Il Vecchio Review

Il Vecchio board game in play

A surprise little game that I was asked to check out recently is Il Vecchio.

At it's heart, Il Vecchio is a worker placement game.  Each player starts with four workers on the board, and the goal is to get victory points ("build up your family's influence to take over Florence").  Players alternate taking actions in the game, and each turn you can do one of the following: collect goods, take over a province (get points and a once per game bonus), take a Florence tile (either gain a bonus for the rest of the game, or get a tile that helps you score based on certain criteria), add a new worker to the board, or "stand up" your existing workers (allow them to be used again). At certain times during the game, placing a worker on a province or on a Florence track will cause an "Il Vecchio Event" to occur - these are game-wide events that are generally negative; but they also serve as a countdown mechanic until the end of the game.  Once a certain number of Il Vecchio events have occurred, then the final round will be triggered, and then players will compare victory point totals to determine the new ruler of Florence!  (Of course, if you truly want to rule Florence, you will have to convince the people of Florence that playing a board game was truly authoritative and that, like with the Sword in the Stone, now that you've won it, they should all submit themselves to you - good luck with that...)

The most unique element of Il Vecchio are the "middlemen."  In order to perform most actions, a middleman token must be present.  Then, to perform the action, you lay your worker down, collect whatever goods you get as a result of the action, and then move the middleman to the next matching spot on the board.  Alternatively, if you play a Bishop, then you are able to take an action without a middleman being present - and without even having to lay down your worker.  I consider this mechanic to be a pro for a couple of reasons.  First, I like that it is unique.  And, though "unique" does not necessarily mean "good" (let's face it - there are lots of mechanics that could be in games, but that were left out because they're awful); however, in this case, the mechanic actually works.  Secondly, I like that this mechanic forces you to make some interesting decisions about which actions to perform, and the order that you perform them.  Sometimes, you may not desperately need a certain resource; however, if the middleman is present with your worker, you can collect that resource easily, without having to track it down later.  So, should you go ahead and forgo what you "need" for what you can easily collect?  Sometimes that is the best course of action; but most of the time the choice at least presents some nice tension!

Il Vecchio board game by Tasty Minstrel Games mid-play
Two sided board - both sides are the same, except color
The next pro that I have for Il Vecchio are the bonus tiles that you can gain in Florence.  Specifically, I like that they can be really stinking awesome.  For example, one of the different "collect goods" actions allows you to collect either two Carriages or two Bishops.  (Carriages allow you to move to any place on the board for free - generally you have to pay one coin per town that you move, and this moving is done as an optional first step in most of your other actions.)  This action can be good at the right time.  However, one of the Florence bonus tiles allows you to take a Carriage and two coins every time you collect Bishops.  So, now, instead of just collecting two Bishops, you collect two Bishops, one Carriage and two coins!  Keep in mind that if you use a Bishop then you don't need a middleman and you don't lay down your worker.  So, you could conceivably do this action every single turn - thus collecting hordes of treasure to lord over like a greedy dragon!  Fortunately, you don't win by having the most money - so, again, this tile is great, but doesn't break the game.  And, likewise, there are many other Florence tiles that are very powerful.  I like that the game gives you essentially "superpowers", and that one of your goals in the game is to maximize the benefits that you receive from your superpower.

The final pro that I will mention for Il Vecchio is that in the last round of the game, you get to perform a double turn.  Alternately, you can pass on your entire double turn to receive two victory points.  I like both that you get to have a double turn and that you can pass on it.  This prevents you from having to be quite as close to completing your current objective when the game ends.  It also keeps you from being caught "out of position" when the game is triggered.  For example, because of how the laying workers down mechanic works, if you only got a single final turn, then you may not be able to do anything simply because all of your workers are lying down.  However, since you get a double turn, you can stand them up if needed before trying to move them into Florence or a province.  Conversely, since you have the option of passing on your final double turn, you get to weigh the value of taking those two extra moves.  I don't know how many other games I've played where I spend my last turn doing something trivial to help win a tie breaker.  In Il Vecchio, if you don't have something useful to do, you can simply move on and collect a couple of victory points.

different bonus tiles from the board game Il Vecchio
Can you guess what these do?
However, though Il Vecchio surprised me with a lot of really fascinating game play, I can, of course, find something to complain about.  My biggest complaint?  The iconography is far from intuitive.  Now, I'm not going to say that the iconography is "bad", because quite frankly, it's not.  Once you understand what the various pictures are depicting, it actually does make sense.  However, when you're first playing the game, you will have no idea what various things are trying to tell you.  Expect to be passing the rulebook around for much of your first few games (or any game with a new player) as you try to decipher the various bonuses that you might receive.  And, with this instruction passing, the game will occasionally slow down when you are waiting on a player (generally because you impatiently handed them the rulebook and continued playing without them, but then it got back around to their turn before they finished deciphering all of the hieroglyphics from their tiles).  This con isn't a huge inconvenience, and is (I think) a result of trying to keep all of the components language independent.  Regardless, it is a nuisance in your first few games.

Overall, I give Il Vecchio an 8.5/10 (which may be one of my most overused scores).  Ultimately, I enjoyed my time with the game and was very happy that I wound up playing it.  I don't know that it will become a permanent fixture in my theoretical ideal game library, but I would highly encourage you to check it out if you're ever presented the opportunity!

If Il Vecchio sounds interesting, you might also check out Glory to Rome, Kingsburg, and Village.

I would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing me with a review copy of Il Vecchio.

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