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Conrad Zimmerman avatar 12:56 AM on 02.03.2008  (server time)
On the Table: Leonardo da Vinci

Considered to be one of the greatest minds in all of history, Leonardo da Vinci's work as an inventor is loosely the basis for this week's game. Compete against other players by creating gadgets that the city of Florence requests while improving your workspace and taking on additional employees.

Leonardo da Vinci is a game of planning and bidding. The objective is to end the game with the most florins. Each player has apprentices at his disposal to handle the assorted tasks of building a scientific empire. Acquiring resources, hiring more help and upgrading workshops is all handled by assigning apprentices. In addition, they are also used to handle work within the Labratory. The more of them you have, the more you are able to accomplish each turn. Along with the apprentices, you have a Master Inventor, which counts as two apprentices.

The board is laid out in four main sections: Town Council, Workshop, Academy and Shops. The Town Council can award one of several favors, such as additional money, a discounted resource card or the ability to look at the next four inventions the town will request and re-order them. The Workshop allows you to build a second laboratory, upgrade an existing one or build mechanical men to assist in lab work. The Academy is where you take on new apprentices and the Shops are for purchasing resource cards.

This is where the bidding element comes in. Players take turns placing apprentices in the various parts of town, with higher representation garnering priority. Buying resources and upgrades becomes progressively more expensive with each purchase, so having the most apprentices in an area can be of utmost importance. But, since you cannot add to the number of apprentices you already have at a location, someone could easily steal priority from you, forcing you to pay more for what you need.

Inventions are created by having the resources and investing the man-hours necessary to build them. There are five resources in the game (wire, glass, wood, brick and rope) and twenty-five different inventions to be built with them. At the beginning of each turn, players declare if they are starting work on a new invention and place the required resources underneath their laboratory. To fulfill the time requirement, apprentices must be assigned to work in the lab at the same time they're being placed around the city. Each apprentice in the lab contributes one man-hour at the end of the turn. Having mechanical men in your labratory can help speed this along, adding two man-hours for every one you have, but some inventions can still take a few turns to finish.

Once you've completed your invention, you'll receIve some florins in return. In addition, if you are the first to complete an invention, you receive its card which allow you to create other inventions in its category faster. If you manage to make inventions in several different categories, you'll score some extra florins at the end of the game.

Leonardo da Vinci only lasts 9 turns, with the final two being devoted entirely to research, so there's very little time to build up the necessary resources to build a lot of inventions. In this way, strategy can play a very large part. Do you spend a few turns gathering resources and manpower so that you can build the more valuable inventions or knock out as many of the little ones as you can, slowly amassing florins? The complexities of when, where and how much of your manpower should be applied makes for some really interesting gameplay.

The game can be set-up in either a basic or advanced method. In the simplest configuration, the rules specify what each player starts with. In the advanced rules you get to choose to start with certain number of favors (kinda like create-a-class in COD4), such as a larger lab, more apprentices or extra florins. So, while the basic rules put everyone on an even keel, the advanced rules allow you to tailor what you start with to suit your own strategy.

My only problem with the game is the rulebook. You think this rambling description is bad? Figuring out how to play with the rules alone is an exercise in masochism. While they do a service by presenting the gameplay in sequence, the text frequently interrupts itself with confusing or complicated exceptions and minutae. Add in a dozen or so vague diagrams without captions and you've practically got a puzzle. I've played Leonardo da Vinci several times, read the rules many more, and there's one piece in the box that I still have no clue what it is used for. It's like two games in one!

Complaints about the description of the rules aside, this is a great game. The components are all high-quality with excellent artwork and the box is one of the better designs I've seen with a storage tray that comfortably nestles every stack of cards and chits. Once you've figured out the flow of things, it's challenging and rewarding. Plus, it's got robots and some of the inventions you can build are bizarre to say the least. I'd recommend this for family gaming or those interested in a reasonably short game that's still heavy on strategy.

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