Review: Lucca Citta

I ordered a copy of Lucca Citta from Coolstuffinc for $4.99, and got a chance to check it out last night. Some posts on here gave it so-so reviews, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the game. The mechanics are pretty basic, and at first it seems as if you’re just grabbing cards without making many real decisions, but after two runs through, I really started to see the depth behind it. I’m not going to reiterate the rules here, because the other reviews and some of the files available for download cover them.

Really “getting” Lucca Citta is about two things: Understanding the scoring, and interacting with the other players.

As far as scoring goes, I don’t mean just knowing how to calculate the points. I mean understanding how they impact you each step of the way, and using them to guide your play. They should be thought of more proactively than reactively. Here’s a quick look at the scoring that happens in a 3-player game when you open a completed palace (in a 3-player game, palaces are completed when they contain 5 cards):

1 point – a single card, same-color palace another player has under construction
2 points – a two-card, same-color palace another player has under construction, or has completed, but unopened
3 points – a three-card, same-color palace another player has under construction
4 points – a four card, same-color palace another player has under construction

Typically, it isn’t worth it to open a palace when your opponents only have single-card ones to match. A two-point score isn’t that great either, because if you open it now, you get the same points as if theirs was finished (it’s really a “breakeven” score). 3-4 is your sweet spot, as that maximizes the number of points you can get, and keeps you fairly safe from being outplayed, and allowing your opponent to score off of you.

On the other hand, if two opponents are working on green, and one has a 1-point one and the other has a 4-pointer, you should probably open now – sure, you’re only getting 1 point from the first opponent, but those 4 points from the other opponent could very easily drop to 2 should they complete their palace, or worse, could give them all the points, if they get to act first in the next round, and open theirs before you do. Scoring 5 immediately is better than missing the opportunity and only scoring 3, PLUS letting another player score 3 as well.

What if you’re not the player who is sitting on that completed green palace? What if you’re the one with the single card in yours? Do you really want to play any more cards into that color? If that single green card has two support shields on it, why not build your next 2 green cards as walls? This way you’re gaining two points from the walls, and limiting your opponent to only scoring 1 off of your green palace when he finally opens the palace. You’re up 1 on them, whereas if you continued to build your palace, they could pick up 4, and you might not even finish yours. If he opens it before the end of the game, maybe you’ll even have time to complete it later on, and pick up a few more points (assuming you can still support those walls at the end of the game).

This leads me to my next point, player interaction. It may sound odd to talk about player interaction in a game where you can’t play take actions during, or directly influence, another player’s turn. What I mean by player interaction is being aware of the game situation, reading your opponents’ strategies, and factoring them into your decisions. Turn order is far more important than I first realized, as your choice of which triplets to take can severely restrict your opponents’ choices. If you need a red card, and two of the triplets contain one each, maybe you want to take the one that also has a card you think an opponent wants? If none of the triplets available do much for you, but you see that another player needs only one more blue card to complete a palace, maybe you’ll want to snag that one out of his hands and build a wall with it, or to add insult to injury – discard it right in front of him!

I’m just scratching the surface of the strategic depths this game has to offer. I think that some people see it that “grab the colors I’m working on, worry about my palaces, and hope for the best” is the only strategy involved in Lucca Citta. I disagree. I’m not claiming that it’s a masterpiece; I’m only saying that there’s a lot more to this game than at first glance, and if you ignore what your opponents are doing and worry only about your own palaces, you’re missing out.

Other things to think about:
– Before you complete that palace: Will you have enough support shields left in your construction area to get a good pick of cards in the next turn order? Will you still have enough shields to support your walls?
– Keep in mind that the number of turns, number of cards needed to complete a palace, and number of scoring opportunities vary based on the amount of players in the game. Because of this, the strategies will change.
– How many palaces can I reasonably complete? At some point, it’s probably best to give up the ghost and spend the last turn or two stocking up on walls and towers. But since walls are worth more based on the numbers of completed palaces you have… maybe you want to gamble on a big score at the end.

Hey, for five bucks, it’s a steal. Knowing what I do now, I’d buy it again for $15 in a heartbeat. It’s tough to get that much potential strategy into such a quick-playing card game.

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