Relive history in two hours flat
Like plenty of other people, I love nothing better than to play a vast game of Advanced Civilization. Trouble is, I rarely have the ten straight hours needed to finish a game of it. Not to mention the other three or four games in the same genre that I haven't even had a chance to play even once yet. Perhaps I'll have an opportunity when I retire.
Enter Vinci. This game gives me all the same feelings of excitement as one of those big epics, but in a game that rarely goes over two hours. What bliss! How Vinci manages to do this is largely due to what is not in the game, rather than what is. Consider Advanced Civilization, for instance: the slowest parts of that game are typically the trading, the acquiring of extra civilization traits, and the resolving of calamities. Vinci does away with them all, leaving a bare-bones game that positively flies along. The aim of the game then becomes to occupy the most valuable land for the longest, earning victory points. The more land you occupy, the more points you get. Play continues until, in a round, someone crosses some finish-line in victory points, then the player with the most points wins.
To keep the game interesting, Vinci doesn't do away with civilization traits altogether; rather, each civilization gets two of these (printed on little chits) for free, drawn blind from a bag. When you select your civilization, it gets those two traits for the duration of its life. Some can even outlast the civilization, but more on that later.
Civilization chits come in several flavours; there are some that give you extra points for occupying a certain kind of terrain, there are some that give you a military advantage, and there are some whose exact benefit is hard to see at first, but which become clear on a couple of playings. The fact that each civilization gets two chits means that there are many, many combinations, providing for good variety and replay value.
One very clever feature about the civilization chits is the balancing mechanism built into them. Your civilization has a maximum population, which in turn determines how far it can expand, which in turn determines how many victory points it can earn from land occupation. The powerful civilization chits give your civilization a small population, and the weaker chits give you a larger population. As if this weren't enough--and sometimes it isn't, because different playings warrant different strategies--the civilization-selection method balances things even more, by granting you extra victory points for the chit pairs that have been largely ignored, and penalizing you for going for a powerful combination that has only just been drawn. A pathetic combination can suddenly look quite enticing if there are eight free victory points attached to it.
Eventually, your civilization reaches its potential and can't expand any more; or perhaps is has suffered some attrition at the hands of attacks by other players. With some games, there is nothing to do but promise to do better next time; with Vinci, 'next time' is only a turn away. In History of the World style, you can voluntarily send your civilization into decline and start a new one somewhere else on the board, drawing a new pair of civilization chits for your new empire. The great thing about this is that not only will you score for your new civilization, but your declining one still brings in points for the land it occupies (even if its special traits disappeared when it started declining). Actually, some traits still carry on for declining civilizations, scoring you extra points.
The presentation of the game is pretty good, and just what we expect out of Europe these days: a solidly-constructed board with wooden playing pieces. The board has been criticized for being a little garish, but it is still extremely functional. It would have been nice to see the players' pawns have the declining-empire symbol on one side, rather than having to deal with the little squares of card that perform that job now.
Even though I am deeply impressed by this game, a couple of caveats are nonetheless in order. First, while the game advertises (and supplies the parts) for up to six players, I recommend going to no more than four if at all possible. Otherwise you will be waiting too long between your moves. Likewise, consider three players a probable minimum. The game doesn't really work well for two or one, using the solitaire rules included in the rule booklet. (My partner and I have achieved a somewhat playable two-player solution where each of us plays two colours and score the sum of our sides' victory points at the end of the game.) Another problem isn't with the game as such, but needs to be mentioned. The rules as printed are riddled with errata and poorly translated. The author has clarified these matters, and the results are on the Vinci Errata web page (follow the link at the bottom of this review page). Make sure you fetch this file before you try to play a game.
Vinci is a game that manages to please several crowds at once. It has a bit for wargamers and a bit for the grand epic buffs, and it certainly can be played by casual gamers too. This game is destined to be a classic.