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Princes of the Renaissance
A game for 3-6 players by Martin Wallace


"Bring on a brand new renaissance,
'Cause I think I am ready.
Well I've been shaking all night long
But my hands are steady."

- The Tragically Hip


Introduction
Raise your hand if you were part of the gaming scene back in 2003!

That year I was still a full-fledged card-carrying member of the so-called cult of the new. It was me that caused the wife of our best friends to exclaim in dismay at yet another new game on the table "can't we play something we already know?" My most played games that year were Zertz and Puerto Rico (and a lot of online chess). My favourite release from that year is Carcassonne: The Castle, which my wife and I still get to the table regularly.

It was, for me, a personal gaming renaissance after a prolonged period of limited board gaming opportunities (but lots of great role-playing games). It was my honeymoon period with the Euro genre, and I was a voracious and indiscriminate consumer of new games.

It was also a period where I didn't really know or pay attention to designers. I knew who Knizia was and by and large if I saw his name on a box I'd put it in my physical shopping basket at my brick and mortar store. But I didn't know who the heck Martin Wallace was, and I also "knew" that I "hated" auction games after a bad experience with Modern Art. I don't specifically recall seeing Princes of the Renaissance on the shelf, but it's likely I would had given it a miss at the time.

Fast forward to today, and Mercury Games has republished this classic gem. They have very generously provided me with an early release copy.

Components
The game comes in the standard Mercury sized box, the same ones we've seen before with Guns of Gettysburg and Polis. The box is nice and sturdy, and all the bits fit nicely inside.



Inside you'll find lots of nice thick cardboard tiles and counters for money and influence points, standees for each player, and wood markers for the central board where the action takes place.



There is also a deck of treachery cards, rules, and dice for resolving combat.

Everything in the box was well done, and despite my initial misgivings about the purple and blue being somewhat close in shade under my dining table light, during play it was fine and there was never any question between them.

The player standees have a classic NO symbol (red circle with a slash) on the back so you can simply turn it around to show you've passed in the current auction. It's an elegant and quick way to show you're out. I play with different groups of gamers and my Thursday Night Crew (as I like to call them) didn't care for them, but my other primary group would definitely appreciate (and more importantly, use) them.

The money was the one universally disliked component. It's not the quality of the bits, but that the values were only printed on one side. We all understood that money is secret in this game, and that's certainly a reasonable production decision - we just found the money hard to work with as a result. In contrast, this was not the feeling with the influence tokens. Maybe because they are big and chunky and square?

Rules & Game Play
Princes of the Renaissance pits players against one another as rival condottiere (a fancy Italian word meaning a leader or a member of a troop of mercenaries) fighting over Italy in the quest to get the most victory points.

I will briefly digress about me and auction games. I hated my first (and to date only) play of Modern Art, which is about as pure as auction games get. Yet, I like Ra. (RA!) I admire and appreciate Taj Mahal. All Knizia designs incidentally.

I loathed Medici vs. Strozzi and quit mid-game. I really like Goa. I avoided Power Grid for years because I heard that it was a combo auction + accounting game. I love Power Grid and kick myself for not having tried it sooner.

All this to say that 2003-me thought he hated auctions, but 2016-me is more nuanced. There's clearly a continuum between Medici vs. Strozzi and Power Grid, and auctions as an element in a game clearly doesn't turn me off. I haven't been able to articulate to my own satisfaction specifically why pure auction games as a genre aren't usually my cuppa tea. Suffice to say that while Princes of the Renaissance is an auction heavy game, it isn't a pure auction game.

We now resume our regular programming.


Everything in the Princes of the Renaissance game is an auction. Everything? Well, no. But there are a lot of auctions.

The game begins with an auction for player order, which remains for the rest of the game.

This is followed by a another auction (beginning with the player who wound up last in turn order) being the first to bid for which family they will play. Each family has a different special power, so the one you wind up with will to some extent inform the strategies you could best pursue throughout the game.

As with many auction games, the amount to bid and how to evaluate the value of things is a key to success. There are two currencies, so to speak, in the game - money and influence, and some auctions are resolved the former and others the latter. Players begin the game with 45 gold and 12 influence.

These valuations are dependent and contingent on the number of actions and auctions that take place in the three decades of the game.

During the three decades, players, in player order, take turns doing one of the following four actions:
1. Buy a Troop Tile or Treachery Card
2. Auction a City Tile, Event Tile, or the Pope Tile
3. Start a War
4. Pass (skip a turn, but you can jump back in next time you're up)

Troops are things you need to prosecute wars. You just pay cash for these. No auction required.

Treachery cards give you advantages that will help you along the way. You just buy these too (1 gold + 1 influence). You can only have two (as a base rule, but there are exceptions)

City tiles are important for several reasons. They might give you a special power, earn you income, earn you influence, or often a combination. These will also potentially score you victory points at the end of the game.

The pope is important because he can be the deciding factor in a war - more on that later.

Event tiles, of which there are four per decade, will usually allow you to shift the ranking of a city, or give you victory points at the end of the game.



There are a few key concepts that make this game engine run.

First, the five cities in the game are each represented by six tiles chosen randomly from a set of seven. At the end of the game, players score victory points for each city tile they own. The status of a city is affected by events and wars. It is entirely possible that cities have insufficient status to score you any VP at the end of the game!

Furthermore, a player may own at most six tiles (total) from no more than three different cities. This is going to be a vital element in the chicanery that follows.

Second, the best way to affect the status of a city is to start a war. The player triggering the war decides which city is attacking and which is defending. An influence auction (aha!) is conducted to see who will act on behalf of the attacking city first, and then a second one (where the attacker cannot bid) to be the defending one.

Third, negotiations are vital. I may start a war. You may offer to bribe me with cash or influence to pick a specific city to be the attacker. I might agree and do so, but then another player can make a deal with me to pick a city the first player also owns to be the defender. Excellent! And then as an added bonus I could renege on any deal because deals in this game aren't binding!

This is why you should always demand cash in advance.

But look, the game is about victory points, so let's look at the various ways you can get them.

First, the event tiles. Every decade has four event tiles. The decade ends when the fourth and final event tile is sold, but players can and will delay putting these up to keep the decade going, but every decade some of the event tiles will give you vital VP for end game scoring.

Second, the status of cities. A city can have enough status to make the tiles affiliated with that city worth 0, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10VP. If you have, at the end of the game, three tiles from Roma at 2VP, 1 tile from Firenze at 10VP, and 2 tiles from Napoli at 0VP - well, you can do the arithmetic (3x2 + 1x10 + 2x0). City status is directly affected either by events or wars.

Third, you can win wars. Ahhh, wars. Wars are fun! Only five wars can happen per decade, and the reason you want to be in them is that if you are the condottiere of the winning city, you get a wreath. And the more wars you win, the more wreaths you get and the more VP you earn. The first wreath is 1VP, the second 2VP, third 3VP, and so on, and there is no limit to how many you can earn.

There are also bonus VP for money and influence at the end of the game, as well for being pope at the end of the third decade (only).

So those are the ways to earn victory points. Your tools for earning these VP is through the auctions in the game, so you have to manage your money and influence very carefully. You earn money and influence at the end of each decade, and the amounts will depend on which tiles you've acquired throughout the course of the decades.

Wars are one of the most fun aspects of the game. To participate in one, you must have troops. And influence as the auction for a war is based on influence.

Without dragging the explanation out or simply regurgitating the rules, wars are FUN, and for the following reason. First, some troops are good at attacking, and others at defending. This will help you figure out which role you want to play in any given war. Second, if the attacker loses the initial round, of combat, they switch roles with the attacker and counterattack, but now they're using the attack values of the troops they just defended with. Yes, the original defender could potentially end up with a war victory wreath.

The related dynamic is that the winning city goes up in status, the losing city goes down, and just like the stock market, anyone invested in those cities has a vested interest in the outcome. Add to the mix that once per decade the player holding the Pope tile can form a holy alliance with another player and contribute the Vatican's finest to that player's side (or not, with a suitable bribe, eh, el pape?), and you can already envision the delicious shenanigans.

But wait, there's more. It's a perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable action to deliberately bid to be the attacker or defender in a war in the full knowledge that you'll lose and that you do so because you want the winning city to gain status.

Conclusions
This game is fascinating on several levels. The auctions for everything really force you to watch your expenditures. You have to be willing to go big for that vital tile or war you want to prosecute, but wary of overspending or making it so that someone gets something great for next to nothing.

Despite the near constant auctions and jockeying involved, the meat of this game revolves around negotiations. You have to negotiate in this game. You cannot go it alone. You need the other players, either to help you or to thwart someone else.

The beauty of this simple fact is that you are constantly engaged in what's going on in the game. Don't wander off to get snacks, the rest of the table will simply agree that you have too many war winner wreaths already and collude to stop you - better to plead with them and make deals that you don't have to keep later! In this game, the friend you had this turn may well be the enemy in the next. Such is the life of the mercenary. It's simply a great dynamic!

When people talk about classic designs, Princes of the Renaissance needs to be considered in the conversation. It is for me an exemplar in the same vein as El Grande. It may be surpassed or improved by other games, but there's no denying its fundamentally sound design, and I admire its purity.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favourites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph, Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb


Edit 1: grammar
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Ron
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One of the good old & great Wallace games ... they don't do them anymore soblue
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Edward Uhler
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Well done, Roger! We LOVE auction games and this went over well with our group. I'm excited to play it more and record our review.

I agree that the money is a PITA but I don't know what they found have done to make it easier. Player screens blocks from showing the amount of coins and influence markers completely. Tough spot for them with that.
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Asher D.
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Fantastic review as usual, Roger. Can't wait to get my copy.
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Bill Eldard
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PzVIE wrote:
One of the good old & great Wallace games ... they don't do them anymore soblue


I own over a dozen Wallace designs and I consider this his best.

Losers Earn Money: Since each player is a conditierre, he/she does get paid by the warring city he/she fights for. After all, they are mercenaries. As the reviewer explains, the victorious player in the war does earn a wreath, which are important to winning the game. But win or lose, both players earn money from the cities they supported; the wealthier the city, the higher the payment. The losing player may actually earn more money than the winning player. This has a significant impact on the auction for attacker/defender.

I don't have the new edition of the game, so please correct me if the current rules no longer apply this this.

leroy43 wrote:
It's a perfectly reasonable, and indeed desirable action to deliberately bid to be the attacker or defender in a war in the full knowledge that you'll lose and that you do so because you want the winning city to gain status.


. . . and/or you want the losing city to loser status. As the review notes, each city's status at the end of the game determines the value of the tiles affiliated with it, so it fighting to lose for a particular city can be strategically crucial. This aspect of wars cannot should not be underestimated when determining whether or not to enter the auctions for attacker and defender. For instance, Player A may try to win an auction to prevent Player B from winning the auction and deliberately lose the war for the city Player A's heavily invested in (tiles).
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Jack Stalica
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Besides the fact that the game is great (as is the reprint quality of this Mercury game) is that all those who were trying to put their kids through college by selling the 1st ed. for those ridiculous prices are now left "holding the bag"...

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Dennis Ku
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PzVIE wrote:
One of the good old & great Wallace games ... they don't do them anymore soblue


So true. Wallace had a great run, but now can't seem to put out anything other than mediocre titles. I loved his games so much I named my cat after him.
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Steve Stanton
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Thanks for the review and comments. I've Kickstartered the redo and am waiting patiently...whistle
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Geoff Conn
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Glad I backed this by the sounds of it! Now if only my copy would show up on my doorstop...
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Talonz wrote:
Glad I backed this by the sounds of it! Now if only my copy would show up on my doorstop...

I had it with me at BottosCon!
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Arrived today. It is staggeringly beautiful and says QUALITY in a way a bunch of plastic figs does not. Lucrezia Borgia may be less diaphanously clad on the cover, but I think the artwork is largely a big improvement on the original.
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Mike Smith
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Nobody has commented on the in-theme blue embroidered playing surface that you are displaying the game on Roger. Just too good on the eye...
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Kevin Nesbitt
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Mantuanwar wrote:
Arrived today. It is staggeringly beautiful and says QUALITY in a way a bunch of plastic figs does not. Lucrezia Borgia may be less diaphanously clad on the cover, but I think the artwork is largely a big improvement on the original.


Thank you for posting this, and also glad to hear that our European Backers are already receiving their Rewards. Not too long now before North American Rewards ship out!
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Mantuanwar wrote:
Nobody has commented on the in-theme blue embroidered playing surface that you are displaying the game on Roger. Just too good on the eye...

It's one of my favourite tablecloths. Maple leaf pattern...
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leroy43 wrote:

Second, the status of cities. A city can have enough status to make the tiles affiliated with that city worth 0, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10VP. If you have, at the end of the game, three tiles from Roma at 2VP, 1 tile from Firenze at 10VP, and 2 tiles from Napoli at 0VP - well, you can do the arithmetic (3x2 + 1x10 + 2x0). City status is directly affected either by events or wars.


So I think you've mis-read the rules here: It's impossible to get 0 VP for a tile. Last place gets 2VP/tile, second to last gets 3VP/tile, third place gets 5VP, second gets 7VP, first 10VP, with ties rounding down (if all cities were to end with 10 status somehow [not actually possible, but bear with me], every city's tiles would be worth 2VP each).

leroy43 wrote:

Despite the near constant auctions and jockeying involved, the meat of this game revolves around negotiations. You have to negotiate in this game. You cannot go it alone. You need the other players, either to help you or to thwart someone else.

The beauty of this simple fact is that you are constantly engaged in what's going on in the game. Don't wander off to get snacks, the rest of the table will simply agree that you have too many war winner wreaths already and collude to stop you - better to plead with them and make deals that you don't have to keep later! In this game, the friend you had this turn may well be the enemy in the next. Such is the life of the mercenary. It's simply a great dynamic!


These the two main things I and my fellow first playthrough guinea pigs noted afterwards! — no one wanted to leave the table because the action always involves everyone, and alliances turn as different cities rise and fall. Totally agree here.
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Two small events convinced me that I like this game. One, losing a war on purpose to make money and hurt a city I had no interest in. As you point out, this is good strategy and, I think, great fun. Two, giving someone gold to raise the bid in an auction I was no longer in. To me, that small action just drove home how well themed this game is. These two incidents happened years ago in the first or second time my old gaming group played this title. You could see the light bulbs go off in people's heads when I pulled these moves. There was a lot of "Aha! I get it." looks going on.

I'm hoping to get Princes of the Renaissance on the table at my new gaming group - this weekend if I'm lucky.
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