- Designers: Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Simone Luciani
- Publisher: Cranio Creations
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 60-150 minutes
- Times played: One partial game
For me, the first expansion to last year’s Lorenzo il Magnifico represents the proverbial irresistible force meeting the immovable object. I’m not a particularly big fan of expansions and most times, would rather learn a new game instead. However, Lorenzo was my Game of the Year last year and I love its challenging combination of tactical and strategic planning. So it was more or less a given that I’d give the expansion a try.
I’ve only played half a game of this, so this is just a first look to let you know what the expansion contains and a brief rundown of how it plays. Hopefully, that will be enough to give an indicator of whether it will work for you or not. That is, assuming that you can even find a copy: last year, Cranio only released 1000 copies of Lorenzo before the game became more widely available from CMON and while the expansion is language independent, a version with English rules has yet to be announced. (The copy I played was obtained from Funagain, at their usual premium price, but they thoughtfully included a copy of the English rules with the shipment.)
There are various parts to this expansion. Even though it isn’t set up in modular form, it’s probably easiest to discuss each of them independently, keeping in mind that there’s at least some interdependence between them.
- First, the expansion includes the components for a fifth player. The color is a flaming pink, so there won’t be any problem with those pieces standing out!
- The eponymous House of Renaissance tiles are allocated at the beginning of the game and have a pretty strong effect on the players’ strategies. There are 10 of them and each shows a powerful ability. For example, one House allows the player to take a free Harvest action every time they acquire a Territory. Tiles equal to the number of players are randomly chosen prior to play. Then, a randomly chosen starting resources tile is placed beneath each tile; five of these are provided and they’re all different. For example, one of them gives the player a lot of coins and a little faith, but no servants, while another one gives the player a bunch of servants, but only a moderate number of coins, no faith, and only a little stone. Each resources tile has six rows, with the most resources listed on the bottom row and two fewer resources, in specified combinations, available as you climb up each step of the ladder. At the start of the game, there’s a short auction to pick both the House abilities and the starting resources for each player. In turn order, each player places their marker on either an unchosen House (in which case they place it on the bottom row) or on a House chosen by another player (in which case their marker goes on the row one step higher than the player who had previously selected it). In the latter case, the bumped player must reallocate their marker, either on another House (possibly dislodging another player) or on a higher row on the same House. This continues until each player has their own House. (This is what used to be called an “Evo-style” auction and can be found in Amun-Re, Stockpile, and some other games.) At the end of this process, everyone will have their own unique starting ability, as well as a collection of starting resources. Additional coins are then handed out (the starting player gets the least and the last player gets the most, just as in the original game) and then the game begins.
- There is a fifth tower, with its own deck of cards (48 of them, twice as many as the other decks). Rather than this constituting a fifth card type, the deck instead consists of a mix of the other four card types. So, for example, there are 16 Period I cards in this deck—four territories, four characters, four buildings, and four ventures—with a similar mix for Periods II and III. Each Period’s cards are shuffled and four cards are dealt out each round, with the rules for choosing cards from this tower identical to the other towers. This introduces some variety in the four card types, particularly since the new cards feature a lot of different kinds of effects.
- The bonus resource for the top two levels of the fifth tower is a new component, locks. These are represented by 30 small tiles, each of which has a small reward (usually slightly more powerful than a scroll item), which are chosen randomly when acquired. Additionally, Lock tiles are now one of the things you can get when you take a scroll. Locks appear in other parts of the expansion, sometimes as payment for cards, but most intriguingly as something added to a card, giving it a player-chosen, constant reward when activated by a Harvest or some other means.
- The expansion also includes 20 new Leader cards (none of which are Promo cards which were released earlier). These have some dramatic new abilities and many require the player to have no more than a certain number of items or cards in their display in order for the Leader to be played. This makes the juggling act of getting your Leaders in play even more difficult.
- Finally, there is a moveable cardboard covering that is placed over a different tower each turn, which raises the dice requirements to acquire the cards in that tower. It visits the four original towers in a predictable fashion, so its effects can be taken into account, but it makes a hard game even harder! I assume its purpose is to restore the game to its former level of tightness, since there are now five towers to choose from, rather than four.
As you can see, that’s a whole lotta stuff for one expansion! I’d love to give you a full review, but after less than a full game with the new rules, all I can provide are my initial impressions of it. We played with four, so I can’t directly report on how the game might play with five. I think the original Lorenzo is excellent with four, so the expanded version, with a fifth tower to provide more spaces for the pieces, should be reasonable. I suspect it might run a bit long, but I can see it working for experienced or quick-playing gamers, as well as those who don’t mind sitting down to a 2.5 hour (or longer) Euro.
The most significant, and interesting, part of the expansion is the starting player abilities, the so-called Houses. These powers definitely affect player strategies; they may not be as impactful as, say, the roles in The Voyages of Marco Polo (which is also co-designed by Luciani), but the players would certainly be wise to take them into account during the play of the game. With 10 Houses, along with five dramatically different starting positions that they will be paired with, there’s a lot of replay value here. The mechanics of the auction used to select them is very nice, and you can anticipate that particularly attractive pairings will be fought over, with the result being fewer resources to start with. The result of this is that players begin the game with a definite focus; some players will like this, while others might object to being led by the nose. In a game like Lorenzo, where there are many strategic approaches possible, I think being subtly pushed by an initial ability is a good thing, although I can understand why some players might find this annoying.
The fifth deck of cards is an interesting addition. I suspect that most of the original game’s fans wanted additional cards for the other four decks, to give the game greater replayability (I myself think the original works just fine the way it is), but the designers chose to introduce that variety in this indirect way, possibly to make a fifth player more feasible. Variety is indeed provided, particularly since these new cards have many unusual effects. The new lock tiles also work well, although the fact that they’re chosen blindly could conceivably introduce too much of a luck factor. I do like that the designers chose to use these in multiple ways, so that they’re not just random awards.
The new leaders not only add variety, but provide many different abilities and requirements. The maximum requirements (e.g., no more than one Building card played) feel particularly evil. The larger number of leaders make it possible for there to be several rewards on new cards or leaders that let the player draw more leaders, which can spice things up (and, at the very least, give the player extra scrolls).
None of us really liked the movable display that raises the dice requirements on one of the towers each round. The game feels hard enough without requiring you to have a dice value of at least 5 to get any card in that tower. I understand why they felt the need to include this, but I suspect we’ll play without it in our future games.
So what’s the overall effect of the expansion? Fans of the game who were clamoring for more variety should be pleased. Not only are there more cards and more leaders, but the Houses really shake things up in a big way. The opening auction for the Houses is very clever and is sure to appeal to a bunch of folks. And yet, despite all of this, the game remains fundamentally the same. So if you were looking for some dramatically new concepts to be added, you might be disappointed. But if you loved the original design and just wanted more of the same, Houses of Renaissance will be a no-brainer pick-up. This is particularly true because the semi-modular structure of the new rules could, in theory, let you mix and match the parts you like. So you might just use the Houses and the initial auction, or just split up the fifth deck by card type and Period, add them to the original decks, and go with a four tower game (although some of the cards need the locks to work, so you’d probably have to add those in, along with letting them be one of the things you can get from a scroll).
Personally, it’s too early for me to tell, but I’m not entirely sold on the expansion. As I mentioned, the original Lorenzo was a big hit for me and I don’t know if all the additional bells and whistles will make it any better for me. Even though I’ve played the original over a dozen times, it hasn’t come close to getting stale for me. There’s certainly more to think about with the expansion and I can see the House powers pushing me into some enjoyably different strategies. But I found the original quite challenging as it was, so it’s also possible that all the new stuff will reduce my enjoyment of the title just a little bit. After all, more isn’t always better.
However, as problems go, this is a pretty good one to have. The expansion seems to be very well designed and the extra variety is nice. So even if it knocks my rating down slightly (and I’m not saying it will), I’m good with it. Besides, everyone is going to want to try out the new expansion, so since that will result in more Lorenzo, I’ve got nothing to complain about!