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Greg Schloesser
United States
Jefferson City
TN
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I've been fortunate in that my family and I have been able to travel to
Europe quite often over the past decade. We have visited some incredible
places and have memories that will last a lifetime. It is always neat when
a game is released that has as a setting one of the places or regions we
have visited.

When I first heard that a game called San Gimignano was going to be
released, I knew I just had to have it! Once I saw a picture of the game,
that erased any doubts. Even the fact that it was being released by
Piatnik, a company whose track record with me isn't exactly stellar, wasn't
enough to deter me, nor was the fact that it was designed by Duilio
Carpitella, a name unknown to me.

We had the great pleasure of visiting San Gimignano on our family vacation
to Italy back in 1997. The town is known as the "Manhattan of the Middle
Ages", since its many tall towers give it the appearance of skyscrapers.
And this just isn't hype ... it really is true. San Gimignano rests atop a
hill in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. As you approach it, the sight
is quite dramatic. Plus, it's labyrinth of medieval lanes are a joy to
wander. But, I digress ...

The game does have a theme that ties in closely with the town's history.
Players represent heads of aristocratic families, attempting to gain
influence over the various guilds and construct impressive towers as a
testament to their power and wealth. Although the theme and history are
quite rich, the mechanics used to accomplish this are disappointingly
simple.

The board is formed as the game is played and will ultimately be comprised
of sixteen hex tiles. Each tile depicts three of the four different guilds,
divided into regions. Four of these tiles begin the game in play and the
others will be added by the players on their turns. Each player begins with
3 tiles (more if there are less players), ten towers and 20 influence
tokens.

The components are quite sturdy and functional. Indeed, the towers are made
of a stone-like material ... if fact, it could actually be stone.
Strangely, they also possess a strong and most curious odor that permeates
the room when the box is opened. Even our resident PhD in Chemistry, Jerry
Maus, couldn't decipher the identity of the odor. I just hope it isn't
toxic! The influence tokens are round wooden bits and are large enough to
be handled easily. The only real disappointment regarding the components is
the artwork on the tiles, which is very basic and uninspiring. That is a
big surprise, considering the artist was the now legendary Franz Vohwinkel.

Actual game play is quite simple. On a turn, a player performs the
following actions:

1) Place an influence counter. As mentioned, each tile is divided into
three regions and no one region can contain more than two influence markers.
Other than that one restriction, a player may place an influence counter
into any region that does not contain a tower.

2) Place a new board segment. If a player has tiles remaining, he MUST
place one to the board. The tile must be placed so that it touches at least
two other previously laid tiles. Further, two identical guilds (regions)
may never touch each other.

3) Building a Tower. This phase is usually optional. A tower may only be
built if a player has one of his tokens in four different guilds that are in
a connected group. The tower may be built in any one of these guilds and
any tokens located in that guild are removed and returned to their owners.
Once a guild (region) is occupied by a tower, no further tokens may be
placed there.

The only time a player is required to construct a tower is if he constructs
a tower in one turn and still has four connected, different guilds connected
to that area. Then, on the next turn, he MUST construct a tower in that
group.

That's it. Play then passes to the next player and this entire process
continues until one player has constructed all ten of his towers (in which
case he wins) or it becomes impossible for any player to construct another
tower. This can occur when it is no longer possible for a player to connect
four different guilds with his tokens present in them. If this condition
arises, the game ends and the player with the most towers on the board is
victorious. If more than one player ties for most towers, the player who
has the most influence tokens on the board between these tied players is
victorious.

The game is fast ... FAR quicker than I had imagined. Our game took about
30 minutes and my conversation with a good buddy of mine said his two games
clocked in at about the same time. That's a good thing, as the game can be
used to fill in a gap while awaiting the end of another game or waiting for
more gamers to arrive. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if the game is engaging
enough to have the desire to bring it to the table regularly.

I honestly felt the game was just too simple. There wasn't terribly much to
consider. The placement of tokens seemed to be without much angst and the
decision on when and where to build towers wasn't terribly taxing. Yes,
there were choices, but they just didn't seem that difficult. I'm fairly
certain that more tactics and strategies will surface with repeated
playings, but I'm just not sure the depth will be all that great. I'm
really hoping my fears are unfounded as this is one game I really want to
enjoy. I'd be highly disappointed if a game about one of my favorite towns
was a bust.

 
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