In Signorie you play noble families in 15th century Italy. It is an age of political turmoil and great clans rise to power in the Italian cities, controlling politics, the economy and the military balance. You are the leader of your family. You arrange for the sons in the family to get educated in various fields – politics, religion and military. You get the daughters married off to other major clans to build and cement alliances. Doing these and a few other things in the game give you victory points. At the end of 7 rounds, the highest scorer wins.
This is the main game board. The game supports 2 to 4 players. At the start of a round, dice in 5 colours are rolled. On your turn, you claim one die to perform an action. Every round you may claim at most 4 dice, and they must be in different colours.
This is one of the player boards. They are almost exactly the same, the only exception being the rightmost column. The emblems each player is allowed to collect are different. The five columns in the middle represent five sets of actions you get to perform. Whenever you claim a die from the main board, you place it in a column matching the die colour, then pick one action in the column to perform. The space for the die in each column has a number, which is the base cost of performing an action. Green actions are most expensive, at $5. The number on the die is the discount you get. If you pick a high number, you can perform the action cheaply or even for free. However at the end of the round your die values are summed up. If you do not exceed 13, you gain a bonus. So there is a conflict between getting discounts and getting the round-end bonuses. Sometimes you may even take fewer dice for the sake of the round-end bonus. That means performing fewer than 4 actions.
Once you pick a die, you have four action options from which to pick one. Let’s take a yellow die as an example. In the yellow column on the player board, you can see an envelope with a yellow seal. This refers to two actions on the main board. There are 10 action tiles on the main board which are randomised every round. There will be 2 actions associated with each type of envelope. One will require expending sons, and the other daughters.
On the player board, there are two other icons in the yellow box. The coin icon means you may take some cash. The white disc above a green circle means you may spend money to recruit a helper. You place the helper at a job in the green column. From then on, whenever you claim a green die, this helper gets to perform an action for free.
The leftmost column on the player board shows five people – you the clan leader and four other elders. Initially you are the only one who is married, thus that while pawn representing your wife. At the end of each of the first five rounds, if your die total doesn’t exceed 13, you get to marry your elders. The purpose of being married is to produce children. There is a specific action you need to perform to produce children (this sounds inappropriate but I’m talking about game rules here okay). You roll dice to determine whether the offspring is a son or a daughter. Children are essentially just another resource type. Some tasks must be performed by sons, some by daughters. Both sons and daughters are used as currency for some actions.
The rightmost column indicates emblems you may collect when sending sons out to ally with other clans or marrying daughters to other clans. Emblems are worth points if you collect at least three in the same row.
This is part of the main board, showing the 10 actions available to players which are shuffled every round. Actions which end up in the top row may be performed by expending daughters. Those in the second row require expending sons.
The game is played over 7 rounds. These are the benefits you get at the end of a round if your die total doesn’t exceed 13. Those benefits on the square tiles are randomly set up before the start of a game. The benefits for Rounds 6 and 7 are related to scoring victory points. You may spend $5 to score 5 victory points. The Round 6 tile allows you to score 4 victory points per city where you have a daughter married off to. The Round 7 tile allows you to score 2 victory points per helper employed. You get to see the scoring conditions before the game starts so you can plan ahead.
The three columns on the right are the three fields your sons can get into – politics, religion and military. I think of them as sending your boys to be educated. As the placement spots on the main board get taken up, the minimum qualifications for sending sons become higher. Initially any basic diploma would do, but later you’d need a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate. When your son is highly educated, he scores more points for you when he establishes an alliance. Studying more is a good thing.
At game setup, two emblems are randomly placed at each city. Those on the left can be claimed when you marry off a daughter at the city. Those on the right are to be claimed by sons forming alliances. At the start of every round, if any emblem has been claimed in the previous round, a new one is drawn to fill the vacant slot. Each city has 8 occupant spots. Once all filled, you may no longer send any son or daughter.
The overall flow of the game is training your sons and daughters and sending them out to create alliances. Sons need to be educated first, so there is more effort required. For daughters, you need to save enough money for the dowries. Both sons and daughters are resources you need to produce and manage. You have to remember to find wives for your elders and to perform the family growth action.
Han suggested Signorie
. The two of us plus Allen played on BoardGameArena.com
. I started off with the rush strategy, going for quantity and not quality. I sent my sons and daughters out as quickly as I could, grabbing as many emblems as possible. As long as the boys met the minimum requirement, I pulled them out of school to go to work. I didn’t ask them to study more in order to score more points. The advantage of doing this was I could grab more of the right emblems. In the late game, one problem that came up for Han and Allen was a lack of the right emblems. This was bad because if no one could claim any of the emblems, no replacements would be drawn. We would be stuck. However emblems was just one of many ways to score points, and it wasn’t a major one.
I was the earliest to go out grabbing emblems (those on the right side of my player board). However I did not employ many helpers (white discs). At this point I only had two helpers – first column third position, and third column first position. Allen and Han spent much more effort in the early game recruiting helpers. This was the right thing to do. Helpers basically give you free actions, so it is best to get many of them early, and fully utilise them throughout the game. Allen started scoring points rather late, because he spent much time setting up his household of helpers. I had a gut feeling I should be recruiting more helpers, but I was impetuous and impatient to get going. By mid game I got into a tough situation. It was hard to decide whether to still recruit helpers. In the late game helpers are usually not worth it because you won’t get to use them many times. The mid game is neither here nor there. You would use them a few times, but it’s hard to gauge whether the return on investment makes sense. Eventually I didn’t have many helpers. I focused my helpers on doing just one thing – collecting books. Books collected every round determine the turn order in the subsequent round. They are reset every round. If you collect enough books, you also score points. I worked on books for both the turn order advantage and the points.
Both Allen and Han had many more helpers than I did, which meant they performed more actions than I did. Eventually Allen won with a comfortable margin. I had expected to come in second place, but right at the end Han overtook me by 1 point! Conclusion: Being impatient is bad.
Han’s sons studied hard. By the end of the game, he still had kids at school which he was not able to send out to form alliances. However these boys still scored half the points they would have scored had they found jobs. That turned out to be a decent chunk of points. My kids studied only for the sake of passing exams and getting minimum wage jobs. Once I had enough emblems, I didn’t even bother to send more of them to school. I kept them home to plough, sow and feed chicken. By game end I had no sons scoring points for me.
At the bottom left, two of the round end bonus tiles had been removed, which meant this was Round 3 now.
I was purple, Han blue and Allen yellow. Allen was last to start collecting emblems. However at this point both of them had 5 to 6 helpers, while I only had two.
When deciding which die to pick, you have to consider what your opponents have taken. If all your opponents have taken dice of a certain colour, you know the last one is safe and there is no urgency to take it. If an opponent has many helpers of a certain colour, you know he will want to take a die in that colour. If an opponent is low on cash, you know he can’t afford some of the dice, so they are temporarily safe. Picking dice is not just about how desperately you want them. You have to think from your opponents’ perspectives.
By game end all the slots at every city were filled. We could no longer send any more sons or daughters. In a 3-player game, one of the cities is not in play.
When our game ended, I (purple) had only two rows with emblems, while both Han and Allen had three rows. They took some generic emblems which were worth only 1 point each. Think of these as minor clans. Each row of emblems scores points only when you have at least three. So if you have difficulties getting a third emblem, you may have to take a generic one, so that you don’t waste the points on the first two.
Signorie is essentially a resource conversion game. You need to produce money, sons and daughters, and these resources will eventually be converted to victory points. Sons go to school and then are expended to set up alliances with the major clans. When you set aside enough money to marry off your daughters, they are expended to build ties with the major clans too. Many actions require money. The most unique aspect of the game is the dice selection mechanism. This is the core of the game. It creates interesting and challenging decisions. The rest of the game is built around this core mechanism. Initially the number of different actions feels overwhelming, but once you grasp the few key processes – about what sons do and what daughters do, the actions are not hard to understand and remember.
Player interaction does not feel direct. However I can see that other players’ actions can impact yours significantly. It just doesn’t feel so. Because of this the game does not feel confrontational. I can see plenty of competition, including for the emblems, for the high valued dice, and sometimes even for the low valued dice. The limited number of spaces can be a source of contention too, but this will probably happen only near game end when space is running out. In the early game it doesn’t seem hard to fulfil the criteria to claim a space. Eurogame designers are skilled in creating this kind of player interaction. They don’t feel confrontational, but if you look slightly deeper they do hurt your opponents.
I find Signorie quite a succinct game. Not that it is simple. Certainly the many action types take a little while to digest. Once I got past these, I find that it doesn’t have much extra fat. Some games make me feel the designer added more stuff for the sake of having more stuff. In Signorie, almost everything you do relates to cultivating sons and daughters to serve the family. The fun to complexity ratio is high. It has just enough rules to bring out the fun.