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Subject: Lucca Città almost defies description. rss

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Red Dragon
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Lucca Città is more like a German-style board game that happens to be made entirely out of cards than it is a "card game" per se. Under "Categories" it should have "City building" and possibly "Renaissance". Under "Mechanics" it should have "Set Collection" even though that doesn't quite fit, and hmm... oddly enough, none of the other categories or mechanics listed adequately describe this game. "Variable turn order" isn't in the list, "competitive selection" isn't in the list, "strategic action timing" isn't in the list, and "pattern building" only vaguely describes the way this game works. "Tile placement" is used for something completely different in other games, so that isn't right... maybe "card placement" (which also isn't in the list) would describe it best. Ok, I'm stumped. I guess since none of the mechanics available apply to this game very well, it might as well be left as "N/A" -- but that's a rather uninformative way to describe this game. It deserves better.

The premise of the game is that you represent a noble family in the city of Lucca in Italy. You gain Fame points (i.e. victory points) in several ways. You score Fame upon completion of the construction of palaces, depending on which cards you used to construct it. You score Fame upon "opening" your palace (throwing a party in the new palace, as the rules describe it) depending on the status of your opponents' palaces of the corresponding color at the time you open your palace. (The closer they are to being completed, but not completed, the more you score.) You score Fame for helping construct the city walls, but only if you have completed palaces and still have incomplete palaces and haven't overextended your wall-building. And finally, you can score a little Fame, or lose a little, depending on where in the city (the street number) you built your palaces.

Such is the theme of the game. It's a reasonable theme, and the cards are simple yet nicely done to fit the theme.

The game mechanics of Lucca Città, which so oddly defy fitting any of the many game mechanics listed, create a game with a significant amount of luck combined with a steady stream of trade-offs to consider, resulting in difficult strategic choices to make. Unlike games where the 'correct' move is often obvious, in Lucca Città you can never quite tell the best way to advance your own fame, or the best way to block an opponent, let alone which of the two is best to do.

One interesting mechanic is that the turn order varies each turn. Going first means getting first choice of available sets of cards, a definite advantage. But to get first choice, a player must often use cards to contruct palaces that yield few Fame points upon completion. In other words, you have to risk losing in order to get an advantage that could allow you to win. The tension this creates between choices is delicious.

The same card features also control how many walls the player can support. Each wall built is worth Fame at the end, but only if every wall is supported. If one 'falls' you get nothing for any of them. Both walls and support require some of the very limited number of cards a player gets, so it can be tricky to plan for both while still completing palaces with the other cards.

Another interesting aspect is that of timing when to open the palaces. The closer to completion your opponents' palaces are, the more Fame you get by opening your palace (inviting them to your party), yet the longer you wait, the more risk there is of them completing their own palace, which cuts deeply into your gains.

Finally, the game has a carefully balanced method of adjusting for 3, 4, or 5 players, which not only keeps the game time about the same regardless of number of players, but preserves the tightness of competition for cards to complete palaces and to build and support walls. Unlike some games where having fewer players leaves a glut of certain resources, and having a greater number of players leaves everyone starved for something vital, Lucca Città adjusts the size of palaces and number of turns to maintain almost precisely the same feeling, with the same tension and tough choices.

Some people who love German-style board games might see this and think, "Oh, a card game, forget it, let's get out Settlers or Puerto Rico instead." I think that if those people gave this so-called "card game" a chance, they might be pleasantly surprised. Ok, granted, it doesn't have any wooden blocks or tokens, and it doesn't have any thick cardboard chits, and it doesn't have any placemats to tell players how to arrange a hundred little pieces. But the feel of Lucca Città, at least to this player, is very similar to those games that do. I have played several games that I like better, but this one is fun, it's a solid contender for table time, and considering it's just a deck of cards, it way more than justifies the tiny amount of gameshelf space it takes up.
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Andrew Rae
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Re: Lucca Citt almost defies description.
This review is now nearly two years old but I agree with nearly everything. In fact this review is soooooo good that I am not even going to write my own.

I fully agree that the choices between shields and windows are indeed delicious. If you cash in one turn by taking a lot with plenty of windows (hence points) then the next turn you are unlikely to be able to pick such a good lot.

On reflection it seems that balance is again the key. There are so many bouns points on offer, especially when moving completed buildings, that the windows are not the dominating factor. A well timed building with say five points can easily compensate for an ill timed nine point building, meanwhile you get the benefit of four more shields.

It is really a game about choosing the best path through the rubble. There are elements of looking at what you expect to come up in the next round, but this is so distorted by the groupings that preparing for upcoming lots is significantly less important than taking the best on offer now. I would say a sucessful 'quick and dirty' algorithm will getyou home in this one more often than not.

There is lots of depth in this one and it is true that it is more of a euro boardgame than it is a cardgame.
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Stefano Castelli
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citylife wrote:
There is lots of depth in this one and it is true that it is more of a euro boardgame than it is a cardgame.


Well, I tend to consider Lucca Città one of the most underrated card games here on BGG:
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Justin Wood
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This is a good review of an interesting game. I picked it up on sale for 5$, so it's definitely worth that. If it were 15 or 20, I wouldn't necessarily say so.

I do like the various portions of strategy, as to what cards to take, when to play a palace and determining how many shields you need to keep in reserve, essentially what palaces you shouldn't complete in order to support your walls.

My main problems with the game have to do with the fact that the mechanics in sum feel slightly inelegant. The basic mechanic of build palaces, move to completion, and then open isn't too bad. What is more problematic is that so many features of the game depend on very specific comparisons of cards in different areas for each item being compared.

For example, sometimes you check incomplete palaces for shields, and sometimes you check street numbers in the same area to break ties, but for final points you check street numbers everywhere etc. There are a number of rules like this in the game that make it very hard to remember and teach.

Coming out of that same idea, the strategy becomes very hard to plan for. You need more of a chess-mind to anticipate how the game will go, since it is almost impossible to really make calculations due to the various factors competing for points.

Our first game, we sat down and calculated all of our last turns to see what the maximum points would be. It definitely was not what our instincts were, and took several minutes for each player to actually make the calculations because of all the interdependence. Given that a player really can't "see" what the result will be, strategy almost turns into luck (of which there is a fair amount already).

The other negative is that it needs a lot of table space, otherwise it's form factor might be nice for a more strategic travel game.

As the other reviewer said, there is a lot of interesting strategy in this game, and maneuvering to go first makes a big difference, so it's worth giving it a shot. But I still have reservations about how often we'll play due to the various rule complexities.
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