Reviewed by Nigel Buckle, copyright 1999

Vinci is a boardgame by Descartes (the original was published in French, but there is an English version by Eurogames).

This game recreates the rise and fall of various empires within Europe. There have been other games that simulate this at a variety of levels. For example: History of the World; Civilization; Britannia; Barbarian, Kingdom, Empire; etc. Unlike some of these games Vinci takes a simpler generic approach. While playing this game you will not control the Romans, the Huns, or the Vikings, but your choice of entry area and the powers of your civilization may be similar to what these empires did historically.

The advantage of a generic approach is that each game is different (unlike the historical approach of Britannia, which further encourages 'historical' play by the allocation of victory points).

Players compete with one another for control of areas (provinces) whilst trying to maximize their victory point score by building big empires. Expansion is finite however; eventually all empires stagnate and go into decline, before eventually disappearing all together. When this occurs the player controlling the declining empire starts a new one and the process of growth and decline begins again. This continues until one player reaches a set victory point total (varies with the number of players).

Vinci is for 3-6 players with additional rules for solo and 2 player games. Its level of complexity is relatively low, and games should take around 2 hours.

In the box you get:

150 pawns, in 6 colours (one set for each player).
6 larger pawns in 6 colours (one for each player)
33 Brown pawns (to represent the declining empire at the start and for fortifications during the game).

45 Declining Empire Chits.

52 Civilization Counters to indicate the characteristics of each of the civilizations

1 Cloth Bag to store the Civilization Counters

1 Game Board representing Europe divided into provinces

2 Rule Summary Sheets
1 Rule Book

The object of the game is to gain Victory Points. The more provinces your empire controls, the more Victory Points you get. Each empire has a finite number of pawns depending on the type of civilization it represents. These pawns make it possible to take control of provinces; capturing a province requires a variable number of pawns, depending on the advantages of your civilization, terrain, defenders, etc. As your empire grows, you have fewer and fewer pawns and eventually expansion will stop. Once you decide an empire is becoming too weak to gain more victory points you announce it is going into decline and choose a new one. The declining empire still scores you victory points though.

The real heart of the game, however, comes from the civilization counters, which come in 3 flavours, yellow, pink and blue.

Yellow counters give your empire additional victory points for specific areas (such as ports, or pasture, etc), or have other special abilities to earn more points (such as Slavery, which gives you a victory point for each opposing pawn that is eliminated).

Pink counters give advantages in conquest or defense (such as Weapons, which reduce the cost of conquest by 1 pawn, or Ship Building, which reduces the cost by 1 pawn if the attack is launched from a province sharing a coast).

Blue counters have various special abilities, such as Revolutionaries, which allow a starting empire to enter from any province (not just the board edge) and Rebirth, which allows you to decline an empire at the end of the turn (rather than wait for your next turn).

The civilization counters are balanced by the number of pawns they provide, more powerful powers tend to give less pawns (whereas the Barbarian counter offers no special ability but supplies 6 pawns (the highest).

Some civilization counters work better in combination with others, and some are better on certain parts of the map. The map is comprised of different areas: Sea, Mountain, Woods, Pasture, Agriculture, general. Some areas are also ports or have mines, and some areas have a coast. All these have an effect on play. (Mountaineering is good in areas with mountains, Ship-building in coastal provinces, etc.) As you become familiar with the game you'll start to spot powerful combinations.

Overall this game is excellent and I'd recommend it, however it might not be to everyone's taste. It's rather abstract - if you want a more historical game, go for Britannia or even History of the World. The only 'luck' factor is the civilizations and the order in which they appear, so a skilful player will dominate. All our games have finished within 2 hours, but I suspect some players could cause the game to drag whilst they plan their moves to the nth degree, as luck is such a small factor in the game.

If you want a war-game look elsewhere; there are no supply rules, zones of control, different unit types, fog-of-war or command structures. Finally I'm not that satisfied with the solo, 2 player or 3 player versions.

The solo and 2 player versions have non-player opponents, which behave in a set fashion (starting civilizations, expanding by conquering provinces to a formula, etc) that is totally predictable. The 3 player version suffers from a problem common to many 3 player games, namely balance. Too often 2 players can gang up on the third, or even more , a player who is doomed to come in 3rd determines the winner by which opponent is attacked on the final turns. Finally the civilization power Diplomacy is over-powered in the 3-player game. This counter allows the player to name an opponent and neither may attack each other until the start of the player's next turn. This is bad enough in a 4 player, but the problem in a 3-player game should be obvious.

Ever the tinkerer, I've come up with some house rules to fix the 3-player problem. We each play with 2 colours. These are considered independent and you win if the combined score of the colours exceeds a certain value (we play to 200), and the diplomacy power is removed before the start of the game. I suppose you could play a similar variant for 2 player, but I've not tried it.

English distributor/publisher is:

Eurogames / Descartes - USA, Inc. - USA P.O. Box 953
Phoenixville, PA 19460

French is:

Descartes Editeur, 1, rue du Colonel Pierre Avia,
75503 Paris Cedex 15. FRANCE