author: Philippe Keyaerts
publisher: Descartes Editeur
Reviewed by Dale Yu
Vinci is another new Essen 99 release. It has been called by many as “History of the World – but better”. I would have to say that I agree with this statement. Vinci takes the best parts of HotW (namely the conquest of opposing empires) while taking out the major negatives of HotW (such as the god-awfully long playing time as well as the large random element of the Civilization distribution in HotW as well as the importance of the last epoch’s empire on determining the overall outcome of the game.) If there is a downside to this game, it would be the poorly written rules that are provided with the game. There are multiple sets of errata floating around on the ‘Net. I would search for the most recent version (either on a search engine or on rec.games.board) before playing. The only saving grace of the errata are that most of them are given by Phillipe Keyaerts, the game’s designer.
The object of Vinci is to get as many victory points as possible by expanding your empires. You get points for controlling provinces on the map (with the exception of mountain provinces) with your forces. This score can also be modified by special characteristics in some of the empires (to be explained later). At the end of each turn, you total up your points scored on the board at the time (Similar to HotW). The game ends when someone reaches the appointed point total (100 points for 5-6 players, 120 for 4 players, 150 for 3 players). A unique mechanism (which in my opinion is the weakest part of the game) is that every player is guaranteed an equal number of turns in the game. Thus, if the second player in the rotation is the first player to exceed the winning total, everyone else in rotation gets a chance to play out their turn, but the first player in rotation would not. But, this proves to be a weak point in the game and makes for a very unsatisfactory ending.
The distribution of the civilizations is the main difference from HotW, and it is also what makes this game so special. The game has 52 different Civilization counters, each of which gives a civilization a certain characteristic. Each civilization in the game is made up of two civilization counters. The characteristics that a civilization has can modify its attacking or defending capabilities, can modify how it scores points, or have other effects on the civilization. The civilization counter also determines how large that civilization’s attacking force is. So, to determine the makeup of the civilizations in the game, pairs of civilization counters are drawn out of a bag randomly. On the board is space for six pairs of civilization counter pairs.
Another strong point of the game is how these civilizations, once created, are distributed to the players. As mentioned earlier, there is space on the board for 6 civilizations (pairs of counters). The player choosing a civilization can take whichever is first in line for free. If the player does not want that civilization, he can choose the 2nd one in line at the cost of 2VP. If that one isn’t good enough, he can take the 3rd on for 4VP… so on to the 6th civilization which costs 10VP. In addition to the cost of choosing a later civilization, a 2 VP bonus is placed on all civilizations passed over. For instance, if a player wants to take the 3rd civilization in line, he must pay 4VP for this privilege – but also, the 1st and 2nd civilizations, which were passed over, have a marker placed on them which represents a 2VP bonus for anyone who chooses that civilization in a later turn. These VP bonuses are cumulative, so if a particular civilization is passed over four times, there will be an 8VP bonus for whomever chooses it. In this way, even less desirable civilizations will eventually become desirable once the bonus becomes large enough. Once a civilization is chosen, all civilizations later in line are scooted up towards the head of the line, a new pair is drawn from the bag and placed 6th and last in line.
When you start with a new civilization, you have a finite number of tokens to use in the entire lifetime of that civilization. To get this number, you add up the number of tokens given to you be each of your civilization counters and add to it the fixed bonus (which is determined by the number of players in the game). You then use this bundle of tokens to conquer Europe. You start your attack from any province that borders the edge of the board or only has one sea zone between it and the edge. You attack using a unique formula: it costs 2 pawns to initiate an attack, +1 pawn if you attack a forest or mountain, +1 for every pawn defending the province, and –1 if you are attacking from a mountain. On top of this formula are modifiers based on civilization counter characteristics. I know that this may sound confusing, but after about the 3rd turn it becomes second nature and you stop having to think about it to calculate your attacks.
Another unique part of the game is the resolution of the conflicts. No dice are used to determine conflict. Instead, if the attacker can muster up enough tokens to invade a province, they automatically win. In the conquered province, the losing player loses one pawn from that province and it is removed from the board. All other tokens in that province are then displaced into any other province in the defender’s empire. Players can conquer as many provinces as they have pawns to invade, and any newly conquered province can be a base from which to further expand one’s empire. However, the interesting formula determining the number of tokens for invasion as well as the ability to move some of the defending forces can make it costly (token wise) to invade a heavily defended empire.
At the end of every turn, you must have a cohesive empire. In short, this means that your empire must be made up of contiguous provinces – they must all in some way be adjacent to another province in the empire. If they are not cohesive, you lose control of the non-cohesive provinces (and the tokens within those lands). Once you have established that your province is cohesive, you can then freely reorganize your tokens within the provinces in your empire for defense (you may even abandon a province entirely, although you will then no longer be able to score for that province). Once you have redistributed your tokens, then you score your points for the turn. 1 Points is scored for each province that you control (except for mountain provinces). However, many of the civilization counters have modifiers which give bonuses for certain types of lands, etc.
At the beginning of your next turn, you leave one token in each province that your empire still controls. All of the excess tokens are taken into your hand and provide you with the tokens that you have to expand your civilization for that turn. Unless you have a civilization characteristic that allows you to get more tokens, your civilization will never replenish the tokens that it has lost along the way. Thus, in addition to the tokens lost during battle and the tokens that have to stay at home to keep control of existing parts of your empire, your civilization will quickly lose its ability to expand (as it will not have enough tokens to mount an invasion of a neighboring province).
The last defining part of Vinci is the concept of the declining empire. [If you have played HotW, this concept is similar to starting a new epoch and receiving a new Civilization.] Once you decide that your current empire can expand no longer or cannot score you enough points anymore, you declare your current Empire in Decline and put it to pasture. You leave one and only one token in each province controlled by that empire and place a counter in each province to show that it is an empire in decline. All other tokens are just removed from the board. Then you choose a new civilization from the line (just like described above). You place your new civilization next to you off the board. At that point, your current turn is over. You score points for whatever you have left on the board, but you do not get to use your new civilization until the next turn. Declining provinces still score points 1 per province, but in general, you lose any civilization counter bonuses that you used to receive (although there are a few characteristics that remain in effect even when an empire is in decline). You keep control of declined provinces until someone conquers them. You should note that you can only have one Declining Empire on the board at any time, so if you declare your Empire to be in Decline, any previously Declined empire
must be removed from the board and those provinces abandoned.
On your next turn, you can then invade Europe with your new civilization and do it all over again. As you expand your new empire, you may not you’re your active Empire be adjacent to your Declining Empire (unless you have a civilization counter that allows you to do so). So if you are going to become adjacent, your declining Empire must abandon whichever province would have been adjacent to the Active Empire. At the end of this turn, when you score, you score points for all provinces controlled by your color. However, only your active Empire will get any bonuses given to you by your civilization counters. Likewise, if you have a Declining Empire that has a bonus that it keeps with it into Decline, that bonus is only applicable to the Declining Empire.
Finally, the end of the game is determined by a fixed point total (outlined above) and it should be noted that every player is to get an equal number of turns in the game. In my experience, I have found that this rule does not provide the best endgame. It tends to make the end of the game overly analytic as people know exactly what they have to achieve in order to win or pull ahead of another player, and the game can considerably slow down as people spend too much time trying to analyze the game to maximize their score. Furthermore, it can allow other players to play Kingmaker because how you choose to expand your own Empire or leave your Empire defended can greatly affect the scoring of the other players. This problem doesn’t arise if the last player achieves the winning total first, because then the game ends after his turn. Otherwise, you get into the situation described above.
To remedy this problem, we propose an auction system to start the game and propose that the game end whenever a player exceeds the victory point total. After the civilizations are drawn, but before any are chosen, the player should have a silent auction to vie for starting order. Whomever bids the most VPs get to go first, next most VPs goes 2nd, etc. Then play goes as normal. However, in this variant, the game is won whenever any player exceeds the winning total. This method seems to add more excitement to the game. It also allows all players to know where they stand in the game.
Other solutions to this problem have been suggested such as hidden VP totals. However, I don’t really like this variant (or any games or variants that just call for memorization). Eventhough I am pretty damn good at memorization, I feel that this takes away from the fun and the spirit of the game. It also tends to slow down the game as people spend more time trying to remember what other players’ scores are than just playing the game.
Overall, I really enjoy this game. I feel that the rules, as written, are unbelivably poor and the game designer and publisher should be ashamed for releasing the game with such poorly written rules. (The only rules I have seen that even come close to rivalling these for poor-ness are the instructions included in Twilight Imperium). However, after reading the rules about 15 times, checking the Web for uncountable rules clarifications and errata, and playing the game a few times to iron out the vague rules and modifying the bad rules (mainly the endgame rules) – this is one of the most enjoyable games that I have. It takes the best of History of the World and squeezes it into about 90 minutes without any loss of action or tension. It is a good game for both the German game enthusiast (read – pacifist) and has enough conflict in it to satisfy most of the wargamers that you know. A great game to have around because most groups will be able to play it and enjoy it. [The only caveat I have about this review is that I like the incarnation of Vinci that I have described above with the endgame changes. YMMV with these modifications. As the rules are written, I don’t think I would ever play that Vinci again because the endgame was as unsatisfying as being in the lead of HotW and then getting America in the 7th Epoch and knowing that you had just wasted the last 5 hours of your life because of one stupid card given to you.]