Thursday, 10 April 2008

an old love, The Princes of Florence

In the past few weeks, Michelle and I played a number of games of The Princes of Florence, one of my earliest Eurogame purchases, and also one of my favourites. We have not played this for a long time. The Princes of Florence is a game best played with 5 players. Officially it is for 3 to 5 players (at least for the version that I own). There is a variant for 2 players, which is what we used. Since my regular gaming sessions are usually 2 or 3 players, there is no wonder I rarely bring out The Princes of Florence. It is extremely rare that I can have 5 players.

There is not much point in writing a review about The Princes of Florence, since this is already considered a modern classic and there are already many reviews on BoardGameGeek. So I'll just write about how I see it and why I like it.

The Princes of Florence is about developing your city in order to allow the great scientists / artists in your city to complete impressive works, thus bringing you prestige. You start with some money and an empty city, and throughout 7 rounds you try to gain as much prestige as possible. Each round consists of one auction in which all players participate, and then every player gets to do two actions. Different things are available to you through the auctions and the actions. You can plant forests, employ builders, employ jesters, construct buildings, introduce freedoms, and, most important of all, have your scientists and artists complete great works. How impressive a work is depends on what you have developed in your city. Different scientists / artists need different facilities to work on their respective fields. How conducive an environment you have provided to them determines how good their output is. From these great works (and maybe some passable works too), you gain prestige, and can also earn money to further develop your city.

I distill The Princes of Florence down to just basically 21 things that you can do - the 7 auctions and 14 actions. You look at the first three profession cards that you are dealt, and start formulating a plan, a general strategy. Do you try to make as many works as possible, and sacrifice a bit on quality? Do you complete fewer works but try to make every one very impressive? Do you try to score a lot of points by constructing buildings? In the first few rounds, depending on how the auctions went, and how your initial plan worked out, you may need to fine-tune, or adjust, or even completely overhaul your plans. The most exciting part of the game is probably Rounds 2 to 4, when the players have put in initial investments and set initial directions to pursue, and still have flexibility to compete and to change strategy if necessary. This is when you weigh the various possibilities and plan ahead, probably up to what you need to be doing in the last round.

To me The Princes of Florence is very much a game about planning. You have only 7 rounds. Every action is precious and you need to use them well and not waste them. A "planning game" sounds so boring. It sounds more like work, in fact. Yet I love this game. Maybe I like the feeling of realising a dream - you plan it out carefully, then watch everything gradually fall in place. But then of course things don't always go according to plan. That's where the excitement is.

The two player variant that Michelle and I play goes like this: Start with $2500 instead of $3500, auctions start at $300 instead of $200, bid on landscapes (lakes, forests and gardens) as a group and not individually, i.e. if your opponent has bid on a lake and you want a garden, you need to outbid him/her. 2 player games are definitely not as exciting as 5 player games, that's for sure. However I can still enjoy 2 player games. We are very unconfrontational, or maybe I should say very thrifty with our money when it comes to the auctions. We rarely bother to outbid each other, because if our first choice is taken, we can easily switch to our second choice. I guess that's the downside of 2-player games of The Princes of Florence - the tension in the auctions is lost. We plan our spending assuming we will be paying $300 for everything. We squeeze every prestige point out of our works, and try to have $0 left at the end of the game. I guess you can do this in a 2-player game when the auctions are not so competitive.

An overview of The Princes of Florence. Scoreboard in the middle, the auction stuff on the left, and the action stuff on the right. In the 2-player variant, we use only 5 freedoms. Here, there is only one religious freedom that can be introduced (the rectangular tile showing the hands on the action side).

The scoreboard. The small black marker marks the Round number.

Michelle's city in one of our games. Note the red border. She made one mistake in placing her lab. It should not touch the Palace (on the lower left). But it doesn't matter. She could have placed the lab anyway by just turning it 90 degrees clockwise.

One of my cities in one of our games. Note the green border. I have three jesters juggling on the roof of my palace.

Michelle and her Tetris city. Lots of prestige points from so many buildings.

In the 3 games that we've played, I won the first two and Michelle won the third. Our scores were in the 60's. In all three games, the winner had 6 works and the loser 5. I wonder whether the number of works is the most important factor in determining victory, i.e. whether quantity is more important than quality. I remember reading that someone made 8 works in a game. That is amazing. Maybe I should try that some day. Michelle likes the Prestige cards. I like jesters, and tend to like to make more works (i.e. focus on quantity). I think there is still more for me to explore in The Princes of Florence. I haven't been using the Recruiting card much, or Prestige cards, or Bonus cards.

It's good to pull out an old classic once in a while and play a few games of it. It's enjoyable to explore the strategies again and probably to try something different too. Maybe we should do Puerto Rico next.


Aik Yong said...

hhmm.. haven't actually this game, but it sounds exciting!

Cecrow said...

Finally played it this week for the first time (it's only, what, ten years old now??). Remarkably similar to Colloseum in many ways, and yet remarkably better.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

now you're making me want to play this again. :-)

i too prefer princes of florence to colosseum, but admittedly i've only tried the latter once.

Cecrow said...

You must have a pretty nifty comments flagging program; I add something to an entry from two years ago and you find it within the hour!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

heh heh... it's just one of the basic features of blogger / blogspot. i get email notifications for all comments.

occasionally i'm pleasantly surprised to get comments for old posts.