The Princes of Florence – Game of the Month for May

The Princes of Florence

The Princes of Florence.  The game is set in Renaissance Italy, where players assume the roles of wealthy patrons of the arts and sciences who are competing to gain the most prestige amongst their peers.  That’s the theme anyway, which I think works very well to give background and context to the action, but is not really all that necessary to how the game plays.  To me, however, game play in “Princes” is all about managing limited resources, which I’ll talk about in depth later.  All in all, I think that The Princes of Florence is the most clever and interesting game that I’ve ever played, and I’ve been looking forward to this chance to share some of what I’ve learned so far about it.  


Components and Setup 

There are four basic areas in which play occurs: 



  • In the central area is a common tracking board which includes a turn marker and a scoring track.  In addition to keeping up with the overall “prestige” score, this scoring track is also used to temporarily record the value of each player’s completed works for the current round.    
  • To one side of the central board, you usually arrange all of the components used in the auction phase of the game.  Items which can be bought only at auction include Landscapes (Forests, Lakes, and Parks), Builders, Jesters, Prestige cards, and Recruiter cards.
  • On the other side of the scoring track board, there are placed all the items which can be obtained during the action phase of each turn.  These include Buildings, Freedoms (of Religion, Travel, and Opinion), Profession cards, and Bonus cards.
  • Finally, each player has their own player board, which contains space representing their “palazzo” (where most of their purchases are placed) as well as quite a bit of reference information about the different professions, turn order, actions, and scoring. 

 


The Princes of Florence my favorite game… But why?  It’s almost a cliché these days to say that a game forces you to make “difficult decisions”, but Princes seems to define this whole idea for me.  At its core, this game is all about managing limited resources.  You’ve got limited money, limited time (only 7 rounds), limited actions, limited availability of items, and limited space (in your palazzo).  It requires you to make long-term plans early on, but also forces you to make tactical changes to your strategy based on the actions of your opponents.  You have to decide at what point you must win an auction versus when you can just pick it up later.  You have to figure out whether to go ahead and complete a work now  and get the money you need or wait until next round when it will be worth more.  You have to decide if you should buy that last freedom now or wait until later, hoping that no one else buys it first.  Every round and every action is riddled with such decisions, and the sense of tension it brings is just exhilarating! 
 
But the genius of the design, in my opinion, is that along with such a tight economy of resources, there is also a terribly wide breadth of viable strategies available.  In addition to all the other reasons I’m giving here, one of things that is most fun for me is experimenting with these different strategies.  For example, in previous games I had dabbled with using only the “generic” work value boosters (Jesters and Profession cards, as opposed to Profession-specific items like Buildings and Landscapes) and had a little success, so on the first week of May I decided to go all out for this “Jester” strategy.  By the end of the game, I had 4 Jesters, one Building, one Freedom, and had completed nine (!) different works, finishing with 77 points and beating the next closest opponent by more than a dozen prestige.  Then, one of the next times I played I went for a “Builder” strategy, filling up my palazzo with buildings and winning on the strength of two Prestige cards.  

But along with developing these long-term strategies, you also have to react to the short-term conditions that change from opponent to opponent, game to game, and even round to round.  One complaint I’ve read from some people about Princes is that the game is essentially “multi-player solitaire”.  But I just don’t think that this complaint holds water.  With the auction mechanic, the limited numbers of many resources, the competition for best work, and the use of Recruiter cards, there are lots of ways where players “get in each others’ way”, both intentionally and unintentionally.  For example, one game I was poised to complete two “17 value” works in the last round and sprint to victory.  That was, of course, right up until the player to my immediate right stole one of my completed works with a Recruiter card, which dropped the value of both my works to 16 (one less than can be played in round 7).  So instead, I had to spend my first action on a bonus card. only completed one work, and ended up losing by 2 points.  No solitaire here, bub!

The other thing I really love about this game is the real sense of “building something” that I feel.  You start with a plan, invest in it from time to time while also covering contingencies that arise, and then at the end get to see if your efforts succeed or fall flat.  Along with this also comes that sense of tension that I mentioned earlier.  As the rounds progress, you can feel time slipping away as you try to get all your pieces in place.  Every round there are four or five things you’d like to do, but you can only choose the three you need the most.  And then at the end of the game, you make that one, last play to try and push yourself over the edge, hoping that it will be enough to claim victory.  Just thinking about it gets me a little excited!  (Yeah, I agree.  Maybe I’ve got a problem…)

I could literally keep writing for pages and pages more, but I’ll be merciful and stop here, hoping that my love and respect for this game have been made clear to you.  So, on to my final judgment.           

The Verdict!

Rules: Simple bits that are put together to form an exceptionally complex whole.  It usually takes playing through one game to get people to really understand how to compete in the game, but understanding the rules themselves is relatively simple.
Downtime:  Never enough.  The auction phase involves everyone, and having only 2 actions a turn keeps things moving well.  The downtime involved is needed to plan your next moves. 
Length:  With experienced players, games run just over an hour.  The limited turns and natural tension of the game make this seem even shorter, though.
Player Interaction: Very little directly, but competition for resources generates lots of indirect interaction (see above). 
Weight: Medium Heavy.  Rules are medium weight, but thought and strategy can be heavy and intense at times.  
GamerChris’ Rating: To me, this is everything that a modern board game should be.  I could never see myself turning down a game, so I rate it a legendary 10.


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