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The ancient game of secret symbols is a classic strategy game with hidden mysteries as old as the pyramids! Take turns placing shapes on the board to reveal 9 different patterns. The more complex the design, the more points you score.
This game is an amazing game that I put right up there with such things as Chess. The tactics are so diverse and complex where you can actually see people attacking and defending. The range of shapes you can make is sufficient to keep you entertained and keep you on your toes throughout. Find someone with similar skill and you can have many games, completely different to the last and always enthralling. A game worth hours of fun.
With the furor raised by the controversial novel The Davinci Code, it's certainly not surprising to see several games on the subject. One of them, DaVinci's Challenge (Briarpatch, 2005 - Paul Micarelli) caught my eye when browsing the internet, so I requested a copy. When I received the game, I noticed that it used the so called "Flower of Life" symbol - but that was pretty much the extent of the theme. DaVinci's Challenge is basically an abstract game in which players alternate laying down pieces, attempting to score points when they form different patterns.
I found DaVinci's Challenge extremely fascinating. It's a game in which player's must watch what pieces they play (don't want to miss any scoring opportunities), as much as those that their opponent plays (don't want to allow them to set up any major scoring patterns). The rules are incredibly simple - just lay a piece down on your turn - but the possibilities are tremendous. The only negative things I would say is that scoring may be a chore for some people and the endgame is a bit anticlimactic (it feels more like a "mopping up" operation). Still, these don't detract me from what has become one of my favorite abstract games - a visually pleasing game that fascinates throughout.
In a written review, it would be hard for me to properly explain the board, but it's made up of several triangle and ovals, formed into different patterns (flowers, circles, etc.) Each player takes seventy-two pieces of their color (ovals and triangles), and one player is chosen to start the game. On a player's turn, they simply place any of their pieces onto any open matching space on the board. If this placed piece, along with prior placed pieces, forms one of nine patterns (triangle, diamond, gem, eye, pyramid, hourglass, star, circle, or follower), the player scores the matching points for that pattern (ranging from one to twenty-five). It is possible for a placed piece to score multiple patterns at the same time; and a player can, with clever placement, get a lot of points with one piece.
When a player scores their patterns, they simply put a tally mark for that particular pattern down on a specialized score sheet. At the end of the game, the tally marks are multiplied by the score for each pattern, and the player with the higher sum is the winner! The game is over when neither player can make a pattern on the board.
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: The board composed of an orange/brown circle centered on a smoky gray background. It's a little drab, I guess, but fits in with the Davinci theme, as well as a couple smaller circles (to hold a player's pieces not yet played) with a few of DaVinci's more famous drawings on them. The pieces are made of molded dark gray and beige plastic; and while they look good on the board, it's slightly marred by white marks on the pieces where one can tell that the pieces were cut off of sprues. Still, once a game is in full session, the board looks pretty impressive - with varying patterns spread across the board. The score sheets included are nice; because with the large point totals (a recent game I played was 249 to 221), it's almost essential. Twenty-five double-sided scoring sheets are included, which I imagine will last a player a decent amount of time. Everything fits into a large square box with ample room to hold all the pieces.
2.) Rules: The game rules are only on two sides of a small sheet of paper. They're extremely simple - not much to mess up here - and simply consist mostly of how placing a single piece can score multiple patterns. Both the score sheets and the rules show diagrams of the nine patterns, which should be in front of players at all times (you'd be surprised at how easy it is to forget certain patterns.) The game is incredibly easy to teach people; I played it with some junior high boys, and they picked it up in an instant.
3.) Pattern scoring: It's very easy to miss certain patterns when scoring, especially patterns that are smaller and part of the large patterns, like the triangle and the diamond. The rules state that a player can't score points for previously laid patterns, so a player must catch them when placing them down. It's annoying to notice that you've placed something earlier in the game and not have received points for it. I saw a comment on the 'net that DaVinci's Code would be great with computer scoring, and I agree. Still, once players learn to watch out for these different patterns, scoring isn't as big of a problem.
4.) Patterns: The strategy comes in two different forms - in which players attempt to set themselves up to score lucrative patterns and at the same time foil their opponent's efforts to do the same. The highest scoring patterns, the flower and the circle, each take six pieces to fulfill and are rather difficult to put down without the opponent noticing. The optimal way would be to set up multiple patterns so that an opponent can only block one of them, but this is much more difficult to do than say - Connect Four, where the same basic principle applies. Most of the time, when a player scores a Circle or Flower (25 points each) in the games that I've been a part in, it's because either they distracted their opponent with other scoring options, or their opponent was so wrapped up trying to score a pattern of their own that they ignored the other player's moves. This balance between setting up their own patterns and blocking opponent's patterns is what I most enjoy about the game. My only quibble about this part is that the Star and the Pyramid (each worth ten points) don't seem to have the same difficulty to complete. The Pyramid happens in every game I've played - multiple times, but Stars are easily blocked (they require two more pieces). I wonder if the Star should be 15 points, causing players to attempt it more than the Pyramid. Of course, it could be my inexperience with the game speaking here...
5.) Beginning to the End: I would submit that the beginning of the game is the most important part, in which player's set up their initial patterns or place pieces to strategically block future patterns by the opponent. In the last fourth of the game, the game almost goes on autopilot, as players attempt to scrape up any last patterns that they can find (all the spots for the bigger ones are gone), and is a little less dramatic than the middle, in which players must be constantly on their guard. Still, the game only takes about an hour, which is constantly engrossing for the entire time.
6.) Fun Factor: Most of the fun in the game is from making patterns and scoring points (it's a little reward along the way to the big finish). At the same time, blocking an opponent from achieving multiple patterns by placing only one piece is just as satisfying and fun. Both of these are rather easy; the only parts of the game that are "heavier" are the scoring and the fact that a player must be watching dozens of emerging patterns at the same time. I really enjoyed this game - due to the simplicity.
I'm really glad I got DaVinci's Challenge. I can take or leave the theme; it just doesn't match up with the game - it's simply an abstract strategy game. But it's one that seems as if it will hold up over multiple plays. I really enjoy abstract games that allow a player to set up their strategies in advance, and DaVinci's challenge allows such forward planning. Like the Gipf series, a simple action is taken each turn; but the choices are great and varied, and the end result is a smooth, fascinating game.
"Real men play board games"
NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine
Pre-dating the movie, but still happy to ride its coattails, DaVinci’s Challenge from Briarpatch is a 2-player abstract game that actually has nothing to do with the famous book’s plot. Rather, it focuses on the ancient Flower of Life, a pattern of circles whose design is over 6,000 years old. Throughout the ages, the mesmerizing pattern has been studied intently by philosophers, artists and architects, including Leonardo da Vinci.
The game board depicts this Flower of Life, and players take turns placing oval and triangle-shaped pieces onto it, attempting to form various geometrical shapes and patterns. Nine different patterns can be formed, ranging from the relatively simple triangle to the complex circles and flowers. Points are awarded for each pattern formed, with more being earned for the more difficult designs. Points are tallied on a handy scoring pad, with the player earning the greatest number of cumulative points emerging as the master of the Flower of Life.
While one of the principle challenges of the game is to form patterns – preferably the more complex ones – it is equally important to block your opponent from accomplishing the same feat. This is fairly easy to accomplish early in the game when there aren’t many pieces on the board. As the board becomes more congested, it becomes quite daunting to spot these developing patterns. A key strategy is to inauspiciously place pieces that can possibly result in multiple scoring opportunities. Even if your opponent spots them, he won’t be able to block every one.
Abstract games can sometimes be quite dry, but DaVinci’s Challenge is an exception. The process of forming various patterns is quite intriguing and challenging, and while extremely tactical in nature, it avoids the excess analyzing and down-time present in many abstract games. The game flows along quickly, and while it can be frustrating to have your opponent place a piece that thwarts your planned design, there is a sense of sneaky accomplishment when you successfully form a complex pattern.
The game packs some nice tension and challenge in a compact 30-minute time frame. While it won’t help you uncover centuries old mysteries contained in famous paintings, it does provide you with one of the better two-player games available in mainstream toy and game stores.