Die Fürsten von Florenz
#4 ALBS, original German edition of The Princes of Florence
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The Princes of Florence takes place in Renaissance Italy. As head of an aristocratic family, you try to increase your reputation by building the most magnificent Villa, containing splendid buildings and wonderful gardens and hosting famous artists and scholars. Optimum score is given to the best-planned Villas. From the same team that brought us El Grande, El Caballero and Die Handler.
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.