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Monday, January 30, 2006


Veni, Vidi, Vici, Vinci

Power Grid has been our go-to six-player game for a year or more. Occasionally Shadows over Camelot, six player Settlers, and Vinci (supposedly pronounced /vin key/ according to some recent BGG threads) have been pinch hitting on six player nights.

Vinci (with fixes) has been growing on me and (with fixes) has been climbing in my estimation. I recently upped my rating of Vinci from a 6 to an 8.

To be fair let me lead with this disclaimer. Vinci has end game issues that need to be fixed. Out of the box Vinci will never be an upper tier game. The game is played to 100 points and points are kept in the open for everyone to see. Now I have never had much of a problem with games that encourage jumping on the leader. I never preferred them, but I would have never called such a game "broken". With Vinci the problem is very pronounced. Vinci is broken because of it.

Vinci is a diceless game of civilization building in Europe. Comparisons to Civilization abound and are (kind of) warranted. When Vinci hit the market in '99 it was the latest in a string of games that were touted as Civ-lite, meaning they were Civilization variants that could be played in just a couple hours. Vinci actually has very little resemblance to Civilization in its mechanics, yet manages to retain some of the flavor of Civ.

In Vinci players start with a civilization. That civilization comes into the game on the edge of the board and, generally, expands as far as it is able. When a player has squeezed as many points out of the civilization as possible the civilization is placed in decline and the player re-enters the board, again from the edge, with a new civilization. The old civilization counters stay on the board and earn the player points until conquered by his adversaries. Player can't manipulate old civilization. Once placed in decline a civilization can do nothing.

Each civilization has two characteristics that give it some advantage, examples are; score extra points for each agriculture space, defend better, gain points from eliminating other player's units, the ability to enter the game in the center of the board instead of the edge, etc. Five pairs of characteristics are drawn randomly and placed on the board for all to see. When starting a civilization a player can choose the first set for free, he can choose the second set by giving up 2 victory points, the third by relinquishing 4 VP, etc. Two of the relinquished VP are placed on each of the passed over pairs of characteristics. Players who choose the previously passed over set of characteristics get the extra VP for choosing them. This helps make poor combinations more attractive. As characteristics are chosen the other characteristics on the board are moved down a notch and two new characteristics are placed in the last spot.

The game really shines with its full compliment of 6 players, although it is pretty good with 4 and 5 players also. The first two thirds of the game is quite good with any number of players. That is the point that the game starts to break down. It is entirely too easy to bash the leaders, if that happens leaders have little to no control over their position and are almost completely at the mercy of their adversaries.

Hidden scoring is the obvious fix to the problem, but it only takes one player to keep a running tally in his head to ruin that particular fix. Players keeping track of their own score on a hidden piece of paper might work as a fix for your group, but not mine. Our group has implemented the variable ending rule. Once a player reaches 80 points a die is rolled at the end of the round. If a 1 is rolled the game ends. At the end of every subsequent round a die is rolled and the odds of ending are increased. On the second round of dice rolling the game ends on a 1 or 2, the third round a 1, 2, or 3, etc.

With this approach, there is much less piling on the leader. Players can't win without bettering their position. Piling on the leader merely for the sake of slowing him down and lengthening the game won't better their position, they need to concern themselves with scoring points. With the variable ending there is always the possibility that you can move from second to first, or third to first, or even fourth to first, so hope is kept alive.

I was skeptical of this approach. After several games using the variable ending I see that it is perfect for my group. It turns Vinci from a game I was luke warm on, to a game that might rise as high as a 9 with more play.

To be sure, there will always be some piling on of the leader. It can't be avoided in a game such as Vinci. If that bothers you stick to German games (Vinci is in fact French in origin). The variable ending makes rational gamers try to better their score, instead of lengthening the game, because a leader bashed for the sake of bashing will win unless you play to better your own score.

Boardgamers do it for hours

Edit: Note we recently made another tweak to our tweak. On the sixth and subsequent rounds of dice rolling the game will not end on the roll of a six. If the game should progress past 5 rounds after 80 is reached players can still not be certain that the game will end.

It's good to hear someone approving of that variant. I've been skeptical of it myself. I've had Vinci sitting on the shelf for quite some time, but I'm always hoping to get it out. I've read about the bash the leader affect, and thought I'd try hidden scoring, but sounds like the variable end might be better.
It does work for us.

I should have mentioned that the variable ending was met with skepticism with my entire group. I had to campaign for it for a while. Actually, I wasn't campaigning for the variable ending, I was campaigning for hidden scoring. That idea was discarded because it was deemed too easy to keep track of your opponent's scores.
I think it's completely brilliant. I suspect that many other bash-the-leader prone games might seriously benefit from this kind of end condition. The fact that you've got to fight to get ahead and to STAY ahead, never knowing when the world will end, really increases game tension in a great way.
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