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[Review] Davinci's Challenge

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  • Tom Vasel
    With the furor raised by the controversial novel The Davinci Code, it s certainly not surprising to see several games on the subject. One of them, DaVinci s
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2005
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      With the furor raised by the controversial novel The Davinci Code,
      it's certainly not surprising to see several games on the subject.
      One of them, DaVinci's Challenge (Briarpatch, 2005 - Paul Micarelli)
      caught my eye when browsing the internet, so I requested a copy. When
      I received the game, I noticed that it used the so called "Flower of
      Life" symbol - but that was pretty much the extent of the theme.
      DaVinci's Challenge is basically an abstract game in which players
      alternate laying down pieces, attempting to score points when they
      form different patterns.

      I found DaVinci's Challenge extremely fascinating. It's a game in
      which player's must watch what pieces they play (don't want to miss
      any scoring opportunities), as much as those that their opponent plays
      (don't want to allow them to set up any major scoring patterns). The
      rules are incredibly simple - just lay a piece down on your turn - but
      the possibilities are tremendous. The only negative things I would
      say is that scoring may be a chore for some people and the endgame is
      a bit anticlimactic (it feels more like a "mopping up" operation).
      Still, these don't detract me from what has become one of my favorite
      abstract games - a visually pleasing game that fascinates throughout.

      In a written review, it would be hard for me to properly explain the
      board, but it's made up of several triangle and ovals, formed into
      different patterns (flowers, circles, etc.) Each player takes
      seventy-two pieces of their color (ovals and triangles), and one
      player is chosen to start the game. On a player's turn, they simply
      place any of their pieces onto any open matching space on the board.
      If this placed piece, along with prior placed pieces, forms one of
      nine patterns (triangle, diamond, gem, eye, pyramid, hourglass, star,
      circle, or follower), the player scores the matching points for that
      pattern (ranging from one to twenty-five). It is possible for a
      placed piece to score multiple patterns at the same time; and a player
      can, with clever placement, get a lot of points with one piece.

      When a player scores their patterns, they simply put a tally mark for
      that particular pattern down on a specialized score sheet. At the end
      of the game, the tally marks are multiplied by the score for each
      pattern, and the player with the higher sum is the winner! The game
      is over when neither player can make a pattern on the board.

      Some comments on the game…

      1.) Components: The board composed of an orange/brown circle centered
      on a smoky gray background. It's a little drab, I guess, but fits in
      with the Davinci theme, as well as a couple smaller circles (to hold a
      player's pieces not yet played)) with a few of DaVinci's more famous
      drawings on them. The pieces are made of molded dark gray and beige
      plastic; and while they look good on the board, it's slightly marred
      by white marks on the pieces where one can tell that the pieces were
      cut off of sprues. Still, once a game is in full session, the board
      looks pretty impressive - with varying patterns spread across the
      board. The score sheets included are nice; because with the large
      point totals (a recent game I played was 249 to 221), it's almost
      essential. Twenty-five double-sided scoring sheets are included,
      which I imagine will last a player a decent amount of time.
      Everything fits into a large square box with ample room to hold all
      the pieces.

      2.) Rules: The game rules are only on two sides of a small sheet of
      paper. They're extremely simple - not much to mess up here - and
      simply consist mostly of how placing a single piece can score multiple
      patterns. Both the score sheets and the rules show diagrams of the
      nine patterns, which should be in front of players at all times (you'd
      be surprised at how easy it is to forget certain patterns.) The game
      is incredibly easy to teach people; I played it with some junior high
      boys, and they picked it up in an instant.

      3.) Pattern scoring: It's very easy to miss certain patterns when
      scoring, especially patterns that are smaller and part of the large
      patterns, like the triangle and the diamond. The rules state that a
      player can't score points for previously laid patterns, so a player
      must catch them when placing them down. It's annoying to notice that
      you've placed something earlier in the game and not have received
      points for it. I saw a comment on the 'net that DaVinci's Code would
      be great with computer scoring, and I agree. Still, once players
      learn to watch out for these different patterns, scoring isn't as big
      of a problem.

      4.) Patterns: The strategy comes in two different forms - in which
      players attempt to set themselves up to score lucrative patterns and
      at the same time foil their opponent's efforts to do the same. The
      highest scoring patterns, the flower and the circle, each take six
      pieces to fulfill and are rather difficult to put down without the
      opponent noticing. The optimal way would be to set up multiple
      patterns so that an opponent can only block one of them, but this is
      much more difficult to do than say - Connect Four, where the same
      basic principle applies. Most of the time, when a player scores a
      Circle or Flower (25 points each) in the games that I've been a part
      in, it's because either they distracted their opponent with other
      scoring options, or their opponent was so wrapped up trying to score a
      pattern of their own that they ignored the other player's moves. This
      balance between setting up their own patterns and blocking opponent's
      patterns is what I most enjoy about the game. My only quibble about
      this part is that the Star and the Pyramid (each worth ten points)
      don't seem to have the same difficulty to complete. The Pyramid
      happens in every game I've played - multiple times, but Stars are
      easily blocked (they require two more pieces). I wonder if the Star
      should be 15 points, causing players to attempt it more than the
      Pyramid. Of course, it could be my inexperience with the game
      speaking here…

      5.) Beginning to the End: I would submit that the beginning of the
      game is the most important part, in which player's set up their
      initial patterns or place pieces to strategically block future
      patterns by the opponent. In the last fourth of the game, the game
      almost goes on autopilot, as players attempt to scrape up any last
      patterns that they can find (all the spots for the bigger ones are
      gone), and is a little less dramatic than the middle, in which players
      must be constantly on their guard. Still, the game only takes about
      an hour, which is constantly engrossing for the entire time.

      6.) Fun Factor: Most of the fun in the game is from making patterns
      and scoring points (it's a little reward along the way to the big
      finish). At the same time, blocking an opponent from achieving
      multiple patterns by placing only one piece is just as satisfying and
      fun. Both of these are rather easy; the only parts of the game that
      are "heavier" are the scoring and the fact that a player must be
      watching dozens of emerging patterns at the same time. I really
      enjoyed this game - due to the simplicity.

      I'm really glad I got DaVinci's Challenge. I can take or leave the
      theme; it just doesn't match up with the game - it's simply an
      abstract strategy game. But it's one that seems as if it will hold up
      over multiple plays. I really enjoy abstract games that allow a
      player to set up their strategies in advance, and DaVinci's challenge
      allows such forward planning. Like the Gipf series, a simple action
      is taken each turn; but the choices are great and varied, and the end
      result is a smooth, fascinating game.

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games"
      www.tomvasel.com
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