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This game is 'Diplomacy on Steroids' because there are nine complete sets of playing pieces, there are three rounds (instead of two) for refiguring unit support, the addition of a new Garrison unit, and the new optional rules.
Just like Diplomacy, everyone gets to negotiate and try to convince their fellow players to make moves, which are written down secretly, and everyone reveals at the same time.
What makes this game a little more interesting than your normal Diplomacy game is that it is set on the Italian peninsula. The average territory has six other territories bordering it. Several territories have fortified cities (which introduce a new type of action an army can take, as well as introducing a new unit type, the garrison).
Optional rules include Plagues and Famine, money (ducats) which allow you to purchase special units or attempt special actions like assassinations and bribes (to swing enemy units to defect or disband), Money Lending, and Strategic movement of units through 'friendly' controlled areas. The Papacy player can also excommunicate a single player a round. No players are allowed to negotiate with this player, or they too will be excommunicated. Things can backfire, and if everyone decides to negotiate with the excommunicated players, the Papacy player cannot negotiate with the other players at all. Cute twist to the game.
If you are a die-hard Diplomacy player, this is an important new level to hone your skills with.
The only disappointing point about this game is the classic AH cardboard tokens, instead of wooden or plastic playing pieces. The printing is actually very well done, however, and the map is gorgeous. One good point is that you'll learn your Italian provinces very quickly with this game.
It's one of my favorite games and really taxes my talents as a Diplomacy player. Diplomacy (even though it is a good game) becomes a joke after you've mastered this game. Are you ready to step up to the big leagues?