Thursday, August 26, 2004

Review: Vinci

Vinci is one of those classic games that I've been meaning to get around to reviewing for a very long time. It's become a favorite with my Tuesday night gaming group, so much so that we've resorted to banning it temporarily until we've had the chance to play some different games.

Vinci is a conquest and area control game. The game is played on an attractive (although somewhat out of scale and oversimplified) map of Europe. Players adopt an emerging civilization and then battle for control of as many provinces as possible. The more provinces you control, the more victory points you will receive. Eventually a player's civilization will reach a point where it can no longer expand. At that point, the player puts the civilization in decline and adopts a new civilization and the process repeats itself.

The components in the game are top notch. The map is beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully laid out. There are over 150 wooden pawns and around 100 sturdy cardboard markers. The rules are full color and easy to read with plenty of illustrations and examples. Everything feels solid and lovingly crafted.

Game play is simple. At the beginning of the game, twelve civilization tiles are drawn at random to form six initial civilizations. The tiles indicate what characteristics a civilization may have and how many units it can start with. For instance, a civilization with the two tiles: Astronomy and Weapons would have a base value of eight units (plus a certain number of units that depends on how many players are in the game). The Astronomy tile gives the civilization the ability to attack across water and the Weapons tile gives it a +1 bonus while attacking. Since each civilization is made up of two random tiles, there are a huge number of potential civilizations and therefore the game has quite a lot of replay value. No two games are ever quite the same.

For his first turn, each player chooses one of the six civilizations. Choosing the first available civilization is free but if a player decides to pass up that one and get the next then he must pay a victory point penalty and place a marker on every civilization that he passed up. If the next player chooses the passed over civilization, she will receive a victory point bonus. This is one of the ways in which the game is somewhat self-balancing. If the person in front of you wants to take that good civilization that you would have been next in line for then he may but he's going to have to pay for the privilege.

On subsequent turns, players take their units in hand and begin taking as many provinces as they can. Combat is not random. Every province has a cost that must be paid in units. Your civilization is not getting any more units, ever, so you had better not spread yourself too thin or your opponents may walk right over your hard earned territory when their turns come. On each turn, you take back into your hand whatever extra units you have, then you use them to expand your territory, and finally you redistribute your units however you like. Then you score one victory point for every province you control and any other victory points that your specific civilization's attributes might entitle you to.

Since you're never getting any more units, eventually your civilization is going to reach a point where it can no longer grow. At that point you may declare that your civilization is in decline. Any extra units are removed (leaving one unit on each province you control) and markers are placed on the provinces so that everyone can tell that this is a civilization in decline. Then you choose a new civilization from the ones that are available and on your next turn you will begin expanding again using the new civilization. Civilizations in decline still yield one victory point per province, just as growing ones do, but declining civilizations can't attack so eventually they become easy prey to the growing civilizations around them.

The most important decision in the game is deciding when to put a civilization in decline and when to just stick it out. The entire game hinges upon it and if you choose wrong then you may find yourself quickly falling behind. The constant ebb and flow of civilizations leads to an immensely interesting and aesthetically pleasing game.

There are other nuances, such as the fact that advancing civilizations must always be connected (called the "rule of cohesion"), but that basically summarizes the game play.

Vinci is an incredibly fun and satisfying game. The game takes around two hours to play and it never seems dull or repetitive. It is extremely well balanced so that no matter which civilization you choose, you have about an even chance at getting a respectable amount of victory points from it, provided you play to that civilization's strengths. I can't recommend this one enough. It definitely rates a strong nine out of ten in my book.


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