Posted by: gschloesser | August 9, 2011

Princes of Florence

Design by:  Wolfgang Kramer & Richard Ulrich
Published by:  Alea / Rio Grande Games
2 – 5 Players, 1 ½ – 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

If I ever had any doubt, this game has sealed it.  Wolfgang Kramer is by far my favorite game designer.  His list of games that I find outstanding is getting longer and longer … El Grande, Torres, Tikal, El Caballero, Auf Achse.  Now, I can add Princes of Florence (Die Fursten von Florenz in Deutsch) to that ever-expanding list.

The game is set in the lively world of renaissance Italy.  Each player represents a wealthy noble who is endeavoring to build a nice, attractive community around his private palazzo.  In doing so, he hopes to attract and employ a variety of artisans, educators, mathematicians, musicians, etc.  (I’ll call them ‘craftsmen’).  However, each of these craftsmen have their own personal quirks and peculiarities, demanding certain types of facilities in order to be employed.  Some may desire nice parks or seas, others may prefer a laboratory or opera house, while others demand education or travel.  Providing the correct combination of buildings, freedoms and natural landscaping is one of the major tasks facing each player.

The game is separated into two major phases:  the auction phase and the action phase.  During the auction phase, the ‘start’ player (which rotates each of the seven rounds) places an item up for bid.  The eligible items include woods, lakes and parks (which help attract certain craftsmen and artisans), entertainers (which makes it easier to employ a craftsman), architects (which decreases the price of purchasing buildings and also allows a player to construct buildings adjacent to each other, but only if you have more than one architect in your employment), prestige cards (which award victory points if certain goals to met by the end of the game) and Enticement cards (which enables a player to lure a craftsman away from an opponent).  ALL of these items are of use to every player, so the bidding can be quite lively and competitive.  It also forces a player to make some extremely tough decisions.  Since the game only last seven rounds, a player will only acquire a total of seven of these items.  Choosing which ones to acquire is a vital decision, but often means you will have to spend precious money in a bidding war to acquire the item you desire. 

If a landscape item is purchased (woods, lake or park), the player must then position the item on his private board, which depicts the area of his town.  This aspect of the game has a puzzle feel, sort of like ‘Tetris’, as players have limited space in which to place the items and must follow certain placement rules.  Correctly positioning these landscapes and buildings is VITAL.  I’ve seen many players … including myself … lose the game in the final rounds because they couldn’t properly fit a desired purchase. 

The second major phase of the game is the action round.  Each player has two actions he can perform.  These actions include:

  • Purchasing a building (which also awards 3 victory points)
  • Purchasing a freedom (travel, religion or education)
  • Purchasing a Bonus card (which provide points towards the employment of a craftsman IF the conditions of the card are fulfilled)
  • Employing a craftsman (which can only be done if a player has the proper amount of points, which increases with each passing round)
  • Purchase a new craftsman card

Again, a player usually wants to do so much more than the two actions allow.  I’ve made it no secret that I absolutely LOVE this mechanic and Kramer tends to use it to full effect.  The proper types of buildings (which come in various sizes) and freedoms are needed in order to employ craftsmen, but space is limited in your village, so you usually cannot purchase or fit all of the buildings and landscapes you desire.  So, you must make your purchases carefully.  Plus, the number of buildings, landscapes and freedoms is limited, so if you wait too long to make a purchase, the item you desire may be gone!

The ultimate goal of the game is to employ craftsmen.  In order to do so, however, you must accumulate a required number of points.  Each craftsman prefers a certain type of building, freedom and landscape.  For instance, the Theologian prefers a University, Park and Religion.  If these are present in a village, they contribute a total of 10 points (4, 3 and 3 respectively) to meeting the requirement to employ him.  Further, each entertainer present in the town contributes 2 points, while each other craftsman who is present (whether they’ve been employed or are still in the player’s hand) contributes 1 point.  Bonus cards may also contribute more points IF the conditions of the card(s) are met. 

If a player has enough points (as required by the current turn) to employ a craftsman, he may do so.  The more points he has the better as the player who has the most points in employing a craftsman that turn will receive a 3 victory point bonus.  Further,  every player receives cash equal to the number of points he tallied for employing a craftsman.  This is the ONLY source of money during a game, so players must employ craftsmen on a regular basis.  A player may also elect to forego some (or all) of the cash in return for victory points.  Each 200 dollars a player forfeits results in 1 victory point.  This is a CRITICAL decision as money is worthless at game’s end (except as a tie-breaker), yet one must keep a healthy supply in his treasury in order to compete in the auction round. 

The game continues for seven rounds, with the number required to employ a craftsman steadily increasing each round.  In later rounds, it is almost essential that a player have one or more bonus cards to help reach this lofty number.  Players must also resist the temptation to employ craftsmen every turn, especially if they are just equaling the employment number.  The wise player will time his employment so he will produce the greatest ‘work’ that round, thereby earning the 3 victory points and more money (or victory points).  This is especially critical in the final rounds when most players will be forfeiting the cash in return for victory points.

The game, in my opinion, is nothing short of brilliant.  It is another masterpiece from Kramer, who has again teamed with Ulrich.  Some folks have complained that the game lacks player interaction.  I will concede that there isn’t much direct interaction in terms of even cards, conflict, thefts, etc., but the auction round is usually quite lively and does involve quite a bit of interaction.  The game is much more on the order of Tikal or Torres, where you must perform at your peak, with shrewd timing, decision making and beating your opponent to the punch.  It’s a game I don’t think I’ll ever tire of playing.

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Responses

  1. Princes is my favorite auction game, with just enough artifice to make the game engaging. There’s a lot to enjoy here. Could we get a reprint with the vibrant international artwork please? (9/10)

  2. Lots of decisions every time it is your turn to do something. Various ways to win. You have to play several times to understand the value of things. Overbidding often will not lead to a win. 8/10


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