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Review: Cinque Terre

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At least I didn’t say it was a lemon!  This little game won’t mushroom out of control or leave you with sour grapes.  There’s no squashing your opponents or other rotten tomatoes to throw.  But still, it can prove to be a little bit like garlic, with a few layers to peel back for nuance and flavor.  And then there are oranges, which I can’t think of a pithy comment at the moment, but they’re in the game, too.  No matter, you can trade in any or all of these goods as you peddle your produce around the circuit of five villages; or Cinque Terre.

How it Plays

Cinque Terre is a pick-up and deliver Euro game that uses an action point allowance system to harvest, deliver, and sell produce in the titular Italian region.  As is standard in the genre, you will earn points by delivering various goods to the different towns.

The board consists of eight spaces.  Three of these are fields, which are randomly seeded with crops that you will harvest – two of the fields contain three kinds of fruits/veggies while the third field only offers two kinds of produce.  Crop specialization and rotation at its finest.

The other spaces represent the five villages of the region.  At the beginning of the game, these receive between 2-4 six-sided dice that correspond to a color of produce.  Each type of crop has two matching dice, for a total of sixteen.  They are randomly pulled, rolled, and assigned to the villages in a specific way so that one village does not receive two of the same color.  The number rolled represents the village’s demand for that crop; essentially how much lira is paid for each good sold there.  Of course, some crops will not be in demand at some villages, but you can always sell any good anywhere for 1 lira.

Lots of cards with which to pick up lots of cubes to deliver.

Cinque Terre employs a straight-forward action allowance system to accomplish all of the harvesting, transporting, and selling.  You receive three action points on your turn spending one each on four possible actions.  You can move your produce cart up to four spaces on the board in a clockwise direction only (there is a single, circular path linking the five villages and three fields).  You can take a produce card from either a tableau of four face-up cards or from the draw deck.  If you’re in a field, you can play produce cards to harvest up to four crops from that field.  For each food harvested, you must play a matching card or a pair of another kind of crop.  Finally, if you’re in a village, you can sell the produce currently in your cart (which can never be more than four).

As you sell produce in a village, you’ll place the cubes in the villa’s corresponding row on your individual player board.  Each row has eight spots, which is the maximum number of fruits/veggies you can independently sell to any one village.  This helps you keep track of what crops you have sold to which towns.  This will be important when fulfilling orders, as described later.

4-player game set-up.

There is actually both rhyme and reason to which fruits or vegetables you pick up to peddle from town to town, and that is best guided by two words: victory points.  First off, you earn immediate lira, a.k.a. points, for selling goods in a villa – anywhere between one and six depending on a particular crop’s demand, or lack of.  Therefore, one goal is simply to deliver goods to villages with the highest demand for them.

However, as with any good Euro game, there are other ways to earn points.  One, if you’re the first player to deliver eight total goods to a village, you become its inhabitants’ most popular vendor, or MPV, and earn a set number of bonus points, the amount of which depends on the village.  A second way to earn extra lira is by claiming produce orders.  These cards create additional demand by identifying two or three crops with any equal number (1 each) of villages.  A set of these orders are laid out according to the number of players.  Once you’ve “fulfilled” a card’s order on your player board, you may claim it along with its indicated point value.  After claiming an order, you may possibly claim another one from the deck – even if you have not yet fulfilled it – before replacing the original card in the central pool.  Be careful, though.  Unfulfilled orders will penalize you at the end of the game.

Produce orders and MPV tokens earn you extra points.

In addition to these smaller produce orders, still another way to earn points is through your starting order card.  At the beginning of the game, all players receive a random, and secret, order card that looks like the regular produce order cards except that all five villages require a particular crop.  If you can deliver each one to the right location by the end of the game, you’ll earn extra lira based on the village’s demand for the produce as indicated by the colored dice.  If you fail in even one request, you’re penalized the same amount.  The calculation is fiddly at first, but essentially you’ll earn 30 points less the value of the goods delivered.  This is designed to address the unevenness in starting order card values that can be generated by the dice-rolling, demand model.

Players continue taking three actions every round to pick-up and deliver goods until one player claims five face-up produce orders, or when all MPV tokens are earned, or when two types of produce are completely harvested from the fields.  Everyone then adds points earned (or subtracts points lost) from their starting orders and any additional produce orders in-hand to their current running total from selling goods, earning MPV tokens, and claiming public produce orders.  The player with the most points wins, taking a step up the grocer’s career ladder by landing a job with Dole or Del Monte hauling canned goods in an 18-wheeler between Detroit and Cleveland.  Wait, maybe that’s not much of a win, after all?

Okay, so hauling cubes in the back of the truck may look cute…but it’s not practical. Trust me.

Ripe or Rotten?

The biggest drawback to Cinque Terre is that it could cost you thousands of dollars.  After receiving the game, I researched the real five villages out of curiosity and they look like a really peaceful and picturesque place to vacation.  Now I want to travel there, but man, talk about a pot load of money!  Unless you live in Europe, then it’s just the cost of a train trip, which I guess is slightly better.  Or if you reside in Italy, it’d be an easy enough trip to that part of the coast – in which case it’s totally safe for you to buy the game Cinque Terre.  But if you’re in the states, beware of this game!

Conversely, the biggest appeal to Cinque Terre is its broad accessibility.  That is the game, because the geographic place Cinque Terre is rather rugged and remote.  But the game play actually feels like the real villages look: laid-back and calming.  With simple and intuitive rules, turns proceed smoothly and at a quick pace.  Yet, it also requires smart decisions and planning.  The dice-as-demand mechanic, along with the starting and produce order cards, clearly identifies what you want to, and probably should, do.  The trick is in manipulating your given actions to accomplish that in the most efficient manner.  However, it’s not so deep as to overtax players.

Need Zucchini in Manarola to complete this starting order card.

The game gives you a few choices to score points and the mechanism in which it presents those options is brilliant for its simplicity and balance.  First, the dice-generating demand model will usually offer a few big payouts for particular crops.  You’ll definitely take advantage of these, but the system is very flexible in letting you decide exactly when and how to pursue that (as long as you don’t dally too much and pay attention to the endgame conditions).  The produce orders offer another prospect of grabbing points and are also flexible, although introducing a bit of a race factor.  Also, you can claim other orders secretly and take a chance that you’ll be able to fulfill them before the game is over, or risk penalties.  Then there are the MPV tokens which take the flexible and race concepts a step further, necessitating more long-term focus.  And finally, the starting order cards throw a slight twist into all of this by requiring you to fulfill certain orders from the start or else lose points.

Of course, every now and then these scoring elements could conveniently harmonize for you.  This is Cinque Terre’s one randomizer.  The produce orders that come up might coincide with your own secret starting orders more than others; plus the crops on those may just so happen to be in high demand because of the die rolls; and there could be a lot of repeat villages on them which will drive you quicker towards a town’s most popular vendor status.

Roll the dice to create instant demand. Just like Disney!

No, it won’t always be that golden of a set-up, but the luck of dice and order cards can play a small factor.  Typically this randomness affects all players equally.  It’s a minor aspect to keep things a little different for each person.  That’s about it, because it really doesn’t further any replay value.  Replayability isn’t created by making tomatoes worth six lira in Corniglia one game, but only two in Vernazza the next.  It’s the same mechanic and model either way.  However, the dice values and produce cards do generate variability within a single game, itself, as they interact slightly different to influence scoring.

The result of these elements is a game well-suited for families, non-gamers, and/or casual players – and especially for gamers looking to introduce new people to the hobby.  In short, it is a good gateway game, much in the same atmosphere as Ticket to Rideor Kingdom Builder.  Cinque Terre is more sophisticated than mainstream family games and less boisterous than party games.  It’s also not too heady as to prevent socialization around the table – in fact it encourages casual conversation.

This farming’s pretty easy!

The production value is nice and solid, but not distinguishingly noteworthy.  The cards and wooden produce cubes are standard fare.  The players’ truck carts used to move around the board are unique and fun for a little while, and will be a pull factor.  The boards and artwork are all quite colorful, also attracting non-gamers and Euro fans.

That said, everything that makes Cinque Terre a wonderful gateway game will probably tend to turn-off hardcore, strategy gamers and Ameritrash fans out for interaction and theme.  There is a bit of competition in the race for filling open produce orders and in vying to be a village’s most popular vendor.  However, that type of information is all open, and you’re usually able to deduce quickly whether or not you have a shot at beating another player to something.  Other than that, the game is largely a solo affair.  There is no blocking, stealing, or other nasty surprise.  Nary a rotten fruit or spoiled vegetable in sight – surely a missed opportunity somewhere along the way!

I’ll take one of each, please…

While I’ve mentioned that game play is as relaxing as the real Cinque Terre looks, there’s really no thematic engagement aside from the presence of small produce vendors selling local agricultural goods via quaint economic methods.  There’s no connection between villages and demand; the one-way route is purely a game mechanic; and the arbitrary four-goods limit is simply to keep things moving along while forcing you to strategize.  The game could work with any location around the globe, though admittedly may not entice me to as lovely a vacation spot.

Add it all up and you have a solid and elegant Euro game that will work well with a variety of gamers, though it may lack that soul and punch for some others.  A final point of note is that it can get somewhat repetitive by the endgame, a trait not uncommon for pick-up and deliver titles.  As such, I recommend sessions of between 2-4 players, as five player games can feel overly long, even given, or especially because of, its casual vibes.

Colorful game. Just like the real villages.

Cinque Terre, the game, plays as pleasant as Cinque Terre, the Italian region, looks.  It moves briskly and smartly, scales fine for 2-5 players, and meets a rare niche for accessible gateways to the pick-up and deliver genre.  It may not offer a lot to those looking for theme, engaging strategy, and tense competition.  But this light design still requires thought, without mentally draining players, and is a nice introduction to the hobby, in general.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Rio GrandeGames for providing a review copy of Cinque Terre.

Summary

  • Rating 8.5
  • User Ratings (3 Votes) 8
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Summary

Pros

  • Simple, light and well-paced
  • Casual, but still thinky
  • Good gateway game
  • Attractive and pleasant

Cons:

  • Can get repetitive
  • Little interaction
  • If you
8.5 Very Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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