We finally got Princes of the Renaissance onto the table. Most of the players were new to the game, and realizing that this had auctions as its primary mechanism, we prepared for a long evening. It took around half an hour to go through the rules, along with a cursory examination of what the troops, event, city, treachery and pope tiles did exactly. We broke for dinner, discussed the rules in general, and finally started.
Richard - Baglioni
Alex - D'Este
Fred - Malatesta
John - Bentivogli
Mark - Montefeltro
Ty - Gonzaga
The First Decade
This began with the arms race. Baglioni, D'Este, Malatesta and Bentivogli opened by buying troops for most of their first five turns. The first two wars were also fought in the first five turns, as I wanted to get a jump after having grabbed an Artillery and a Fortification. This ultimately resulted in my missing the boat on the Cavalry, and I was left with a good defense but a comparatively weak offense compared to the other four. Montefeltro and Gonzaga, having been unable to secure any good troops, concentrated elsewhere. Montefeltro went for the Pope and Rome, while Gonzaga went for the Merchants of Venice. Both of them vied for the artist tiles. The decade ended with all five wars having been fought, and not very many city tiles being auctioned.
The Second Decade
The game had taken on a decidedly martial turn. Wars were being fought left and right. The Milanese tiles flew off the board early, and Baglioni was able to secure Swiss Mercs to support his family power. Just missed on grabbing the Armorer, who went for a pretty penny to Malatesa. Milan was the first city emptied of tiles, and it was also the first city to hit rock bottom on the status chart at it was repeatedly hammered by Venice and Naples. Rome and Florence were rarely in a fight, and had the most tiles left. D'Este managed to snag the second Merchant event tile, and grabbed a couple of merchants. Gonzaga finished off the decade by grabbing all the artists. Six wars were fought in the decade, and the Pope was left untouched.
The Third Decade
At this point, Milan was at the bottom, and Venice was contesting the top of the charts with Naples. D'Este was perceived to be in the lead, because of his strong army (despite having only two laurels). Gonzaga had managed to win ALL the artists so far. The third decade threatened to go quickly, with the French invasion and Michealangelo going in the first turn. With Venice near the top, and having the Veto tile, Baglioni bid and won the last two Merchants of Venice for a total of 60 gold in two epic bidding battles. The war chest I'd accumulated in the past two decades helped a lot. Gonzaga ended the game, putting both +1 Status tiles on Venice (he had two Venice tiles).
Gonzaga - 30
Baglioni - 28
D'Este - 26
Bentovogli - 26
Malatesta - 22
Montefeltro - 22
The game is repetitive. Auctions are fine, combined with other mechanisms OR in a shorter game, but this game became a three-hour auction monster. A couple of players got bored in the middle of the second decade. This is the game's greatest weakness - it's a one-trick pony. At some point, even I found the monotony of bidding to be bothersome. Too bad, because I really like the condotierri bidding for attacker and defender. There might have been some other way determine ownership of the city and event tiles, even if it was just an different kind of bidding (cf. Modern Art).
It was also observed that the event tiles are rather dry. Ok, they give you VP. The first decade has the same tiles as the second decade. The game overall has a nice theme, but the details come across as a bit dry. Oh, and the Pope seems to be rather useless - it's a manipulator's weapon, but it carries no benefit other than to infuence one war out of five or six in a decade. If it could meddle in more wars, it would be better.
Finally, for a game with an open dealmaking structure, no one seemed inclined to use it. I guess that was for the better, as my group tends to dislike Diplomacy-type deals. Maybe something on the order of Dune's structured alliance system, where the families could help allies with their powers?
I think the game would play better with four or five, to speed it up. But for a game that I was greatly anticipating, I must say that I was underwhelmed and mildly disappointed. I don't hate it, but it's not in the class of the great games.
You make some valid points about the auction mechanism. The fun of the game is in finding the path to victory. The auctions are somewhat of a nessecary evil. I would propose to use the following auction mechanism for the city tiles (avergage of 20 auctions)and events (12 auctions) leaving condotierre biddings max 36 auctions)untouched.
Use closed hands bidding ("In die Faust" in modern art). However the winner pays what the second place has bid. Use the treachery cards in separate a round prior to the bidding the initiator can not be excluded from bidding.
Initiator breaks any ties followed by the player to his left etc.
"The closed hand, winner pays runner up price" style of bidding is experimentally proven to drive prices up to the max. It is a really nice way because nobody can just not bid as even if you do not want the lot you are still responsable for the price that the winner pays.
Oh, one thing, there is a higienique drawback to playing this way. Your palms get really sweaty and the money does not quite stand up to this abuse.