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Florenza X Anniversary edition is a reprint of a game I knew nothing about. I love games with unique themes and this one is the first game ...

Florenza X Anniversary Edition by Stefano Groppi Florenza X Anniversary Edition by Stefano Groppi

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Art


Florenza X Anniversary edition is a reprint of a game I knew nothing about. I love games with unique themes and this one is the first game I’ve played about Italian renaissance art. What’s slightly ironic in a game that worships at the feet of the most iconic names in art is that its own artwork is a little on the bland and beige side. But you shouldn’t let this minor gripe put you off, there is a good game in here with a ridiculously tight economy.

Gameplay


The game pits you, as a patron of the arts in Florence commissioning paintings, sculptures and architecture. Prestige Points are earned for supporting and funding artworks and they ultimately decide who wins the game, most Prestige Points wins. All of that sounds, quite simple but I had a bear of a time trying to learn the game, I think partly due to the fact the rules never explicitly state that the squares across the boards are the artworks. It’s bloomin’ obvious now I’ve played it a handful of times, but I found the initial learning curve pretty steep and opaque. Not least because everything is written in quite arcane Italian - more on that later.



This is a competitive worker placement game for 1 to 5 players. Every piece of art (its name at least) and character card are part of true history and that is fantastic. I feel slightly cleverer...each time I finish a game of this. There are a bunch of different mechanisms and abilities that change each round that you’ll constantly be taxed trying to work out how to afford Bernino to sculpt the Cupola of the Duomo…(confused? Shame on you for not having any archaic Italian language skills...)

The unique selling point of this ‘medieval euro worker placement’ (do we not have enough of those yet?) is that you place your workers out to action spaces, sometimes to collect resources and sometimes to spend them but you don’t actually resolve the action spaces until a later phase Trying to keep a handle on the cost of what you’re planning on building, in an even later phase, and placing your workers in order to meet those requirements, in an earlier phase, sounds simple when written down but is actually a memory game like no other.



Your best-laid plans can quickly and purposefully be derailed by other players as well. If I plan on building a particular piece of art I should make damn certain that I’ll have the necessary resources to build it otherwise I’ll lose prestige points. However, if you place your workers out to get the resources first another player could usurp you on that artwork and you’re left either with an inferior piece or not being able to build at all. There are some deliciously brutal moves you can inflict on your opponents and I love that in any game.

In order to build a piece of art, you’ll have to hire an artist and give them the necessary resources to complete it. There are 5 main resources in this game Marble, Wood, Cloth, Stone, Gold and ‘the green one’. It supposedly Spice but I can’t figure out what that was used for in renaissance art and it looks more like a paint pot to me. There are 7 rounds in which you’ll be building workshops (to get your ‘engine’ going, collecting resources from income or workshops you’ve built (which ultimately let you either build more workshops and complete pieces of art), hiring artists (which provide bonus Prestige), paying alms to the church, working with merchants of Florence (called Captains of Fortune), becoming a captain of the people or a Bishop yourself or even a Cardinal or simply trading at the market or running your business. ‘Phew’...



As you can see there’s a lot going on. For a newcomer to the game (i.e. me), the amount of archaic Italian on the board and cards was a bit of a stumbling block to understanding and learning the game. I’ve got no idea what a ‘Rione’ is or what a Boscaludolo does, and you’ll not find any English guides to help you. What I didn’t realise until my second game is that the text really doesn’t matter, initially it was a stumbling block but by my third play I was appreciating the Italian flare and I’m glad that the designer purposefully retained the language throughout the game to ‘enhance the atmosphere and immersiveness of the playing experience’.

There are 8 phases each round and the player order is variable based on who was farthest on the Prestige Points track. However, this is definitely not a case of a runaway leader as each time you become the first player (i.e. take the Captain of the People card) you’ll reset your Prestige marker back to 0 and collect that many Prestige points as tokens instead. This was a clever mechanism to move the first player marker around the table not just randomly but also based on skill. It is certainly possible to manufacture a couple of game turns where you stay as 1st player.



The second player is determined by the Church Influence track - which works very similarly to Prestige and awards the leading player with becoming a bishop for the next round. If you’re ever elected Bishop twice in a row you’ll become a cardinal and although the rule book says that that has lots of bonus points I’ve never seen that happen. The third, fourth and fifth player orders is based solely on their position on the Prestige track. I like variable player orders and this feels a bit more tactical (i.e. I prefer it) to the typical action space that takes the first player marker - here it’s all based on your accumulated Prestige / Influence.

The ordering of the phases in the round, at first glance, seemed a little disjointed to me. It took a few games to really sink in and I was constantly looking in the rule book and flicking back and forth to find the correct interpretation. Unfortunately, the rulebook wasn’t as comprehensive as I would have liked. For example, the income phase is clearly marked on the game components with a purple colour. Nowhere in the rulebook (that I could) find is that explained. I spent the first 30 minutes of my learning game, wondering what the bizarre colouring on the workshops was. But I did feel a bit cleverer...when I worked it out.



Once the round order clicked, I appreciated the ordering of it, and the ordering is actually what makes this game so brain-burnery…(real word). Your workers are placed in Phase 4 and there can only ever be one worker per space. This is sequentially in player order. In Phase 5 you’ll resolve the actions in a specified order and/or trade in the market. Bearing in mind that you’ll have commissioned artists with their own inherent costs and art with their own resource requirements in Phase 4 and it isn’t until Phase 6 where you’ll actually complete that art...If you’re anything like me trying to mentally keep track of what my workers were going to do and how I was planning on funding that artwork should stave off, or induce a good level of dementia. I found it surprisingly difficult (in a good way) to plan and execute the plan without any mistakes.

Not being able to complete an artwork you’ve commissioned can lead to significant penalties. There are three main areas that you can build in, the Cathedral on the mainboard (or Duomo). Failing to build an artwork there will cost you 3 prestige points. The town of Florenza shows five other buildings on the mainboard. Miscalculations here will cost you 2 Prestige Points. Or you could build on your own player board where the penalty is only 1 Prestige Point for failing to build.



‘But surely that won’t happen', I hear you cry; it does and it will to you too. The economy is so tight that it is often the lack of just one resource ‘spice’ (!?) that prevents you from completing an artwork. You can’t just turn around and build one you can afford as your worker has to have chosen that artwork two phases earlier in order to build it. That, in essence, is the game of Florenza - a hybrid memory game with worker placement and a bit of tearing your remaining hair out because your opponents have just knee-capped you. And I loved it.

I certainly haven’t explored every nuance of this game and I’m not particularly good at it. For example, if you complete the four pieces in your own ‘Chiesa’ (anyone?) or the four in your ‘Palazzo’ (anyone?) you’ll get some bonus Prestige points each turn. However, by just completing one big artwork on the mainboard you can claim smaller but more easily achieved bonus points. I’ve never finished my board in 5 games. I like the fact that there are always some difficult decisions to be made, which are made harder by your opponents thinking exactly like you and nicking the spot you were eyeing up. This is particularly prevalent in the end game where many spots (i.e. art) on the mainboard have already been built, and you’re competing with lots more resources for far fewer spaces. Exactly how I like it.

Components


The components are all made from nice thick cardboard stock or wood and are all perfectly functional and easy to use. I particularly liked the likenesses of the artists and buildings on the cards and mainboard. I even recognised some of them…



There are also dedicated areas on the mainboard and your personal board to store resources which is quite a nice touch and necessary as this game will certainly eat up a lot of table space.

Criticisms


This game is crying out for a more comprehensive player aid. They include a workshop costs/benefit chart which I didn’t find overly helpful. But I did have to refer to the round order or a few common areas in the rulebook more times than I care to remember (and still do). My rule book is certainly looking a bit tired. A better player aid showing the round order and card powers would be far more useful, arguably it will probably take up a whole sheet of A4. For example, nowhere on the board does it mention the penalty cost for not completing a piece of art.



The biggest criticism I have is the set-up and pack-up time. It’s quite fiddly to do so and I’ve not been able to do it in under 15 minutes. You have to set out all of the available workshops (44 of them in approximately 20 stacks) and then draw 9 different artists from a deck matching the randomly drawn tiles; as well as all the other resources and cards to lay out. Thankfully the cards are all uniquely numbered and easy to identify, assuming you’ve packed the 40 cards away in numerical order.

I’ve played this solo and with three players and I don’t think I’d want to try a five-player game. Towards the end or even the middle of the game, you’ll have 8 kinsmen which will need careful consideration to place and resolve. This was an okay length of time in a 3 player teaching game but I wouldn’t want to teach this at any higher player count. I would only endorse this at 5 players if everyone had played before otherwise, it’s at risk of outstaying its welcome.



Conclusion


I had zero expectations or knowledge of this and it’s turned into a bit of a sleeper hit for me. It’s got a fairly unique theme and looks quite distinctive and not many people have heard of it, I find myself drawn to it more and more. I feel it certainly deserves more attention and is easily the equal of some of the most revered games in the hobby. I would recommend this to any seasoned gamer as a competitive and rewarding experience.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store, which need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designers: Steffano Groppi
Bgg page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/311464/florenza-x-anniversary-edition
Playtime: 90 - 180 mins
Players: 1-5

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone with Russell Smith , an award winning artist who focuses on images of ...

An Interview with Russell Smith An Interview with Russell Smith

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Art



Last week I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone with Russell Smith, an award winning artist who focuses on images of the Old West and early aviation, particularly World War I aircraft. A rough transcript of our conversation follows.

JB: To start off, tell us a bit about your background, what started your interest in art, and how did you get to where you are now?

Russell: Art was the one thing I've always been good at. Even in elementary school, in third grade, I was drawing noticeably better than a lot of the kids around me. You know when you're good at something, you tend to keep doing it, because you get recognition for it, and I enjoyed doing it.

Then when I got into college, I majored in art, and about that time I saw the work of Robert Taylor, and I just, I loved airplanes as a kid and I thought, "Wow!" if someone can make a living painting airplanes, that's what I want to do. So I started doing it on the side, and worked day jobs for about ten years, and then finally back in 2001, I went full time with it.



JB: So, you did something else in there before you went full time with it. What was the moment when you thought, I can do this full time and make it work?

Russell: Well, I was working in the printing industry for about ten years. I was single at the time, and so I was kinda pushing myself on a pretty hard schedule. What I would do was, I would get up at 6:30 in the morning, go to work, work until 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Come home, maybe run a couple miles and eat some dinner, and then I would go in the studio, and work until maybe one in the morning. Drinking a lot of coffee obviously. I was pushing myself pretty hard, and not getting a lot of sleep, especially towards the last couple of years. In the last couple of years, I was doing to the point that my performance at my job was starting to go down, because I was sleep deprived. 

At one point I just finally thought, this is ridiculous, I can't keep up this schedule. I either have to give up the art or give up my day job, and there was just no way I could give up my art. Because that was my dream, to be a full time artist. I had just enough work, that I figured it would keep me going for just a little while. I decided I would give it a year, and then if it wasn't working out after a year I could look for another job. Then one year turned into two, then two turned into three, then after three or four years business really picked up, and I haven't looked back since. I joke with my wife, you know, if this ever did tank and I had to go back and get a job I don't what I would do. Twenty years on I'm not really qualified to do anything other than be a full time artist.


Russell Smith - Biography


JB: So the two subjects that you focus on mainly are the old west, and early aviation, a lot of World War I aircraft. Tell us, why those two topics?

Russell: Well, of course, I've loved airplanes since I was a kid. That started when I was seven years old and my dad bought me a model of a B-25. I've just loved airplanes ever since. I built a whole bunch of different models when I was a kid. Then when I got a little older that started translating into art. That interest has always been with me and I've always been a history buff. I like looking up the history of these people, the pilots, the planes, and translating those stories onto canvas.

As far as the old west, I love that too, it's a bit more recent subject that I've been painting in, just because for a long time the airplanes kept me so busy that I didn't have time to delve into these other interests of mine. With the old west stuff, it's really more the mythology. The idea of the old west. I guess it's the stories and ideas you get from the books and movies and legends and all that. I love that stuff. I'm not as much into the historical details with the old west as I am with the aviation subjects. Part of that is just because I've been doing the aviation subjects so long, I know the historians, I've studied it, I know what I'm doing with that. Whereas, I can loosen up the belt a little bit with the western stuff. It's almost like that lack of knowledge gives me a bit more freedom to have fun with it. I can explore that mythology and those legends and get that onto canvas.



JB: Can you tell us about the process of how you go from an idea to the finished product, step-by-step, what does that look like?

Russell: Each painting is a little different. I do commission work, so sometimes it's the client telling me what they want, so I go from that and build a composition around it. Other times, it's just an idea that pops into my head. One painting in particular, that I did several years ago of Eddie Rickenbacker's SPAD was actually inspired by a piece of western art that I had seen. It was a picture of a guy on a horse, with a bunch of dust behind, and I thought, if I took that rider and horse out, and put an airplane in there, that would be a really cool scene. So that's kinda what I did. 

Once I get that idea, I'll do some small thumbnail sketches, kinda flesh out of the idea, and give it a little more to breath and get it out of my head. I'll work through a number of sketches until I find what I want. Then it's a matter of doing more detailed drawings, some figure drawings, doing perspective drawings of aircraft. I'm working on a western train robbery scene where I had to do a perspective drawing of the train. Basically getting the finer points down, making sure everything is right, making sure the drawing is right, before ever going to canvas.

Then once I get the image transferred to canvas, it can take a couple of weeks for a small painting, to a couple of months for a large painting. It can be time intense. I'm not the kind of artist that can work straight through on one painting and get it done. I just get burned out after a certain point. I usually have two or three paintings at different stages of completion just sitting around the studio. When I get to a stopping point on one painting, maybe I get bored with it or just reach a point where there isn't any more I can do with it at the moment, I'll take it off the easel and I'll put another painting up and I'll work on it. So there's always work in front of me.

I did an interview with a local newspaper a couple years back where the interviewer asked what I do when I get artist's block and I said I don't really have that problem, because I've got a lot of ideas backlogged that I want to get to, and I've always got a painting waiting to go up on the easel. So, I never really have a problem with artist's block or anything like that.

JB: I asked Russell about whether he ever likes to experiment with new styles or techniques, or explore new subjects.


Russell: It's interesting, the western art market and the aviation art market are typically different from each other in that the folks who are interested in aviation are usually historians, pilots, and technical minded folks who are very detail oriented. Typically in that market they want nuts and bolts, they want rivets. Whereas, in the western art market, the subject is more organic. You're not dealing with aircraft, you're dealing with horses and people and landscapes. You can loosen up and be a little more creative with that. With your brush strokes, with your compositions, your whole method of painting. 

But, I don't want to have two different styles of painting. So what I'm trying to do is, I'm trying to introduce some of that looseness, some of that stuff I deal with in the western art, back into the aviation art, to give it something a little different, to help it stand out from other work in that aviation market. Which is typically really detailed and tight. I think it's really working, people tend to like it.




JB: Next, I asked Russell about the day to day life of a full time artist, and what his normal schedule looks like.

Russell: Well, I've got two small kids, and so a little bit of my day is killed by playing Mr. Mom at home, and running kids to and from school, and playing referee when they get into arguments. I try to keep my day scheduled. If I don't do that, if I don't stick to a routine, I won't get anything done. My attention span is really short and a lot of artists tend to be ADD in that way. A lot of times during the week I'll even eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch, just to kind of keep a routine. I'm going to eat at this time, I'm going to run at this time. I just have to keep my day really structured. 

I get up before the kids are up, just to give myself time to wake up. Once I've got them up and out the door, I'll come in here and I'll work for about three hours, maybe go running. Then I've got to go pick one up from pre-school and I'll bring her back and I'll put her in the house and let her do her thing, and I'll come back in the studio and I'll work another four hours. So that's a typical day, I try to stay focused and not get on Facebook, or get sucked into social media, or things like that. That's always a trap you fall into, and suddenly realize you've killed thirty minutes you could have been painting.

JB: I asked Russell about whether he had any favorite pieces that he has painted, and whether any had a deeper story he wanted to share.

Russell: Oh wow, you know, I heard Billy Joel once say, when someone asked him a similar question about writing songs. He said that they're all like your children, but some of them grow up to be doctors, and some of them grow up to be slobs.

Yeah, there are a few that I'm really proud of, and some that I look back now and think "I could have done a better job with that." There's some aviation pieces, like a couple of my Richthofen pieces, one in particular called God of the North Wind which is of a black tri-plane. Then on the other hand there is this western train robbery scene I'm working on that I think will be really cool when it's done.



[Here I lost a bit of the recording, as somehow both of the devices I was using to record with stopped working for different reasons. First time doing a phone interview, lessons learned.]

JB: I next asked Russell if he had any advice for aspiring artists, especially those looking to make it a full time career.

Russell: (First he discussed how it's important for a full-time artist to understand art as a business, and how to stay in business, and how that is a skill many artists are lacking)

The other thing I would say, is don't do it unless you are absolutely committed to it. It's a hard business, a very competitive business. There are times when you are rolling in business and things are great, and other times when suddenly you hear crickets chirping and wonder what's going on. You gotta be able to ride out those highs and lows, and have a tough skin here. But if you're devoted to it, and it's what you love doing, then by all means do it. Just understand that it's not going to be a walk in the park at times, it's gonna be hard. You'll have to ride out the low points and wait for the high points.


JB: So what do you do for fun? Many people might have art as their hobby, but you do that full time. Do you have other things you enjoy doing?

Russell: It's funny, a lot of artists, I'm finding out now, their idea of fun is going back in the studio and working more. But you know I try to get out, I try not to live in my cage all the time. I try to get outdoors and go hiking. I've got a buddy who is a pilot that I'm going flying with tomorrow. Yeah, I mean, this is like a seven day a week job that is all consuming if you let it be. Sometimes I let it be a little too much, so I try to get outside. I try to go running to get some blood pumping, get some activity to refresh my brain and just reboot every now and then. 

JB: Since you're a fan of the old west, I've gotta ask what is your favorite western movie?

Russell: Oh that's a hard one. I love Tombstone, and 3:10 to Yuma is a good one. Actually there was a scene in 3:10 to Yuma that inspired a painting I did a couple of years ago. A lot of times I'll watch these movies and I'll see a frame, not necessarily that I want to copy, but it's an effect. Or like, this one in particular, there was a stagecoach coming around a curve with some dust behind it, and I thought that would be a cool painting if I put some guys on horseback chasing it. The thing about western movies is they kind of come and go. They'll have a couple good ones come out and then nothing for a while, then a couple more good ones will come out.



JB: You mentioned you like history a lot, do you have any books that you're reading or that you really like?

Russell: Oh boy, that's a hard one to say. I've got a whole bunch of books in my studio. I've got bookshelves full of history books, and they're stacked up in the corners. Most of them are aviation books, but I've got a pretty respectable collection of western books going now. The irony is that most of them I don't end up reading. I only read them if I have to, if I need to research a subject. Most of them remain unread for a long time.



JB: Next, since we are primarly a gaming website after all, I asked Russell if he plays any games or has an interest in war and strategy games.

Russell: You know, I try not to, because I know if I did, I would get addicted and it would steal a lot of my studio time. We don't own a Nintendo or anything like that, for that very reason. I know if we did, I would get nothing done.



JB: A lot of the games we cover are on historical topics, and usually have really detailed art on the cover, have you ever done a box art or anything like that?

Russell: I haven't done any box art, but I have done a lot of book covers, for World War I titles. I've got several publishers I work with. It's fun to do those, because you've gotta kind of think outside the box. Instead of just painting a painting, you have to think about where the title is going to go, what kind of image is going to sell the book, and how big it's going to be. It's fun to work on them, but they're a little constraining at the same time.



JB: If anyone wanted to contact you about doing a commission or anything else, what is the best way to reach you?

Russell: Through my website, Russell Smith Art.

JB: Thank you for your time, it's great speaking with you.

Russell: Thank you 


- Joe Beard



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