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Rob Mortimer
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Princes of the Renaissance

Preamble:

I bought Princes of the Renaissance after reading positive reviews and after enjoying Age of Steam by the same designer (Martin Wallace). Pictures of the game didn’t look very inspiring, but it really sounded like my cup of tea.

Components:
The board is proper mounted affair, but rather small (A3 paper size for those of you who know what that means!). It depicts part of Italy, from Venice and Milan in the north to Naples in the south. There are also tracks for ‘wars fought’ and ‘city status’. It has to be said that it is not the most attractive or inspiring board I have seen. Rather, it is understated and functional. There are a variety of large cardboard tiles depicting the 6 Renaissance families that players can play, plus similar tiles depicting troops, events, specific city personalities, treachery and the Pope. These tiles have decent artwork and clear information symbols and special ability text, and they work very well indeed. There are five coloured wooden disks to represent the status of the key cities (Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples), which match the colour of the cities on the board and the city tiles corresponding to each city. There is a wooden pawn to record the number of wars fought (and my copy of the game had an extra one of these!). For wars, there is a black die and black wooden rectangle (attacker) and a white die and white wooden rectangle (defender). Finally, there are circular cardboard gold chits and square cardboard victory point and influence chits.

Overall the components are somewhat understated, but work well. The only problem that I have with them is that the money and influence chits are handled a lot during the game, and they began to look soiled after only a few plays. Such easily marked counters should have been avoided. The rulebook isn’t great either: it is a simple black and white affair that is not as clear as it should be. For instance, it takes a while to work out which tiles are which because the instructions to not make it clear (they just give one example tile, but since they are all very similar, this is not that useful). There are also key rules missing and there is no example diagram to help with set up.

Gameplay:
Players randomly decide a starting player and then each player takes a family tile and places it face up in front of them. Each player then takes 40 gold and 12 influence. Next the wooden disks are placed on the status track to record each city’s starting status. Unfortunately, the starting status values are not given in the rules (!), but they are; Venice 7; Milan and Florence 6; Rome and Naples 5. Next the black pawn is placed on the zero space of the wars fought track. The troop tiles are then separated into different types and all the city tiles are placed into columns of the same colour placed face up next to the board. The Event tiles are separated into three piles according to their decade (I, II, and III). The first decade set is then placed so that all the tiles can be seen. Finally, the pope tile is placed near the even tiles, and the treachery tiles are shuffled and placed face down.

There are some important restrictions on what players can do:
- players may negotiate and exchange gold and/or influence at any point.
- A player may only hold 2 treachery tiles (3 if playing the Malatesta or Bentivogli families).
- A player may only hold tiles from three different cities, and no more than six in total.
- A player may never discard a city tile.
- City tiles using their once per decade actions should be rotated to indicate this.
- A player may not hold more than one troop tile of each type.

The game lasts three decades, each of which has a variable number of rounds. A decade ends as soon as its last Event tile is auctioned. Each round, each player can perform just one action from:
1. Buy a troop or treachery tile.
2. Auction a city, event or the Pope tile.
3. Start a war (move the Wars fought marker immediately, even if the war is vetoed)
4. Pass

At the end of each decade, players collect gold and influence according to the symbols on tiles that they own. Income from wars is also collected, and the Pope is returned to the event tile area. The wars fought marker returns to zero and the next set of event tiles are spread out. After the final decade, victory points are calculated. Victory points are calculated from:
1. Value of each city tile (corresponds to VP value on city status track, ranging from 0 to 10).
2. VP of event tiles
3. 3VP for the Pope
4. 6VP for the most gold
5. 4VP for the most influence
6. VP for victory point counters equal to the sum of their count (ie. 1 counter is worth 1 whereas 3 counters are worth 1+2+3 = 6VPs).

The actions:
1. Buy a tile: a player may purchase a troop tile using gold (costs vary from 2 to 6), or may discard a troop tile back to the stock, or may purchase a treachery tile using 1 gold and 1 influence.
2. Auction a tile: a player selects a city tile, event tile or the pope and puts it up for auction. For city tiles, the selecting player must make an opening bid of at least twice the current status of the relevant city (in gold). Bidding then continues until one player wins the tile. For event tiles and the Pope, the selecting player does not have to make a first bid, or can start with a bid of zero. These tiles are bid for using either gold or influence (depending on the tile). Tiles won are kept until the end of the turn (Pope in decades I and II) or game (others) unless they are +1 status tiles or French Invasion. The latter are played on one of the cities on the board and increase the city status by one (+1 status) or reduce city status by two (French Invasion).
3. Start a war: if the wars fought track has not reached its limit, a player may select two cities that will fight, placing the black wooden marker on the attacker and white marker on the defender. Any player may veto the war. Otherwise, the position of Condotierre to represent the attacking city is auctioned (using influence), beginning with the active player. Only players with troop tiles may participate. Next the Condotierre for defender is activated. If one city is not represented, it fights with a neutral attack/defence of +3. Once the bidding is over, gold equivalent to the current city status is placed in the home cities of the Condotierres. Both sides roll one die and add the attack or defence values of their troops. If the attacker wins, the fight ends. If there is a draw or the defender wins, the latter counterattacks and a second roll is made with roles reversed. If the original defender wins the counterattack, they win, otherwise the fight is a draw. The status of the winning city goes up and that of the losing city goes down. Status moves one position up/down the track unless the victory was decisive (score double or more than that of opponent), in which case status moves up/down two spaces. Finally the winning player takes one victory counter.
4. Pass.

The tiles:
1. Family tiles: The different families and their abilities are: Montefeltro and Gonzaga (gain a discount of 1 when paying for an artist); Malatesta and Bentivogli (may hold 1 extra treachery card); Baglioni (gains a discount of 1 when paying to become Condottiere); d’Este (+1 artillery). It seems a shame that their abilities are not all different, but perhaps this is historically accurate?
2. Treachery tiles: These allow various rules to be altered in order to: Bribe Troops (stop a tile from fighting); Bribe Cardinal (+3 influence in Pope auction); Freeze Bids; Steal Influence; Raid Gold Shipment; Veto war; Start an additional war.
3. City tiles: These have various affects: Banking allows influence and gold to be interchanged; Lucrezia Borgia allows influence to be stolen; Ludovico Sforza can cause dice to be re-rolled; Lorenzo Medici can veto a war; Cesare Borgia and Ferrante of Aragon allow players to hold an additional treachery tile; Alfonso of Aragon gains an additional treachery tile once per decade; Roderigo Borgia, Giovanni Medici, Della Rovere, Orsini Family and Colonna Family save 1 influence cost on winning the Pope; Caterina Sforza gains +2 defence; Genoese Crossbow adds +1 defence to a Crossbow troop tile; Swiss Mercenaries adds +1 attack and defence to a Pike troop tile; Armourer adds +1 attack to a Cavalry troop tile; Spanish Infantry gains +1 attack and defence to a Light Infantry Troop Tile.
4. Event tiles: either gain VPs (2/3/4 VP tiles), affect status (+1 Sta/French invasion tiles) or gain gold for each tile marked merchant (Merchant tiles). The Pope tile gives 3 gold additional income, allows Holy League (troops can join one side in a war) and is worth 3VPs in the final decade.

So What do I Think?
This game is a really pleasant surprise. Despite the rather functional components and the substandard rule book, it is an absolute gem. Gameplay is exciting and interactive, although there is a moderate learning curve. If playing with newbies, it is certainly worth advising them that it is a very bad idea to allow any one player to dominate with either offensive or defensive troops. If this happens, that particular player will bid a lot to become a Condotierre and will then start reaping in money, which they will use to buy more tiles which generate influence (for use in bidding to become the next Condotierre), and so on. There are other strategies that work well (e.g. winning a Merchant event tile if you have lots of Merchant city tiles will be very powerful), but the game is about balance and reacting to the changing situation. It is always a good idea to make sure no player gains a large military advantage. Treachery tiles can come in very handy here too! The theme is very good and the mechanism of being able to alter the VP value of all the city tiles by altering a city’s status is wonderful. Since each player can hold city tiles of three cities (colours), there is often lots of interaction, with different players vying to either improve or decrease the value of particular cities to their own benefits (often to both the benefit and detriment of other players). The treachery tiles and some of the tile abilities offer excellent opportunites for backstabbing and are also useful to peg back the influence of military powers.

Overall, this is a really excellent game and I give it a 9 out of 10. Be careful to introduce it to newbies carefully so that you don’t scare them off. Once you have several players who know how to play, the game is very exciting. It plays with 3 to 6 and lasts about 2.5 hours. Highly recommended.


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