[Editors note: The following is a Nemesis Review, featuring opinions from our in-house thematic-loving @futurewolfie and his ferocious opponent, the stodgy euro-loving @Farmerlenny. Make sure to read both opinions to get a better overall picture of the game!]
To continue our series on Russian games, let’s talk about The Enigma of Leonardo.
It’s often said about board games, movies, etc., that shorter and simpler is better. If you can break something down to its essential parts, you can get a quality, enjoyable product that isn’t too overwhelming to take in. Games like Carcassonne and even yesterday’s game, The Kingdoms of Crusaders, are built on an extremely simple rule set that is easy to learn but still allows a lot of strategy and results in fun.
And then you have games that are just too simple for their own good. The Enigma of Leonardo is a very simple game that’s easy to learn and play, but has a major flaw that ruins the game.
How It Works
The Enigma of Leonardo is a card game. Each card has two symbols out of twelve possible printed on it. Each player places five cards face up in a cross formation in front of them and keeps five cards in their hand.
The goal of the game is to collect seven different “keys,” which, according to the storyline of the game, will unlock the secrets of Leonardo da Vinci. The actual box says something about “touching fringe of the enigma”—not your best Russian-to-English translation.
To get the keys, players must get three of the same symbol in a row, either horizontally or vertically, in their cross formation, after which they receive the key that bears that symbol. If players get the same symbol on all five cards, they can choose a bonus key of any symbol.
A turn consists of drawing a card, then replacing a card in the cross formation with a card from your hand. The catch is the card you just replaced then goes to the player to your left, replacing the card in the same position on their cross. The replaced card there gets discarded. The first player to collect seven different keys wins.
The concept sounded to me like it could have been fun. Simple, straightforward, but with a little twist. A quick diversion; a decent filler game, if anything.
Unfortunately, it is none of those things. Well, simple, yes. Too simple.
The game was enjoyable, actually, for the first fifteen minutes. By that time we each had five or six of the keys, and the end was in sight. If the game had ended shortly after that, it would be getting a good review right now. Unfortunately, the game goes on. And on. And on. In fact, the game went on so long after the first fifteen minutes that my nemesis finally gave up and purposefully passed a card that would give me my seventh key. He ended the game because we were all sick of it.
The problem is that once you have six keys, you have a limited number of choices to get the seventh key. At that point in the game, the process becomes a matter of ruining the next player’s setup so they don’t get their seventh key before you do. Occasionally you might get close to getting your seventh key, when you can add a card that helps you while at the same time preventing the next player’s victory. But you can only play one card at a time, so anytime you have two symbols in a row, it is inevitable that the player before you will break that up—if you even have the third symbol to complete the row in the first place. We went around and around and around because it was too easy to hurt the next player, and there was no point in helping yourself if you just handed over the victory.
The real enigma is who thought this game was finished and ready to release. It seems like the game could be fixed with a few simple rule changes—maybe six keys to win, or a different ending condition, or the ability to collect the same type of key more than once, or any number of other options. Unfortunately, we don’t review what games could be; we review what they are.
If this game lasted fifteen minutes, it would be decent. Unfortunately, it is broken. “Touching fringe” of The Enigma of Leonardo just isn’t worth it in this case.
I didn’t hate The Enigma of Leonardo. There are some things in the game that I really like. But as @Futurewolfie noted above, there are some major concerns about the game (and one he didn’t note: there is no theme here, really, so if that bothers you, in the words of a Force-possessed stormtrooper, “Move along…”).
However, in playing it, I realized that this game could very easily be for me with a few small tweaks. (I didn’t get a chance to test these fixes, so take them with a grain of salt.) The first thing that could make this game enjoyable: keep it to under twenty minutes. I think reducing the number of keys required to win could alleviate the length problem. This kind of game cannot sustain interest for an hour.
Second: special actions. I don’t mind games that have static cards and standard moves…if the game is interesting within that framework. But The Enigma of Leonardo doesn’t seem to work with just the two-symbol cards. Cards that might let you play two cards at once or swap cards with an opponent or something else that doesn’t involve dwelling on Leonardo da Vinci’s inscrutable enigma might help make this more interesting.
Third: fewer players. I think this game really might shine with two players. (I didn’t try it with two, though, so I can’t say for sure.) This keeps each player involved in every play and might make it better.
Fourth: Allow for more strategy. There is currently no way (unless you keep drawing the perfect cards) to mitigate the punk factor of other players messing up your cross. Even if you have the perfect hand, it can be nigh impossible to set up any decent play. I really don’t know how this would be fixed aside from changing the core mechanic of the game, but I’m going to say “special powers.” Those fix everything, right?
I think @Futurewolfie is being a bit hard on this game. The Enigma of Leonardo has lots of potential, though I agree with him: with the rules as written, I would take a pass. If Right Games releases Enigma 2.0 with some of these concerns addressed, though, I would love to take another look, because this game has enough flavor to make me interested.
Disclaimer: Right Games provided iSlaytheDragon with a copy of this game for review.