Sunday, January 15, 2006

Vinci. Vinki. Winky. Bananas. (Vinci, Santiago)

Sonja joined us again, and brought 2 new (to us) games in tow... Vinci and Santiago. These are two of her favorite games, so I was quite curious to try them (For Sale!, though a very different game, was a favorite of hers which has gone over extremely well).

We started with Vinci (pronounced "Vinky" or "Winky", depending on who you ask). It means "to be conquered", and the name is fitting! The gameboard shows Europe as unamed territories defined by their major resource (mountains, fields, etc). In addition, a few other descriptors, "ports" and "mines", are identified. A series of "characteristics" are randomly drawn and layed out in pairs along the top of the board. In turn, players must choose a pair of characteristics which will define their emerging civilization and then begin to spread their influence across the board (a focus on military and farming, for ex.). Points are earned acording to the size of the civ, and for how well the civ matches up with some of the characteristics the player chose for it (a nation of farmers gets bonus points for controlling fields, for example). As the game progresses, players must decide when their civilization has reached it's zenith, and then decide to put it into "decline". This allows the player to pick a new pair of characteristics and start a new nation. The old nation continues to provide points until it is wiped of the board. This keeps going until the game ends. The whole thing is pretty abstracted, as the capacity for a nation to expand is the only thing which is described, and that is represented solely by a supply of little wooden discs. Seeing a game of Vinci is very similar to watching a number of coloured ameoba rather rapidly growing and contracting across the board.

The game was definitely interesting. Sonja, having played several times before, was much better at choosing her nation's characteristics, and cycling them for maximum VPs. She took over the center of the board and held it for quite a while. Kozure was last in turn order, and had a difficult start since the board was already pretty congested by his turn. I played my timing pretty badly, and at one point I was completely eliminated from the board! (I took solace in the fact that I was still in 3rd place, but with no source of points that was pretty short lived). Lucky for me, this is not a player elimination game... On my turn, I just selected another pair of characteristics and started a new civilization (I beleive my last one was defined by "Barbarians" and "Espionage"... an advantage in numbers and the ability to take out a large army with few soldiers). Luch got a good run out of some "Port" territories and came very close to catching up to Sonja, but ultimately Kozure had a very lucrative last turn and came in second. I was dead last.

I thought that Vinci was a very good game. The twin characteristics encourage players to look at the board differently for each combination they play. The expansion mechanics are simple enough that things move quickly for a game of such "scope". "Kill the Leader" tactics dominate the second half of the game, but the fact that players start new civs whenever they want and score their points immediately ensures that the game can't help but move forward. A minor issue I have is that things are SO abstracted and simplified that I never really felt I had time to identify with any of my nations. For a game with such a compelling topic, that's a bit of a shame. Still, the game was fun, so I can't fault it too badly!

I'm pretty sure it was well liked by the group. Kozure said he preferred it to El Grande! I don't see the connection, myself (and I definitely prefer El Grande)...

Santiago was next.

This is a game where players auction for goods to plant in a field (banana plants, potato seeds, etc), and ultimately win for producing the most valuable crops. A valuable crop is defined by it's size (a continuous set of 7 banana plants is worth more than 7 plants spread out across the board). The twist is that every turn, the player who bid the LEAST is in charge of determining which plants will get watered (termed "the overseer"). Predictably, plants without water eventually dry up and die. The game, therefore, revolves around evaluating the opportunities for various crops on the board, bidding accordingly to pick the right crops at the right time, and then bribing the "overseer" enough to make sure your efforts don't go to waste.

It's a simple enough system, and the bribing aspect makes the play interesting (it provides cash to the cash poor, and keeps runaway leaders in check... unless they are very persuasive!). Nothing groundbreaking, but player interaction was good and things moved along well (and any game with a built in screwage factor is always fun). For whatever reason, I lump this game with "China"... a modest game , but one that does what it's trying to do simply, cleanly and effectively (I'm not saying they are similar games, just that I associate them in this way). Not the kind of thing that would ever be in my top 10, but I could see them getting lots of play.

Unfortunately, my game was cut short (had to leave early). I wasn't able to finish the game, but what I played seemed promising enough. The next day, I was told I managed to virtually tie Shemp despite my absence for the second half of the game! Not sure what went so horribly wrong for him, and he's not offering to tell me....

Vinci: 8
Santiago: 7.5 (though not based on a full game)


  1. Vinci

    Another game that scores very well in the perfect game criteria markings.

    Almost every category is covered, with the possible exception of "Leader Rewards" - this is definitely a game where "kill the leader" is an acceptable and necessary tactic. I would add that a hidden victory goal would also add some spice to the game, but that's also debateable.

    This, in my opinion, is the most polished and playable of the various "civilizations rise and fall" category of games, including Civilization, Advanced Civilization, History of the World, and Sid Meier's Civilization. It doesn't quite have the same depth of detail or strategic options, but mechanically and thematically, it's very, very good.

    A solid 8.5, or even a 9. I might have to revisit the top ten after playing Vinci and Railroad Tycoon!


    Here's an obscure theme with a very shrewd execution of play mechanics. This is a cutthroat game with excellent strategic potential. It has a very resource poor feel, and you can just feel yourself deflating when one of your potentially cash-cow crop fields is screwed over for irrigation.

    Enjoyable, but not something I'd run out and buy, mostly because I don't engage with the theme very well. It is relatively quick and feels very tightly put together. Nothing sloppy about these rules.

    A 7... maybe a 7.5. Mechnically quite good. Visually, not overly impressive, and thematically, kinda depressing (not a poor theme, just a sad one).

  2. Kozure,

    A 9? Really?

    I enjoyed it, but there didn't seem to be enough going on. I'd have to play again to know for sure, but didn't you get the sense that it already felt a little repetitive by the end of the first game?

    I don't actually mean that in as bad of a way as it sounds... I only mean that after your 5-6th civ, with the level of depth afforded by the system, it really feels sort of the same. It's definitely fun, but the game could have been about competing ameobas and worked the same way.

    I'm curious how you rated Vinci in your "building something" criteria. You are certainly building something, but it barely lasts a few turns before it's wiped out!

  3. p.s. and I know that I should be the LAST one complaining about a thin theme (China? Pueblo? Ra?). In this case, I'm not really complaining... it's just that a civ building game is rarely "abstract" like this one is, so I found it a bit striking (and a little "off" from what I'd be looking for in a game of this genre... be that world war or civilization growing)

  4. I was thinking about this thread today, and it occured to me that there are parallels between Vinci and another game I like... Tigris and Euphrates!

    Honestly, as much as I like T&E, it also feels like it could be about anything else and still play the same. Despite the fact that it involves the rise, fall and clash of multiple empires over time, it's too abstract to matter. I absolutely cannot identify with any of those civs either (or their leaders).

    I prefer T&E because there is a finer grain to the events that occur (positioning leaders, placing followers, conflicts, monuments, disasters. Long term planning and short term tactics).

    In Vinci, you basically have to make 3 important types of decisions:
    1) Which pair of attributes to choose for each Civ.
    2) Where to start the growth of your new Civ.
    3) When to put it in decline

    Those are important decisions, and they are what makes the game fun. However, the rest of the decisions (which can take several turns to play out) don't matter that much.
    -The best expansion paths from the starting location chosen for the civ seems to be pretty obvious.
    -Defensive and offensive positions, due to the nature of the combat rules, are not that important.

    Anyway, what makes T&E a personal favorite is also what makes it a brain burner. What (in my opinion) keeps Vinci from greatness, makes it a much smoother and more accessible game to play.

    Different strokes for different folks. Luckily, in this case, I like both.