They say there is such a thing as love at first sight, and in the gaming realm there could exist a possibility to have love at first play. I was fortunate enough, this weekend, to sit down and play my third Vital Lacerda game: The Gallerist. It reminded me, yet again, how impressive Vital’s games are to play. There are so many layers within the simplistic set of decisions placed before the players. Complexity in his games do not come from understanding the actions, but how it all intertwines with the mechanisms in order to get things humming along and churn out the objective you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen that struggle in action in all three of these games I’ve played and, sadly, to date I have played all three of these games exactly one time.
Trust me, it will not stay that way much longer.
I have 3 Lacerda plays, yet it is enough to cement him as a top designer for me. Perhaps even enough to lock in the #1 designer spot. In an era where we have a plethora of new games being released weekly, and kickstarters churning out almost daily for games, I am finding more and more that I want to just hunker down and replay the magnificence that is a Lacerda game time and again. The shiny and new isn’t calling to me as strong. Even the behemoth that is Gloomhaven lost its siren song this weekend, propelling Lisboa back to my #1 wish list location.
Not because it is the newest of his games available right now, but because it is arguably his best so far.
His games all contain a lot of layers to them, and they all seem to have some small aspect of worker placement in them. In some, like The Gallerist, it is a pretty big component. Even in Vinhos, the movement of your worker to select your action is a key aspect in terms of actions available and the cost to use them. And so it is only fitting to write my impressions on his games I’ve played, even though I’m stretching all the way back to November of 2017 for Lisboa. Trust me, its impression has never left.
First Impressions on The Gallerist
In terms of theme, this one didn’t really excite me going into the game. Then again, none of his games hit on my favored fantasy or Medieval themes so I know that shouldn’t affect things. But it did, and I wasn’t really excited to play this game apart from knowing it was a Lacerda game and is highly esteemed by a lot of people I know. So when a friend, who owns a ton of games I want to try, mentioned he’d be gaming Saturday, I made sure to clear time to be there at the start. I gave him the freedom to choose any game from the extensive list, and he picked The Gallerist. In spite of the theme, I was excited simply because of the designer and the experience I had with Vinhos and Lisboa. Going into the game, I watched Rodney’s wonderful video to get a handle on the rules and be ready to run away with the game.
First things first, that running away was an epic fail. 4th place out of 4, partially due to poor play early in the game and partly due to a severe lack of collector meeples for the early part of the game. Combined with a player who, even 3 hours into the game, had to ask things like what kickout actions he could take every single time it happened. He made the game drag on just a little too long, but not even that could spoil the lasting impression of the game. The game followed me long, long after I left the table. It still is stuck inside my head, beckoning me to return and play it again.
The worker placement aspect on this one is simple, as there are four spaces to move between (three you can choose on a turn) and each space contains only two actions to choose from. There are bonus kickout actions you can take when another worker goes to your spot and bumps you out. This has no impact on your placement there, as you’ve already done your action. It just provides a bonus. And there are some small actions you can do before and/or after your main action. Simple. Yet oh so complex in the execution.
I spent most of the game scraping for tickets, scraping to pull meeples into my gallery, and then scraping for money. I had value. My objectives were on track to be met. Yet everything took longer because I didn’t build an engine first. It didn’t help that every time I pulled a White collector, it got pulled right back by one of the two players who always seemed to find ways to get more tickets when they needed them. By the time the game fully clicked in how it all worked, I knew the mountain before me was impossible to scale in time. Yet that last half of the game, in spite of constantly needing to find ineffective plans to accomplish what I needed, I had a lot of fun puzzling things out and seeing where I should have focused earlier and how that would affect me now. The loss was 100% on me, and I will plan better and play better the next time.
Considering it was a game that didn’t excite me with the theme, I had way more fun than I could have expected. The strong worker placement in this one makes it likely to be the most successful game to get my wife to try. I think with 2 players it will be more interesting in some aspects, as there are fewer markets to claim tokens from and stiffer competition for points. The assistants will be even more critical to unlock, as you’ll have far more opportunities to leave one behind when moving in order to get that bonus knockout action.
My mind is spinning from the game, more than 72 hours later., and I love it. This game cemented Vital Lacerda as a top designer for me, providing those crunchy, brain-burning euro games that I long to play.
First Impressions on Vinhos (Z-Man Edition)
The one Lacerda game I own, thanks to a math trade earlier this year. The box is beat up pretty bad, but what’s inside is good enough to provide the experience I need. Early on in my game researching, I knew that this and Viticulture both existed and heard them frequently compared to each other due to the implementation of the theme. Let me tell you, that is where the comparisons should end. Yes, they are both about wine making. Yes, they are both very excellent games. But no, they do not provide the same experience. Not even close.
Whereas Viticulture is about working through the seasons to plant and harvest grapes and then make and sell wine, this one is almost more about presenting wine for the fair three times during the game. The process of getting the wine is far more streamlined here, with each round producing more wine automatically. So you don’t have to micromanage as much, but instead focus on what to do with the wine you get and gain more vineyards to get more wine production going on.
This game has a set number of rounds, which means you know exactly how long the game will last. 6 years, with 2 actions per year being taken. Yep, you read that right. Vinhos is played out over the course of 12 actions. But Vital being Vital, there are ways to do way more over the course of the game depending on how you manage what you are given. It also helps having a vineyard in place from the get go, making it so you can focus in other areas as needed.
It still boggles the mind that you get 12 actions in the game. Yet this is a heavy and satisfying puzzle that gets presented, and the actions you’ll choose are affected by the action you last used, the current round, and what your opponents have chosen. Why? Because an action is free only if it is adjacent in space to your last action and if there is no round marker or opponent on the space. You have to pay to jump your marker to a non-adjacent action, pay to place it where the round marker is at, and pay to place it where an opponent is located. And boy, is money ever tight and crucial in this. There is a bank action here which is probably the hardest space to wrap the head around, and is the one space dropped off the game in the revised Deluxe version of the game. I’m still not clear about whether I love or hate the bank space, but I’m glad it is in there for these first plays.
I love that the wine has three different uses: selling for money, exporting for victory points, or using it during the fair at the end of the third, fifth, and sixth rounds.
The fair adds in some really curious elements into the game that I appreciate. It has its own scoring track, which applies just to the fair but has its own serious value to players during the fair time. It is also the key to unlocking addition actions via the experts on the track. Having watched a video for the revised version of the game, I really like the changes made to this entire system and the use of tiles instead of that static track at the top. However, either version opens up options for additional actions gained through wine experts and some bonus scoring through them as well.
All in all, I liked Vinhos but I didn’t love it to the level I have with Lisboa or The Gallerist. I know part of it was the situation, rushing in a 2-player game at the end of the night with both of us having a rough idea on how to play. And then he stopped tallying points the second he was convinced he lost due to some crafty final turn decisions on my part…which I could tell frustrated him since he had been counting his victory for several turns. It’ll shine more in a more relaxed play session, and even moreso if I upgrade to the Deluxe version (something I now intend to do, especially if I teach it to my wife and she enjoys the game). And since it is the game currently in my collection, it is also the one most likely to see the table first.
First Impressions on Lisboa
I have to reach back to November of 2017 for this one, but that shouldn’t be as big of an issue as you’d think. That’s because this game has stuck with me ever since that play, being the game I’ve longed to own and play again. It first caught my attention via listening to Heavy Cardboard review the game. Honestly, without that I may never have tried a Vital Lacerda game (yet), so I have them to thank profusely for these impressions. I actively sought someone who would teach and play the game, and one game night I was able to set up a 3-player game.
Except the person bringing the game had played once. Months before the play. And he had never taught it. So the first hour or so was the three of us flipping through the rulebook and player aids and getting things set up and trying to understand the game. The next hour was full of some fumbling attempts at building an engine to get us to what we wanted to accomplish. And then, gloriously, it all started to click for me. Much like The Gallerist above, about halfway into the game I started to see how things were connected and the brilliance in there. Yet I had veered in some unproductive directions early that forced me to take a while to correct. But man, oh man, I was in love.
Vital says this is simply play a card, draw a card. And he isn’t wrong. But there is so much that happens between those steps as a result of the playing a card that it makes the game interesting and so very enjoyable. Since it has been too long, I can’t speak to specifics as well on this one in terms of the game’s play. And so, sadly, this is going to be the shortest of the impressions left here. I loved the game. The artwork and components were fantastic, even playing the retail version of the game. The tucking of the cards either on top or the bottom of the player board provides some really interesting decisions because a card tucked provides one benefit, but using them to visit the noble pictured (or for the decree pictured) provides a different set of actions you can accomplish. Being able to position yourself to follow another player’s action is critical, and the joint venture to clear the disaster in the city area so you can benefit more when building shops add an interesting layer of majority scoring that I’ve noticed appears in all of his games I’ve played so far.
I made the mistake of telling my wife that the VP in this game are wigs. That convinced her not to buy it for me back in December. We’ve both missed out on plenty of plays of a game that, undoubtedly, we would both enjoy having in our collection. It remains the game I want the most in my collection, and I cannot wait to play it again. I pray that comes sooner rather than later, as this one stands out in my mind as being the best overall Lacerda game with its solid integration of mechanics and theme.
Final Thoughts on Vital Lacerda
I hesitate to name a favorite overall designer, as there are a few who I am yet to be disappointed by. Yet Vital has already climbed into the ranks of those who are my must-play designers. His name would definitely be given a lot of consideration if I were to choose a designer as a favorite, and at the end of the day he might just earn that nod for a few reasons:
- His games are mechanically simple yet have layer upon layer of complexity. There are only a few actions to be aware of, yet what you can do within them is where the games come to life and this provides a rich and rewarding experience that sticks with the player long after they leave the table.
- Reiterating that last sentence: all three times I have played a Lacerda game, I have been left thinking about the game for weeks afterwards. Because there is so much to do, much of it in the player’s control, there are a lot of ways you can consider adjusting your approach in order to explore a new strategy and become more efficient for the next play.
- Vital is a solo-friendly designer. While I am yet to attempt any of his games as a solo experience (since my version of Vinhos does not have it), I really appreciate this aspect and my understanding is that these games have equally satisfying solitaire experiences in the box.
- Player interaction exists in his games through following of actions, kickout actions, penalties to go to the same place as a player, area majority scoring boards, and more in his designs. This isn’t just a “play in your own sandbox and see who does better” type of euro game. There comes motivations to pay attention to what others are doing and to vie for certain actions and areas first.
And while it doesn’t reflect on Vital’s design work directly, this is also a great notch in his favor:
- His games have ridiculously high production quality. Eagle-Gryphon is doing right by Vital with how they manufacture the games right now, and you can be sure you are getting great value for the massive, expensive box. There is value in the box beyond just what the game experience itself provides (which, arguably, is worth the price tag on its own).
So I’m looking forward to my next Lacerda game. Maybe it will be this week/weekend at Gen Con. I sure hope so, whether it is trying a new game of his or revisiting one of these three that I’ve already experienced. Regardless, Vital Lacerda has cemented his status as a must-watch designer. Be sure to check out the campaign for his newest game, Escape Plan, which looks and sounds amazing. Plus, it gives you a chance to pick up one (or all) of these three games in their Deluxe Kickstarter version (plus expansion for The Gallerist) if you’re looking to add any of these to your collection.