Published by Blatz
Designed by Hanno & Wilfried Kuhn
Reviewed by Mike Siggins
Campanile is a game about building towers. The theme, loosely attached at best, seems to be that whichever grandee has the highest tower in Italy was deemed to be the most prestigious, and it is your job is to join that faction. Thus the player who identifies which towers will be the tallest, and backs (or bets on) them, will gain the most victory points and win. As a game, it is full of typically German design ideas and although I would say it has rather lost its way thematically (it feels more like a horse racing game at times), it has been one of the successes from the recent batch of, shall we say, generally lacklustre Nuremburg releases. This is not to say it is a great game, it isn't, but it is enjoyable, light, quick and an ideal filler.
There are five tower types in the game, which start three stories high, and these will be added to throughout the game by the players. Each player is given four random tower cards and must play one per turn, replenishing at the end from one of the three face up draw piles. He can lay the card so as to add one, two or three stories (depending on whether he wants to help or hinder) and, logically enough, you must play to match the architecture at all times. When any one of the draw piles is exhausted, the game is over immediately. Throughout the game, as well as adding to the towers, you can also bet on the towers. You are given a number of betting chips that will be used to build up a majority holding in the highest four towers; the fifth, or lowest, will score nothing. Victory points are awarded for being first or second, only, on each tower so it is quite within the realm of possibilities to score precisely nothing.
As the game progresses, the towers steadily build up - and be warned as, like Looping, you will need quite a bit of table room. One tower might zoom ahead, only to be steadily caught up by rivals, or two might go neck and neck only to be pipped at the end, while others hardly seem to get going. The horse racing parallels will be apparent. Players try to track and predict this movement by referring to their hands (though in no way is this as helpful as, say, Sevens, Coup or Holiday AG), by watching what other players are picking up and generally guestimating which tower will prove the highest. The choice to bet early is compromised by later unexpected developments, but if you guess right it can be a useful asset to be in early. To hold back on bets will mean that the leaders are clearer to all. At the end of the game, flags are placed on the tops of the four winning towers and the points allocated - the highest tower pays 8 for first, four for second. These would be given to the player with the most betting chips on that tower, and the second most. There are neat mechanisms for splitting ties.
All this would be boring and straightforward, but there are some twists, and also checks and balances in play. Players can only place bets on towers that are currently face up on the draw piles, which often restricts your choice - so much so that groan and whinge cards are frequently played. Additionally, if you lay a tower card and add two or three stories, you must place a betting chip of at least that size - ie a two or three chip if you've played two stories, a three only if you've played a three. This stops a player building huge towers and getting big bets on at the same time and since you only have one three chip and three twoers, this is important. In summary, the betting feels a little like Favoriten, but without the opportunity to freely bet on whatever tower/horse you choose. This is artificially restrictive, and would seem to increase the luck element to a level that makes the game as light as it is. For instance, if one tower is heading skywards and way above the others, it is an obvious bet (especially since the second placed tower can be even harder to identify). However, if on your turn the appropriate draw card is not face up (and the previous player will always take the good cards, he whined), you can't bet and must either lump it, pass, or bet elsewhere. The other aspect that moves Campanile away from a decent gamer's game is that you just have too little information to assess the likely leading towers. Your hand is only ever four cards in size, the draw piles are completely random and your only course of action is to identify which towers are shooting up and hope you get lucky enough to bet on them, or promote the rival you want to. If you haven't got the card in hand (to build) or on the draw pile (to bet), tough. Again though, this is a game that has been designed for the lighter end of the market and as such it works fine. It is good fun, it is all over quickly and there seems to be more going on than there is - all positive qualities - I just wonder if it could have been anything more? Perhaps not.
At first I was ready to say that the production was cheap, and made to a price, but then I realised that the cards couldn't have been much thicker and still laid flat when overlapped. Add to this that the game could so easily have been put in a medium or big box, in which case we'd have been paying £25 ($40) for it, and I decided to shut up and keep playing. Whatever, the cards are graphically sound, but thin and shiny, and already corners are showing signs of wear. This is not a game to play if you are prone to sneezing as you'll never recreate the position. But at £12 ($18), and less in Germany, it is hard to quibble. The production is perfectly adequate and the towers look nice as they climb up your gaming table.
Campanile is a nice little filler. I strongly suspect the control is more imagined than actual, and the theme is rather contrived, but it has nevertheless gone down extremely well as a closer. Perhaps this is because, as Manhattan and Bausack have proved, games in which you build huge towers remain popular now as they did in the nursery. Campanile is undoubtedly light, troubles the mind hardly at all, but has some creative mechanisms and the overall feel is rather good. Don't buy and play this one if you want a cerebral exercise, but as a fun game it is a recommended purchase and good value for money.
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell