I went to Essen for the first time this year looking forward trying some of the new games and hopefully finding some hidden gem among those booths. To be honest, I was not too impressed by most of the games I played on the first days. Moreover, after trying Namibia, Key Market and Fürstenfeld I was getting tired of all that “market prices manipulation” mechanics. This being said, when one of my friends told me to get a sit on the only empty table on Hall 4 which showed a cartonish looking game with a some kind of market prices tables… it was not surprised I was not too optimistic. How wrong I was. We played a four player game after a short overview of the rules, and by the time the seventh round ended, I was quite sure this would be the game I would take home (actually, I had some minor doubts, but I got the game anyhow). We have played two more games since we came back to Spain, and now I feel confident enough to make the second review of this great game.
Components are top notch. Really. Paul Laane has made a great effort to provide the best components possible and its really impressive that is almost a self-published game. You get a really nice thick board with some really nice sturdy counters. Standard wooden boxed and some exclusive wine drinking (possibly drunken) meeples. You got to love those glass holding meeples. The box is GMT quality (almost better). The game is language independent and moreover, you get the instructions in five languages. How cool is that. Is a pity they didn’t think of Spanish, my Sweden is not that strong.
The art, which by the way has been also made by Paul Laane (go and check the game’s main page to double check if you want), is deceiving. You look at some 70s style cartoons that make you think that this is going to be some kind of party game. To be honest again, I did not like it that much when I first saw the game. However, after some plays, I am getting fond of the humorous style. All the players mat are different and the board is simply fantastic. I love Mister Rose (Krispin Krandler among my gaming group) and the lobbyst.
The game is a fast paced light gamers-game with very high player interaction but I have played with non-gamers and they liked it as well because the rules are pretty easy ant the theme is attractive or an adult audience.
Basically you have seven rounds and three actions each round. You can hire workers, make wine and trade wine from/to the market. The actions are made by the players one at a time and you can make the actions in any order you want. At the end, the market prices changes depending on several issues. Plain and simple. It can be played in under an hour, however, the decisions can be quite hard. Where to place your workers, when to sell, which wines support and which wines you want to trash their prices may affect your final outcome decisively. All the actions affect the other players and due to the high interaction, I think that is a game hard to control. You may have your plan, but it might be ruined if your fellow players decide to throw down the prices of your most beloved wine.
I will not review the rules, they are available (in several languages…) in the files section. I will just try to explain why I think is a great game. The main idea is that you have a area control game together with a resource management and market manipulation. The workers are put in vineyards which produce a given kind of wine (red, white, champaigne and rose) or water. It is very important which wines you are able to produce as well as the relative position of your workers.
You win the game by selling wines at the best price possible, however, each class of wine/water is also needed for a second use. Red wine is needed to hire workers, white wine is needed to hire wine masters, water is needed to make wine, champaigne will let you hire the lobbyst and rose will get you in touch with mister Rose (these two can turn upside down the market prices…). Because of this double use for each resource, deciding what to produce is in general a hard task.
Actually, one of the things I like most about the game is that the seven turns feel quite different. In the first turns, you need red wine and water (well, you always need water) and you produce few boxes of wine and have no money. In the middle game you need white wine for the first two wine masters. In the last turn you need one box of each to hire the last wine master, which gives you a bonus 10 money. During the whole game, you will want to manipulate the prices, so you will need to spend some champaigne or rose. The prices start low, but they will probably go up along the game. When to sell is not an easy decision. Prices go 0-0-2-3-4-7, so when the price is at four, it is tempting to hold the wine and take the risk and wait until it goes up once again.
The money is tight in the first turns. Unless you somehow manage to get an early profitable sale, you wont be able to buy all the wines you need or that are cheap.
The market is a kind of wild, but you can manipulate it to your advantage by a wise use of the trade action and the two wine specialists. In our first game, one of the players almost won with a very low wine production, simply by speculating with the wines available in the market.
The best thing is that the game fows fast. Because the actions are made one by one and they affect everybody, the players are constantly in the game.
My personal opinion
Toscana is a solid game. It delivers great fun, hard decisions and even some conflict (“take that” style) in around an hour. I don’t have many games in my colection that are able to do that.
Toscana reminds me of Automobile, one of my favorite. You get the same few actions each turn but the game will play very differently each time. Of course, it is lighter and more forgiving that Wallace’s game, but both have simple rules, high interaction and the winner is the one with the most money at the end.
Of course, I have lived in Toscana and I love red wine, so the theme is specially appealing for me (once I have learned to love the art :D). This games improves greatly after the second bottle 😉
– Short, meaty game.
– Highly interactive.
– Appealing “slighty-pasted” theme.
– You make wine and host winetasting parties.
– You can hire Krispin Krandler.
– The size of the vineyards does not scale with the number of players. I suppose this will make 2 and 3 players games very different from 4 and 5 players games.
– It is not a heavy game. It should be played without too much thinking. After all, probably somebody will waste your plans…
– You cannot take a loan. All games should have loans.
Summing up, Toscana is the best game I played in Essen 2010.