Princes of the Renaissance
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In Renaissance Italy, each player takes on the role of one of the minor condottiere princes, such as the Gonzagas or d'Estes. Then there are the big five major cities, Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome, and Naples. These are not controlled by individual players but players will gain 'interests' in them as the game progresses. Each city has six tiles, most of which represent a famous character such as Lucrezia Borgia or Lorenzo Medici. Each tile has its own special properties which are linked to the character on the tile. Thus Cesare Borgia will help you to become more treacherous, while a Venetian merchant will increase your income. These tiles are also worth victory points, depending on the status of the city at the end of the game.
A city's status will change as a result of war. When two cities fight they will each need a condottiere to fight for them. Players bid, using influence points, to decide who will represent each city. The outcome of the war will depend on a little luck and the size of each player's army. Each player also gets paid for fighting, no matter what the outcome of the war is. Thus players can turn influence into gold, which in turn can be used to buy more City tiles.
No game on the Italian Renaissance would be complete with an element of treachery. Players can be openly treacherous by buying Treachery tiles, which will allow them to do nasty things like steal influence, bribe troops, or knock players out of an auction. However, the game allows players to be devious in other ways, that still remain legal. Making sure that a war goes the way you want it to is an important part of the game, and it is not always the player with the best army that ends up fighting. Want a city to lose, well become Condottiere for them and make sure you have a really bad army, or use Treachery tiles to bribe your own troops not to fight. At some point some player will become the Pope, which means they can form a Holy League, (i.e. join one side in a battle). Want to make sure the Pope is on the 'right' side, well why not bribe him. What player negotiate over is up to them. The game does not force negotiation and works perfectly well without it but it remains an avenue for players to explore.
Players: 3 - 6
Time: 120 - 180 minutes
Ages: 13 and up
Weight: 992 grams
Language Requirements: This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Game components are printed in multiple languages, including English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English).
- 1 game board
- 6 family tiles
- 24 troop tiles
- 12 event tiles
- 30 city tiles
- 20 treachery tiles
- 1 pope tile
- 5 city tokens
- 2 war tokens
- 1 'wars fought' pawn
- influence counters
- gold counters
- victory counters
- 2 six-sided dice
Average Rating: 3.4 in 5 reviews
Although a bit surprised by the less than enthusiastic reception given this game in some previous reviews, I understand now that to appreciate the game requires a certain level of experience. Now having passed the novice stage as a 'Renaissance' player, I can honestly admire this game for what it is: a tense contest with a subtle and devious nature that is not easily recognizable in its first few playings. This is a game that grows on you; one that will have you re-thinking moves days after you have made them. Indeed, experience is the only way you can fully appreciate the many subtle strategies that exist therein.
The game is comparable to 'Puerto Rico' in that there are many alternate ways of winning and scoring. For a more comprehensive description of strategies, see the articles on www.boardgamegeek.com. These will give you a much better appreciation for how the game should be played and should be considered a must know.
For now, I'd like to address some of the issues mentioned in previous reviews. Firstly, there are some issues with the rule book and several typos on some cards; those can be easily remedied; there is an errata on this page as well as clarifications on other web-sites (see boardgamegeek.com). The good news: they are all free.
A previous review mentioned the difficulty in knowing where you stand. This is simply a matter of experience; understanding your position and those of your opponents will become more apparent with more and more playings.
Another review classified the game as essentially 'an auction game'. That it is not. While bidding is an element of the game, it is not the heart of the game. The strategies that one employs before and after bidding are the essential aspects of the game. You must setup the auction to your advantage in order to succeed. Bidding is simply a tool that is used to extend your strategy. Again, this becomes apparent with more playing time.
Another point previously mentioned was the use of a die roll to determine the victor in combat. More experienced players will recognize that the die-roll should simply be a formality; when wars are properly chosen, the act of winning or losing becomes secondary. Earning gold for fighting is the more important objective.
These certain subtleties and strategies will only become apparent with multiple playings. Learning about the various strategies (from the web) will open up your appreciation of the game. You will find yourself exporing these techniques in future games, trying them out and enjoying them. And enjoyment will also come in trying to counter them, when they are played against you.
Princes of the Renaissance (PotR) is the latest game released from Warfrog, and it may be that company's best design to date. Classifying the game may be trickier than assessing on its value.
Bascially, each player represents a condittiere family in Renaissance Italy, building professional & specialized armies, acquiring wealth and influence, buying off powerful political and Church figures in various cities, and interfering in others' affairs through the timely use of bribes and treachery. The components are quite attractive and functional, and the artwork is excellent.
Is it a strategy game?. Yes --- and more. PotR is teeming with player interaction and strategic options, plus some clever tactics. All of these make for a very challenging strategy game, in which a player's fortunes can change quite suddenly if he/she isn't careful. But, unlike so many European designs, this game isn't just a couple of pages of rules with a theme loosely applied. PotR actually offers a rich flavor of power and treachery in the Renaissance, right down to the historical characters on the pieces. It takes a bit longer to play than most strategy designs, but it's worth the time.
Is it a simulation? Perhaps not in the strictest sense. For one thing, the rules are much simpler than games that claim to be simulations, and while it takes a bit longer to play than most strategy games (2-4 hours), it plays far more quickly than most simulations. The richness of the theme in this game raises the game above standard strategy gaming toward the 'simulation' side, without inhibiting play with a lot of special rules or cases.
Is it a wargame? No, certainly not in the traditional sense. The building of armies and the warring between players would tend to push PotR into that category, were it not for the fact that the warring in this game is not about conquest, but about glory and profit. It's true that winning wars earns victory wreaths, and those wreaths add up to Victory Points at the end of the game. But players bid for the opportunity to fight for either of two warring cities, and warring players are paid by their respective cities regardless of who wins. Furthermore, in keeping with the period flavor, specialized troops are never lost, reducing that risk in going to war. The opportunity to raise or lower a city's status and/or earn cash may be more a driver of a player's participation than the victory itself. A player need not be a frequent or successful warrior to win this game, as there are alternative non-military strategies to earn VPs.
So, in the end, just what is Princes of the Renaissance? I would describe it as a serious strategy game with enough period flavor to appeal to simulation and wargame enthusiasts.
It's tremendous fun to play, especially with 5 players, and I highly recommend it.
What can I say about Princes of the Renaissance? For one, I was really looking forward to playing it. For another, the rule book is poorly written with many missing and unclear rules. One needs to go on line to determine the starting position of each city, this is not an oversight of an obscure rule, this is a major publishing error.
Another rule states 'Arrange all the City tiles into columns of the same colour, face up by the side of the map so that each tile can be clearly seen.' Should it read 'so that each top tile can be clearly seen?' If tiles are arranged into columns how could any but the top be seen? One member of the group thought this clearly meant that each tile should be seen; others thought this meant that only the top tile was exposed.
The 'Steal Influence' treachery tiles have a misprint in the English (all the tiles are written in both German and English). They state 'Steal influence' at the top of the tile but say 'stop a player from increasing their bid' at the bottom of the tile. Stopping the bidding is the function of the 'Freeze bid' treachery tile, 'steal influence' should allow a player to steal influence points. These are the big three errors that caused our group trouble, we caught other errors in the rules before they became a factor in the game.
One that we didn't catch I just noticed as I logged on to this web-site to write my review. I see errata posted that a player may not have more than one of each type of military unit. This would have made a difference (perhaps minor) in the games I have played.
Other than the rule, and misprint problems how did I like Princes of the Renaissance? I can definitively say that I am not sure. It was not as good as I had anticipated, nor was it as bad as I had feared after reading the rules. Although there are multiple strategies to employ it seems as though only a military strategy will lead to victory. Win or lose, being involved in a war is the best way to get money into your hands and money is tight. Victory points scored by winning a war did seem like a secondary benefit in the games we played.
I have a bad feeling that we made other errors in the games played.
Bottom line: I will state that I doubt my rating would go lower on subsequent plays, I do expect it to go up, possibly to 4 or 4 1/2 stars. However, I don't think this one will hit the table again until I find some cleaned up rules on the internet.
Having just played this game once, this is more a 'session report' than a full and considered review, but this report may serve to discourage your further interest in the game.
The other recent reviewer accurately listed the various maneuvering and auctions in the game. What he did not emphasize in his less than enthusiastic review is that it is very hard to determine where you stand in the game.
Who owns which city tiles is clearly visible to all the players, as is the number of battle victory laurels. But the victory points for who has the most gold or influence will not be calculated until AFTER the final tile is bought in the third and final turn (set of rounds). And it is very hard to know at any point who does have any influence or money since these chits are NOT required to be public knowledge.
I ended up with the second highest score in a six player game, but my city tile values ended up being dead last. The only thing which saved me were four battle victories translating into ten victory points.
The winning player was way ahead of everyone. He had a balanced number of city tiles from each of the 'winning' cities as well as five battle victories which translated into 15 victory points. Since he had the most offense on the board, other players were more than willing to use him as an attacker.
It should be noted strong defenders also have an advantage in the game. If the attacker fails, the defender launches a counter-attack. If this is successful, he wins a battle victory even though he started the battle in defense.
If you do try this game, a good strategy may be to buy up two city tiles of the three lowest ranked cities during the first two 'turns,' and on the third and final 'turn' (set of rounds), LAUCH NUMEROUS ATTACKS which advance these cities up in the pecking order of payoff. These attacks will preferably yield an 'overwhelming' type of victory which moves 'your' city up two and moves the defeated city down two in the ratings.
The above strategy is based upon the likelihood you will not pay too much for the city tiles in their auctions during the first two turns since their 'current payoff' (if the game ended with that turn) is low.
It may be necessary with this strategy to start the battles earlier than the third turn since each turn is limited (with some exceptions) to 'only' five battles. You can only directly initiate a battle on your turn.
For the above strategy to work it essential (!) to have either a strong attack yourself, or the ability to bribe another player with a strong offense to do it for you. You may also have to bribe players with strong defenses to stay out of the action, or have a really poor defense yourself.
The strategy of buying mostly in the tiles of only one city is probably not a good idea. Two of the six players in our game tried this (including me), but this left us extremely vulnerable to being perceived as being 'good' attack targets as the other players contemplated their battle targets. Playing with six players also meant it would be another five turns before we could try some sort of battle to 'fix' a downgrading of standing of our dominant city. (Unless of course you can bribe another player to launch a 'desirable' battle for you on their turn.)
You may have noticed how many times I mention bribes. Although your results may vary, it is critical in this game to be able to get other players to do what you want, and bribes are what ensure this. If your group has trouble with such table talk, you need to find a less confrontational game to play.
I do not like mushrooms. I don't like how they look or how they smell, and I especially loathe the taste -- and they are fungi, which puts them in the same family as athlete's foot. Now no matter how hard I try to apply both my opinions and all the scientific information at my disposal, I can not ever seem to persuade my mushroom-loving friends of a mushroom's innate 'gross-ness'. And games, like food, appeal to certain people while alienating others. Princes of the Renaissance is one of those games I think.
Princes of the Renaissance (POTR for the rest of this review) is a game I thought I might find to be truly great: wonderful theme, simple but functional artwork, variable powers between players (like Puerto Rico), tough auctions, wars that you can instigate, deal making...MWA-HA-HA! Delicious! Perfect! Wunderbar! (Until I played it...)
Essentially this is an auction game. (I knew it had auctions, I just didn't know it had so many auctions!) A player on his turn may buy a Troop tile, buy a Treachery tile (a special action card that allows you to interfere with other parts of gameplat), or auction a tile, or start a war (which entails two more auctions). Since there are only so many troop tiles to go around, and since there can be only 4 or 5 wars fought per decade, AND since it's the auctioned tiles that will usually get you VPs, mostly people will choose to auction. No problem though; so far so good. I like auction games as much as the next gamer...
Troop tiles are straightforward. You pay the price and get that tile, each tile increasing your odds to win battles. The more expensive the tile, the more powerful it is. When a battle is fought the attacker totals his attack points plus a d6 roll, and the defender totals his defense points plus a d6 roll.
Treachery tiles are one time use action cards you can purchase that allow you to freeze a player's bid, or bribe his Troop tile etc.
However, the 2 most important tile types are the Event tiles and the City tiles. There are 4 Event tiles per round, and 12 total (enough for 3 rounds.) These tiles contain either pure VPs, or increase the value of Merchants acquired in City tiles, or alter the relative value of a particular city. Changing the value of the city becomes important because of the 'stock market aspect of the game.' That brings us to City tiles.
The main part of the game is based around the value of City tiles. The reason for that is threefold:
1. INCOME: Since this is an auction game, players need income for succeeding rounds. There are two type of 'currency', influence and money. Some tiles must be bid for with influence, others with money. Each player gets a base amount of money and influence each round plus bonuses found on tiles -- with many of the City tiles having strong bonuses.
2. ABILITIES: Like Puerto Rico, acquiring a City tile often will give you an additional ability -- perhaps a bonus for a particular Troop, or allow you to steal influence, etc. As you acquire tiles with special abilities your strategy will center around them.
3. VPS: City tiles are also the source of most of the Victory POints needed to win the game. The catch is that each City tile is tied to a particular city and each city's value is different. Like a stock market, the value of your ties to certain cities will wax and wane with the fortunes of the city. If Venice wins many wars and is the home of many artists, each Venice tile could be worth 10 VPs each; lowly Naples, if it loses many wars could end up being worth only 2 VPs per tile.
Wars? Yes wars. And with all these tiles floating around, and a stock market-like value fluctations largely tied to wars, this is a very important part of the game. Like everything else in the game, this has something to do with auctions too. If a player chooses to instigate a war, he names both the attacking city and the defending city. This is a tricky deicion especially since your are trying to manipulate the value of the tiles with wars. Why tricky? Well, after you've named the participating cities, players then bid on who will represent the cities in war. Since, win or lose, fighting a war gives a player income, players are always interested in fighting, but the extra motive of wanting to see the fortunes of certain cities rise and fall add an extra punch to the whole preceeding. Whoever won the Pope tile in an auction may intervene in a war and add his Troops to the side he wishes too, adding a neat twist to the game. After the roles have been won, players sum their respective points and add a die roll. The winner of the battle drives the value of that city up 1 or 2 slots (depending on margin of victory), and the loser goes down 1 or 2 slots, with the winner also receiving a voctor's wreath worth 1 VP for the 1st one a player possesses, 2 VPs for his 2nd one, etc.
Now at this point you may be a bit confused. Indeed, I had to read through the instructions 3 times to get a handle on what was going to happen. If the game sounds like a LOT of auctions and a lot of tiles, and a lot of abilities, and a lot of modifiers and bonuses -- that's because it has all of those things, and it can be a bit confusing. What made me think it would be a winner is the treachery (player's may attempt to bribe anyone to do anything) and wars.
But therein is some of the 'problems' I see in this game:
1. The wars are decided by Troops and a die roll. So it now becomes that much more difficult to help yourself. In fact, on bad die rolls, what may have been a near-sure thing may end up being a hash for you as your cities fortunes plummet on the roll of a die. For a game with so much careful calculation required, I am surprised a die is used.
2. Bribes are allowed but seem to be underused in the game. For example I may desperately want to see Naples fight in a war before the round ends and bribe 'Robert' to start a war. He takes my money and then ignores my deal. Nothing I can do about that. With money being so scarce and bribery such a great concept for this game, it seems like binding deals would have been appropriate.
3. And influence and currency are scarce. And where I have a real problem with that is that the cost of City tiles is tied to their VP value (no problem there) and the starting bid must be twice that of their prestige tier. For those of you who have not played the game, this means that City tiles start off with a fairly high bid to begin with. Since it start so high, bidding on those tiles tends not to move very dramatically as each player barely inches forward on a bid. Yikes.
4. Duration. With all the tiles, and the endless auctions, and the die rolling in the wars, I just fell like 2+ hours is too much. The game feels so convoluted to me!
My overall impression is this: Remember when you were in elementary school and summer vacation rolled around? For a few weeks it was fun, and there were parts that were exciting. But as the summer continued, there were those days that were so hot and slooow and booooooring. You'd end up on a couch eating Cheerios out of a box and watching Rockford Files and talk shows in the afternoon wishing you had something to do. That's what this game felt like to me: slow, plodding, incremental, stifling. I just wanted out!
Whew! That's a lot to say, but I am not done. You've heard what I think, but to be fair I need to add what others think. I had an opportunity to play this game with 4 NON-gamers recently, and after a full game of it, with myself and one other player finishing well ahead of the others, I asked them what they thought. Three of them like it a lot and thought it was a great game (and these are NON-gamers!), and two of us (the last place guy and myself) thought it was incredibly dull. And on BoardGameGeek, the average rating of this game is 8+ out of 10 (which is a VERY high score at BGG). People rave about this game as the second coming of Puerto Rico. And maybe you will too. Maybe I am some sort of strange anomaly. I just don't get it. But then again, I don't like mushrooms. And I am sure I'm not the only one.
Medieval Italy was a patchwork of feuding city states, with the leading ones being Venice, Milan, Rome, Florence and Naples and helping them to fight their wars were the condottieri, aristocratic families who supplied mercenaries and thereby acquired great wealth and the status that went with it. This is the starting point for the latest game from Warfrog. Each player represents one of these families and your aim is to acquire wealth and influence, and having got them to convert them into prestige.
The game revolves around a status chart for the five major cities and a collection of 30 ``city tiles''. Players will purchase these city tiles and then try to manipulate the status chart to get the cities in which they have ``invested'' to its head. The final pecking order for the cities will determine how many victory points each city tile is worth and these will then be a major component in each player's final score.
The game has three ``decades'', at the end of each of which you collect income in the form of gold and influence points. Each decade consists of a variable number of rounds. How many will depend on the actions of the players. On each of your turns you may either buy a tile, auction a tile, start a war or pass.
There are two types of tiles that you can buy: troop tiles and treachery tiles. The troops come in a variety of types and at varying prices. You pay for them with gold and they are multiple use. Once you have them they remain yours until the end of the game irrespective of the outcome of any wars in which they are involved. Think of them as regiments rather than as sets of all too mortal individuals. To buy a treachery tile you have to lay out both money and influence. These tiles are single use and do things like stopping a particular troop tile from taking part in a war or knocking a rival out of an auction. Nothing too severe but useful enough to make them worth having.
The tiles that you can put up for auction are the aforementioned city tiles, the Pope and the decade's four ``event tiles''. The Pope is bid for using influence and he brings a boost to your income, the right to intervene in other people's wars and, if you hold him at the end of the game, victory points. He is yours until the end of the decade in which you bought him and then you lose him - presumably because he has died and the office has a new holder.
Most of the event tiles are artists or architects, some of which will deliver a set number of victory points at the end of the game and others of which are used to boost the status of cities in which you have a vested interest. The ``currency'' (gold or influence) used for bidding for them varies from tile to tile and the decade ends as soon as the fourth one is bought. There are also a couple of ``guild merchants'', ownership of which will boost the income and victory points that you get from any city merchants in your possession. And then there is a rather unpleasant ``French invasion'' which can be used to lower the status of a city of your choice.
But the main items on the auction menu are the city tiles. There are six of these for each of the five cities and they are a varied lot - famous historical personalities, merchants, prominent families and so on. Each will be worth victory points at the end of the game, though how many is not something you know at the time you buy them, for it will depend on where their city ends up in the pecking order. Most of them also confer other benefits, which may be extra income in either gold or influence, discounts on your bids, increased ratings for certain of your troops, and so on. Their acquisition will be a key element in your strategy and they are never cheap, because all of them come with a minimum bid that is related to their city's current status. You may own up to six of them and no more than three of the cities can be represented in your holdings. A further restriction is that you can never discard a city tile in order to free up space for something that you have now decided that you would prefer. Once you have made your ``investment'' in a city you are stuck with it, and in order to optimise the victory points that will accrue must work to boost that city's fortunes.
This is done by trying to ensure that the cities in which you have an interest do well in the wars, of which there will be at most 4 or 5 in each decade. The way that these work is that one player uses his turn to declare that city A is going to attack city B. There will then be two auctions, one to decide who will fight for the attacker and one to decide who will fight for the defender. These auctions are conducted using influence points. The two players who end up doing the fighting will both be paid for their services and neither will lose any troops, so this is a good line of business to get into. If the war has a decisive result, the winning city goes up in status, the losing one down and the player who guided the winner to victory picks up a laurel wreath counter, which is worth victory points at the end.
It would be unfairly cynical to say that players only fight for the money; they also do it to make their investments go up in value. However, once you have realised that it is no skin off your nose if you personally lose the battle, provided the city you want to see win does so, attitudes can get very cynical indeed. For example, suppose that Milan is attacking Venice and the city tiles I hold make me favour the former, then I have two ways of getting what I want. If my army is strong in attack, I'll do the straightforward thing and try to win the right to fight for Milan; but if it also happens to be very poor in defence, I could also achieve my real objective by fighting for Venice. Either way I won't lose any troops and I'll get paid. Moreover, if Venice currently has a higher status than Milan, the fee it pays will be the greater.
At the end of the third decade the cities will be placed in a ranking order determined by their status levels. City tiles from the top city will then be worth 10 VP each, followed by 7, 5, 3 and 2. Players will also get victory points for any event tiles in their possession, for controlling the Pope, for having the most money, the most influence and for any laurel wreaths that they have won.
Princes of the Renaissance is a tremendous game. The fact that it takes about two hours to play may be off-putting for those whose tastes lean towards the fluffy, and it is certainly not a family game, but if you like gamers' games this has to be a very strong recommendation. The game structure is original, you have a real choice of strategies and the period flavour is strong. It is also a remarkably elegant piece of design for a game of its depth. The rules take up 6 pages, but of those, one is an illustrated listing of the components and two & a half are taken up with supplementary information on the tiles and examples of play. That just leaves two & a half for the business part of the rules and even here there is lots of white space.
The components are up to the standard that we have come to expect and, in order not to disappoint their fans, they have even remembered to include a significant misprint. The coloured circles that should have been on the board to indicate the starting status levels for the cities somehow went missing. For the record, Venice starts on 7, Milan & Florence on 6 and the other two on 5. There is also a new rule which was added after the game went to press which states that one can't have more than one troop tile of the same type. The game works perfectly well without this, but it is better with.