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The Princes of Florence» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Europhile reviews: A fantastic piece of board-gaming artistry. rss

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Adam Porter
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With thanks to BGG user Aroklsz1 for use of image

2000 was a good year for Wolfgang Kramer. Hot on the heals of his 1999 successes, Tikal and Torres, Kramer teamed up with Michael Kiesling once again to produce the brilliant Java, and working with frequent collaborator Richard Ulrich, with whom he produced El Grande in 1995, he produced the excellent piece of work that is The Princes of Florence.


With thanks to BGG user Timothy Lashley for use of image

Very Brief Summary of the Rules

The game involves building a small principality (by placing buildings, forests, lakes etc.) which will inspire craftsmen to produce great works. These works bring you money and prestige (i.e. victory points). Each round involves two phases: the auction-phase and the action-phase.

In the auction phase, players bid for a selection of the more powerful elements of your principality. Forests, lakes, parks and jesters inspire your craftsmen. Hiring builders makes placement of buildings cheaper and easier: generally buildings cannot be placed adjacent to each other on your very small player board, but with two builders, the adjacency rule is removed. Prestige cards work like secret objectives which score big-points at game-end. For example, your objective may be to ensure you have more jesters than your opponents, or to have one of each landscape type (forest, lake, park).

In the action phase, players can buy buildings from a common market-place, at a set-price. They can also buy "Freedoms" (the freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of travel), along with other bonuses, all of which will enhance the value of the craftsmens' works. Finally, players can hire new craftsmen and invoke them to complete their works, bringing in income and increasing prestige by way of victory points.

The buildings are tetris-style shaped pieces of various sizes. They cannot be placed adjacent to each other, unless a pair of builders have been bought, so placement is a tricky exercise in itself. When a work is completed by one of your craftsmen, you can choose to take payment by way of money, victory points, or a combination of the two. Small elements of design like this make the game feel extremely rich and varied.

The winner is the player, after a set number of rounds, with the most prestige points.


With thanks to BGG user LanaDove for use of image

Components

The game comes in different editions, depending on age and location. I can only really report on my own copy, which is the 2010 Rio Grande edition. All the images on this review are from that edition too. The boards are sturdy and functional. I really like the stylish simplicity of the imagery on the components. Images are generally line-drawings on antique-white backgrounds, giving a nice period feel to the game.

Other players have commented to me that they find the fonts hard to read, but I have not had that problem. Indeed, I enjoy the scribbley font. I think it gives the game character and it's all quite readable for me. But it would be a shame if this ruined it for other players. Gamers often criticise publishers for their lack of sensitivity to colour-blind individuals; I wonder if there should also be some consideration given for dyslexia and literacy difficulties.

The cards are standard European size, which means they are easy to sleeve, although there is no shuffling involved in the game so this may not be necessary, depending on your preferences.

The cardboard building and landscape tiles are of good card-stock, and feel high-quality. Storage of all the pieces is a potential problem since they are irregularly shaped and, without a system, set-up time could be an issue. A compartmentalised plastic container (from a crafts shop) and a few plastic bags solve this problem neatly.


A rather unhelpful box insert for these oddly shaped pieces! With thanks to BGG user Daniel Indru for use of image

The Rio Grande 2010 edition also includes a small card-expansion called "The Princess and the Muse" which is also available as part of the Alea Treasure Chest. This expansion introduces a third phase into the game: a second auction which allows you additional money, additional actions etc. This expansion is well-regarded on BGG, but I have yet to try it. It is nice to have it included though, and I will certainly try it out soon, thinking of it like advancing from the family game of Agricola, to the full game incorporating improvements and occupations.

How well does the theme hold up?

The theme holds up rather well for a European style game. It makes sense that each of the craftsmen would have different preferences, and that this would impact on the quality of their work. The two different forms of market-place keep the trade aspect of the game lively and engaging. The blossoming principalities look suitable attractive and impressive as the game goes on. I like the bird's eye view aesthetic of the game. It is nice to have a game which is not just about amassing money for victory (although this plays a large part in the game), but also about the quality of output, often in creative endeavours such as choreography, theatre, and opera. It is this which increases the prestige of your region and wins you the game. This feels like a healthy alternative to the masses of capitalist money-above-all-else titles available today. I should say, I enjoy these titles too! I love stocks and shares, and auction games, but it is nice to have another option.

Complexity

None of the individual aspects of the game are complex to grasp but it is the sheer wealth of options available to players which makes this game so rich an experience. This means there is quite a long rules-explanation needed and players are unlikely to figure out the interactions between the different available actions until mid-way through their first or second game. If a player is enthusiastic enough to listen to a moderately long rules-explanation, they will not find the game complex, but it could be intimidating to a new player. The scoring of completed works whereby the work-value accrues money, victory points, or a combination of the two, is not altogether intuitive, especially with the added complication of establishing a best work for further victory points at the end of a round. The use of the scoring track to simultaneously mark work-value seems a little confusing visually when you first play the game because you end up with two of your coloured tokens on the score track, only one of which truly represents your prestige-point total.

I have no doubt from these early plays that this game has great depth of both strategy and tactical choices available, and will grow with increased plays. But it is certainly an accessible title too.

The Luck factor

The element of chance in the game is in the various card draws (prestige cards i.e. objectives, profession cards which give you craftsmen, bonus cards which increase the value of your works). However, this is mitigated massively by the fact that each time you take a card, you draw five and choose one, returning the others to the deck. These decks are not large and the chances are that you will find something useful to you amongst those five. Luck does play a role in the game but it is insignificant compared to clever strategic choices.


With thanks to BGG user siromist for use of image

Number of players

As with most auction games it comes into its own with four or five players because competition for the various items becomes fierce. Also, the items can get exhausted as more players gather them. With two or three players, the game is strong enough that it still plays well. The game is a gentler puzzle at this level, with less interaction.

Will my non-gamer partner enjoy it?

I was surprised to find both that my non-gamer girlfriend was willing to play it, and that she enjoyed it. We played it on a rare occasion where she was happy to learn a new game. She generally likes to stick to old favourites Agricola and Dominion, and hates learning new rules. She has said she would like to play again. It seems that the theme was attractive to her: building a small region to attract creatives to produce great works. She enjoyed the tile-placement aspects too. My girlfriend does not like games with negative player interaction and the beauty of this game at two-player is that the fierce auction-phase of the game is significantly muted. There is very little chance that I will take the last of any one resource and my partner has many other options should I take the item she requires. This works well for us.

Of course, as mentioned, my girlfriend does have experience of playing medium-weight euros, mainly Agricola, so the weight of the game is not a huge barrier for her (theme and interaction are the main stumbling blocks in other titles). For a true non-gamer, Princes of Florence might be a bit of a stretch.

What other games is it like?

The auction phase is reminiscent of the Power Grid series. You offer up a resource for auction; if you don't win it, you offer up a second, third etc. until you do win one.

The "Prestige" secret objectives cards work like those in lighter European games like Ticket to Ride or Takenoko. One viable strategy in the game involves working to complete prestige cards beyond all other actions, playing it very much like the afore-mentioned games. Another strategy involves taking a prestige card late in the game in the hope that you have already fulfilled its criteria, again a feature of the lighter Euro games mentioned.

The placement of buildings and landscapes to fulfil the wishes of your craftsmen is a form of set-collection, which is seen in many games. The unusual aspect of this game is that you do not need a complete set to score points. An incomplete set can still amass quite an amount of prestige. This aspect of the game is similar to games like Drum Roll, where you hire performers in a circus, providing them with resources to gain bonuses.

The tetris-style tile placement is a staple of abstract games, but it is fairly unusual used in this manner. One similar use of shaped-tiles is seen in the game Khan: in this case however the tiles are used in an area-control capacity.

About the designers:

Wolfgang Kramer was Germany's first full-time professional game-designer. Considered one of the key innovators of modern board games, he is often credited with pioneering area-control mechanics, with the game, El Grande, action-point systems, with the Mask Trilogy, and even introducing the familiar victory-point-track-going-around-the-board in Heimlich & Co.. Now in his seventies, Kramer has won the German "Spiel Des Jahres" prize a record five times.



Wolfgang Kramer in 2012. With thanks to BGG user Henk Rolleman for use of image.


It is hard to find much information about Kramer's collaborator Richard Ulrich, and his son Jens Christopher Ulrich(also listed as co-designer) on the internet. German designer Ulrich, most notably collaborated with Kramer on El Grande, which won the Spiel Des Jahres Award in 1996. They also worked together on the sequel, El Callabero,Merchants of the Middle Ages, and most recently, Merchants of the Middle Ages.



With thanks to BGG user Fawkes for use of image


Positives:

- Beautiful aesthetics
- Clever tetris-style tile-laying aspect
- An enjoyable interactive auction-phase
- Deep strategy
- Many routes to victory - very well balanced.
- Great theme.
- Inclusion of a mini-expansion with the basic game is appreciated.
- Has stood the test of time: still in print and highly regarded after many years.

Negatives:

- Scoring system is a little unintuitive at times.
- Auction-phase can lead to some negative interaction - there is an element of doing your opponent's down. (Many players will consider this a positive!)
- The box offers no storage solution for the odd-shaped pieces.
- The chosen font, though attractive, may cause problems for some.
- Rules explanation needed is fairly long.

Is it a keeper?

This is one of the true classics of the European game genre. Highly strategic, accessible, and thematic. It is as refreshing for a newcomer today as any of the current Essen crop, and well worth owning. A fantastic piece of board-gaming artistry.

See my other reviews at http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/146115/europhile-reviews-a...
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Eric Brosius
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One reason this game is easier for new people to learn than you might expect is that it's a shopping game. Most people understand shopping (many actually enjoy it). You're buying things to spruce up your home.
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Adam Porter
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Eric Brosius wrote:
One reason this game is easier for new people to learn than you might expect is that it's a shopping game. Most people understand shopping (many actually enjoy it). You're buying things to spruce up your home.


This is true. And there are many things available for purchase. Sometimes you'll pay over the odds; sometimes you'll snag a bargain. All the excitement of retail.
 
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Take joy from your wins; take lessons from your losses.
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    Generally considered the first "brown" game that would set the tone for euro art in the decade that followed. A very refined look that fit the theme well for this particular title.

             S.


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Nigel McNaughton
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Very nice write up.

Played this last night, while the game seems fairly solid, I have to disagree I really think the components are terrible.

Your player mat is half just stats and turn order information. Every Card has the same stats over and over again. When the information is unchanging it doesn't need to be repeated 20 times. I hadn't seen such terrible abuse of fonts since I played Dominant Species. Looking around the table trying to identify what professions everyone had was not pleasant. The symbols on the score track were pretty odd too. This game would really be improved with a decent graphical overhaul.
 
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Eric Brosius
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Note that the player mat shows the characteristics of each profession, so all you need to see is the big number in the upper corner of each card and you can tell what building, landscape and freedom it requires.
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Nigel McNaughton
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Which also means theoretically it doesn't even need to be on the profession card.
 
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Santiago Garcia Galiana
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thanks, nice review. i know u all love this game, but i have to disagreeshake: bought it, played once with my girlfriend, sold it. i´m sure it must be a great game with 4-5 players, but for two it was really dissapointing. bids don´t make much sense with two, cause there´s always an alternative and running out of money never happened (hire a builder and finish some work and u´ll have plenty). it was one of those games u can´t believe it´s so highly rated on bgg. but then again, i realise it might not suit 2 players properly, but 4 or 5. on the other hand, it´s good to know there´ll be plenty of underrated games out there worth playing them... thanks
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Adam Porter
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christianlafferla wrote:
thanks, nice review. i know u all love this game, but i have to disagreeshake: bought it, played once with my girlfriend, sold it. i´m sure it must be a great game with 4-5 players, but for two it was really dissapointing. bids don´t make much sense with two, cause there´s always an alternative and running out of money never happened (hire a builder and finish some work and u´ll have plenty). it was one of those games u can´t believe it´s so highly rated on bgg. but then again, i realise it might not suit 2 players properly, but 4 or 5. on the other hand, it´s good to know there´ll be plenty of underrated games out there worth playing them... thanks


We all have different tastes - that's what makes the boardgame community so diverse, and keeps the publishers producing such a wealth of different themes and mechanics - so I have no problem whatsoever with you disagreeing with the review! To each their own.

I think you're right, that the game is at its best at 4-5 player.
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Nigel McNaughton
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Yeah as such a heavy auction game 2 player would suffer a bit.
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Jonathan Harker
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I really enjoy this game, I think it is beautifully conceived and balanced, and I prefer it to El Grande. My only foible with it is that for me there are some things with the art that let it down. I see what they're going for - to look very Renaissance, parchment and wood, which I like.

However:

The font is difficult to read (in a hurry). It's a lovely font, but perhaps a better choice could be made to convey the critical game information.

The score track spaces have cluttery illustrations, and it's a bit annoying moving counters around the track when there are only numbers every 10 spaces. Great for folks who move their counters by counting one space at a time, but a hindrance to those used to doing quick mental arithmetic by fives, and even more so when the track goes around a bunch of corners for no particular reason.

When you place freedoms and builders on the corresponding board spaces, it's difficult to tell at a glance they're there; perhaps make the board spaces greyed, or give the pieces a different shading or border?

These are just minor things though really; I do enjoy playing this game! :-)
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Bruce Linsey
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I can't imagine playing this game with just two. It's also not much good with three, pretty good with four, but with the full five players it's one of the best games ever made.
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Eddie the Cranky Gamer
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Using the official variant, we find the game incredibly fun. Quite mail biting in the auctions, and always very close on score.

Clearly YMMV.

(but it IS better with more)
 
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