One of the most prolific board game designers of our time is Reiner Knizia. The likelihood is that you have played at least one of his games, if not have one in your collection. Knizia is known for lighter designs that are often based on simple mechanics with some clever scoring or twist under the hood.
Another prolific designer, Stefan Feld, is known for his point salad games. That is games that throw points at you for almost every action you take. Games like Bonfire, Trajan or The Castles of Burgundy. Games that are almost the opposite of Knizia’s portfolio. That was until Witchstone.
Witchstone saw Knizia team up with another designer to deliver their own version of a point salad game. It was very good if a little unwieldy. Keeping track of all your bonuses could prove tricky. Enter Mille Fiori, Knizia back on his own with a take on point salads that is more him.
Looks Like Reiner Dear
Let’s start with the theme. Which is something about glassmaking. That’s all I got. I know there are some boats and the different areas of the board represent different parts of an island, but if the theme is important to you Mille Fiori is not the game for you.
But it does look good. The translucent diamond shaped plastic playing pieces in bright colours look great and elevate the board as they are placed onto it. Creating a patchwork growing design of bright colours and shapes. It is also practical as you can quickly parse how well you are doing in the different areas and make your decisions accordingly.
I’ve described it to others as like 5 games of Azul happening at once which in some ways it is in terms of placement, but how you chose where to place is different. Every space on the board is represented by a card. The whole deck is shuffled and an amount laid out next to the board depending on player count.
Each player is dealt five cards and will take part in a card draft. This means each player will choose one card from their hand to play before passing the rest of the cards to the player on the left of them. Before picking up their new cards each player with reveal and play their chosen cards in turn order.
Cards can be used to place your colour tiles on the board or discarded for their boat movement points. Each player has their own boat which moves along a track through a couple of actions and earns you points or an extra card depending on where it stops.
The other way to use a card is to play one of your pieces to the area and often the exact symbol on the board. At the start of the game, it won’t generate a lot of points but soon the placement of your tile will lead to a pure ‘Feldian’ cascade of points. If you plan properly, it won’t only be points that you are burning through but also extra cards!
Remember those cards placed at the side of the board? Well, each round you will add to them because you will only draft four of them and place the remaining card face up to the side of the board with the starting cards. Whenever someone unlocks an extra card, they choose it from here instead of their hand. This gives all the players a lot of information. You may want to grab one of those cards asap or stop another player from doing so.
These combos are the joyful beating heart of the game. You suddenly realise you can make a move that will cascade into multiple point scoring opportunities and potential extra turns. Mille Fiori isn’t an outright mean game, but you will spend time thinking about which cards deny your opponents as much as do you good. Denying opponents is a part of the game. It feels more like weighting your options though as there is a cost to not making a move for you. Invariably these moves will get you less points but the swing in your favour might just be worth it.
Knizia’s streamlined take on a point salad not only stands on its own two feet but also becomes a viable option instead of some of the heavier or fiddlier options. Including Knizias own Witchstone. The speed of play without losing a meaty amount of decision space means that I can play more games in the evening!
It doesn’t quite hit the space where it will replace the salads of Feld and alike, I will always want a Bonfire or equivalent in my collection and regularly on the table, but Mille Fiori has won me over in a way that surprised me.
It’s worth noting that the two player game as sold isn’t as satisfying. The game board is too big and empty for two players meaning you are not called into conflict in the same way. This could have been fairly simply solved by having a smaller board on the back or by only using half the space in some areas, but for some reason, this isn’t the case. It’s a missed opportunity and stops Mille Fiori from creeping into the highest echelons of scoring.
As it is I look forward to seeing whether Knizia continues to play with the point salad genre some more, as he has nailed the feel of it here.