31 July 2022
The term ‘elegant’ gets thrown around a lot in board games. Often it’s a synonym for ‘this rule or component saved us some headaches’ but every now and then a game arrives where every aspect of its design delivers perfectly on its intent.
Gutenberg is one such elegantly made Eurogame. Players are leaders in the printing press industry which took the 15th century by storm, seeking fame and fortune by sourcing new orders whilst gathering the necessary supplies and knowledge to complete them.
Firstly, this game’s physical design and production is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The game proudly advertises itself as “without plastic” and it absolutely means it. Begone tiny bags for every little component, for here are fantastic cardboard chests ready to be filled with cards, wooden cubes and incredible 3D lettertype tiles. It’s a credit to the publisher’s commitment to an environmentally conscious creation that, in a world where many companies still overload their creations with plastic detritus, is a welcome step to a more sustainable future.
In play, the game captures the best parts of engine building and contract-fulfilling games. You start off with a couple of print orders demanding vowels and decorations. To fulfil these orders you must have the necessary type tiles (i.e. letter blocks), speciality levels and ink, the latter two being optional extras to the mandatory tile requirement, but are also essential if you want to be earning game winning fame points. Each order completed earns you coins that buy more types and ink, expanding your future point production. However, before you can fulfil your orders, you need the necessary infrastructure to complete them, which is where our action auction comes in.
Everything that can be done to improve your printing press must first be secretly bid on using influence tokens. Each round starts with players deciding which actions to prioritise or even skip over entirely. You may want to snatch up the perfect array of ink for your orders, but do you want it more than levelling up a speciality skill? By committing your choices in secret, it adds a deduction element to the game, trying to determine how much your opponents will want to take certain actions, to best array your influence cubes.
One such action allows players to add cogs to their game board. Each round begins with the first cog on a player’s board being turned clockwise, with each meshed cog itself turning to reveal a new bonus action that the player can choose to take once this round. The player who can find a way to best optimise their cogs to ensure they can sneak that extra advantage will put themselves in a much more likely position to win.
The gameplay ebbs and flows in sync with players contemplating. Whilst the first person to an action may have a wider variety of options, often that same player will commit heavily to ensure they go first, having already spotted a point building combination. Likewise, as the order of progression between actions is fixed, the downtime between things happening is dramatically reduced, keeping a quicker pace than one would expect from a calculating Eurogame such as this.
It sounds like I’m describing every good Eurogame combined into one, which in a way, I kind of am. Gutenberg feels familiar whilst still being refreshing, rewarding careful thought but never burdening players with excessive downtime, delivering an elegant fusion of mechanics into a thought provoking, great looking experience. An absolute triumph that’s a delight to look at and play in equal measure.
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
Fitting for a game about printing, Gutenberg compresses the best aspects of several beloved Eurogames into a polished game that delivers a beautifully presented and highly engrossing title. Magnificent.
PLAY IF YOU LIKED Lords of Waterdeep
Both games see players fighting to successfully complete the best contracts first, slowly amassing resources to better deliver on more valuable orders. If you ever wished you could keep some of the adventurers between quests, Gutenberg ostensibly delivers on this desire to constantly improve and take on bigger and better challenges.
Designer: Katarzyna Cioch & Wojciech Wiśniewski
Publisher: Portal Games
What’s in the box?
- Double-sided main Board
- 4 Printing house boards
- 4 Initiative boards
- 4 Screens
- 10 Character tiles
- 140 Game cards
- 40 3D Wooden letter block types
- First Player token
- 32 Cardboard gears
- 127 Cardboard tokens
- Hessian bag
- 75 Wooden tokens
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This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
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