By Sam Desatoff
The board game world is ripe with games centered on the European Renaissance. From Fresco to Amerigo and dozens more, for one reason or another game designers have a massive love affair with this particular period in time. I’m not sure what exactly about the Renaissance lends itself well to board games; perhaps designers see potential game mechanics in the the explosion of the art movement or the building of iconic monuments. But whatever the reason, here we are drowning in cardboard chips depicting stuffy men doing things that would bore the majority of us today.
So obviously, I’m going to write an entire article about one of these games.
What is it?
The Princes of Florence is a game about the most prominent families in Renaissance Italy as they compete for wealth and influence. They do so by attempting to attract artists and entertainers of all sorts to their compounds (the game calls them palazzos, but it’s hard to deny the creepy, cult-like behavior of the families here). Players attract these artists and entertainers by having the most appealing palazzos. When your palazzo is deemed hip enough, the artists will complete works for you, thus earning you points. The better your palazzo, the better the work produced, and the more points you’ll earn.
Each round of Princes is split into two parts. The first is an auction round where players bid on features that will go into their palazzos. These features include gardens, forests, lakes, builders, and jesters. I’m not sure where you find an auction that deals in both landscape features and human beings, but there you have it. Once the auction round is complete, players can buy buildings that their artists and entertainers require in order to produce their works. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins. Surprise.
The heart of the game is the auction phase. Here, you are competing with other players for features that everyone needs, and the bidding can reach astronomical amounts. This kind of player interaction is something our group revels in, especially we have the chance to really screw over our opponents. For this reason, the auction phase was my favorite part of the game.
There is also a puzzle-like element of fitting each feature and building on your palazzo. At the start of the game, buildings cannot touch except diagonally. And once a feature or building is place, it cannot be moved for the rest of the game. The successful planning and executing of the layout of your palazzo as you Tetris your way to victory is hugely satisfying.
The game was also very easy to teach. There’s not a lot to learn, and even then the learning curve isn’t very steep. Auctions are simple and actions are very straightforward. The game presents all available options right at the start which sounds overwhelming, but honestly everything is so intuitive that it’s easy to grasp.
Along those lines, the game can be very punishing if planning ahead isn’t your cup of [insert Renaissance-era beverage]. One of our group didn’t quite see the value in adding jesters to her palazzo early on and it set her back two or three rounds. This can be frustrating, and as someone who very much wants the game to be an even playing field, I think the game may lean a little to heavily on that planning ahead aspect.
Another thing I want to call the game out on is how difficult it is read the cards and boards. I’m guessing the designers were going for an authentic look, but sometimes it’s hard to make heads or tails of the cursive writing. This isn’t detrimental to the overall game, but I wish it was easier to read.
Princes is very easy to learn, but hard to master, and that’s exactly what I want out of a game. Overly long rule books can bog down a game, but Princes does a great job in streamlining the Euro game feel. In a genre that tends to over-complicate things, this game is a refreshing exception. With a fairly short play time it’ll be easy to break this one out on weekdays. I plan on keeping this one on the shelf for quite some time and I look forward when it next hits the table.
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