WARNING: THIS REVIEW IS BASED IN JUST ONE PLAYING SESION
If you feel that this is not enough to judge a game, don´t read any further (Although the comments about the components of the game and the basic playing mechanics would not vary much even after repeated play, and therefore may still be of interest)
Il Principe is one of the recently published games from Z-Man Games, and it´s set in the reinassance Italy. I can think of several other titles set in the same period and geographical space, and curiosusly, none of them have an appealing board (Princes of the Reinassance, Machiavelli..). Il Principe is no exception, so I´m starting to wonder why this is.
OK, so let´s go on with an overview of this game
1- Components: The game comes in a large box, which seems to be a little oversized for what is later included in the game, and in fact most of it is filled with… air. Not that I am a particular fan of supertight space in game boxes (specially considering that I use card sleeves in every game with cards), but this case is the opposite side of the spectrum.
The board is small and it depicts the northern part of Italy divided in several regions (eight or nine) with cities in their borders, and underneath a place to put the role tiles, which is IMO a wasted space, considering the map is a little small. As I metioned before, the art could be dramatically inproved and I´m sure that would also help this game hitting the table more often.
The game also uses tiles for the roles (good quality and artwork), cards (for buildings and cities, both good art and quality), and chits (again good quality).
All in all, good production values, with the artwork very improvable in the map.
2- Gameplay: In this game you try to earn the most victory points and the auction system is the core of the game. Every turn is divided in four phases.
In the first phase each player collects income (5) and then receives 4 cards. The cards come in five colors. You select two cards and get rid of other two to conform a common set of “discarded” cards (They are not really discarded, later they are all revealed and suited by color)
Second phase: Beginning with the player to the left of il principe, players either bid or pass for each set of cards revealed, starting with the set with the least number of cards. Once you win an auction you can inmediatly construct (if you can) a city and you also become the new principe). There is a stack of city cards, with each city on the map represented, of which four cities are revealed and ready to be built at all times. To do so you have to spend a determined number of building cards for each city and spend some of your money. This gives you victory points and allow you to distribute your “influence” chits in the adjacent areas to that city on the map. The other players may also get victory points if they have any of the role cards suiting the building cards played to build the city (one for each matching minor role and two for each major one) There are small, medium and big cities, each one progressively more expensive but also more rewarding. When a city is built, you leave the cards used in the construction of a new city in front of you, suited by color.
When all the sets of cards have been auctioned, you move on to the next phase, in which each player can either construct a city or lay a set of color matching cards in front of him.
Then begins the last phase, in which players try to get different role tiles (the pope etc), all of which have colors matching the building cards. This is resolved seeing which player has the bigger number of cards in front of him. The player with the most cards of a type wins the major role, and the second, the minor role. Whenever there is a tie, playes can use their money to get the role. If the tie is not broken, the role is not picked.
Each role has a special ability, like earning money, or a building card, etc. When you obtain a major role, half the cards of that color set in front of you are flipped over, and they won´t count on the next turn, but they still have a function at the end of the game.
Whenever you run out of cities or building cards, the end of the game is triggered. In the end, players score points for domination of regions, having role cards, having the most money, having more cards, etc (all this is added to whatever you had already been scoring due to building cities and picking roles during the game). It is worth saying that dominating a region scores huge amount of points.
One of the mechanics I liked was the fact that cards used to build cities were actually kept by the player and have an impact both in the last phase of every turn and in the final scoring. It also makes sense (thematically speaking) that the player who has built more stuff, has a more influence.
The game plays pretty fast, the mechanics are easy to grasp by the second turn, and one has the feeling that the system has been well playtested.
3-Overall impression: This is a good auction game, with some interesting mechanics and good production values (except for the artwork of the map). I am not particularly enthusiastic of auction games, so it´s not the kind of game I would suggest in the first place, but that´s just me! Most of the players including me, though, thought it was a little “too dry” (meaning neither too many surprises nor a sudden rise of a player, nor a subtle strategy that could at certain point get a super boost). Maybe further playing could make me change my mind, but my rating here is somewhere between 6.5 and 7.
Of course, if you like auction games, you´d probably like it better.