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Peter Donnelly
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The Prince: The Struggle of House Borgia (something must have got lost in the translation of the subtitle) is a card game with some nice extra bits in the box: player mats, used for keeping score and also representing each player's principal stronghold; substantial wooden cylinders for scoring and keeping track of who's Pope; and cardboard counters representing cardinals and money. The one graphic design blunder is that not all the denominations of currency are easily distinguishable.

The cards are of good quality and absolutely gorgeous, each featuring a piece of Renaissance art. They fall into five categories:

-- Holdings/cities. These are strongholds that have the ability to protect one each of the following three types. They also provide income and count toward victory points.
-- Artists. They provide victory points, but you have to pay to deploy them.
-- Outside families. They add to the defensive value of a stronghold.
-- Offices. They give you votes in papal elections, and provide income.
-- Action cards. Unlike the first four types, you keep these in the hand until ready to play them.

The basic idea is that you play strongholds, artists, families, and offices in front of you as soon as you obtain them. The game proceeds in three turns, and at the end of each you count up victory points from your holdings and any money you have in hand.

In the course of the game you will be dealt only seven or eight cards; the rest are distributed mainly by auction. Auctioned cards are turned up singly so there is no way to plan ahead.

There are two other ways to obtain cards: by playing a Spy, which entitles you to a free auction card or a card from another player's hand; and by seizing the holdings of other players. You can seize a "holding/city" along with any other cards it protects, or an unprotected card. To resolve the conflict, the players secretly choose condottieri cards from their hands and reveal them simultaneously. If the attacker's condottieri points outweigh the defender's condottieri plus the intrinsic defensive value of the stronghold (including any "outside family" it contains, the attacker takes all the cards. In the case of an unprotected card, the attacker wins if neither player deploys any condottieri. Any condottieri deployed by either side have to be paid for and are then put back into the deck.

A turn ends when 10 or 12 cards have been auctioned, depending on the number of players. At this point players collect income, elect a Pope, and calculate victory points. The new turn begins with a supplementary distribution of income and cards.

The Papal election is important mostly because the new Pope claims 10 victory points. In addition, he must surrender any offices he holds and distribute these to the other players. He also has the option of shuffling offices among other players, and he distributes new cardinals as well.

Cardinals and offices determine the number of votes each player has in the papal election. Electing a Pope can be time-consuming because ballots must be taken until one player has a clear majority. This involves a fair amount of negotiation and cajolery. (Trading cards and money is an optional part of the game, but is really almost a necessity in the election phase.)

Those are the basic mechanics. They are spiced up a bit by the action cards, which include not only condottieri but death cards (which can be used to eliminate various cards in play), a Doctor (defends against some death cards), Savonarola and Accusation of Simony (both of which restrict the Pope's actions), Marriage (forces non-aggression for the rest of the turn), and Spy.

All this adds up to great theme, but the game does have problems. Players who receive strongholds in the initial deal have an advantage that is difficult to overcome. Without strongholds, any artists and offices you have can be picked off virtually at will by other players. Since auction cards are turned up one at a time, there's no way to strategize your spending. And other than bidding, you simply don't have that many decisions to make. All non-action cards have to be played immediately, and you're unlikely to have more than two or three other cards in your hand at any time. (In my first play, I had nothing but Accusation of Simony in my hand for the entire last turn, and since I was Pope it didn't do me any good.) Seizing is a fairly predictable affair because players usually have a good idea of what condottieri cards are held by others.

I really wanted to like this game. It's an honest attempt to bring Machiavellian intrigue to the game table. But it just didn't work for our group. There's just not that much to do, there's little scope for strategy, and once you start falling behind it's very difficult to catch up.
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david karasick
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Re:User Review
SkookumPete (#23631),I liked the game and it reminds me a little of Ganglands! My suggestion if you get a card you do not want is to exchange it with a card from the deck randomly and put back that card into a reshuffled deck. In this way, you won't get stuck with any card that you don't want.This action can be part of your turn.
 
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Peter Donnelly
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Re:User Review
I know the game was thoroughly playtested and it's presumptuous to suggest improvements after a single play, but I'd suggest the following might be worth investigating:

-- allow players to hold any cards in their hands, and don't allow unprotected cards on the table. This addresses the problem of losing artists and offices to weak opponents, and also makes it more difficult for others to know you're short on condottieri. Also this makes bidding more interesting; for example, you might not know that another player really, really wants that stronghold because he is holding a valuable artist and office in his hand.

-- increase the availability of spy cards (by recycling them once used?) to make it dangerous to hold cards in the hand until scoring is about to take place.

-- make fewer cards available for auction each turn, and have more turns, hence more opportunities to get income and be dealt a free card.

-- display auction cards face up to allow more strategic budgeting.

-- do away with ballots in papal elections. Whoever has the most votes available chooses the Pope. Reduce the VP reward for being Pope, since elections would be more frequent.

Comments?
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Dan Blum
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Re:User Review
I like your first and fourth suggestions (I suggested the latter, having the auction cards face-up, myself). Spy cards I don't know about, and I think the current turn structure is probably OK as is - I'd need to try the game with the other changes to see how it went before fiddling more.

I think I like having the ballots, although your idea could work as well (if other changes are made to increase the number of turns). With the current system even the player with the fewest votes can be a strong position in the election, depending on exactly how the numbers shake out.
 
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Peter Donnelly
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Re:User Review
tool (#23660),
I made the suggestion about eliminating balloting just to speed up the game if more turns were added. I think having more turns would even out the chances for everyone; as it is, if you don't have a lot of money or action cards in either of the last two turns, you're pretty much out of the running. But maybe taking away the wheeling and dealing around elections would be overkill.
 
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Tom Swider
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Re:User Review
SkookumPete (#23631),

I beleive that the graphics issue regarding the money colors was intentional. The way it was done, players can eye another player's pile of money and have some idea of how much they have but cannot be certain by a factor of 100%. Actually, I think it was a pretty clever idea once I got used to reading the values.
 
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Peter Donnelly
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Re:User Review
tswider (#24156),

Good point.
 
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Olivier Clementin
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Re:User Review
SkookumPete wrote:
I know the game was thoroughly playtested

Considering Berg's recent track record (Nero anyone ?), this this is a risky assumption at best.
 
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Carlos O.
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You know, I just got the game today, read its rules and it seems promising changing the things you have indicated. Specially because I could not but compare it with Princes of the Renaissance. This is like PotR decaf.

I´ll give it a run to see how the standard rules work and after that implement any home made one that seems appropriate.
 
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