Manufacturer Warfrog
Year 2003
Designer Martin Wallace
Princes of the Renaissance Box

Princes of the Renaissance


Families vie for control of cities in renaissance Italy, using war, gold, influence and treachery to achieve their goals. The latest from designer Martin Wallace.

Background

Martin Wallace is quickly becoming one of my favorite designers. His games are complex and rick in theme. Age of Steam is one of my favorite games, and Princes of the Renaissance may soon gain that same designation.

 In Princes of the Renaissance, players represent Italian families, attempting to become the most powerful and influential through a variety of mechanisms. While the components of the game appear rather simplistic, this hides the complex interactions of the various subsystems of the game.

Jump to my opinions

The Gameplay

The game is played over three decades, (rounds), with the length of each decade being solely determined by the auctioning of four event tiles per decade. When the fourth event tile is auctioned off, the decade ends. The four event tiles are displayed, as are the Troop tiles, and six city tiles for each city. A stack of Treachery tiles are placed face down, usually with the troop tiles. These are the only tiles which are not openly displayed. The board shows five Italian cities, with a status track in the lower left-hand corner. Markers are placed on this track to show the current status of each city. ERRATA: The starting values of the cities was omitted from the game, they are Venice: 7, Milan and Florence: 6, Rome and Naples: 5. Each player is given 40 gold and 12 influence, (the two types of currency in the game), to begin the game. Each player then selects a family, and the game begins.

On a player's turn, they can take one of four actions:

1) They can purchase a Treachery or Troop tile. Treachery tiles cost one gold and one influence, and Troop tiles cost between one and six gold, depending upon the type of troop represented. ERRATA: A player can only purchase one troop tile of each type.

2) A player can put a tile up for auction. These can be either one of the city tiles, or one of the event tiles, or the Pope. City tiles are always auctioned using gold, and the player that chooses to auction a city tile must make the first bid, AND the starting bid must be at least two times the current status value of the city. So to auction a Venice tile at the start of the game will require a starting bid of at least 14 gold. Bidding is standard "around the table until all players have passed but one", type of bidding. Event tiles are auctioned using either gold or influence, depending on the tile in question. The player who chooses to auction one of these can immediately pass, and they can also make a zero bid.

3) The player can choose to start a war between two cities. When a player chooses to start a war, that player decides which city will be attacking which other city. An auction is then held, paid with influence, to determine which player's army will be the condotierre representing the attacking city. After that has been determined, another auction is held to determine who will be condotierre for the defending city. Any player with at least one troop tile can be the attacker or the defender, (although not both). The attacking player adds up the attack values of their troops, and the defender adds up the defense value of their troops. Both sides roll one six-sided die, which is added to the troop values. If the attacker is higher, that city wins. If not, then the defender gets to counter-attack, adding up the attack values of their troops and comparing that to the defense value of the attacker's troops. Again the dice are rolled. If the original defender beats the original attacker, the defending city has won the war. IF a city wins a war, its status marker is moved up one space, and the losing city's status is lowered by one. If the winner's total value was twice as big as the defender's total, then two steps of status are gained/lost. Regardless of the outcome of the battle, the condotierres for the cities involved receive gold equal to the status of the city they represented, although they don't get to collect that gold until the end of the decade. The winning condotierre, if there is one, receives a "laurel" chit, which will be worth victory points at the end of the game. A maximum of 5 wars, (4 when playing with less than 5 players), can be fought per decade.

4) The player can choose to pass and do nothing.

So players take turns performing these actions until all four event tiles have been auctioned off. The decade ends and each player collects the gold earned for being condotierre, plus gold and influence from the tiles they have purchased. If this is the end of the third decade, the players add up their victory points.

The Scoring

Victory points come from a bunch of different places. Laurels for winning wars score based on how many you have, where the first scores one, the second two, the third three, etc. So four laurels will score you 10 VPs. There are event tiles which represent artists which score from 2 to 4 VPs. Most gold at the end will get you 6 VPs, and second most gold will get you 3 VPs. Most influence will win you 4 VPs. IF you have the pope in the last decade, it will get you 3 VPs. Then there are the city tiles. When the game ends, the cities are arranged from highest status to lowest status, with various criteria for tie-breaking. Each city tile from the city with the highest status is worth 10 VPs down to each city tile for the lowest status city being worth 2 VPs.

Why this game is so great

As you can see from the above description, there's quite a bit going on in this game, and I didn't even discuss the Treachery tiles nor the function of the Pope. Nor did I mention the fact that each family has a special ability, and about half of the city tiles give their owners some additional special benefit as well. Treachery tiles allow a player to steal gold or influence from a player, bribe a troop tile to remove it from a battle, freeze a player's bid in any of the auctions, veto a war before it starts or start an extra war in a decade. The Pope can form a "Holy League" once per decade, and throw the troops of the Pope's owner into a battle on whichever side the player chooses, and allowing the Pope player to use Bribe Troop tiles in that battle. The wars are very interesting, as if you have a terrible army, and a city you have city tiles for is attacked, you can try to win the auction for the attacking city, therefore deliberately losing the war, and helping your city. You must carefully allocate how you are going to spend your gold and influence, as there is nothing worse than having all of the players but one out of gold, and being forced to watch that player win city tile auctions for the minimum bid. There are not only several viable overall strategies to follow in this game, there is also the need to recognize tactical opportunities that arise as well. In this regard I find Princes of the Renaissance to be a lot like Puerto Rico, as the interaction of what options are available and what each player is going to want to see happen play a huge role in how the game progresses.

Why others don't agree

There seem to be two schools of thought as to why this isn't a great game. The first is the repetitive nature of the game, because it is a long game, and it's pretty much all auctions. If you dislike auctions, you won't want to play this game. It tends to run from around 2-4 hours, and some will be turned off right there. I think it's a very worthwhile 2-4 hours, but some people simply won't want to invest that kind of time in a game. It also has a rather steep learning curve, not in terms of the rules themselves, which are actually fairly simple, but in terms of how the interactions of the tiles work and how one can form a coherent strategy from those interactions. The other big complaint about the game has been the feeling that there is one overpowering strategy that will win almost every time. I saw this in the first game I played, where one player absolutely ran away with the game, but I haven't seen it since.

Recap

Strategy:  9
Complexity:  9
Fun:  8
Overall:  9

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