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In the year 1338 the Siena's Town Council charged the famous artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti to paint a fresco showing the town and its commerce. You will play the game above the painting that he made. You will start as Peasants, sowing the ground and selling your crop along the Via Francigena. If you will save enough florins you will be more comfortably off, trading in cloth and spices throughout Tuscany. But your dream is bigger: to enter the Council of the Nine, the town's government. Therefore you will have to change into Bankers and use your money to obtain the Senesi's consent: will you finance the artists of that time or contribute towards the construction of the new Torre del Mangia? Be careful, the florins that you have saved could not be enough! Behind every corner of the town other players' pitfalls hide themselves: beggars, thieves, pretty women inside the inn...
Be prepared for a unique game experience.
Note: The rules have been rewritten AGAIN, to clarify some areas and to create a basic version to allow players to learn the game more easily.
Players: 2 - 5
Time: 90 minutes
Ages: 12 and up
Weight: 966 grams
Language Requirements: An English translation of the rules is provided. This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item.
- 1 game board
- 52 Siena cards
- 25 Goods Cards
- 27 Special cards
- 26 Senesi cards
- 7 Fato (fate) cards
- 8 Artista (artist) cards
- 3 summary cards (English, German, Italian)
- 1 black pawn
- 35 disks (7 each in 5 colors)
- appx. 40 wooden cubes
- rules (English, German, Italian)
Average Rating: 3 in 2 reviews
At Spiel 2005 in Essen, Germany, the promotional banner touting Mario Papini’s Siena enticed passer-bys with the slogan, “Play on a Medieval Tapestry”. Spread out on several tables were over- sized displays of the game, with the boards depicting one of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s 14th century frescos. In a panoramic fashion, the fresco displays life in middle-ages Siena, with the bustling city on the left, and the more pastoral farm life illustrated on the right. In an effort to capture the image of the original tapestry, the design of the board is faded and difficult to see clearly. This scores big points for visual appeal, but receives low marks for functionality. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It isn’t difficult to imagine the designer staring at the tapestry and thinking, “This would make a beautiful game board.” From there, the wheels in his brain began turning, and a new game was born. That new game is Siena, wherein players attempt to progress from the status of peasant to merchant to wealthy and influential banker. Crops are harvested and sold, with profits being used to progress through these stages. Eventually, players will use this wealth to hire artists and help construct a massive tower, all with the aim of becoming the most influential family in Siena.
While it takes some time to digest the somewhat confusing and poorly organized rule book, the game itself isn’t very difficult to play. The sequence of play is relatively straight-forward, and on most turns, a player’s options are fairly limited. The main problem, however, is that the game is card driven, and in an effort to maintain the beauty of the tapestry, the cards themselves are snapshots of sections of the tapestry. They contain no helpful text or icons to help a player identify how they may be used. As a result, players must constantly refer to the rules, which do NOT contain a helpful chart depicting the cards and describing their use. Fortunately, some thoughtful person has uploaded such a chart to the web. The game would be virtually unplayable without one. But again, I get ahead of myself.
The game begins with a series of auctions wherein players bid to acquire one or more potentially valuable cards. Each turn will begin with players acquiring two more cards, either by a simple draft mechanism, or via auction. Cards cost florins, with wealthier players paying a bit more for most cards they acquire. Poorer players not only get a price-break, but they select their cards first. So, while florins are ultimately required to progress through the various stages of the game, there is an incentive to lag a bit behind.
There is a 7-card hand limit imposed upon the players. While this may seem generous, in reality it is quite constrictive. Many of the cards are useful only in the Banker stage, which usually encompasses the final one-half or one-third of the game. Yet, they will be valuable, so it seems wise to acquire them when available. However, since they have no use when one is a peasant or merchant, they effectively clog one’s hand and limit one’s options. A larger hand limit would be of great benefit.
After acquiring new cards, in turn order, players play as many cards as they desire. While a farmer or merchant, the main cards that will be played will cause laborers or wayfarers (wooden cubes) to be placed on one or more of the five goods tracks. When a track becomes filled with goods, one cube is removed and placed onto the corresponding area of the board. Since the board graphics are purposely faded, with no foreign lines or marks so as to keep the overall tapestry unpolluted, it is difficult to ascertain exactly where these cubes should be placed. We found it easier to simply place them near the corresponding track.
A further problem is the actual location of the tracks. Peasants can sell corn, wine and oil, while merchants can sell cloth and spices. Unfortunately, the corn, wine and cloth charts are along the bottom of the board, while the oil and spice charts are along the top. This is very confusing. Undoubtedly they were placed at these locations so that they would align with the appropriate tapestry sections, but in practice, it is quite confusing. Again, functionality has suffered for aesthetics.
In many cases, the player causing this production gets to “harvest” the cube, selling it for the price indicated on the track. As mentioned, if the player is currently a peasant, he can harvest wine, corn and/or oil, while a merchant can harvest cloth and/or spices. Since the cards will require the player to place several different goods, sometimes goods are produced which the player cannot harvest. The next player to place laborers or wayfarers on that particular track will then harvest that good. So, one must be mindful of the possible benefits he will bestow upon other players when playing cards that allow the placement of laborers or wayfarers.
The harvesting of goods increases a player’s wealth. At any point after a player reaches or exceeds 30 florins, he may opt to change his status to that of merchant. Doing so will allow the player to harvest cloth and spices, as well as undertake journeys to Florence or Arezzo if the proper card is played. These journeys can lead to greater profits, but at the cost of foregoing any further placement of wayfarers until the journey is complete. Further, once a merchant, the player may no longer harvest corn, wine or oil. Thus, any cards he plays which causes him to place cubes onto those charts will ultimately benefit any opponents who are still peasants. This makes the choice of stepping-up to the merchant class a tough one, and sometimes it may be more profitable to delay this decision and remain a peasant in order to continue to reap the rewards of that class.
While a merchant, a player can forego income in favor of selecting a “Senesi” card. Renouncing 10 florins allows the player to select one card, while foregoing 15 florins allows the player to select two and keep one of his choice. These cards grant from 1 – 4 “consent” points, which ultimately are tallied with other “consent” sources to determine the victor. While this is supposed to cause the player some angst in deciding whether to choose income or cards, there really isn’t any dilemma: take the cards whenever you can.
Eventually players will want to progress to the status of banker; you cannot win the game unless you are banker. A player must have a treasury of at least 80 florins to make this decision. Once a banker, a player will no longer place laborers / wayfarers or harvest goods, but he will receive a stipend each time his opponents harvest goods. Rather, his token will move clockwise around the town, stopping at various locations, exercising the powers they grant (provided one possesses the proper cards) or encountering various characters.
There are 11 locations in the town, most of them represented by corresponding cards. Fortunately, the cards do have the name of the location on them, making them a tad bit easier to identify. However, their specific effects must still be gleaned from the rules or downloaded player chart. Many locations allow the player to gain florins, some of which are automatic, while others require the play of the corresponding cards. These are the cards that players gather throughout the game in preparation for their use when the player becomes a banker.
A banker automatically moves one space per turn, but may play cards to increase this movement. The idea is to land on spaces which are beneficial, and avoid the spaces which are generally not beneficial. Opponents, however, won’t be content to just let you continuously circle the town. Cards can be played to place courtesans in the inn, or move the aggravating beggar. Courtesans flaunt their feminine charms, forcing bankers to enter the inn and pay for their services. The more courtesans present, the greater the cost. The only way to avoid their irresistible lures is to distract them by playing “girlfriend” cards. I’m not kidding. The beggar, of course, pesters you for coins, and ignoring him will bring shame – and negative consent points –due to one’s stinginess. The timely play of a guard card will allow you to avoid the beggar, unless, of course, you are by the church, which frowns upon such treatment of those less fortunate.
There are three main objectives while being a banker about town:
1)Hiring artists. This appears to be vital. Aside from partaking of the joys of the courtesans, players entering the inn can attempt to hire an artist. Artists are auctioned, but only the player who enters the inn can see the value of the artist, which ranges from 1 – 8 in consent points. Other players can also take a peek if they are present in the inn or play the correct card. Hiring one or two artists seems to be essential for victory.
2) Donating to the church. Once per game, a player can donate to the church. The amount donated is dependent upon the wealth of the player. The more money one possesses, the more he is expected to give. The generous banker draws four Senesi cards and keeps two of his choice.
3) Building the Tower. Construction of the tower is progressively more expensive with each story added, but the rewards in consent points also increase. Players may add to the tower each time they end their turn on the appropriate location – the Torre del Mangia. This also serves as a possible end-game trigger, which will occur upon completion of the 7th story of the tower.
The game will conclude upon completion of the tower’s 7th story, or after the 20th round. Players tally their consent points, which include accumulated Senesi cards and artists. Points are also derived from the tower, and are based on the level of the floors constructed, as well as for the player who constructed the most stories. The player who gathered the most consent wins and is nominated as a “Member of the Consiglio dei Nove”, the town’s ruling body.
As mentioned, the game seems to present the players with a myriad of options and tough decisions. To be sure, there are numerous choices to be made, and sometimes the choices do cause some angst. However, in most cases, players do not have many options. On most turns, a player has one or two cards he can play … the others just aren’t beneficial or would assist one’s opponent’s more. Further, the 7-card hand limit is very restrictive. Many valuable cards surface each turn, but most of them really cannot be used until one reaches the status of banker. However, it seems foolish to let them slip by without taking them. Thus, the effect is that these cards clog a player’s hand, leaving the player only a few cards which could possibly be played each turn.
The peasant and merchant classes seem somewhat bland. The vast majority of cards that can be played during these phases of the game simply allow the placement of cubes and their harvesting. The only exciting aspect of this phase is the chance one can take on the “Via Francigena”, which allows the player to risk increase profits by the revealing of cards. This does require a special card, however, and it just doesn’t surface often enough. Most turns are simply un-exciting. Things do get more interesting and varied once one becomes a banker. This, however, is, at best, one-half of a 2 – 3 hour game.
To be sure, there are numerous unique features, and the progression system is intriguing. However, I’m not sure just how much flexibility the system allows. I really want to enjoy the game more, but there just isn’t that much excitement generated in the 2 ½ - 3 hours of playing time. The combination of poor graphic design choices with the appearance of some system drawbacks has left me disappointed.
Siena is an intriguing game, with quite possibly some of the more unique mechanics I've seen in games in recent years. But Siena is, without doubt, one of the most non-intuitive games that I've ever played. Players have to play almost through over half the game to even understand what is going on. The rulebook is difficult to understand, and even with Zev Shlasinger's rewrite, the rules were still confusing. The game itself is interesting, although it does take a few turns before players feel like they have many choices. Siena is a fascinating game, although I fear few players are going to really push their way through the rules to find that out.
Even though I understand the rules, it's a difficult thing to explain them, so I'll jump into my thoughts on the game...
1.) Components: As I stated, the board, which is a very long, thin board, has a fresco painting in the middle, much of which is used for different features in the game. On one hand, this is a very interesting way to utilize artwork in a game, but on the other, it makes it hard to remember what each picture stands for. I found myself referencing the rulebook and reference sheets too many times during every game. The wooden components included in the game are nice, so are the cards, and everything fits well in the box. As I said, my biggest problem was that one could not quickly glance at a card and remember what it did, so it tended to really drag the first several games.
2.) Rules: I don't want to keep ragging on the rules, but the twelve page booklet, even though it was filled with illustrations and color examples, was just a difficult thing to understand. I read the rulebook three times through, played a solo game through by myself, and still had to constantly refer to the rules to play in my first game. The game itself isn't really that difficult; I would clarify it as a heavier medium weight game. But you would never know it from the rules.
3.) Roles: During the game, the player starts out as a Peasant. Later on, once the player has earned enough money, they can become a Merchant. Later on, the player can once again advance to becoming a Banker. It's never mandatory to advance, and one can never go back after they increase a level. There are distinct advantages to being all three roles, and disadvantages. Eventually, all players have to become a Banker, but sometimes staying a Peasant while other players advance can be useful. One of the biggest strategies to the game is knowing when to advance to the next level, and when to hold back.
4.) Peasant: My only problem with the different roles is the fact that a Peasant has many fewer options than the Merchant, and even fewer than the Banker. In fact, the game begins with an auction for several cards - only two of which can be used by the Peasant. Players are bidding on cards that they may not use until an hour later in the game! This requires a know how of how the entire game works, and it's an unsettling thing to have to sit on cards for a lengthy period of time without using them. Many of the first turns, a player simply will sit there and pass, waiting to get the cards he needs. Sometimes the Peasants will play a game of chicken, each waiting for the other to make a move. Staying a Peasant isn't pleasant, unless several other players become Merchants. Several of the Merchant's moves directly benefit the Peasants, so then a "poor" Peasant can become affluent indeed.
5.) Merchant: Once a player becomes a Merchant, they suddenly have a greater variety of options. They can harvest some crops - sometimes for lucrative payoffs, but they can also travel and make more money. When a player becomes a Merchant, they can start earning victory points for the end of the game, and that changes the shear run for money that the Peasant was making.
6.) Banker: The Banker has an entirely different set of options than his two previous incarnations. Bankers can move throughout the town of Siena, stopping in different buildings, getting suckered by Courtesans, gambling in the Inn, and more importantly hiring artists and building the "Torre del Mangia". While the Banker suddenly has a lot more money and options, he also has a lot more options for losing money and points - such as the Beggar, who steals money every time he encounters a Banker, and the fact that a Peasant can participate in an auction for paintings, beating out a Banker!
7.) Via Francigena: This is the name of a card that Peasants can play when selling their goods. It allows them to draw from a seven card deck that contains one "Devil" card. They can draw as many cards as they like but must state the number ahead of time. If they draw that many cards, and no devil appears, they keep all the money on the cards. If the devil appears, they get nothing. I rather like this little mechanic, and sadly it's only used twice in the entire game by the Peasants and a few times by the Bankers.
8.) Town: Some strategy is possible when the Banker is in the town, as they try to go a specific distance (using cards) and landing on different buildings. Bankers must know when to start an auction (NOT when rich Peasants are around), when to avoid the beggar, and when to build another level in the tower. Being a Banker is a good bit of fun. Sadly, one must wait for quite a while before they can do this.
9.) Cards: There is a deck of cards auctioned off during the game in an interesting manner. Each player can take a card in turn order, but the players who go first must pay an extra cost to take the cards. This is a very interesting mechanic, but I never found it to be too innovative, because turn order changed so quickly that it seemed everyone was always paying the extra money - thus panning out evenly amongst all the players.
There's not a lot more I can say about the game without getting into complicated descriptions of not-too-complicated mechanics. Siena is the type of game that must be played to be understood and seen to be comprehended. You can find the rules online; but I doubt that they would help anyone, as Siena is a game that almost has to be taught. I read dozens of rules sets each month, and Siena was the hardest one I've read in the past two years. Even when I got past the rules set, the game just didn't really grab me. I hesitate to call the game bad because of this, as I'm sure that there is a contingent of gamers out there who will appreciate the unique ideas brought by Siena. The idea of a player being in three different roles sounds like a good one, and occasionally works quite well. Here are my closing thoughts:
- Beautiful components/ board
- Some very interesting mechanics, such as turn order, and the different roles a player has during the game.
- The Fate card deck, with the devil card
- Game isn't intuitive at all, cards have no text on them.
- Players may play for twenty minutes without making any meaningful decisions.
- Players have to play through a good part of one game to even understand what is going on.
- The game's fun ratio doesn't pan out to the amount of rules needed.
As you can see, the Cons outweigh the Pros, so I'm going to give this game a slight thumbs down. I will give the caveat that there are some experienced gamers who might think this one is worth a try. If you don't mind the unwieldy rule set, then by all means have at it. Early ratings by hardcore gamers are quite high, and I can see (vaguely, as through a dark glass) the cool features of the game. But light gamers, and people who want to quickly grasp a game should probably turn away. Siena is a beautiful game, but for me, it's one I'll admire at a distance.
"Real men play board games"