Review – Mille Fiori

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Designer Reiner Knizia

Artist Stephan Lorenz

Publisher Devir

Category Drafting, Tile-Laying, Abstract

Length 30-60 minutes

Release Date January 2023

Player Count 2-4

Price $39.99

Reiner Knizia is a name known to most hobby board gamers. He may well have the record for most published game designs, and certainly has won many awards. While the 1990s are commonly regarded as the pinnacle of his design career, he was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres three times in the past five years (My City, L.L.A.M.A, Quest for El Dorado), not to mention his many, many past awards. But in 2021, he got back to “Kennerspiel” advanced games, with the excellent Witchstone and Mille Fiori, which is just now finally arriving in the United States. Was it worth the wait? Let’s take a look!

Review

I actually interviewed Reiner Knizia several times when I first became a reviewer, and one fascinating aspect of his design philosophy was that he intentionally did not play games by other designers. That philosophy seems to have changed, since Quest for El Dorado was a deckbuilding game like Dominion and its descendants, and now Mille Fiori is a drafting game whose point salad approach smells a lot like Imhotep and That’s Pretty Clever!. But in typical Knizia fashion, the rules are incredibly short and simple. Each round, pick a card, pass the rest to your neighbor, then reveal and play your cards in turn. Unless you use the “alternate action” of moving a boat that any card can do, card play results in placing a tile on the board, and running out of tiles is one way to the end the game. (The other way, which we have yet to see happen, is running the deck out).

Of course, most of the rulebook describes the various scoring patterns on the different areas of the board. They aren’t overly complex, but there are quite a few of them. Here is where I complain about the lack of a player aid. I’m kind of torn, though, because the iconography on the actual cards is very clear and helpful. But at minimum, there should be a scoring summary on the back of the rulebook, which is blank. I will say that even after our 2nd consecutive game, though, we knew what was going on without trouble. 

Did we play two games in a row? Of course we did, because this game is amazing. The best way to describe it is that it has that “emergent gameplay” Knizia is known for. Some games are “thinky” because the rules are so dang long that you have to process for a long time to understand your options. That’s not interesting to me. Other games are “thinky” because everyone has a clear understanding and valuation of what’s happening on the board, and you are now busy trying to figure out how to play the players. That’s exactly what Mille Fiori is, and it’s some of the best interaction I’ve seen in a strategy game.

Sure, you’re just picking a card to place a tile. But what if your tile then lets an opponent score even more? Should I do a weaker move to get a bonus action (yes, there are combo chains! my love language!), when it might possibly get my opponent a bunch of points? Do I go for big points, knowing the person going before me could ruin it? The speed at which the in-game decisions go from “eh, we’ll see what happens” to delicious agony is astounding. 

The math of the game is incredibly clever, too. (No surprise from a Ph.D in the subject.) There is one card in the deck for each space on the board, so you have a clear understanding of what’s still possible, making those decisions even clearer and yet trickier. The way the game quickly escalates from 1-to-5-point turns to moves of 10, 20, or even 30 points also escalates the tension quickly. And then it’s over in a flash; one 3-player game took us only about 30 minutes, while our first game took us about 45. 

I also love that the components are so simple. Each player gets their tiles and a few pawns, then you have a board and a deck of cards. That’s it. In an era of $100+ Kickstarters and having to buy third-party organizers to make games playable in a reason amount of time, Knizia is over here being minimalist as usual, to great effect. The components that are here look great; the translucent tiles look beautiful on the board and the bright pastel colors are exactly what I prefer. I was worried that the static board would become repetitive, but that is not my experience so far. Randomized tokens could come later in an expansion, but they’re not needed. And the game is only $39.99 MSRP. 

Honestly, I am struggling to come up with a negative for this game. Yes, the game is abstract with a tacked-on theme. But we all knew that when we saw the designer credit. Personally, I am more interested in a pleasant look and interesting gameplay than feeling like I “really am a glass-blower from renaissance Italy.” I would rather feel like an American gamer in 2022 having a fantastic time playing Mille Fiori. And while I haven’t played every classic Knizia title — only 43 of them, according to BoardGameGeek — in my mind, this is his magnum opus. 

The Bottom Line

Reiner Knizia's best game. Yes, seriously.

 

10

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Author: Derek Thompson


I’ve been a board game reviewer on Geeks Under Grace since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.