30th Jan2019

‘Firenze’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

firenze-box

If everything the players experience during a game of Firenze were true, then slightly questionable structures such as The Leaning Tower of Pisa suddenly begin to make sense. Players act as master builders in 13th Century Florence, each of whom will be gainfully employed by the wealthy elite of the city in order to build the largest, most prestigious towers. This vision of medieval Florence reminds me of modern day Dubai, with skyscrapers soaring upwards often without purpose – however questionable the logic may be, Firenze, as a game, is very clear about what it expects of players.

Two to four players are supported and regardless of number, the game will last about forty five minutes to an hour. Firenze is entirely about scoring points and the main method for doing so is clearly laid out on the board right at the outset. There are five towers shown, each of which has several tiers and a points value for each tier. During setup, some balcony tiles will be randomly included to increase the value of certain levels, whilst scrolls will be used to lock down other levels. The aim of the game is to collect bricks in a colour to match one of the towers, then construct a tower and complete an open commission.

Whenever a player builds a tower and completes a commission, they will then add one of their scrolls to the board at the appropriate level and on the correct tower. The game ends when one player has placed all her scrolls and a final scoring takes place that adds bonus points for finishing first, for controlling a majority on each tower and so on. There are also some cards in the game that add bonus points for various things, which I’ll touch upon in a moment. Scores are tracked in real time around the edge of the board, so you’ll always know your relative standing going into the closing stages of the game – and it will usually be close.

A turn in Firenze is basically simple, but there is some important sequencing and a few fiddly bits that must be remembered. Basically, each turn, the players will choose one of the face up cards from the board. The first one is free, but if the player skips over it and chooses a card further along, then she must place one brick (from her supply) onto each previous card. For example, in taking the third card in the row, she must place one brick onto each of the first and second cards. Once a card is taken, all the others slide down into the empty slot and a new card is drawn from the stack.

Before I mention the kinds of things that cards do, I should also mention that by default, each card in the row has a stack of four coloured bricks placed onto it. These are drawn randomly from a bag when the card is added to the board and of course, players will want to seek out different coloured bricks based on what tower they wish to build (or have already begun to build.) Deciding which card to take is a balance between the card effect and the bricks sitting on top of it – at some point it might be beneficial to choose a bad card just to get the bricks you need, or conversely, you might want the card even though the bricks do little for you.

Cards do a wide variety of things and Firenze is more interactive than you might think. Some cards provide positive or negative score modifiers, whilst others allow players to steal a brick from their opponent, or knock down towers that are in construction. Some other cards actually counteract the cards being played by others, so whilst this interaction isn’t the core of the game, it is certainly something to consider as you near completion of a large, valuable tower and must weigh up between cashing it in for ten points, or waiting another turn in the hopes that you can make it even taller and score more – running the risk of an opponent knocking it down with an Earthquake card.

Once a card and the associated building blocks have been taken, players may trade bricks in at a three to one ratio by placing their three bricks into the bag and drawing any one brick (of their choosing) out again. Next comes the important and slightly fiddly bit, which relates to building towers. Each player has their own board and they can now add one or more bricks to an existing tower, or create one more new towers. There’s no limit to how many towers can be started, or added to, as long as the player pays the relevant cost. Adding one or two bricks is free, but adding three bricks will cost the player one more brick (which is discarded) or adding four, five or six bricks becomes progressively more expensive.

The tricky bit comes because after adding to towers, it’s time to tear down any tower that was not worked on this turn. So for example, if you began a blue tower last turn but can’t add to it on this turn, you must remove half of the bricks from it (rounded up) and then throw half of those back into the bag, with the other half returning to your storehouse. In this example, let’s say that the blue tower was four bricks high when it was abandoned – two bricks would be removed, with one going into the bag and one going into the player store.

It’s important that this happens now, before the next phase, because only after tearing down towers, can players then complete commissions. This is the part of the game where a player compares the size of their towers (at this moment in time) with the available spaces on the board and decides if they’d like to complete commissions. For each one that they do, they place their scroll on the relevant tier of the appropriately coloured tower, then discard all bricks used to build that tower back into the bag. The player then moves their points marker the relevant number of spaces – which may also be affected by balcony spaces, or for being the first to certain tiers (which also comes with bonus points.)

In general, a turn only takes about thirty seconds to resolve since it will usually be planned out before it actually happens. Only through other players taking cards that you were building your hopes around or interfering with your construction can a turn really be thrown out of whack. After all the phases that I’ve described, there is a brief cleanup phase where stock levels and cards are checked against limits (10 bricks and 5 cards respectively) and the next player takes their turn. There’s no limit on the number of turns or rounds in Firenze, with the only endgame condition being the placement of scrolls as mentioned earlier.

Firenze is a very beautifully presented game, with gorgeous, period board art and thematic (if perhaps a little generic) cards depicting the roles of the artisans, architects, smugglers and events that are described on them. The tower pieces fit together nicely for the most part and there are lots of them, all of which are well made (except one, which I am in touch with Capstone Games about a replacement for) and well coloured. The instruction manual is simple to follow and the rules are explained clearly with relevant examples where needed. My copy includes instruction booklets for English, French, German and Dutch, as well as player aid cards and a really handy card glossary for each. The fact that these languages are presented separately is great, because I’ve been able to tuck all of the booklets I don’t need under the box insert just in case I need them.

After about ten games of Firenze at two, three and four player, I can say that it has cemented itself as a firm favourite in my house, especially at the ultra-competitive two player count. Firenze is certainly a more open (and perhaps slightly less strategic) game at higher player counts, but even so, we found the scores to be close in every single game. In two player, now that both me and my wife are familiar with it, the score is rarely more than three or four points apart. The simplicity of play, ease of teaching and generally interesting gameplay really shine through in Firenze and even the theme, whilst a touch generic, feels as though it fits the game. As such, is a cracking addition to any shelf.

**** 4/5

Firenze is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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