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Subject: Review (from a playtester) rss

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Luca Iennaco
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I playtested this game. I like it a lot (because I tend to like area majority, resource management, optimization of your actions, low luck factor and agonizing decisions), but I try to present it here in a descriptive, objective form.

(by "Acchittocca", a group composed by Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Stefano Luperto and Antonio Tinto)

Category: Eurogame (aimed at "gamers"; the basic rules offer simplified setup and a few different details, while the appendix of the rulebook provide variants to make it more strategic at the price of slightly more complexity. When the two versions of the rules differ, I’ll state it in the review. Personally, I like to play with all the variants included.).

Main mechanics: area majority and resource management.

Luck/tactic/strategy: luck is minimal, tactic is present in the "deployment" phase while strategy is required to plan your moves during the various turns to optimize your results (as in Princes of Florence).

Complexity: rules are not very complex (about the level of Puerto Rico), but they lead to some agonizing decisions and require careful planning, so the game can be on the "brainburner" side.

Number of players: from 2 to 5. It’s optimal with 4 and still very good with 3 or 5, while it is playable, but not so excellent, with only 2.

Play time: 20-30 minutes per player (once you know the rules).

How the game works (detailed overview of the rules)
Each player is an inventor, trying to satisfy the requests of the Lord of the City (an unnamed, generic city in Renaissance Italy, bearing more than one resemblance to Florence...) thus earning money. The richest player after nine turns is the winner.
The city has eight locations: the Council, the Academy, the Workshop and five shops, each selling one of the five resources available in the game (iron, glass, wood, clay and rope). Besides, each player has his own laboratory (and he can get another during the game).
Money and resources in the game are represented by cards and each player keeps his cards hidden in hand.

Turn 0 – setup
Each player begins with three workers, a master (worth as two workers and subject to a few special rules), three florins (the local currency) and a small laboratory (with area 3, meaning that it can hold up to three workers). One player is randomly chosen to get the "Leonardo" figure, identifying the starting player.
Then each player gets 1/2/3 favours (with 2/3/4+ players) from the Lord of the City, meaning that he can freely get a few more money or resources or enlarge his laboratory or get a second one, or...
The inventions that will be required are of various difficulties (chromatically represented by the border of their cards: copper, bronze, silver and gold) and their deck is prepared stacking on top 4 copper, 3 bronze and 2 silver cards (picked at random and shuffled), on bottom 5 gold cards and the rest in the middle (in this way there will be more small inventions in the first turns, while the biggest ones will progressively show up, but in a non-predictable way).
With 2 players, one invention per type is randomly removed from the deck before assembling it.
Finally, 3/4/5 cards (with 2/3/4+ players) are drawn and placed face up to show the inventions currently required by the Lord of the City.
[In the simplified rules, the favours and the inventions initially required are predetermined, leading to a quicker, but more repetitive, setup.]
Each invention card lists the resources needed to build it (from one, for a "copper" invention, up to a mix of four for a "golden" invention) and the necessary time (in men/turns: from 4 to 15; for example 4 men/turns means that a single worker can do it in 4 turns, two workers needs 2 turns and four workers only one turn), plus the reward (in florins) paid when it is completed (the reward is higher if no one has created that invention yet). Each invention also belongs to one of five different kinds (mechanical, optical, etc.).

Turns 1-9 – gameplay
The game lasts nine turns, each composed by four phases played in clockwise order (starting with the player holding the "Leonardo" figure).

Phase 1 – starting to work upon an invention. Each player may declare that he is going to create an invention (but he does NOT announce WHICH invention). In this case, he secretly puts the resources needed to build the invention (from his hand) under his laboratory card and a "work token" on the "0" space (each laboratory has a grid of spaces numbered from 0 to 15 to keep count of the work already done there).
If the player has a second laboratory, he can launch up to two inventions (following the procedure explained above for both).
A player can also chose to abort a project: he takes back in hand the resources currently under the laboratory and all the work done there is lost (this is a very poor strategic choice, and occurs only because of bad planning; while provided as an option for not "exiling" someone who did an error, it should ideally never be used).
Note that each player has just one occasion to choose what to do: when they’ve all spoken once, the phase ends.

Phase 2 – deploy workers. The active player must deploy from one to all his workers in one location where he has no workers yet (the possible locations are: the Council, the Academy, the Workshop, the five shops and his own laboratory if an invention is being created there). Alternatively, he can place his master in any location.
When a player has deployed all his workers and his master, the phase is over for him. When all players are out, the phase ends.
Example: the red player places a worker in the Academy. Later in the turn the green player places two workers in the same location. The red player would like to reinforce his position there, but can’t place any more workers, as he is already present in the Academy. Then the blue player places two workers there as well (while they aren’t enough to beat green, they grant a better presence than the red lonely man). Thus the red player adds his master (the only piece that can always be deployed everywhere), regaining the majority (as the master is worth as two workers).

Phase 3 – resolving the locations. The locations are now resolved in a fixed order (Council, Academy, Workshop, shops, laboratories).
Each location of the city is handled in the same way: the player with more workers there (the master counts as two workers) acts first, then the player with more workers after him and so on (in case of a tie, the player who deployed his men before the other can act first). "Acting" means paying some florins to get what the location offers (each location gives "something": in the shops it is a specific resource, in the Academy you get extra workers ("apprentices"), in the Workshop you can enlarge your laboratory, get a second one or install a "mechanical man", while the Council grants special privileges). The price to be paid is 0 (free!) for the first sale that a location does in each turn, then 2, 3 and 4. No more than four sales may happen per location per turn. If there are (as is common) less than four players in a location, once they have had an occasion to buy, they get another (in the same order) until four total sales are done or all the players refuse to buy any more.
After each location is resolved, all the workers (and masters) sent there are taken back by their players.
Example: in the Academy there are (in order of arrival): one red worker with the red master, two green workers, and two blue workers. Thus the order is: red (grand total of 3 workers), green and blue (both with 2 workers, but green was there first). The red player gains a new worker (as the Academy gives apprentices) for free, then the green player can pay 2 florins to buy one and he does so. Now the blue player can pay 3 florins to get an apprentice, but he refuses. Thus the next player (red) can get it for that price, and does so. The green player has now the option to buy for 4 florins, but refuses. The red player (blue is skipped as he already refused before) declines as well, so the resolution of the Academy is over and the next location is resolved (the workers and masters sent to the Academy are given back to their players; note that the fourth possible sale didn’t took place but this has no bearing on the game. In each turn, the prices are always 0/2/3/4 in each location).
Note that if a player is the only one in a location, he can pay 9 florins to get all the four "goods" offered (or 5 florins to get three goods, or 2 to get two or zero to get one). Also note that there’s no “passive blocking” allowed, as if you have more workers than me in a location, but do not buy, the same price is offered to me.
The Council is slightly different: no prices are paid there. Instead there are four privileges available: the first player gains one of them of his choice, then the second player gets one the remaining three and so on. However, if all the players sent men in the Council, the last player does not get a privilege (he’ll have to go empty-handed), unless there are only two players.
[In the simplified rules, the player with more workers in the Council also assigns the "Leonardo" figure to whoever he prefers (even himself), rather than having it passed to the next player at the end of the turn.]
The privileges can give you money, allow you to buy any one resource for only a florin, allow you to secretly look at the next four invention cards in the deck and put them back in the order you prefer, or finally to move a worker from the Academy/Workshop/any shop to the Academy/Workshop/any shop [in the simplified rules, this last option is less powerful and less cruel as it can only move one of YOUR workers, from the Council to any other location]; since the Council is the first zone to be resolved, this option can allow you to change the majority in one of the other locations just before it is resolved.
Finally, in each laboratory the "work token" is moved forward one space for each worker present there; the master counts as two workers. Note that while the master is very powerful in the city, as he can act as a reinforcement in a zone where you had men but were surpassed (as in the example above about "phase 2"), his utility in the laboratory is to work as two while only occupying the space of one (remember that laboratories have limited capacity: 3 for the starting one, 4 for the second one you may get in the Workshop; if a laboratory is "enlarged" thanks to the Workshop, its capacity is raised by two). Mechanical men can be installed in an enlarged laboratory when you visit the Workshop (but only if no invention is currently being developed in that laboratory): they permanently occupy a spot and can’t be moved, but work as two workers. Only a mechanical man can be installed in the original laboratory, while up to two can be put in the second one (so the best "productive assembly" you may have is composed by two enlarged laboratories, areas 5 and 6, with a mechanical man in the first and two in the other).
The workers (and masters) in the laboratories are then taken back by their players.

Phase 4 – completing inventions.
If a player has reached the required amount of work, he announces the invention he just created. The resources placed under his laboratory are checked and if all is fine they are discarded and the player is paid by the Lord of the City the amount of florins shown on the relative invention card. Besides, he takes the card as the "patent" of the invention.
Patents grants two advantages: each invention of the same kind of a patent you own will require two less points of work to be built (you’re specializing in that field) and this is cumulative (owning two "optical invention" patents allows you to create the next optical invention with four less men/turns); besides, at the end of the game you get some extra florins based on how many different kinds of patents you own (as a prize given from Leonardo to those pursuing kwnowledge in a variety of fields as he did). Note that, as a result, specializing is profitable during the game, but to assign the final victory only diversification is useful.
If a player is still working on an invention when it is created by someone else, he must say so. The resources under his laboratory are revealed (to verify it), but he can go on as usual. When he’ll complete the invention in a later turn, he’ll get paid (a lower sum, shown on the invention card, that’s usually about three quarters of the original prize) and obviously won’t receive the (already assigned) patent. Note that a player can’t begin to work on an invention already realized (only continue to work on it if it was already on the way; that’s why revealing it is necessary). On the other hand it is possible to produce an invention that hasn’t been required yet, but it can’t be announced until its card appears, so you risk to "lock" the laboratory indefinitely (not a good idea).
If two (or more) players complete the same invention in the same turn, they are both paid the full sum offered by the Lord of the City, and then they must participate in a blind bidding between them to assign the patent.
Finally, for each completed invention a new card is drawn and placed face up on the board (so that there are always 3/4/5 inventions requested, with 2/3/4+ players).
The turn marker is then advanced and a new turn begins.

Turns 8 and 9 – special rules are applied. No workers (or masters) can be placed in any city location (only in the laboratories) and no new inventions are drawn to replace the old ones. These two final turns are thus very short and used only to complete the last inventions.
After the ninth turn, the florins for "how many different kinds of patents you own" are assigned and the richest player is the winner (if tied: the one with more patents, then more "golden invention" patents, etc.).

Replay value: quite high. The favours you get in the setup (the first important strategic choice you do), the varying order of the invention cards and the inevitable different deployments you and your fellow players will try, assure that you’ll have to answer each time to a different situation. Trying to maximize the current turn without losing sight of your overall strategy (developing over turns) can be tricky.
Besides, there are several different approaches available (take a lot of apprentices early to be allowed to visit more places, develop your laboratory with all the options, harvest as many resources as possible, create several small inventions or a few big ones or a mix of the two, specialize in a field to build a lot of inventions quickly or try to get all five kinds, etc.).
There’s definitely a learning curve (and the game can feel quite different based on the number of players as well!).

EDIT: typos...
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Leo Jang
South Korea
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excellent review! ^^
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Ricardo Rodrigues
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Man... Perfect review. It is like playing the game without realy playing it
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aristides mytaras
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very nice review.
thank you.
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