Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

San Gimignano

Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser
Designer:  Duilio Carpitella
Released by:  Piatnik
Number of Players:  3 – 4
Time:  30 – 45 minutes 

(Editor’s Note:  This review first appeared in Counter Magazine, Issue #18) 

I’ve been fortunate in that my family and I have been able to travel to Europe quite often over the past decade.  We have visited some incredible places and have memories that will last a lifetime.  It is always neat when a game is released that has as a setting one of the places or regions we have visited. 

When I first heard that a game called San Gimignano was going to be released, I knew I just had to have it!  Once I saw a picture of the game, it erased any doubts I may have had.  Even the fact that it was being released by Piatnik, a company whose track record with me isn’t exactly stellar, wasn’t enough to deter me, nor was the fact that it was designed by Duilio Carpitella, a name unknown to me. 

We had the great pleasure of visiting San Gimignano on our family vacation to Italy back in 1997.  The town is known as the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages”, since its many tall towers give it the appearance of skyscrapers. And this just isn’t hype … it really is true.  San Gimignano rests atop a hill in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.  As you approach it, the sight is quite dramatic.  Plus, the town’s labyrinth of medieval lanes is a joy to wander.  But, I digress …

The game does have a theme that ties into the town’s rich history. Players represent heads of aristocratic families, attempting to gain influence over the various guilds and construct impressive towers as a testament to their power and wealth.  Although the theme and history are quite rich, the mechanics used to accomplish this are disappointingly simple. 

The board is formed as the game is played and will ultimately be comprised of sixteen large hex tiles.  Each tile depicts three of the four different guilds, divided into regions.  Four of these tiles begin the game in play and the others will be added by the players on their turns.  Each player begins with 3 tiles (more if there are less players), ten towers and 20 influence tokens. 

The components are quite sturdy and functional.  Indeed, the towers are made of a stone-like material … if fact, it could actually be stone. Strangely, they also possess a strong and most curious odor that permeates the room when the box is opened.  Even our resident PhD in Chemistry, Jerry Maus, couldn’t decipher the identity of the odor.  Smells sort of like wood varnish. I just hope it isn’t toxic!  The influence tokens are round wooden bits and are large enough to be handled easily.  The only real disappointment regarding the components is the artwork on the tiles, which is very basic and uninspiring.  That is a big surprise, considering the artist is the now legendary Franz Vohwinkel

Actual game play is quite simple.  On a turn, a player performs the following actions: 

1) Place an influence counter.  As mentioned, each tile is divided into three regions and no one region can contain more than two influence markers. Other than that one restriction, a player may place an influence counter into any region that does not contain a tower. 

2) Place a new board segment.  If a player has tiles remaining, he MUST place one to the board.  The tile must be placed so that it touches at least two other previously laid tiles.  Further, two identical guilds (regions) may never touch each other. 

3) Building a Tower.  This phase is usually optional.  A tower may only be built if a player has one of his tokens in four different guilds that are in a connected group.  The tower may be built in any one of these guilds and any tokens located in that guild are removed and returned to their owners. Once a guild (region) is occupied by a tower, no further tokens may be placed there. 

The only time a player is required to construct a tower is if he constructs a tower in one turn and still has four connected, different guilds in that area.  Then, on the next turn, he MUST construct a tower in that group. 

That’s it.  Play then passes to the next player and this entire process continues until one player has constructed all ten of his towers (in which case he wins) or it becomes impossible for any player to construct another tower.  This can occur when it is no longer possible for a player to connect four different guilds with his tokens present in them.  If this condition arises, the game ends and the player with the most towers on the board is victorious.  If more than one player ties for most towers, the player who has the most influence tokens on the board between these tied players is victorious. 

The game is fast … FAR quicker than I had imagined.  Most of my games have clocked in at about 30 minutes and a conversation with a good buddy of mine said his games also lasted about the same amount of time.  That’s a good thing, as the game can be used to fill in a gap while awaiting the end of another game or waiting for more gamers to arrive.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the game is engaging enough to have the desire to bring it to the table regularly. 

I honestly feel the game is just too simple.  There isn’t terribly much to consider.  The placement of tokens seems to be without much angst and the decision on when and where to build towers isn’t terribly taxing.  Yes, there were choices, but they just didn’t seem all that difficult.  The general strategy seems to be to place tokens so as to maximize the areas in which you have to build and attempt to restrict the areas where your opponents can construct towers.  I was hoping that more tactics and strategies would surface with repeated playings, but, sadly, this hasn’t transpired.  There doesn’t appear to be much depth here.   

Further, in the games I’ve played, the ultimate outcome seems to be evident midway through a game.  The final half or third of the game seems to simply play itself out with little drama or excitement. 

I’m really hoping my observations will eventually prove to be faulty as this is one game I really want to enjoy.  I’d be highly disappointed if a game about one of my favorite towns was a bust.

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