Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Princes of Florence

At last night's HoGS games night, I finally got The Princes of Florence on to the table. That still leaves me with Power Grid, Tigris & Euphrates and Puerto Rico as unplayed games on my shelf, but I will get to them soon I swear. No offence to the guys at The Spiel, but owning a game you've never played seems a little silly to me.

Anyhoo, The Princes of Florence.

I set to playing a 3 player game with The Giggling One and Ian. Total experience playing this game: zero. A level playing field then.

I'd read the rules the night before so I had an inkling of how to play, and we muddled through it pretty well. There were a few times we had to redo something because we'd forgotten the rule. Like in the last round where I tried to complete two Works, forgetting that the Work Value (WV) of each had to be at least 17. So after going through the motions of the second Work, I had to backtrack and buy a Building instead.

But that's getting ahead of things. I like to try and explain how the game works first, so here goes.

The idea of the game is to gain the most Prestige points (PP) in the 7 rounds that the game lasts. You gain PP by building stuff and by completing Works using artists and scholars.

In the middle of the table is the game board:

As you can see it has a score track running around it. This is to keep track of each player's (and the game is played with 3 to 5 players) Prestige points as well as the values of any completed Works.

The game board also has a table showing the minimum value required to complete a Work in each round.

Placed around the game board are all the various bits & pieces you can buy:

I say "buy" because pretty much everything in this game comes at a cost. Naturally, given this is the Princes of Florence, the game's currency is Florin.

Everyone starts with 3,500 Florin, depleting their stash by purchasing objects and cards, and earning money by completing Works (or backtracking on the score track, but no one did that in our game). Additionally, each player's supply of money is kept secret, but we - well OK, I - forgot about this rule until the final round, so everyone pretty much knew how much money the other two players had throughout the game. I don't think it made much difference in the end, but oops.

Now, each player also has their own player board that represents their Principality and looks something like this:

It's a nicely designed board because it not only has places to put each of the various objects obtained, but it also provides a handy reference for each of the artists and scholars (the Professions), as well as a scoring guide for each phase. The scoring guide in particular we found very useful without having to constantly refer back to the rules booklet.

Each turn comprises two phases: The Auction phase, and the Action phase.

In the Auction phase, players bid for one of the following items: a Forest, a Lake, a Park, a Jester, a Builder, a Prestige Card, or a Recruiting Card.

Each player can only buy one item during each Auction phase, and each item can only be purchased once per Auction phase.

So what are these items and why do you want them taking up space in your Prinicipality?

Well, to quote the Curiousity Show, I'm glad you asked.

Forests, Lakes and Parks (collectively known as Landscapes) are all places that the Professions like to relax after a long, tiring day of working. If you play a Profession card during the Action phase (I'll get to that later), you'll get more points towards the WV if that particular Profession likes to hang out in that Landscape.

Jesters also increase the WV of a work. In fact every Jester you have will pump up the WV of each work by 2. Ostensibly, this is because they bring entertainment and relaxation to the artists and scholars.

Builders provide advantages when purchasing Buildings and placing them in the Principality. One Builder will reduce the cost of Buildings from 700 to 300 Florin. Two Builders will allow you to place Buildings adjacent to each other on your board, while a third Builder will make all subsequent Buildings you build free.

It sounds pretty good right? Get a couple of Builders and not only are Buildings 400 Florin cheaper to build but you can place them next to each other on the board. The Giggling One and I certainly thought this was a good strategic move, and we both got our hands on two Builders as soon as possible. Ian, however, did not. He didn't buy a single Builder during our game (though I think he made an unsuccessful bid on at least one) but still ended up winning. I guess building isn't everything.

Next we have Prestige cards. There are 14 Prestige cards, 8 of which (along with the card back) are shown here:

Prestige cards are fairly straight forward. You hold on to them until the end of the game and then play them. If you meet the criteria for each card you play, you get the number of PP shown on the card.

For example, one card reads "For the most Landscapes you earn 7PP (4)". This means that if the total number of Forests, Lakes and Parks in you Principality is higher than anyone else's you get 7 PP. If you tie for the most you get 4 PP. If someone else has the most you get zippo.

It's not quite pot luck getting a Prestige card you want, because when you buy a card, you get to look at the top five cards on the pile, and choose which one you wish to keep. the other four cards are then placed on the bottom of the pile in whichever order you like.

Recruitment cards are the final auction item.

There are only five of these in the game. Owning one allows you to "recruit" any face up Profession card from an opponent. That is, you can nab any Profession card that has already been played by an opponent and use it yourself.

I was the only person to buy a Recruitment card during our game, but it was ultimately wasted because of my final round stuff up mentioned earlier.

Moving right along, once everyone has their handy dandy auction purchase, the Action phase kicks in.

Each player gets to take two actions during their turn, choosing from five possible actions:

  • Complete a Work (can be done twice - ie. you can complete a Work with your first action, then complete a second Work with your second action)

    This is the action around which the whole game revolves; it's where the artists and scholars get to what they do best: artistic and scholarly Works.

    Completing a Work is as simple as playing a Profession card from your hand to the table. You then calculate the WV for the Work (starting at 0):
    - if the artist or scholar's preferred Building to work in is in your Principality: +4
    - if the artist or scholar's preferred recreational Landscape is in your Principality: +3
    - if the artist or scholar's supported Freedom is in your Principality: +3
    - for each Jester in your Principality: +2 each
    - for each Profession or Recruiting card you have in you hand or on the table: +1 each
    - for each Bonus card you play during this action: +X (it varies from card to card)

    Each round has a minimum WV you must achieve for the Work to be completed, ranging from 7 points in round 1, to 17 points in round 7.

    You then get cash based on your total WV, receiving 100 Florin per WV.

    If you wish, you can then trade in any of the Florin you just received for Prestige Points at a ratio of 1 PP per 200 Florin. This is a good way to increase your PP, and obviously all Florin received for Works in the final round should be traded for PP as the money will be no good to you.

  • Take a Profession card (can only be done once per turn - ie. if you take a Profession card with your first action, you cannot take another with your second)

    There are 21 Profession cards in the game, each representing a different artist or scholar. Everyone starts with 3 Profession cards and can purchase another one for 300 Florin during this action.

    Here is a sample of the Profession cards for you viewing pleasure:

    Professions are needed in order to complete Works. Each Profession has a particular Building they prefer to work in, a Landscape in which they like to chill, and a Freedom they like to support. No two Professions share the same three desires.

    For example, the Mathematician prefers to work in the University, relax at the Lake, and support Religion. The Composer, on the other hand, prefers to work and the Opera and support Opinion, but also likes the gentle lapping of the water at the banks of the Lake.

    The idea is to match the Professions in your hand to the Buildings, Landscapes and Freedoms in your Principality in order to increase the value of Works.

    As with Prestige cards, when you purchase a Profession card, you get to look at the top five cards and keep one.

  • Introduce a Freedom (can only be done once per turn)

    We've already established that the Professions like their Freedoms, so obtaining them for your Principality is beneficial.

    There are three types of Freedom: Travel, Opinion and Religion. You can buy all three for your Principality during the course of the game if you wish (at 300 Florin a pop), but bear in mind that the number of each Freedom available is one fewer than the number of players, so at least one person will always miss out on each Freedom.

  • Acquire a Bonus card (can be done twice)

    Bonus cards simply add to the WV of a completed Work depending upon how well you meet the criteria on the cards.

    For example, one Bonus card reads "Each large Building in your Principality increases the WV by 2". Therefore for every University, Laboratory and Workshop in your Principality you'll add 2 to the WV.

    You can play multiple Bonus cards when completing a Work, but they are then discarded from the game.

  • Build a Building (can be done twice)

    There are 10 different types of Buildings in the game (3 large, 5 medium, and 2 small), each of which can only be built once in your Principality. There are also three copies of each Building available, so each Building can only be built in a maximum of three Principalities.

    You've probably deduced by now that you want to build Buildings that match to the Profession cards in your hand, because you'll get 4 WV when you complete a Work for the right Building.

    Bonus cards and Prestige cards may also affect which Buildings you want to get your hands on.

    The fun thing when it comes to Buildings is deciding where to place them on your grid. Buildings must fit on the grid, must not overlap with other Buildings or Landscapes, and cannot be directly adjacent (diagonally adjacent is OK) to other Buildings, including the Palazzo.

    So it's like one of those puzzles where you fit the pieces to form a particular shape. Planning where you are going to place your Buildings and Landscapes is important, and can stuff up your plans big time if you are not careful.

    If you have purchased at least two Builders in auctions, you can place Buildings adjacent to each other which is very handy if you are going for a multi-Building strategy. As mentioned earlier, Builders also reduce the cost of purchasing Buildings.

    And that's that. After all players have completed both of their actions, the player or the players who have the highest WV for a single completed Work gain 3 PP.

    At the completion of the 7th and final round, the game is over, and everyone plays their Prestige cards for that final boost to their PP tally.

    Depite having two Prestige cards, The Giggling One could not make up enough ground to avoid finishing last. Admittedly I did ruin her chances a bit with my final round stuff up where I played a Work that didn't meet the minimum WV. The other two allowed me to retake my second action, with which I purchased a Building. Unfortunately this reduced the value of one of The Giggling One's Prestige cards so she tied with me for most Buildings instead of winning outright.

    Ian was the surprise of the final round, though. By virtue of playing two Bonus cards with his final Work, he was able to leap frog from last to first, and cement his position with the Prestige card for all three Landscapes (worth 8 PP).

    Final scores: Ian 60, Jeremy 56, The Giggling One: 52.

    All three of us thoroughly enjoyed the game and I am definitely keen to see how it plays with more players. I imagine having 5 players instead of 3 makes the Auction phase a whole new ball game.
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