Reviewed by Frank Hamrick

(Da Vinci Games/Mayfair Games, 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, 60-90 minutes; $45)


Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the most anticipated games at the 2006 Essen Toy Fair and, in this reviewers opinion, it lived up to the hype – mostly!

The idea of the game, as designed by Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Stefano Luperto and Antonio Tinto (Acchittocca), is to create the most lucrative inventions in the most efficient time so as to have more money at game’s end than any other player. The rules describe the basic theme: “The greatest Renaissance inventors have gathered to compete for fame and fortune in Florence, Italy. The Lord of the City has promised to pay a reward for each completed invention. In the end, the player who collects the most Florins will be crowned the victor by Leonardo da Vinci!”

The Inventions are represented by 25 Invention Cards, of which only a few are revealed at a time (based on the number of players). Only those inventions that are revealed may be worked on. (They have been “requested” by the Lord of the City.) As the “requested” inventions are completed by the players, new invention cards are drawn from the Invention Card deck and placed in the “Requested Inventions” section of the board.

Each invention card denotes the name of the requested invention, which of the five components are required to complete the invention (one or more of rope, iron, wood, brick, glass), the number of weeks required to finish the invention, and how many Florins (money) will be paid to the players who complete it.

Inventions are completed by obtaining the required components, placing them secretly in one of the player’s labs, and committing a number of apprentices to work on the project.leonardo

Each player has a total of two laboratories available to him for working on inventions, and each lab may be upgraded once. The upgrades increase the capacity for workers and “mechanical men” to do the work. And the more workers and “mechanical men” assigned to a project, the quicker it will be invented. This is important because those who first complete the invention will be paid more than those who finish a turn or two later.

Thus, a player will need components, laboratories, mechanical men, and apprentices in his race to complete revealed inventions before the other players. And how does one get the components, labs, and men to do the work? He must bid for them – but the bidding is done with the apprentices, who are also needed to do the work. The problem is that the apprentices used in bidding are not available for working in the labs. Thus, players are constantly evaluating how to most effectively and efficiently use his apprentices.

It is the dilemma of knowing how to most efficiently use one’s apprentices that produces a good part of the angst that makes this game so interesting. Since each player has only a limited number of apprentices at the beginning, he must carefully weigh where he wants to use them. Does he use them to bid for more apprentices, or does he use them to bid for mechanical men, or to bid for a second lab, or to upgrade an existing lab or does he use them to bid for one or more of the components needed to complete inventions? Perhaps he should save them to work in the labs so as to complete inventions he is working on! There are so many places to bid – but so few apprentices to use.

There are 7 game turns in the game, followed by 2 “pure research” turns. Each of the 7 basic game turns consists of four phases: Laboratory Phase, Assignment Phase, Employment Phase, Research Phase.

In the Laboratory phase players decide whether to secretly work on one or more of the revealed inventions, or they change or cancel any work currently going on in their labs. To commit to an invention, a player slides the components required for the secretly chosen invention under his lab so that the other players do not see which components have been placed under the laboratory (and thereby deduce which invention he is working on). She then marks the laboratory with a “Work Marker” so that others will know that he/she is working on an invention. Each lab may only work on one invention at a time. Since a player may not commit to an invention until he has all the required components to begin, he may do nothing during this phase.

After all players are done, the Assignment Phase begins. This phase is basically a bidding phase, in which players assign their apprentices to one of 8 different areas of the board or to their laboratories. Each of the areas of the board is designated by a succeeding letter of the Alphabet (i.e., Area A, B, C, etc.), and each area offers the players different privileges.

Various rules control the Assignment Phase. For example, on a player’s turn, he/she may place one or more of his available apprentices (or his “master”) in any one of the 8 areas of the board. He may not, in a later round, add more apprentices to an area in which he has already placed some. Thus a player must carefully decide how many workers to commit to an area before assigning them. The order in which players place their workers will also be important for tie-breaking purposes. Thus, when placing apprentices in an area, they should be placed in order from left to right so players will know who placed their men first, etc. Masters, unlike apprentices may be placed in an area in which the player has already placed apprentices, and when placed, they count for 2 apprentices.

Players may also commit workers (Apprentices or Master) to one or more of his laboratories The same rules apply for laboratories as for placing workers on the board (he may not add more men to his labs in later rounds). Players may not assign workers to labs that do not have the required components committed. (See Laboratory Phase above.) After all players have passed, the Assignment Phase ends.

During the Employment Phase each area of the City is resolved in alphabetical order, granting benefits to the players who have assigned workers there.

Area A – the highest bidder becomes the “Lord” or mayor of the city and will determine who goes first in the next game turn. (Leonardo is a stand-up piece that goes to the “starting player” for the turn. Each turn, the player who wins the “Lord of the City” stand-up figure gets to choose who Leonardo will be. That person is given the “Leonardo” stand-up figure and is Leonardo for the turn. This person will go first in the next game turn. Generally, the “Lord of the City” will choose the person to his immediate left since that will give him [“Lord of the City”] the privilege of going last next turn – a distinct advantage when placing bids.) In addition, the highest bidder will get first choice of one of four benefits:
Collect 1 or more florins

Move one of his pieces anywhere on the board (except to Area A)

Look at the top five cards in the yet to be revealed Invention stack and rearranging them
Purchase a commodity for 1 Florin

Area B – the highest bidder may freely take either:

A new lab (or upgrade one of his existing labs)

A mechanical man and place him in one of the player’s labs that can use mechanical men (two of the labs may NOT use mechanical men).

Area C – the highest bidder adds a new apprentice (he recruits him) from his stockpile to his available supply (very important as you need apprentices for both work and bidding)

Areas D-H – the highest bidder in each area gets a free commodity (Area D = Iron; Area E = Glass; Area F = Wood; Area G = Brick; Area H = Rope)
Players coming in second, third, and fourth in each of the areas may take the same privilege but have to pay increasingly higher amounts for the privilege. The second highest bidder pays 2 florins for the privilege, third highest pays 3 florins, and the fourth highest must pay 4 florins. If the second or third place bidder foregoes paying, the next player in line may then purchase the privilege for the lower price just passed over.

The Research Phase concludes the turn. During this phase players seek to complete their inventions, or at least to make progress on completing them. The “Work Marker” is advanced forward one week in the laboratory for each apprentice working there, and two weeks for each mechanical man and for the Master (if working there).

If the “Work Marker” reaches or surpasses the number of weeks required to complete the face-up invention to which the player has committed the required components, he “completes” the invention and is paid the amount indicated on the Invention card. The player takes the invention card, places it face up in front of him and receives the Florins rewarded for the invention’s completion. If two or more players tie for completing the invention on the same turn, they all get paid the full amount of the reward, but only one of them will keep the Invention card. Tied players will secretly bid for the right to keep the card. If there is a tie in bidding, the player closest to Leonardo in clockwise order receives the card.

When an invention is completed, a new invention is taken from the top of the invention card stack and placed face up for all to see. This invention is now “requested” by the Lord of the City.

If players have not yet completed an invention, they may continue working on the invention during the next turn (or they may cancel the invention or change it during the Laboratory Phase of the next turn).

At the end of a turn, all apprentices and masters used in bidding (assigned to the various areas and to the labs) are returned to their owner, and a new turn begins.

Play continues in this fashion for seven turns. The eighth and ninth turns are abbreviated as there is no Assignment Phase or Employment Phase. During each of these last two turns, players may only start work on new inventions (or cancel or change work going on in their labs), or they may continue or complete work on current inventions going on in their labs. Thus, only the Laboratory and the Research Phases are conducted.

After the ninth turn is over, the game ends. Players then gain bonus Florins for completing different types of inventions during the game. Each invention card contains a single “type” symbol. Thus, you can see the importance of not only completing an invention, but also getting the card that goes with the invention. Those who do not get the invention card (they finished the same invention a turn or two later, or they lost a tie bid), will not get the card and thus may not get bonus Florins for the symbol.

The bonus Florins are awarded as follows:

5 different symbols – 20 Florins
4 different symbols – 13 Florins

3 different symbols – 8 Florins

2 different symbols – 0 Florins

The player with the most Florins wins.

Obviously, there are miscellaneous rules I’ve not mentioned, but these are the basics.

How does the game play? As you can tell, this is basically a bidding game in which players bid for various components, workers, labs, mechanical men, and other privileges needed to create an invention and generate money.

I find the game fascinating and full of gut-wrenching choices. The Expert rules add to those choices by allowing players “favors” which they may spend to alter their set-up. They may spend their favors to get more starting capitol, or to gain extra components, or extra apprentices. Further, they may choose to spend their favors to upgrade or add a new laboratory to their hand, or to place mechanical men. Thus, set-up provides choices that may heavily influence game play.

The game has not lost any of its shine after 6 plays – and I still eagerly look forward to playing it.


What are the keys to effective play?

1. The Art of Efficiency.
Leonardo Da Vinci rewards the most efficient players. Basically, LdV is a racing game in which those who reach the goal first with the least effort will win! And therein lays the dilemma. Do I expend extra apprentices or do I settle for second and use Florins to gain the needed commodities (be they components, apprentices, labs, upgrades, or mechanical men)? Those who most effectively use their resources will win.

2. Properly evaluating and using each component.
First time players will have difficulty knowing where to bid (assign workers), and how much to bid. Only experience will teach one, and each game is different. All components have their place:

Florins – win games, and provide the resources to purchase benefits
Masters – can be assigned to areas already containing apprentices and may make you the high bidder; are also useful in completing inventions more quickly

Labs and upgrades – are very important in the speed of completing an invention

Mechanical men – also greatly increase the speed of completing and invention, and may also free up apprentices to do other things

Apprentices – are essential for bidding, and for working on inventions

Becoming Lord of the City – an important function as it will often allow you to go last and thereby see where everyone else bids before placing your bids. Further, the Lord may choose one of the four privileges of Area A.

Components – are necessary to complete inventions

The player that best utilizes the strengths of each of these components most efficiently will win the game.

3. Planning ahead.
First time players should make great use of the summary tables included with the game. These tables show how many inventions of each type are in the deck and what they inventions require for completion. Since the invention deck is “built” at the beginning of the game, so that the more profitable ones come later in the game, and since players may not bid for additional components during the last two turns of the game, they must plan ahead. It is important to 1) gain the privilege of looking at and arranging the top five cards in the invention deck (especially during the fifth and sixth turns of the game), and 2) to obtain the components more than likely required by the more expensive cards still to be revealed near the game’s end.

Contrary to most reviewers, I have saved the components for last.

The game comes with a medium size board (approximately 16 ½” by 23 1/2”) depicting the “city” of Florence. Overprinted on this background are 24 semi-transparent “boxes” (where the labs, mechanical men, extra apprentices, Invention cards, and invention components are placed), and holding spaces (where the apprentices are assigned during the Assignment Phase). Additionally, there is a turn track, spaces for various monetary denominations, and a “cost” track. I found the board to be nicely done and attractive.

The game includes 9 small “meeples” for each player in their own player color which represent the apprentices, and one larger pawn per player, which represents the Masters. In addition, there are small tokens (“mechanical men”), and a set of “laboratories” (rectangular tiles on which the players assign workers to work on inventions, and where they keep track of the progress of their inventions).

Three card decks drive the game. One deck represents the Florins used in the game (in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 20). Another deck contains the 25 inventions, and the final deck represents the components used in making the inventions (iron, wood, rope, brick, and glass).

Finally, there are miscellaneous pieces that help you track the game (money, turn, summary tables, invention markers, Leonardo piece with base, and a Lord of the City with base).

I found the components to be very well done, and they fit perfectly in the plastic tray that comes with the game.

The only problem I had with the components was the rules book. It seemed that the publisher tried to keep everything as concise as possible, but in so doing, the “set-up” for the basic game got shortchanged! I have read a lot of rules books in my 40 years of hobby gaming and this one taxed my mind as few have.

The problems began with the “Equipments and Set-up for Beginners” section. This section is basically little more than a chart the player must figure out for himself. This set-up gives each player different components, labs, and numbers of apprentices at the beginning of the game. The uninitiated will not grasp why this is so (why everyone doesn’t start with the same components) until he tries the Expert set-up. Thus, the rules assume too much, in my opinion. After playing the game numerous times, the beginner set-up now makes sense, but for virgin players trying to learn the game by reading the rule book only, it may well be confusing. I’ve noticed that many reviewers encourage players to skip the beginner set-up and use the set-up described in the Expert rules on the last page of the rule book. The Expert set-up, however, requires a player to follow most of the basic set-up rules, with a few changes – so the players must still figure out the set-up chart on page two of the rule book.

While the set-up rules may sound complex, they really aren’t. Both set-up and game play is very logical and sequential. The game board basically plays itself, similar to the way the game board of Goa (Summer 2004 GA REPORT) plays itself. As has already been shown the resolution of the various areas of the game-board is done in alphabetical order, greatly reducing the need to remember “what comes next.” Further, the placement of the bits on the game board in each area, simplifies the explanation when teaching the game to others.

Overall, I found the game-board to be my greatest help when teaching the game – and like Goa, I can teach the game in a few minutes, by simply using the board as my PowerPoint! Thus, turn sequence does not tax one’s brain or require constant searching through the rules. Simply march through the first eight letters of the alphabet and you have the basics of this game! Thus, the players are freed from the encumbrances of game play sequences so that they can concentrate on how to most effectively and efficiently do what needs to be done.

I highly recommend it. – – – – – Frank Hamrick


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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