Lorenzo il Magnifico is a Euro-style masterclass, lauded by many within the board game industry. It ranks [at time of press] within the Top 100 games of all time on boardgamegeek.com, which is no mean feat. Imagine the excitement upon the announcement of Masters of Renaissance – the Lorenzo ‘card game’…
Masters of Renaissance is by Simone Luciani and Nestor Mangone. Luciani has a stellar board game CV, producing the likes of Tzolk’in, Grand Austria Hotel, and Barrage, as well as Lorenzo, itself! Mangone designed another amazing medium/medium-heavy strategy game in Newton. Masters of Renaissance, like Lorenzo, is also published by Cranio Creations. Sounds like everything’s lined up for Masters to be a guaranteed success… right?
So Is This Lorenzo il Magnifico’s Little Brother?
Folks will, in all inevitability, want to compare Masters to Lorenzo il Magnifico. So let’s get that out of the way, first! Lorenzo il Magnifico is a worker placement/set collection game, using die rolls to establish the value of players’ workers each turn. The eponymous title relates to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Italian banker and politician (1449-1492). The setting is Renaissance Italy, during Florence’s Golden Age.
Masters of Renaissance, by comparison, is a self-confessed ‘card game’ for 2-4 players. (It has a solo mode, too.) It coins itself a “family strategy game” in the rulebook, and in some ways I agree. This offers nowhere near the depths of thinking involved in Lorenzo and shouldn’t take longer than 45-60 minutes. It is not, however, a pick-up-and-play gateway game. Masters is a gateway-plus offering. I’d want to ease casual gamers into other titles before I plonk this down on the table.
Here the mechanisms at play are an action-selection engine-builder. Players compete to pick up points in a multitude of ways. Your turn is simple; you take one of three actions. Gain resources, spend resources to buy a card, or run your ‘card engine’. When broken down like that it sounds simple, and once it gets going, the game can start to flow. There’s definitely layers to the strategy here, though. You score points via cards, as well as progressing along a Faith Track to hit certain thresholds. The dream is to do both, but that can be tricky!
Medici’s Magnificent Marbles
Let’s digest the three core actions down, first. Grabbing resources from the market is quite the quirk. There’s a plastic-molded Market Tray, with raised bumps for 12 marbles to sit in a 3x4 grid. A gutter surrounds it, and the game comes with 13 marbles in six different colours. One of them sits lonesome in the gutter. To claim resources as your action, you pick a row or column in this Market Tray. Then you collect resources in correspondence to the marble colours. Then you insert the thirteenth marble into that row/column, thus nudging the outer marble in that line into the gutter.
This is a marvellous tactile sensation. It takes satisfaction to an ultimate zenith, watching the marble get bumped out, then running down the alley. There’s many levels to your decision here, too. You might want to activate a row or column because of the way the marbles sit. Of the 13, eight provide the four basic resources (two each providing one of stone, servants, coins, or coins). Four are white, which provide nothing. One’s red, which earns you a Faith Point. (More on that, later.)
You’ll want to gather particular resources if you’re eyeing up a specific Development Card. There’s always 12 cards available in a public display, also in a 3x4 grid. They come in four different colours – green, blue, yellow and purple – matching the towers in Lorenzo. There’s 12 cards of each colour, separated into four each consisting of levels I, II, and III. (For set-up you’ll need to shuffle 12 mini decks, each of four cards.) Each card has a cost on the top, with the level I cards cheaper to buy than the level II and III cards.
Hang About; This Reminds Me Of…
This reminded me a lot of playing Splendor. First you need to gather resources, to then spend them to buy cards from a grid. In Splendor, you can only hold 10 gem chips at once. A similar restriction applies in Masters of Renaissance. Here, you can only hold six resources on the Warehouse Depot space on your player board. (It’s three shelves within an alcove.) Not only can you hold a maximum of six resources, but only one type of resource must sit on each shelf. Plus, same resource types cannot sit across different shelves. These slots act like a pyramid, allowing you to hold one, two and three resources at once.
This means that the marbles might not line up in a way that allows you to collect all the resources to sit in you depot. You can still activate any row/column you choose. (But for every resource you cannot house, every other player gains a Faith Point.) Another layer to decision-making is realising the impact of inserting that thirteenth marble. What state of play will you leave your opponent? Are you gifting them the ideal trio (or quadruple!) of resources that they need to afford a juicy card?
Buying cards earns you points, and don’t forget: most points wins! Cards’ points skew in accordance to the purchase difficulty. Level I cards yield fewer points than the level III cards. But these cards aren’t all about bringing home the victory points. Each one has a different production output, and this is where Masters of Renaissance stands above Splendor.
How In The Name Of Rodrigo Borgia Am I Supposed To Earn More Than Six Resources
The third action – instead of marble magic or buying cards – is to activate your production line. You have three slots on your player board to house Development Cards that you buy. “What?” you might ask. “So I can only buy three all game?” No. What this means is you can only have three on display at once. In fact, to buy a level II card, you need to be able to place it on top of an already-purchased level I card. The same applies with level III – it needs to sit on top of a level II card. What this means is that you’ll enjoy a maximum of three Development Cards.
Each card has a simple-enough production power (swap X for Y). In most cases, Y is usually a superior output quantity of resources, or Faith Points. Any resources you earn out of this production enter your strongbox, not back into your depot. You can house any number of resources in the strongbox. This is vital, because to afford the level II and III cards, you’ll often need more than three of one resource. (This also feels reminiscent of Splendor, when trying to afford those top-row cards with a meagre 10 chips.)
You can invest resources from both your depot and your strongbox into your engine. You cannot move resources from your depot to your strongbox, or vice versa. The only way to get goods into your strongbox is via the production action. Once you’ve started to build up a successful production line, your turns start to snowball.
’Cause Ya Gotta Have Faith-A-Faith-A-Faith
There’s two possible end-game triggers. One is if a player purchases a seventh Development Card. You can’t race the game and buy all of the easy level I cards alone, because you can at most own three. (You can only place level I cards onto empty slot on your player board.) Another is if a player makes it to the end of their Faith Track. So what is that Faith Track? It’s a 24-spaces route on each players’ board. It has various points thresholds along it, worth increasing points. If you can make it to the end of it, you’ll scoop up 20 points, which is a considerable amount!
Keeping in parallel with Lorenzo il Magnifico, this Faith Track has further scoring opportunities. Once a player reaches space 8/16/24 on their Faith Track, a ‘Vatican Report’ occurs. At this moment, providing the other players aren’t too far behind on the Faith Track, they’ll score a bonus 2/3/4 points. If they’re too far behind, they don’t score it. This 9-point swing can have a large say on who wins. This can put a huge precedence on utilising the red (Faith) marble when the occasional arises. Building a Faith-heavy engine helps race along this track, too. Not to mention being careful of not taking more resources than you can house in your depot! (Because this gifts you opponents free Faith Points!)
Last of all, each player gets dealt two Leader cards at the start of the game. If you buy a certain quantity of cards (by colour type stated on the Leader), you reveal that Leader. From now on it grants an ongoing bonus. It’ll either be a permanent -1 resource discount on buying cards, or extra spaces in your depot. Or, it could be an extra production action (providing a Faith Point and any one resource in return). Or it could mean that white marbles now result in you earning a resource, instead of nothing. This latter one is fascinating, because while it means you earn more resources (hooray!) it heightens the chance of you not being able to house them all.
They all score points too, and give you an early game goal to shoot for. If they prove impossible to achieve, you can at least cash them in for a single Faith Point. This might be the one point you need to keep up with the Vatican Report…
Would da Vinci Like This Art Style?
The artwork here is by Klemens Franz, who needs no introduction. Franz has penned dozens of Euro-style games before, from Agricola to Caverna and many other Lookout Spiele titles. He’s also the artist behind other Luciani/Mangone games such as Grand Austria Hotel, and Newton. Franz’s artwork features in Lorenzo il Magnifico too, so the continuation feels apt.
The game is 100% iconography – no text – but this won’t baffle anyone. The important things to look out for on the cards are the cost, the point value, and the production. The latter spans across the spread pages of a book, showing with clarity: ‘trade what’s on the left to get what’s on the right’. Each card features an arch window, looking out onto an Italian scene – rolling Tuscany hills, churches, or castellos.
The player boards are of an approximate A4 size, and on good quality cardstock. It’s meant to represent a cross-section of a Florentine inner-city household. The Faith Track runs along the Duomo di Firenze in the background, reminding you of the setting.
The wooden components for the stone/shields/servants/coins are a smidgeon small. (Not ‘Tiny Epic… small, though.) It’s pleasing to see them as custom shapes and not mere cubes. I also have to praise the insert. There’s a molded 1x4 tray for all the components to sit in, making for a neater tabletop experience. The marble Market Tray is a delight (but the marbles are plastic, not glass).
Final Thoughts On Masters Of Renaissance
There’s two different types of players who will play this game. Those who like building cards worth points, and those who race along the Faith Track via their engine. Once you start to build up an arsenal of resources in your strongbox, you can afford to run your engine almost every turn. This can churn out Faith Points at a breakneck pace and rush the end-game. Like I said, your turns will snowball, and the game tends to last around the 45-minute mark. One thing I would appreciate would be a wider variety of Development Cards. But it’s neat that your engine’s always changing, when you overlay higher-level cards on top of earlier-purchased ones.
I realise by this point that I’ve talked a lot about the mechanisms at play in Masters of Renaissance. I haven’t chatted much about theme. There’s a clear reason why… the theme is not at the forefront of the game.
This is a shame, because the engine-building itself is an interesting experience, but it’s stripped of any kind of personality. It’s a clean design, for sure, but it’s too detached from any kind of theme. At no point during the gameplay do you feel like you’re in Renaissance Italy. At least in Lorenzo il Magnifico there felt like there was an iota of theme. Rival families vying for power across the Florentine towers, with servants assisting them. The box art featured a Klemens Franz interpretation of the famous Lorenzo de’ Medici terracotta bust by Verrocchio. Here? Niente.
The marble mechanism is fun to use and offers interesting strategical decisions. But how does that equate to you earning resources from a market? You spend the resources to buy cards. But what are the cards themselves supposed to represent? You buying… buildings? Pockets of Italy? The artwork on the Development Cards have no little-to-no correlation to the production they provide. Why does trading a coin and a servant on a wheat field/house get you two (military) shields and 1 Faith Point? The Vatican Reports could have been related to Pope Sixtus IV, who had a role to play in the infamous Pazzi Conspiracy. That could have breathed life into this engine-builder! Again: nothing. The Faith Track is a diluted, themeless, get-more-points path.
The Leader cards could at least have names on them from the era, to inject a minutiae of theme or historical setting. Botticelli, da Vinci, Savonarola, Borgia, Sforza. All had their major roles within the Golden Age of the Italian Renaissance! But no, all the Leaders are blank. I fear Luciani and Mangone had a great idea for the mechanisms, but no solid plan for where to direct it. As a result, Masters of Renaissance feels like a rather hollow – if highly polished – exercise in efficiency.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of Euro-style games out there guilty of this. Splendor, which I’ve named-dropped countless times thus far, is the same. Masters of Renaissance has more cogs churning than Splendor, more plates to spin, for sure. I’d coin it as a family-plus strategy game; it’s not for total beginners. But do you and your family enjoy light-to-medium engine-builders? Can you look beyond the transparent themes in games? Then there’s a pleasing production line race to be had in Masters of Renaissance.