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‘Leonardo’ by Acchittocca – a group of Italian game designers.
The Ragnar’s are now men of substance – for the first time in seventeen years of game production the high-interest savings account at the local pawn-brokers is in the black. And being the sort of hard-headed businessmen who can’t let capital lie around uninvested, they have elected to spend it. On new games. Well, what better excuse could there be for buying a new game each for Christmas?
“We’re entrepreneurs now”, declares Dicken over the Internet in his best Alan Sugar-style e-mail. “We should treat ourselves”. So three games are bought, one for each of the boys, and that is how Phil comes to be ripping the cellophane with trembling fingers on Christmas day morning. Nintendo DS’s? Il Divo CDs? New socks? No, the main event is the opening up of Leonardo.
One abortive foray to Roger’s bash later (“only a fool would bring a new game along without the rules”), and it’s a case of the return of the game. Roger, Phil and the Morton’s roll up their sleeves to give it a good hammering.
Leonardo is a game about inventing machines (specifically the mind-boggling array of unpatented off-the-wall stuff that Mr da Vinci came up with). Mirroring the real world, you need to get yourself a laboratory to work in, apprentices to do the work, and some raw materials to construct the machines. It all makes perfect sense. The system is one of those really tight systems – if you’ve played Puerto Rico or Aladdin’s dragons you know just how you need to do x, y and z but with the capability to do x and y, or y and z, or whatever. So too here.
Cleverly, everything is needed for more than one thing. Apprentices are important. They allow you to collect resources, to recruit more apprentices, to improve your laboratories and to be allowed to do various bonus actions as part of the city council. If you have the most apprentices, you get these things without paying – and in a game where money is crucial, that is very useful. Unfortunately, you need to spend time producing your inventions: the more apprentices working in your laboratory, the faster the machine will get built. SO where do you deploy your little worker boys? A difficult balancing act.
As said, money is incredibly important and performs various functions. If someone has more apprentices than you, you can still acquire a particular resource or capability by spending some of your hard-earned florins. You need money for breaking ties when you have chosen to build the same invention as some one else. And most importantly, your victory points at the end are money-based. In other words, you’re paying to perform better during the game using those very victory points that you want at the end of the game. Tricky. And where do you get money from? By completing inventions. Aha, you will say -doubly tricky! You need to complete inventions to get money, you complete inventions by using apprentices, but to improve your position you need to use money and/or apprentices to go into the town. Hmm.
And that is pretty much it. A very finely balanced resource management game. Which nearly doesn’t begin as Dave, in an unusually fierce manner, demands to have a puzzling aspect of the rules explained. Roger can see what Phil is saying, Dave and Ian can’t. After several minutes of high octane debate, it is agreed that when Phil said you can’t add resources to resources that you’ve already put underneath a laboratory, he was really meaning that you have to put all the resources under a laboratory at the same time. The Treaty of Versailles had nothing on the Ragnars wrangling over the finer points of rules.
So off the gang go. Different strategies are immediately in evidence. Ian goes for the wide portfolio – the greater the variety of inventions you hold at the end, the more bonus florins you receive. Phil goes for massive laboratory upgrading, including the acquisition of the very useful ‘mechanical men’ (twice the work-rate of a bog standard apprentice). Dave is trying something risky (no one ever finds out what it is) but he does keep saying it doesn’t work. Roger seems to specialise in choosing to do exactly the same as other people on a kind of rotation system and contrives to lose out every time.
Going into the last few turns, the general feeling is the game is Ian’s. Even at the counting up stage, Dave is famously heard to say that there’s not a lot of point counting it up. (Ragnars are prone to this one: the “let’s not bother scoring” syndrome). As it turns out, Phil wins at a canter. Ian has burnt vast piles of cash in the last few turns, whilst Phil – in best boring old git fashion – has been stashing away the florins. Phil 52, Dave 41, Ian a surprising low 34, and Roger 31.
Even Roger feels it has a lot going for it. Definitely one to try again.
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