hammered pretty good in my second game; I fell behind the power curve in both money and workers early, then kept getting outbid (mostly because I was trying to accomplish several things during the turn, instead of focusing on the one I needed to achieve). This was frustrating as hell, but I had no one to blame but myself. Hopefully, I picked up some tips for doing better next time. I will say that this might be a game where it’s hard to catch up from a slow start.

I’ve heard mostly good things about Leonardo and so far I have to agree with the majority. Those who like planning games should definitely pick this one up. I thought it played well with both three and four players. It should also do well with five, although the extra competition might make planning even more critical (and could lead to some accidental screwage). It’s not clear if the two-player game would work, but I’d certainly be willing to try it out. At this point, I give the game a 7.5 rating, which has the potential to rise with further play. It's definitely one of the best games from last year.
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