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Right Games LLC (http://www.russianboardgames.com) is a Russian gaming company that has started to release some of its more popular titles in English. As part of their preparation for Essen, they’ve sent a number of folks preview copies and I was lucky enough to be one of those folks.

The Enigma of Leonardo is a card game that’s themed around the artwork of Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks. The basic stats of the game is that’ll take about a half hour to play and it’ll play two to four players.

And I do have to say that Enigma fits the game pretty well since it’s an odd little game. I’ve never seen a game quite like it, although it’s an easy enough game to understand and to teach. And, despite its oddness, it is a game that I’ve enjoyed playing and a game that other people have enjoyed as well.

The cards are a bit on the thin side but they are beautifully illustrated. Each card features a reproduction of one of Da Vinci’s sketches, as well as two smaller symbols that are also from his sketch books. There are twelve symbols in total. The symbols are always one on top of another and each symbol is always in the same upper/lower position, so every symbol has five other symbols it will never be paired with.

Each player randomly creates a cross of five cards in front of them and they get a hand of five cards. On your turn, you play one card from your hand onto your cross, replacing the old card that was there. If, at that point, you have three of the same symbols in a row, you get a little cardboard tile that’s as thin as the cards with that symbol. You can earn more than one symbol at a time but you never get duplicates.

However, and this is the clever bit, the card you replaced goes onto your neighbor’s cross in the same position that it had on your cross. Their old card gets discarded and the fun stops there so there is a limit to the chaos.

Whoever gets seven tiles first wins.

Like I said, pretty simple. You’ll be able to explain the game and get it going in about five minutes. There’s nothing here that’s rocket science. And yet… there is just something about Enigma that caught me and caught the other folks I showed it to.

I’ve never played a game quite like it and what give Enigma that little extra zing is the fact that you affect the next player down. If it wasn’t for that, then the game would be nothing more than luck of the draw. However, now you have a way of messing with another player. At the same time, you’re looking ahead to the player before you and trying to figure out what they’re trying to do and capitalize on that.

I’ve played it with two players and with three players and I’m not sure which way is stronger. With two players, you have more control, although it can turn into a game of tennis with players fighting over the same position of the cross. On the other hand, with three players, trying to plan for what the player ahead of you was going to give you was a little more interesting since they aren’t the same player that you’re force feeding cards.

At its heart, Enigma is an abstract game. If you are hoping for a game that will give you any kind of insight into the life or work of Da Vinci, you won’t find it here. The game could have just as easily been about collecting gems or creating electrical circuits. In fact, it might make more sense with those themes. The theme of Leonardo Da Vinci is just an excuse for pretty cards.

However, mechanically, the game is sound. More than that, the Enigma of Leonardo is a game that draws you in. You are constantly struggling for control of your cross and always hoping that you are hindering more than helping the next player. It’s not a game where the game plays the players. It’s a game where the players are fighting to play each other and the real enigma is who is really in control.
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