Da Vincis Art of War
Published on 4/11/2014 by Richard Talbot.
Some years ago there appeared a Risk-like boardgame called Magnifico. This was set, as might be expected, in Renaissance Europe at the time that one Leonardo da Vinci was alive. The game allowed the players to utilise the various, ingenious and remarkable war-machines designed by the great man in their quest to dominate Europe so in addition to conventional troops of the time you had tanks and aircraft. Basically you could summarise the game as Risk but with reduced emphasis on luck and some basic resource management elements introduced into the game. Now Slitherine have brought this game to the iPad, so lets see how it stacks up.
First up, I guess, is that the game is no longer called Magnifico, which I assume is because Slitherine think that Da Vincis Art of War sounds more like a wargame, their usual fare, and will thus be found in the App store amongst the masses of dross that clutter it up. However, despite the name change the game is, I believe, a full recreation of the original in electronic format, and as such does seem to be a good candidate for the iPad as opposed to a desktop certainly the iPad does appear to be the platform of choice for boardgame conversions these days.
First impressions are, as we know, important and I have to say that Da Vincis Art of War really looks good. The graphics are spot on and the screen is not overly full. A nice touch is that an information board that pops up at various times can be moved around the screen so it doesnt get in the way of what you need to see. Obvious, perhaps, but nicely executed. The designers have not gone in for massive amounts of animation to make the iPad version seem wholly different from the original boardgame, but the animation they have implemented is simple and effective and adds to the feel of the game. Graphics is definitely an area that has worked for this game.
For those who like them (or need them) there is an easy to follow tutorial which walks you through the game, and there is an option to have the game prompt you during your move but youll almost certainly turn that off pretty quickly if you use it at all. If needs be you can also refer to the manual built into the game. The game interface may not be conventional, but is easy to use and logical when you get going.
When you start a new game you get to choose the number of players and the difficulty level the latter is done by selecting opponents who are more or less capable. You also get to choose the game length which is expressed in terms of the number of points you need to accumulate to win (30, 40 or 50). So between these options you should have a good variety of possible games and thus replayability. Now the observant will have spotted a potential issue with the game all your opponents are AI, there is no multi-player option. None of any sort, local or online. There may be 10 AI opponents to choose from, but AI is never the same as playing a real human opponent. Whilst a lot of people are happy to just play AI opponents this is, in my view, a big, nay glaring, omission and puts the game on the back foot to some degree. Hopefully this feature will be added sooner rather than later, it needs to be. However, it would be unfair to move on to other parts of the game without noting that although you are stuck just playing the AI, that AI is actually a set of capable opponents with even the easiest opponents being quite tough to beat when you start playing the game to begin with so with 4 grades of them to work through it isnt as bad as I first thought.
The game play itself is turn based. Each turn starts with an auction where you bid money (or not if you dont want to) with the winner being the Magnifico for that turn. This has some important results. The Magnifico gets first dibs on whichever of Leonardo da Vincis projects are on offer that turn, with the other auction participants getting to choose in order of next highest bidder until all the projects on offer are gone. Being the Magnifico also gains you victory points and means you move first that turn, not that this is always a good thing. The projects themselves mostly improve your units in various ways.
After the auction phase each player then makes their moves again in the order dictated by the auction. This is where you grab territory and the like. You can make 3 invasions into territories outside of your control, which is limited by the fact you need some sort of access to them either by land border or sea route. Territories give you money and troops (the basic infantry troop type) each turn. At the start each player has but one territory so initially this is a land grab with no opposition, but as you can claim up to 3 new territories a turn early on the map fills up quickly and any further expansion means conflict. In your turn you can also construct fortifications and build Leonardo inspired units such as tanks, planes, cannon and the like. These special units need infantrymen to operate and come with complications that can arise if their attack is unsuccessful for example the Great Cannon can cause casualties amongst your own infantrymen.
The game continues until the end of a turn when one of the players gets enough victory points to win. Points are gained each turn for winning the auction, controlling more territory and such like.
With the issue about multi-player left to one side Id have to say that this is a really good boardgame conversion. It looks good and it plays well. It is surprisingly challenging for an AI only game and looks to have good replayability. The developers have crammed a lot of character into the interface and graphics and come up with something that is distinctive. It deserves to be a great success and at $4.99 is good value. My recommendation is that if you like Risk style boardgames you should by this now; heck, if you generally like boardgames or similar just buy it anyway you wont regret it.