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.
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.
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.