Full disclosure: A review copy of The Castles of Tuscany was provided by Ravensburger.
Editor’s note: This review was written prior to a rules update that changes the standard card-drawing action from drawing 2 cards to drawing 3 cards.
Just gonna keep varying up what I review, this time of year. We’ve got some games from Kickstarter, some short games, some long games, some wizard games, some Italian Renaissance games, all sorts of things. I figure, why not keep y’all on your toes if I’m going to try to hit my 700th review sometime in the near future? Either way, Ravensburger has been sending lots of cool stuff to review, and thankfully this one was on Tabletopia, so I could try it out with a few friends before I wrote it up for y’all.
In The Castles of Tuscany, you’re certainly living my dream: you’re an Italian prince during the Renaissance growing your land and material wealth. Such novelty! However, to do so, you’ll have to compete against other nearby lords trying to recruit folks to build inns, villages, and monasteries and folks who just need a place to park their wagon. They’re valid, too! Draw cards, place tiles, and gain bonuses if you want to make a name for yourself. You may be a prince, now, but will you be able to do what it takes to live like a king?
I mean, the first thing you’ve got to put down is the scoreboard:
It’s huge. Next, give everyone a player board:
Each player should get the 22 tiles of their color (including their starting castle, which is double-sided):
They should also get some score markers and a 50/ 100 tracker. After that, shuffle the Region Cards; each player draws 5:
Shuffle the Yield Cards; set them by the Region Cards:
Place the Bonus Tiles in their respective stacks of 5 (they don’t need to be shuffled, but, you can; I’m setup instructions, not a cop):
Also set the Bonus Cards nearby; they should have the “I” side facing up.
Set the marble blocks, workers, and blue wild hexagons nearby, as well:
Finally, you can shuffle the 32 beige hexes and put them into some small stacks near the scoreboard (don’t reveal them, yet).
Now, to finish up player setup, give each player a random A / B / C Region Board and have players assemble a region. Each Region Board cannot be offset from its adjacent Region Board by more than one hex.
Once players have done that, they may place their starting castle on any of the three dark green hexes in their new region. Players now, in turn order, take one of the bonus tiles and place it next to their player board (more on what those do later). If you take the one with a green “2” on it, instantly gain 2 green points.
To finish up, flip 8 of the beige hexagons so that they’re face-up. You should be ready to start!
Over the course of The Castles of Tuscany, you’ll build up your region to try and be fruitful and plentiful, combining agriculture, villages, monasteries, and more to get there!
Your turn is fairly straightforward. You may do any one of the following things:
Draw Region Cards
This one’s pretty much what it says on the tin. You just take three Region Cards from the deck and add them to your hand. There’s no hand limit, though, so no need to worry about how many cards you take. You also get to take an additional card from the deck for every Bonus Tile that you have that shows a card.
Take a Tile
This one is also pretty much what it says on the tin. You may take any tile from the center 8 and add it to one of your tile storage locations on your player board. If you have no available places to place a tile, you must return one of the tiles currently stored on your player board to the box to clear a space. While we’re not to Strategy, yet, I’ll freely tell you that’s a bad idea and you shouldn’t do that. Once you’ve taken a tile, replace it with the top tile from the leftmost stack on your player board.
Play a Tile
This is going to be the crux of the game, here. You may, as your turn action, add one tile from your player board to your region by spending two of any items from the following list:
- One card of the same color as the tile
- Two cards of the same color
- One worker
You must place a tile next to a tile that’s already on your board, and it must be placed on a space that matches its color. When you do, you immediately gain 1 / 3 / 6 green points if you completed a section of 1 / 2 / 3 contiguous tiles of the same color, and you gain a benefit based on the tile you just placed:
- Dark green: Dark green lets you immediately take a tile from the center of the play area and add it to your region board without paying its cost. The new tile’s effect is also applied (and you must replace the tile with a tile from your stack).
- Light green: Light green lets you gain victory points based on the type of agriculture in that zone. Look at the tile: it is of 1 – 2 of four types (Olives / Grapes / Wheat / Livestock). You gain one victory point per new type of agriculture in the zone (so if you place a second olives tile in the zone, you wouldn’t get an additional point).
- Red: Red allows you to gain a bonus tile of your choice.
- Blue: Gain a blue wild hexagon to your tile storage area. As a subsequent action, you may treat this hexagon as a tile of any color and play it to a space of your choice (following normal placement rules for a tile of that color). If you play it to a light green tile, it’s considered its own type of agriculture. If, for some reason, you gain a blue hexagon and your tile storage is full, you immediately gain two red points.
- Gray: Gain a marble, which can be spent (once) on your turn to take another action. You may immediately spend this marble, if you want.
- Orange: Gain a worker, which may be spent to play a tile.
- Yellow: Draw 3 Region Cards (your Region Card bonus tiles don’t boost this).
- Beige: Gain a number of Yield Cards equal to the number of Yield bonuses you have. You immediately reveal them and gain their effects.
If you completely fill all the spaces of a color, check to see if that Bonus Card is still there. If it is, gain the pictured green points. If it’s on the I, flip it to the II. If it’s on the II, remove it from the game.
End of Round
Once any player is the first to empty a numbered stack from their player board, the round ends. Once the round ends, add the current number of green points you have to your red score, moving your red score marker to compensate. An important note: do not reset your green points! They stay in the same spot.
Play continues with the player to the left of the player that just ended the round. Note that the other players don’t mess with their tiles; they just won’t end the round when that stack is depleted.
End of Game
After the third stack is depleted, the other players take one final turn and the game ends.
Again, add your green points to your red points, and that will determine your score. If you have any Region Cards left in your hand, gain 1 red point for every 3 Region Cards you have. If you have extra unplayed tiles / marble / workers, gain 1 red point for each token you still have.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I’ve tried it at 2, 3, and 4, and I haven’t noticed a ton of differences generally. The turns are fast, there’s limited downtime, and I love those things. As player counts increase, the game will take longer (since the end of the game occurs when a player completely depletes their tiles), but that happens with a lot of these titles. It’s not too much longer, in my experience, either. The one thing to watch out for is that less-common tiles are fairly-evenly represented in the center, but they’re less common in player stacks. This means that if you get a rough random draw, it might be a long time before you see any Inns (my only Inn was, in my last four-player game, the absolute last tile in my stack). Also, if a good tile gets flipped in a four-player game, you’ve got almost no chance of seeing it, which can be a bit unfortunate. The real issue comes around with Bonus Tiles; in a four-player game, it’s possible to get very much shut out on the extra Region Cards or the extra tile storage, which can make your game really challenging. The tiles don’t scale with player count, which is odd; there are just always five of each. That said, I’d say I have no real problems with larger games of Castles of Tuscany, but I definitely like this a lot at two.
- Don’t sleep on the red tiles. The red tiles are an excellent way to acquire additional bonus tiles, which can be super helpful! At least, it’s helpful early in the game. By the late-game, if you are still going after red tiles, you … are less likely to get the ones you need the most, especially at higher player counts, and you’ve likely filled enough of the orange / gray / beige tiles that having additional bonus tiles for those isn’t going to help you much, either. Prioritize the things that have longer-term potential and make sure to get those early.
- The dark green tiles allow for a lot of combo potential. If you are obscenely lucky, you can occasionally chain a dark green tile into another dark green tile, which will usually completely fill out the dark green spots in your region. That’s even more bonus points! The earlier you can do that, the better. You can also chain it into a quarry, and then use the marble you get to take the other dark green tile. Dark green tiles are also a good way to quickly end the round, since you’re pulling a new tile on your turn.
- The light green (agriculture) tiles vary a bit in utility based on how you process their entry in the rulebook / on the player board. There’s been some debate among the early players that I have talked to whether or not it is “you score 1 point for each agriculture type not currently present in your zone” (rewards small agriculture zones) or “you score 1 point for each agriculture type now present in your zone” (rewards large, diverse agriculture zones). You kinda have to commit to one processing or the other before you play (and I think they’re working to make that clarification more clear). I played with the latter ruleset and if you’re playing that way, you should try to block your opponents from filling up a large agriculture zone with many different types, as that could be as many as 11 points in one turn. Early enough in the game, that’s hard to come back from.
- Sometimes your best move will be to just draw cards and pass. As is often the case with random markets, there may just not be anything you want. Rather than taking something you don’t want or can’t use, just … pass. It’s not always worth taking a tile that you don’t want, especially given that you have limited space.
- Watch out for players hoarding marble; they can activate a double turn if you’re not prepared for it. You should always be careful when you’re dealing with things that let you take extra actions; this can really cause the game to get away from you if you’re not particularly careful. So watch it!
- There’s a lot of power in ending the round, provided you do so wisely. If you can successfully end the round before your opponent makes a big point move, you’ve successfully reduced the long-term impact of that score! If they were to score 6 extra green points in the first round, that score is now worth 12 points over the course of the game instead of 18. That can be a pretty big swing! So keep an eye on your opponents and try to head them off while you can.
- Either way, it’s often worth it to keep an eye on how many tiles your opponents have left in their stack. If nothing else, you should be aware of how close your opponents are to ending the round (or the game) at any particular moment. If not, then you risk getting hit with a nasty surprise.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Having short turns for a game like this is absolutely excellent. There’s plenty to do, but nothing you can do (short of a multi-tile-marble-fueled super combo) is really all that intricate. Lots of short turns is a lot less cognitively intense than fewer long turns, so, this type of game ends up being on the more new-player-friendly end of the alea spectrum. I think Las Vegas Royale, of course, is probably the most friendly for new players, but this strikes an alarmingly happy balance.
- Additionally, there are a lot of ways that you can kinda execute turn actions a little bit asynchronously, if players are cool with it. If you’re drawing cards I should be able to take a tile without affecting you and the next person should be able to potentially play a tile without anyone needing any information from these exchanges, which is nice. Tiny ways to make the game go a bit faster.
- I really like the color of the box. It’s a very pleasant deep green / emerald. It looks really nice! I think I don’t have enough games with green boxes, and they’ve been traditionally pretty striking when I’ve seen them.
- Also, the emphasis on early-game points is very interesting, to me. I like how the scoring works in this game a lot! I think it’s neat that points in the first round ultimately end up scoring three times. It incentivizes making quick decisions and that cements you into a few longer-term strategies. I just think it’s really cool!
- While it makes the game harder to learn, having each tile type produce its own unique effect is pretty neat. I think it gives you a few different paths to success, since you can focus on the types of tiles that you want to fill out to accomplish your goals.
- I really like the variable region board setup options. I’m generally a sucker for that kind of thing, though. It just is nice to have different layouts for every play.
- Beyond that, though, I will say the game is not as taxing to learn as I feared. I was very pleasantly surprised by that; it makes this a nice hybrid between a more gateway-level game and something like Castles of Burgundy. I think making this one less complex is a strictly good move, and it really lands for me.
- I understand the value of having spots to place extra workers and extra marble, but it’s far less generally useful than the extra tile storage and the extra region card draws. I think it is most useful early in the game and then you need to overindex on it, whereas the extra tile storage and region card draws are largely general-purpose and can be used throughout the game.
- Everything being roughly twice as large would be nice, honestly. Large-box game with small-box components. Having larger pieces would just make the game easier to play. Thankfully, I’ve been playing it mostly virtually up until now, which allows me to just zoom to the size of game that I want to play.
- Visual accessibility is … not really here, in this one. There are a lot of things that are similar colors, and it’s not exactly easy to tell the difference between the agriculture types on the light green tiles at a glance. I was talking to a friend with colorblindness and he was expressing disappointment that he’ll have to mark the region boards in order to be able to play this game, which feels like an unforced error from alea.
- Some of the wording in the rulebook seems to stem from translation issues? We’re still not totally sure how agriculture tiles are scored, but we’ve been trying to be consistent about it and it’s mostly turned out fine. I think a few more passes with a blind playtester might have ironed out some of the more confusing parts of the rulebook.
Overall: 9 / 10
Overall, I really enjoyed The Castles of Tuscany! I think it sits at a really nice spot where it’s a bit more complex than a gateway game but it’s not so complex that I would be uncomfortable showing it to even my mildly-experienced friends. It’s definitely my favorite out of the alea series that I’ve played, so far. I think the joking name I’ve heard for it so far is “Ticket to Burgundy”, and while that’s not entirely wrong that’s also a good description of it essentially being a more complex Ticket to Ride. That’s an excellent spot for a lot of folks, though! Ticket to Ride is a superb gateway title, but it’s often a title that folks eventually want to move on from and see what lies beyond. The Castles of Tuscany is an excellent follow-up title for that space. It’s colorful, it’s got very quick turns, and the player interaction isn’t as negative (instead, it’s mostly focused on seeing other people take the tile that you wanted). As a result, it plays in a similar amount of time to Ticket to Ride, but it adds some nice additional depth and complexity that still makes it very appealing to me. I really ended up enjoying it, and I was very pleasantly surprised from my plays. I also think the scoring system is really interesting, and I like how it’s implemented in-game. It’s challenging and requires careful planning at the beginning of the game, lest you get totally left behind by the end of the game. I haven’t seen many games implement that level of scaling, and I think it’s a neat feature. Compelling, too. I’m very pleased with this title, though, and I’m looking forward to getting to play it again. If you’re into tile games or you want to try a neat scoring system, I’d definitely recommend The Castles of Tuscany; I had a blast playing it!