[Review] Davinci's Challenge
- 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
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
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.
"Real men play board games"