MVGA meets Thursday nights at 7pm in the
Masonic Hall in Holliston, on Route 16 just
east of the center of town. Turn north on
Church Place (which is more a driveway than
a street) to find parking.
We welcome visitors. We'll even
waive the $3.00 fee for your first visit.
Anton, Steve, Dan, Eric, Rich, Walt
LEONARDO DA VINCI
(Anton, Dan, Eric, Rich)
We had 6 gamers at the start of this week's
meeting. Normally we'd play two 3-player
games or one 6-player game, but Steve had a
shiny new copy of BattleLore, the latest and
most-hyped entry in Richard Borg's highly
successful Command and Colors series. Walt
and Steve really wanted to try it, so the
other 4 of us chose the chapter's brand-new
copy of Leonardo da Vinci to start with.
Rich and Eric had each played one previous
game while Anton and Dan were first-timers,
so Rich taught the rules before we started.
The theme of Leonardo da Vinci is the development of inventions.
You start with a master, a number of workers and a lab, with ways
to obtain more workers, an additional lab, and/or robots to help
with lab work. You also have a supply of florins and components;
the florins help you buy new items while the components are needed
for inventions. Inventions pay florins once they are complete,
though if a rival beats you to the patent office, your payoff is
In Leonardo's "expert" game, you pick three upgrades at the start.
Your options for each are as follows:
a) 5 florins
b) a set of 4 components
c) 1 extra worker
d) a lab upgrade, 2nd lab or robot (first 2 also with 1 component)
In the beginner's game, each player gets three specified, pre-chosen
upgrades. These starting upgrades are different by player (but are
meant to give an even game.) Eric was randomly chosen to be first
player, but he had been the first player in his previous game. Rich
was the fourth player, the position he had played in his previous
game. They decided to swap so they would have the chance to try
something different. This left the players with the following
1. Rich: 2 extra workers and a set of 4 components
2. Anton: 2 extra workers and a 2nd lab with 1 component
3. Dan: 1 extra worker, a lab upgrade with 1 component and a robot
4. Eric: 10 extra florins (2 sets of 5) and a set of 4 components
We each complained a bit about our opponents' starting advantages,
which may imply that the beginner's game is reasonably balanced. It
would be more interesting to choose our own upgrades, and I'm sure
we'll want to play the expert game in the future.
We were a bit tentative getting started. In the first phase of each
turn you initiate research. The game includes a deck of 25 invention
cards in four degrees of difficulty, and 5 inventions are displayed
on the board at the start of each turn, with replacements for any
that were invented on the previous turn. Each card shows 1 to 4
components needed (depending on difficulty) and the number of work
units needed to complete the research (from 4 to 15.) Rich and Anton
started research, but Dan and Eric, with fewer workers, didn't. Dan
had a robot to start the game, so it was clearly a mistake not to
start one of the simplest inventions, though this wasn't obvious at
Eric was delighted to be the only one in the lab upgrade section on
the first turn. He added a second lab, flipped it and bought a
robot, using 5 florins. He reasoned that the competition would be
greater later. There was a crowd waiting to hire more workers, so
no one was able to hire more than one.
Rich and Anton got off to a strong start in the invention area,
completing inventions (and getting paid) before Eric or Dan had even
started. It's tempting to put off research till you've built up
some infrastructure, but the cash, discount and potential VPs from
even the smallest invention represent a substantial advantage, so
it's a complex decision.
On the second turn Eric tried to complete a level-1 invention using
two workers and a robot. Rich was surprised, as he thought a robot
did only one unit of work (so two workers and a robot would be 3,
when 4 is needed.) Eric had learned that a robot did two units of
work. We checked the rules, and learned that, indeed, a robot does
two units of work. (A master is more skillful than a mere worker,
while a robot is tireless and can work at night and on weekends.)
This misunderstanding hurt Dan, who would have put his initial robot
to work on an invention right away if he had known the robot could
complete a level-1 invention all by itself in two turns. With a new
appreciation of the effectiveness of robots, we made sure the lab
upgrade area was heavily fought over for the rest of the game.
The worker placement process is well designed. It's an advantage
to have to last placement, but the player with the most workers
doesn't always get that benefit, because you often want to put a
batch of workers in a single place (you can't place workers twice
in the same spot during any one turn.) This leads to maneuvering
as players angle for best position. Rich made effective use of the
council, taking the "move a worker" action a few times. His key
move, however, was to use the council to look at the first four
cards of the invention deck near the end of the game, rearrange it,
and purchase the cards needed to finish a level-4 invention (if he
hadn't been able to do this, he would have been left with nothing
to do in the final "invention only" turns.
Eric got an advantage in the first turn lab upgrade purchases, but
Rich's early start on inventions and clever council use was just
enough to make the difference. As one would expect with this game,
the two experienced players finished well ahead of the rookies.
Rich 64 (4 types,) Eric 60 (3), Dan 41 (3), Anton 30 (2)
Eric's rating: 7. I've played Leonardo da Vinci twice now, and
find myself thinking about the game even after we've put it back
into the box. On the other hand, the beginner's game has worn
thin; I want to make my own starting mistakes next time!
Richard Borg's latest addition to the "Command and Colors" series
is BattleLore, which was recently released by Days of Wonder. It's
a game with a huge stock of gorgeous bits, and (unlike many games
that have great bits) it's graphically well designed to make it
easier to play. Each player receives a set of cards that detail
the options available, and you can pull out only the cards that are
needed for the scenario you are playing. The game has a medieval
theme, with knights and bowmen and swordsmen, but it also includes
a fantasy component, with "lore" cards you can play to get effects
that aren't possible for ordinary mortals.
Steve and Walt set up a scenario that was set in Acquitaine, but
they played using the lore rules. Steve chose a Level 2 Commander,
a Wizard, a Warrior and a Cleric. Walt chose a Level 2 Commander,
a Warrior, a Cleric and a Rogue. The Commander increases your hand
limit, while the others allow you to play various lore cards. The
dice are similar to those in other C&C system games, but one face
is a lore face; these do not normally hit in battle, but each lore
symbol you roll gives you a token that can be used later to cast
spells. This provides a balance to the game; misses in battle
may be offset by use of lore in the future.
Walt got off to a great start, using Darken the Sky to great effect
and pulling out to a 4-1 lead (you must kill six enemy units in
this scenario to win.) Steve came back by charging with his heavy
cavalry, and Walt couldn't buy a hit with his archers. The heavy
cavalry units can do a lot of damage if you don't kill them first,
and Steve killed five of Walt's units in a row for a comeback win.
Final scores: Steve 6, Walt 4
Eric's rating: 8. BattleLore boasts a coherent design and is a
bit easier to learn than the excellent Command & Colors: Ancients.
I haven't yet played with the lore rules (though my wife and I did
run through the Agincourt scenario using historical capabilities
Steve and Walt finished their BattleLore game and saw that Leonardo
da Vinci was still several turns from finishing, so they went to
the fabulous MVGA game locker and pulled out Balloon Cup, a 2-player
game designed by Stephen Glenn. It's a quick game, and Walt won a
Final scores: Walt 3, Steve 2
Eric's rating: 6. Balloon Cup works well, but there are many
2-player games I'd rather play.
(Steve, Dan, Eric, Rich)
Anton and Walt had to leave, but the rest of us stayed for one more
game. Eric had a brand-new copy of Canal Mania in his tub o' games
and everyone was eager to give it a try. Canal Mania is a member
of the railroad game genre, even though it represents an era before
railroads became predominant. You build canals to connect cities
and towns on a map of England, and you deliver goods cubes, moving
them along the canals to score VPs for the canal owners. It has
strong elements of Ticket to Ride and Age of Steam, two excellent
Eric was the only one who had played the game before. In the one
game he played, his daughter scored about twice as many points as
he did, so this didn't mean he was likely to win, but at least he
understood the rules and could teach them! In Canal Mania, players
take turns, with each player getting the same number of turns. In
this game Rich was the first player and Eric the last player, so
we knew the game would end after Eric's last turn.
The game comes with an attractive map, showing cities and towns in
six colors (like Age of Steam) with clear and rough terrain hexes.
There are also three decks of cards: contract cards that you try
to complete, build cards that let you build canals on the board,
placing tiles from your supply, and five engineer cards, each of
which gives the person who holds it a special ability.
Your turn has three phases:
(1) Either take a new contract (in some cases, two new contracts,)
or swap your engineer out for a new one, or discard all the build
cards on display and replace them with five new ones.
(2) Either take three new build cards from the five that are face
up, or use as many cards as you want to build canals along routes
that you have contracts to build.
(3) Move a goods cube along canals, scoring VPs for the players
along whose canals the cube moves. You will try to use your own
canals, and the final segment *must* be along your own canal, but
sometimes you'll need to use an opponent's canal.
You may skip any of the three phases and take a build card unseen
from the top of the build deck instead. At the end of your turn,
you discard down to seven held cards.
Rich went first and scooped up the contract to build a canal from
Manchester to Liverpool. You may only build if you have a contract
from Parliament to connect two cities, so selecting appropriate
contracts is a key element of strategy. Each contract shows the
maximum number of tiles you may lay to connect the terminuses, and
you may not use more than this number of tiles. The Manchester to
Liverpool card must be built using at most 3 tiles. Rich chose to
connect the two cities via Chester, giving him two links right at
the start of the game and enabling him to begin scoring 3 VP if he
could move cubes along that route.
Steve was next. He took the contract to connect Manchester and
Stoke, and Dan took Worcester/Birmingham. This left just two
contracts, and a player with no contracts can take two as long as
he or she takes the last of a set of five, so Eric took both
Oxford/Gloucester and Worcester/Gloucester, reasoning that the two
should work well together.
Rich followed his initial canal with the Chester/Nottingham canal,
which visits Stoke on the way. This gave Rich a long route from
Manchester to Chester, Stoke, Burton and Nottingham, allowing him
to begin scoring 5 VPs for a single cube move. As the rest of us
were still hoping for 2 VPs at most, Rich pulled out to a giant
lead. Eventually Dan got his act together, but Rich held the key
Birmingham/Coventry link, so Dan's cube moves often gave 5 VP to
Dan and 2 VP to Rich, while Rich was scoring for Rich alone.
Eric and Steve limped along scoring at most 2 VP a turn. Steve
drew the potentially valuable Leeds/Liverpool via Skipton contract,
but he built via Manchester, introducing two black spots in a row
into his network (Manchester and Skipton.) It's impossible to
ship any cube along a link that has the same colors at both ends,
so this meant Steve had spent a lot of effort building a largely
useless line (it wasn't obvious when he started work, but it
became obvious later---we'll avoid that trap in the future.) Eric
eventually drew the Oxford/London contract, giving him his own
5 VP route, but it was much too late to matter.
In the endgame, we counted our contracts. The players with the
most completed contracts get bonus points. Eric and Dan tied for
most, but Eric's 6 contracts had a total value (adding the maximum
lengths) of 26, while Dan's 6 had a total of only 25. This gave
Eric 10 VP for first place while Dan had to settle for 7 VP. Rich
completed 5 contracts for 4 VP and Steve completed only 4 for 1 VP
(Steve was burdened by the enormous effort involved in the canal
from Liverpool to Leeds.)
Final scores: Rich 74, Dan 71, Eric 59, Steve 40.
Eric's rating: 6. Canal Mania plays very smoothly, but so far it
has seemed to me that the game is driven by who gets which contracts
and by whether the new contracts that appear fit into the network
you have already built. Often you can see that you're headed for
trouble, but there's nothing you can do about it. Perhaps more
games will show that there are options I haven't yet identified.