Designed by Katarzyna Cioch and Wojciech Wiśniewski, and named, of course, after the pioneer of printing, Gutenberg, from Granna, is a 1-4 player game that introduces some interesting and innovative elements to explore. Art is by Rafał Szłapa.
Each player takes on the role of a similar pioneer focusing on the development of printing and its related technologies. The game begins with a planning phase in which players allocate markers to the five different actions available to them. This is carried out in secret behind players' screens, and when the initiative boards are revealed each action is resolved in order of the most markers allocated to the action. This means that it is likely that each player will take their actions in a different order. This has several consequences. As you don’t know for sure whether you’ll go early or later for each action, you can’t perfectly plan. This means you may have to reconsider what you do on each action and this inevitably adds to the time taken to complete each of the six rounds.
The first action is to take orders, which are printing cards that earn money and refinement cards which earn fame (victory points). Each type of order is paired with one of the others for consideration when these orders are fulfilled. The second action allows you to take inks, which are required for the fame element of orders. The third action allows players to develop specialities which move markers higher up four tracks. These are prerequisites for gaining valuable patronage cards.
The fourth action is the most innovative and the strongest presence on the different boards. These are the gears that fit onto each player’s personal board. The gears rotate, and by doing so may grant rewards that help with the progress you need. The final action also allows the player to take resources they may need for future rounds.
Having gathered the resources over this and previous rounds, players can fulfil orders to earn money using letter typefaces (which are retained from round to round) and inks that are used to satisfy the fame options. In order to carry out the fame portion you have to complete the linked typeface order.
The next round proceeds with a change of start player and each player passes initiative markers to the previous start player. This ensures that the initiative markers are unevenly distributed each turn. The game ends after six rounds, with scoring a mix of points earned and end-game points for a variety of things achieved during the game.
The printing aspect of the game is strong. The game interweaves the different game elements well so you are thinking how resources might be allocated and there are a number of goals to achieve which call for planning. The presentation is good, with wooden markers for the typefaces tho' the ink tokens are just cardboard. The gears make a striking impression on anyone who walks by and wants to know what the game is about, tho' in practice they are not the most important element in the game.
The aspect I have liked least is the secret bidding process. It’s clever and gets interaction between the players but at the expense of planning. Maybe this is how the designers wanted to see the game proceed but I had some frustrations when my plans were ruined by someone else going earlier in a phase and taking what I badly needed. There's some mitigation by the rotation of initiative markers at the end of each round but when players plan their actions and then find they cannot carry out their plans it's bound to slow down play.
Gutenberg incorporates some good ideas. Tho' I've enjoyed the game, everybody I've played it with has probably enjoyed it more than I did.
(Review by Alan How)