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The Final Word On
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De Vulgari Eloquentia is a game for 2 to 5 players and should take about 2 hours to play. It is published by Z-Man games among several other notable publishers.

It comes in a spacious bookcase style box with plenty of 15th Century style artwork. This artwork continues onto the game-board and is throughout the rulebook.

James: There is a saying 'Don't judge a book by it's cover'. More and more often fancy pieces and great artwork has substituted for good game-play. Amongst game enthusiasts it is game-play, strategies, and fun that count the most. We aren't swayed by such shallow things as aesthetics. So naturally when I saw the gorgeous artwork and unique theme of De Vulgari Eloquentia I wanted it bad. It was pretty much top of my Essen want list.

Mike: This was one of my Essen pre-orders too, and is definitely one of the more attractive boxes of the past several years. I also love the artwork on the tiles and map, very evocative. The wooden blocks nice and bulky, easy to handle.

There are lots of cardboard and wooden cubes in the game. So as you would expect the rulebook is fairly lengthy.

James: In keeping with the artwork and components the rulebook is bellissimo. Yes, I have my usual complaints of it being ordered wrongly, but once your into it's very straight-forward and easy to understand. It just continue to baffle me why the end-game and how you'll get there isn't described first. Anyway, just to warn you, that journey into the depths of the rules does start off quite daunting. The set-up of this game is quite complex, so on an initial play-through the game set-up pages can leave you scratching your head in bewilderment as you try and work out what all the bits are and what the various boxes and symbols on the board actually mean. Honest to God, it took me several read-throughs of a few rules to work out what a Franciscan City was.

Mike: The good news is the rulebook is an improvement on Siena, but still unconventional, and criticized by some, but careful reading clears most everything up. The player aides not the clearest I’ve seen, and are awfully flimsy. The Box has a lot of air as well.

James: The air is better than an insert you have to throw away anyway.

The game has a unique theme. You play a character travelling Italy gather knowledge and manuscripts to create the unified Italian language.

Mike: Much like Papini's previous game, Siena, Vulgari uses the motif of playing a character and allowing you a measure of control over the destiny of that character. You get to choose if you want to stay a merchant the whole, game, or take up the cloth, and when taking up a religious position, to what level in the hierarchy you aspire to. Each of these choices helps define your necessary approach to the game, setting a variety of winning conditions.

James: With the theme sounding so rich the moment the rulebook went up ln the Z-Man website I downloaded and read it. Wow! This seemed like it could be a game of genuine substance. I loved the sound of the career paths, the locations on the map that provided different benefits, and the inter-related in game resources of money, knowledge, books, and people. It was all adding up to quite a unique and deep experience.

Mike: Just need to watch-out for being the only merchant in the multi-player game. It can really sting with paying off all those damn greedy clergy. Also there can be a fair amount of conflict as you race to reach your individual goals.

The main mechanic is through the spending of action points. In turn each player will use their five action points to apply their strategy the best. After a number of turns, between 12 and 17 the game ends.

Mike: The multitude of ways to score can make up a bit of a confusing array. At the end of a game, I’m not sure I can point to why or how I won or lost, or what I may have done better.

James: So it's a fairly normal euro then? It's but with some nice twists. First up is the map. It shows Italy divided into fairly small regions, with several regions together being colour co-ordinated to indicate the language spoken in those regions. Being first to visit an area grants you access to local literatures and businesses, earning you money and knowledge - well only knowledge if you have decided to become a man of the cloth.

Mike: I really like the movement mechanism, combining monetary costs and actions, forcing much better planning and making planning ahead pay off.

James: Planning is so critical, positional on the map is vital. Being in a particular language zone also allows you to take 'local' books. Only a limited number of books are available. So keeping an eye on where you and your opponents are is key. The more knowledgeable you become the more the complex local manuscripts you are able to read and so the more you get from them. What do they give you! I hear you cry. Well victory points of course.

Mike: One of the oddest (and I imagine for some, rather unsatisfying) winning condition: the winner is the one who speaks the new language best. Now THAT is an abstract winning condition.

James: Abstract indeed, but it all adds to the theme. Another part I like is that the map contains locations such as Convents, Abbeys, and Cathedrals which not only help a religious man in his career but also may help merchants too. Moving around the map is just one of the many actions available to a player during their turn. Of course this means there are always more actions to do than is possible to take. Indeed the game builds into some mechanics (such as gaining influence) a way of really sucking the points from you.

Mike: I would say that a lot of very interesting history and ‘theme’ gets quite lost, for instance the books collected in different language zones, the Papal illness, the auction... it almost calls for a two page addendum to the rules describing the fascinating history of the whole game.

James: Unusually for a game based in Italy at the beginning of the renaissance there is no trading. Though you do start the game as merchant. So it's not all bad.

Many of the best games have multiple paths to victory. Die-hard Euro-game fans should find the many different routes quite a challenge.

Mike: I think the game better played with players experienced in Euros- so many mechanisms and places to play actions and ways to score make it a bit of a confusing mess to start: actually, this is quite similar to Siena. But Papini does something different with his games, making them more of a ‘story’ game than many Euros, as you track the development of your character as he travels along his life path. I really like the approach as you invest more into your character that way.

James: There are indeed a lot of different elements to invest in. One of my favourites is gaining the support of different people in the game. These are politicians, noblemen, abbesses, and amanuensis. Basically this means taking different colour cubes from available stock. Costs for each vary, but all require that to take one cube takes 1 action. However taking 2 cubes of the same colour will cost you 4 actions. That's an enormous leap and so you must either want that extra cube really bad, or not want an opponent to have it.

Mike: Decisions like that become more and more important as the number of players increases. With more players you can at least direct your point scoring in relation to the others, by having to compete along the various tracks for points. It's tough trying to plan how you will beat the other players in the race to score. With two, there are so many tracks and on-board possibilities to gain points, it feels a bit pointless to waste effort fighting for the same point sources.

James: For sure, there can be quite a bit of screw your opponent in the game. Using an investment of action points for the first player determination is great. If you can spot a great opportunity it's worth foregoing several actions in order to guarantee first player position.

And The Final Word...

Mike: I quite like the game. It is not the most strategic game out there: so much happens in other player’s turns its hard to predict. You try to maximize your chances for success but the uncontrolled elements can make a mess of these plans. Playtime is about right for a satisfying experience.

James: For me it's lived up to the pre-release excitement. Yes all the great sounding thematic ideas and actions all boil down to very abstract concepts, but you get sucked in. It's a very challenging think where you really have to spot opportunities and adjust your strategy as you work on your plan for victory.

Mike: That victory plan is crucial to work-out though. The game players quite differently depending on the career path you are going to choose. If you don't focus on what you want then you are going to lose. Especially against more experienced players.
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unkle
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I like the review tone a lot !

I agree completely with:
Quote:

Mike: That victory plan is crucial to work-out though. The game players quite differently depending on the career path you are going to choose. If you don't focus on what you want then you are going to lose. Especially against more experienced players.


which I think comes from the fact that the game is a great mix of strategical considerations and tactical opportunities. After ~10 plays, many with a similar player group, we start to see scores going down and fight for first position more crucial. It also comes from the fact that knowing what the others are up to gives a lot of room for in-your-face moves.

A great review for a great game I think !
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Joe Berger
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Great review of an endlessly intriguing game. This I completely agree with — given the 'story' nature of the game, it's nigh on essential.

TheFinalWordOn wrote:

Mike: I would say that a lot of very interesting history and ‘theme’ gets quite lost, for instance the books collected in different language zones, the Papal illness, the auction... it almost calls for a two page addendum to the rules describing the fascinating history of the whole game.


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I tend to think that De Vulgari Eloquentia is quite "thematic". I find myself praying for the pope quite often (especially when I am going for knowledge, as a monk most of the time... )

It is much more thematic (to me) than, mmm, Caylus for instance (or any of the great euros I like). I tend to remember (and tell about) my games as "story arcs", which I think is great. But it is no simulation, for sure.

Glad to see love for the game here !!
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Joe Berger
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The games I play that I often feel afterwards have really told a story are Pandemic, Age of Steam and Brass. I love Caylus, but you're right, no discernable 'story' emerges from one game to another, no matter what order the buildings come out in.
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I need to play Brass, definitely (I know, I should already have...). Pandemic is getting a little too "mechanical", but I agree that first plays were definitely feeling that way. Not really talking about AOS, which I do not really enjoy, for reasons that I do not fully understand (it has all I like inside).
 
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Joe Berger
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Interestingly they're all games that involve a map — perhaps that is integral to the feeling of being involved in a sequence of events, since there is a aspect of journeying involved. Though with AOS and Brass, there is no pawn that ravels around the board . . .
Yes I know what you mean about AOS — sometimes I play and it is the best game ever, other times it feels very disappointing.
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Ziegreich
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A pawn on a map helps, I think. That is why I even play Siena with pawns during the Peasant and Merchant phases. (I took some from Princes of Florence and repainted one or two to match the Siena player colours.) It makes so much of a difference to me to have a little meeple there that represents me that I avoid playing Siena without it.

If you haven't used it for Siena, do try it. Weird that it makes a difference, but it does make the game feel more immersive. Siena should never have been released without such pawns... And let that be a lesson to all you game publishers!
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