Posted by: gschloesser | August 4, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci

Designers:  Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Stefano Luperto, Antonio Tinto
Publishers:  Mayfair Games & daVinci Games
3 – 5 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Every now and then I encounter a game whose rules leave me baffled.  Try as I might, I just cannot grasp the concept or flow of the game, even after several careful readings of the rules.  Usually, I ultimately resolve to learn the game by being taught.  

This same situation occurred with Leonardo da Vinci from Mayfair and daVinci Games.  After three readings of the rules, I still did not fully understand the game, and was hesitant to attempt teaching it to others.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to be taught the game while in Essen, Germany, and discovered that it truly is not difficult to play at all. 

Players represent great inventors in Renaissance Italy competing to develop and complete inventions.  Players must target specific inventions, collect the proper components, and assign workers to complete the project.  Of course, opponents may be working on the same invention, so there is pressure to work fast!  Wealthy patrons reward successful inventors, and the wealthiest player is publicly recognized by Leonardo da Vinci himself.  Well, at least the cardboard caricature of Leonardo! 

The game has a rather elaborate and detailed set-up.  The starting components – laboratories, workers, master, resources and funds – are split amongst the players in a rather involved manner, with each player beginning with different equipment and resources.  It takes awhile to divide everything, and one must be extremely careful when studying the illustrations to insure this is done correctly. 

Each turn, five inventions are available for consideration.  Inventions list the classification to which it belongs, the components required – iron, glass, wood, brick or rope – the research weeks required for completion, and the payoff upon completion.  Also depicted is a rough sketch of the invention, as well as its name.  Sadly, the name is listed in Italian, so I, for one, cannot decipher it.  That is disappointing, as it would be great fun to identify the invention, adding a bit of role-playing and good-natured boasting to the proceedings. 

Each turn is played in four phases: 

A) Laboratory Phase.  Each player declares if he going to work on an invention.  To do so, he must have the proper resources and an available laboratory that is not currently working on an invention.  The player places the proper resources face-down beneath the laboratory.  He may not add to these resources, but may later cancel the project and return the resources to his hand.  Any weeks spent working on the invention, however, would then be lost. 

It is important to note that the player does NOT take the invention card at this time.  It is only rewarded once it is completed. 

B)    Assignment Phase.  In turn order, players alternate assigning workers to various tasks.  The board depicts eight different areas in Florence which may reward players with various items, including new workers, new or improved laboratories, robots, resources, and other special options granted by the Council.  Players can also assign workers to their existing laboratories to begin or continue work on an invention.  Since each player has a limited number of workers, decisions must be made on where to place them. 

A key placement rule is that players may only assign workers to a particular area once.  Multiple workers can be placed on an area, but a player may NOT add further workers to that location later during the assignment phase.  When assigning an area’s rewards, the player with the most workers at a location will obtain the reward free of charge, while other players must pay in an increasing amount to receive the reward.  Ties are broken in favor of the player who placed workers at the location first, which also makes the decisions on when and where to place workers tough. 

Further, each player has one “master”, which counts as two workers.  Choosing when and where to place the master is yet another often agonizing decision. 

Players continue alternating placing workers until all workers have been placed, or all players have passed.  

C)    Employment Phase.  The benefits of each area are distributed as described above.  As mentioned, the player with the majority of workers at a location receives the benefit for free.  The cost increases for each subsequent player, up to a maximum of four florins.  If a player opts to take the reward, he pays the appropriate cost, keeping his workers in place.  If a player has multiple workers at a location, he may well have the opportunity to obtain additional rewards after all other players who had workers at the location have had the opportunity to purchase the reward.  However, only a maximum of four rewards will be distributed. 

An example will probably help make this clear.  At the glass shop, Kevin has placed 2 workers, Rhonda 1 and Gail 1.  Kevin receives a glass resource card for free.  Rhonda and Gail are both tied with one worker present, but Rhonda placed her worker first.  She now has the option of purchasing a glass resource for 2 florins, which she does.  Gail has the option of purchasing a glass resource for 3 florins, but declines the opportunity, and removes her one worker from the area.  The opportunity to purchase a reward now returns to Kevin, and he can now exercise the option to purchase a second glass resource for 3 florins, which he does.  Rhonda declines to purchase another resource for 4 florins and removes her worker.  Kevin once again has the opportunity to do so.  He opts to do so, and pays 4 florins for the glass card.  Thus, Kevin, with only two workers present in the area, actually was able to secure three glass resources. 

After all rewards have been distributed, players will advance their “work” token on their laboratories a number of spaces equal to the number of workers they had assigned to the laboratory.  All workers from both the city and laboratories are then removed and returned to the respective players. 

D)    Research Phase.  Any player who has completed the required time working on an invention reveals the resource cards, declares the invention, and collects the listed number of florins.  If he is the only player to have successfully completed the invention on that turn, he also collects the card.  If more than one player completed the invention, however, a closed-fist auction is conducted to determine who receives the card.  Collecting invention cards is important, as players receive a 2-week time discount when working on inventions of a classification that belongs to the same classification of an invention they previously completed and whose card they collected.  Further, big end-game bonuses can be earned if a player collects invention cards from multiple classifications.  More on this in a bit. 

If a player is still working on an invention that is completed by another player, he must state this and reveal the resource cards.  He will still be able to complete the invention, but his income will be less and he will not be able to collect the invention card.  Thus, working on an invention with all due haste is quite important.  It is also wise to attempt to work on inventions that your opponents are ignoring.  This is, however, a matter of guesswork, since during the Laboratory phase, players do not declare the actual invention they intend to complete.

Following the research phase, players remove all workers from their laboratories – except the robots, which remain from turn-to-turn – and a new turn begins.  Seven turns are played as above, with two final turns being conducted wherein players only conduct research.  So, the final two turns usually consist of nothing more than placing workers into the laboratories and finishing inventions.  

The winner is the wealthiest player after the ninth turn, which is determined after bonuses are doled-out to players who have collected invention cards in at least three different categories.  Bonuses of 8, 13 and a whopping 20 florins are rewarded for collecting invention cards in 3, 4 or 5 different classifications, respectively.  Thus, there are conflicting goals here:  collecting multiple same-classification invention cards saves time when working on an invention, which can be critical in finishing an invention prior to an opponent.  However, you are likely abandoning the effort to collect inventions in multiple categories, which can yield considerable bonuses at game’s end.  The game simply is not long enough to accomplish both tasks. 

Therein lay one of my concerns with the game:  it doesn’t last long enough.  That is a rare complaint to levy against a game, but I feel it fits here.  There are not enough turns to really get those labs cranking out the inventions.  It often takes several turns to acquire the resources needed to begin work on an invention, then another few turns to actually complete that project.  Obtaining a second lab helps, but this, too, takes time, and one must still collect the required resources to begin a project.  I wish the game would last another couple of turns, as I feel it would allow players to make more long-range plans, and it would help make things even more competitive and interesting.    

That being said, I am enjoying the game.  There is a lot to like here.  The rules governing the assignment of workers force players to make some tough decisions, and create a tense “game of chicken” atmosphere.  Players must choose amongst numerous areas when placing their usually diminutive supply of workers.  Do I need to acquire more workers, or should I put my efforts into acquiring a new lab or perhaps a robot?  Which resources do I need to begin work on the inventions I covet?  Do I want to dominate the Council area, and which action will I select there?  How many workers should I devote to my laboratories?  To top it off, a player can only assign workers to a particular area once during a turn, so tough choices must continually be made as to how many workers to assign to an area.  Of course, committing workers to dominate a specific area likely means you will not be able to dominate other areas, thereby being forced to pay for other rewards.  All of these are deliciously tough choices which must be made on each and every turn. 

The inventions seem well balanced, with greater income being awarded for the inventions that require more resources and/or time to complete.  The intricate and cumbersome

set-up process does generally cause the harder-to-complete inventions to appear a bit later in game, so players must rush to acquire the necessary resources, often causing keen competition at those shops.  One special Council favor allows a player to rearrange the order of the top four inventions, so some advance preparation can be made.  Of course, by choosing this action, you are foregoing different possible actions.  Ahhh … tough choices! 

The game does offer a suggested set-up, which as mentioned, is quite involved.  At first glance it seems rather unbalanced, with some players beginning with both laboratories and numerous workers.  However, my experiences so far have not revealed any significant imbalances, but it does nudge players into pursuing certain paths based on their initial start-up possessions.  There is an “expert” starting procedure that can be used to allow players greater flexibility in determining their starting resources, labs and workers, but I have not yet tried that method.  It certainly seems it should be only used by experienced players. 

It bears mentioning that the many of the mechanisms utilized in the game bear a striking resemblance to designer Kevin Nunn’s Zong Chi, a game that is scheduled to be published in the near future.  It appears both were developed independently, with no shenanigans involved.   

My overall assessment is that Leonardo is a fine game, filled with tension, time pressure and tough decisions.  I wish it was a few turns longer, and will likely experiment adding a turn or two to see if it increases my satisfaction.  Even without this turn extension, however, Leonardo da Vinci was not only one of the world’s most outstanding inventors, but his namesake game is also one of this year’s top releases.


  1. It is another game that you must work efficiently. It takes me several plays to “get” these kinds of games. Also I don’t like games where you “bid” with your workers. Not sure why but I have trouble with the concept. After 4 plays I am still not there. 6/10

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