The Princes of Florence
#4 ALBS, English language edition of Die Fürsten von Florenz
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Experience the golden age of the Renaissance! Assume the role of the head of an Italian Aristocratic dynasty and lead your family like the Medici or Borgia. Build magnificent buildings, cultivate beautiful parks, and invite famous artists and scholars to live and work in your court. The players support the builders, artists, and scholars so that their completed works bring them fame and prestige. As the patrons of such great works, players multiply their reputations, but only one will become the most prestigious prince of Florence!
Over seven rounds, players build Buildings, cultivate Landscapes, and invite artists and scholars to their Palazzi where they provide them with the facilities which inspire such people to produce great Works. All this is done by the players in their Principalities to earn Prestige Points, which are recorded on the fame track.
The more impressive a Work -- that is, the higher its Work Value, the more money and Prestige the player in whose Principality the Work is created is able to earn. Money is important to acquire more Buildings and Landscapes. Also, the Builders and Jesters, which provide valuable services, expect to be paid. Players will also find that Prestige and Bonus cards have great value in building their reputations and fame.
The player who has earned the most Prestige by the end of the seventh round is the winner!
The thing I really like about this game is that there are so many strategies you can follow in order to win.
It's a MUST have!
With the exception of the card draw, there is very little luck involved, and even the luck in a draw of the cards is minimized by allowing you to draw five and pick the best one. Each turn is divided into an auction phase and an action phase. While good play in both phases is important to winning the game, good play in the auction phase is a must if you want to win the game. Some say that this game is like playing group solitaire, but the auction phase is very competitive and intense.
One of the beauties of the auction phase is that it is naturally self balancing. In our gaming group, we quickly noticed that jesters were very powerful. Suddenly, jesters starting getting bid up to $1200 or $1300 each. The high cost reduced the overall value of the jester, and players began to find other ways to win. Every time we play it is a slightly different game!
This game will challenge you to think hard and plan ahead. It has become the favorite amongst the more serious gamers in our crowd.
The Princes of Florence is very luck involved, requires careful planning and realization by the players that they only have 14 actions in total. So whoever can play the most profession cards (8, 9 or even 10?) without duplicating the need for freedoms, or building too much, wins.
Keys to success are:
I have never won with a "builders" strategy, nor have prestige or bonus cards ever really helped me.
The good thing about this game is that one can do a lot of planning very early on, in fact it's almost required. Good management of the money (called florins) is also important, as it can provide a strong bargaining position to acquire the much- needed jesters or recruitment cards during the auction phase. Finally, on a different note, the game board materials are very high quality, with beautiful designs!
Rio Grande's welcome translation of last year's Best Advanced Strategy game has been recognized with an award from the Strategy Gaming Society (October 2001 GAMES). You, a Florentine prince, vie to develop the most cultured court. Bid for and install suitable buildings, create pleasing landscapes, and hire some entertainers. Artists and scholars, attracted by these efforts, create works that earn you money and prestige points in proportion to how well you've treated them. Your estate is of limited size, so be careful how you fill it. You may also obtain prestige cards, giving you a goal whose achievement will bring more points. Victory goes to the player with the most prestige points at game's end.
Compete with other Florentine princes to be the ultimate cultural connoisseur by creating an environment that will attract scholars and artists and inspire them to produce great works. Each of these masters favors a unique combination of landscape (park, forest, or lake), freedom (religion, expression, or travel) and building (10 types, from small chapel to large university). The value of their works depends on how many of these conditions you fulfill. When a round starts, you bid to obtain one of seven objects: parks, forests, lakes, entertainers (to add value to works), architects (to lower building costs), prestige cards (to give you a chance to earn extra points at game's end), and enticement cards (to lure an artist/scholar away from someone else). Afterward, you can perform two actions, such as producing a work, buying a building, bringing a person to court (either from a deck or by enticement), buying a freedom, or picking a bonus card (adding value to one work under certain conditions). The seven rounds require works of progressively higher value. The works are compensated by prestige points and/or money. This is a noble and beautiful game, rich with detail, substance, and intricate decisions.
The authors have a good track record, any connoisseur of recent German games will associate their names with quality and in my opinion this is one of the best games to be released in the last few years. The topic is intriguing--the Renaissance, patronage and prestige conjure up a game that fits well in the imagination. And the components are good--lots of them and high quality, as you would expect from the Alea line. There are many aspects of the game that appeal--the auction, the pieces, the combinations, the placement of buildings, the scoring mechanics, the options and the choices--but in the end, it is the interaction of these elements and the way they provide a stimulating set of decisions that set this game apart from others.
The initial auction is not straightforward, as players can play tactically, opening the bidding on an object that isn't the one they really want in the hope of drawing other players in, getting them to spend their money and reducing the competition for the object that is really sought after. Of course, if no one tops your opening bid, this will fail and you will end up with something which is not the ideal object. Consequently, if you are going to try this, you should pick an item you'd like. Then, if nobody rises to the bait, you can at least console yourself with the thought that you got something you wanted and you got it cheaply.
The auction system is also clever in the way that as it proceeds, there are fewer items to choose from, but also fewer competitors. When you get down to two people, there is often the notion floating in the air that "you need this and I need that, so let's not waste time bidding up prices". Money is tight, so the level the auction has reached can also dictate whether to leave or continue. I have often changed my mind about something when the price got too high.
The objects themselves are also intriguing. The landscapes take up precious space on your board, whereas the entertainers, the architects and the cards do not. So if you go for landscapes, it might upset your placement of the buildings demanded by the personalities. On the other hand, the personalities also demand landscapes. Fortunately, the rules for placing landscapes are less strict than the ones for buildings and early on at least the problems of fitting things in aren't too great. However, you do need to plan ahead.
One option is an 'architect strategy'. Buy two, or better still three, and erect as many buildings as possible. The architects mean that you can fit more buildings into your estate and can build them more cheaply. This brings in points and leaves you with more cash to use in auctions. However, others may block your purchase of the valuable third architect,
So far I have found that the 'entertainer strategy' is not good enough to win. While the points earned from entertainers are helpful, they are not as valuable as getting the right combination of freedoms, buildings and landscapes to improve the lot of many of your people. Whether there should be a further bonus for (say) 3 entertainers is unclear to me. I have found more success by ignoring entertainers and concentrating on the development of works.
Since it is good to have as many personalities as possible, I try to get the substitute cards that allow you to re-use a personality from another player. This helps towards the end of the game, when it is essential to score as often as you can. Another strategy that I have employed to good effect (just!) is to ignore the prestige bonus cards. While each player can choose one card from five (another good rule), they make you try for this particular target and I have always been concerned that this might conflict with the selection of personalities and objects. My chosen way of winning has been to try and gain a lead and hope that this is sufficient for me to be far enough ahead of the players who have opted to go for the end of game prestige bonuses. However, this is a finely judged position and one of the beauties of this game is that there are so many options that not only will each game be different, but there is no guarantee of success.
The second half of the game brings further challenges with the placement of buildings. Trying to get all the ones you need into positions where they will fit together is a problem that is intriguing and fun. When you start trying to deal with the different shapes and sizes and the fact that each type is in limited supply, you have an aspect of the game that is a game in itself. The number of actions at your disposal is always too small, so even choosing which actions to take can be difficult. However, the game does proceed well, and none of the options will present you with a bad situation unless you cannot plan at all and I have never felt that the game is going slowing for all the decisions that each player must make. Indeed, this is part of its fascination for me.
So, summing up, this game presents a myriad of options, but they are not too mind-boggling to ponder; player interaction, but not of a brutal kind; lots of ways of winning and perhaps best of all, a chance for everyone to win from seemingly impossible positions. If this game ever comes second in awards over the coming year, the winner will be astounding. Superb game and entertainment. To quote from my game group, "it doesn't get any better than that." 10/10.
Wolfgang Kramer had a long and distinguished career as a solo designer, but, good as they were, the games he produced during that time have been largely overshadowed by what he has achieved since he stopped working alone and began working in partnership: El Grande, Tycoon, El Caballero, Tikal, Die Hndler, Torres and now this one, which could well be the best of the lot.
The idea is that you are a Renaissance prince whose prestige comes not just from your wealth but from the way that you use it as a patron of learning and the arts. You seek to attract painters, scholars and so on to your court and you provide the conditions under which they will produce great works, works which will then reflect glory on to yourself and your family.
Each player has a board which shows their estate in the form of a rectangle, with their palace as a block in one corner. On the rest of the land they will put up the buildings that their protgs need and create the landscapes which will inspire them. It sounds straightforward. It also, it must be said, sounds like one of those ideas that in the wrong hands could turn out to be both pretentious and twee. Fortunately, we are not in the wrong hands and the result is a game where you have lots of options but neither the time nor the space to do more than a fraction of the things you would like to do. "Too much to do and too little time" often makes for a good game and the screw has never been tightened harder than it is here.
The game lasts seven turns and each turn has two phases. In the first phase you buy an object from a menu of seven. Each of the seven can be chosen at most once in a round, which means an auction when more than one player wants the same thing. In the second phase you perform two actions.
At the heart of all this is the idea of your people producing works. These works have a value and how high that is will depend on your having provided the conditions under which genius can give of its best. There are 21 of these people in the game, all different and each with a different set of three demands: the right building to work in; the right landscape to inspire them; the right type of intellectual freedom. The more ticks you can put alongside a character's list of demands, the more valuable will be the work that he produces and the more prestige you will gain.
There are three types of landscape--woods, lakes and parks--and they make up three of the items on the menu in phase A. The other four are two subsidiary characters, in the form of architects and entertainers, and two types of card. Architects reduce the costs of the buildings you erect and also enable you to put them closer together, thereby fitting more on to your estate. The more architects you have (up to a maximum of three), the more benefits you get.
It is also a case of 'more is better' with entertainers. These people, by making your palace a more congenial place to be, help inspire your protgs to greater achievements, raising the value of the work they produce. This, as you would expect, boosts the number of 'prestige points' that you receive, but the benefit goes further than that. Works produced have to be worth more than a certain value in order to be worth anything at all, and this minimum increases round by round. What was enough to impress the Medici last year isn't going to be enough to impress them this. These minimum values that you have to meet are quite challenging and whether you succeed can often be dependent on how many entertainers you have. The increases brought are also often critical in deciding who gets the 'most valuable work produced this year' bonus that is on offer each turn.
The other two Phase A items are cards: Prestige Cards and Enticement Cards. The Prestige Cards give valuable end of game bonuses provided you succeed in meeting the conditions written on them. The procedure is that, if you have bought the right to such a card, you take the top five from the deck, select the one that best suits your plans and return the other four. This is a neat selection mechanism, striking a good balance between 'luck of the draw' and a time consuming 'total free choice'. The sort of demands made by the cards are 'greatest number of these', 'one of each of those', and so on.
The Enticement Cards enable you to lure an artist, scholar or craftsman from another player's court. Each creative character has a card which stays in its owner's hand until the character produces his masterpiece. After that the card is placed face up in front of the player. Once here, the character gives a boost to work produced by other scholars and craftsman, but he will produce no more work himself unless he moves to another court. The Enticement Cards are the mechanism for getting him to move.
All of these items are well worth having and in an ideal world you'd have a couple of architects, two or three entertainers, at least one of each type of landscape, a couple of Prestige Cards and at least one Enticement Card. The trouble is that comes to a lot more than seven.
The choices in Phase B are a little easier, but not a lot: 2 from 8 rather than 1 from 7. The options are 'produce a work', 'erect a building', 'acquire a bonus card', 'take a new personality card' and 'introduce a new freedom'. The first three may be taken twice in a player turn; the other two only once. The first is the basic points scorer and also your only real source of income. You take from your hand the card of the character who is producing the work, place it in front of you, compute the value of the work and decide whether you want to take the value in cash, prestige points or a mixture of the two. Take care when you are doing this as a misjudgement at this point could cost you the game. You need cash to keep your operation ticking over, but it is prestige points that will determine the winner and once you have taken the money you can't convert it back into points.
Erecting a building is fairly straightforward. They come in three sizes and various shapes: ten different buildings in all. You simply select the one that is on the 'want list' of one of your characters and put it on your grid. The only problem is fitting it in. Unless you have at least two architects on the payroll, the closest two buildings can be is touching at a corner. By the time you get to your fourth or fifth building, this can be enough to make life somewhere between very difficult and impossible.
There are three freedoms: religion, freedom to travel and freedom of expression. Each of your characters will want one of them and because it affects the value of his work, you will want him to have it. The problem is that there aren't quite enough for every player to have one of each.
The two card decks operate like the Prestige Cards in Phase A in that you draw five, choose one and return the others. A Personality Card brings a new character to your court. This is an option you will need to take several times: you begin the game with three characters, you will have to produce more than three works during the game and, other than with an Enticement Card, this is the only way to get hold of new people. Holding extra Personality Cards also increases the value of work produced at your court and so, like the entertainers, is a help both in meeting the 'minimum value' targets and in edging your rivals in the contest for the turn's most prestigious work. The Bonus Cards also boost the value of work produced, usually by rather more, but they are 'one use only'.
So we have an original and appealing theme, lots of interesting ideas, which fit nicely both with the theme and with each other, and a requirement to make hard choices. All that is needed to complete the package is a good scoring system and the game has that too, with the main one--that for producing works--being backed up with a lot of well-balanced subsidiaries to open up a range of strategic options. For me this is not only the best game of the past twelve months, it is the best since Euphrat & Tigris.