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Pierce Ostrander
United States
New Mexico
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Princes of the Renaissance

Players: Alex, Fubar, Helge, Charity, Rich

Fubar and Helge had never played, but Fubar had read the rules. Alex was the “old pro” with 3 or 4 previous games under his belt. Rich and Charity had both played before (more than once in each case, I believe).

Alex started with an artist patron family, ditto for Helge. Rich took the family with the Condottierre discount, Charity a family that could hold extra treachery and I took D’Este with the Artillery bonus. The first time around the table, everyone purchased a military unit. I took an Artillery unit intending to become a military power, but by the time it came around to me again, it was clear that Charity, Helge and Rich were all persuing the military option, so in the second round I bought a treachery tile instead, realizing that if 4 players were all trying to become military powers, it would be very difficult to win in that way. Alex kept his powder dry also – buying a single pike man and putting an event tile (artist) up for auction.

By the third time around the table, it was clear to me that I needed to come up with a non-military strategy. The treachery tile I picked up was a “bribe cardinal” (discount of 3 when buying the pope). I knew I would need to come up with a non-military source of money, and also that I would need to concentrate on getting influence rather than gold (Alex was better prepared to play the “fall guy” with his single pike man). So, I put up a Rome tile for auction – one that provided an additional +1 discount for the pope plus 2 influence. Rome was low on the status track and the +1 pope purchase benefit was not very popular, so he came cheap. The next round I put up (and won the auction for) the Doge (a Venice city tile) that offered both influence and gold. Alex was my only competition (others had spent quite a bit of money on military units and events – which went very quickly in the first round). I think Alex was going for merchants, but it was hard to decipher his strategy – I think he was just keeping his options open.

For my last auction, I put up the pope, and won him with a discount of 4. I had burned up pretty much all my gold and influence (at some point in the rapid auctioning of the event tiles, I had picked up Gozzoli with his +2 VP). We had very few wars in the first decade, I entered one in “holy alliance” using the pope's special ability in order to boost one of my cities.

Because of my city tiles and the pope, I got an extra dose of influence and gold going into the second round (4 extra influence, 5 extra gold). There had been few wars fought (I think only 1!) so there was little gold earned in the first decade. I actually think that I received the most gold and influence going into the second round.

The first decade ended very rapidly, the four event tiles were auctioned off in quick succession: I think we only did about 6 or 7 rounds of the table and there were no wars fought. This was largely due to Alex and Fubar, who were both on paths that favored moving the game along quickly. We were both surprised when Charity spent a turn to put the second-to-last event tile up for auction, this seemed like a bad move because she was building an army. There was another moment (I think when I purchased the pope) when Alex and Rich looked at each other with that “this guy doesn’t have a clue” look. They were right! I had no idea if my strategy would work, since I had not read about it in the strategy guide. Basically, by the end of the first decade I was committed to a “Holy Alliance” strategy, consisting of the following principles:

1. Buy the pope every decade – for the extra gold and holy alliance ability
2. Get city tiles early to earn the extra gold and influence as many times as possible
3. move the game along as fast as you can
4. Have a military force that is big enough to make a difference in a holy alliance, but also small enough that you can play the fall guy now and then for extra gold (my single artillery unit with the +1 D’Este bonus was enough)
5. Save enough influence to get the “French Invade” tile at the end of the last decade, boosting your cities in one of the few ways you can.

The second two decades were both longer and featured more wars (all 5 each decade). I bought the pope in both decades and used the “holy alliance” feature in favor of my cities (Rome and Venice). I vetoed one war and also picked up the extra “start war” treachery tile, which stayed safely in my possession for the rest of the game, unused (the last thing I wanted was more war!). I picked up a Florence tile (Giovanni Medici: another 1 discount when purchasing the pope) in the second decade, primarily because one of the stronger military powers (Rich) and the most experienced player (Alex) had also gone for Florence. The +1 pope ability was nice, but not critical. The neat thing about going for the pope strategy, is that no one else tends to be interested in the special abilities or the tiles you are going for, so you get them cheap.

In the final decade, I got the pope again and then saved my influence in order to purchase “French Invade”, putting the Ghirlandaio tile up right before, not intending to buy it but just to cause others to spend more influence. Alex took the bait and everyone else was spending their influence fighting wars, so the French Invade tile was mine for the taking when it came up as the final event of the game.

My three cities were 1st, 2nd and 3rd as we went into the scoring round (Venice, Florence, Rome). The final VP count was close, with Charity in first place (she had 10 VP from Laurels) but I came in second with the “Holy Alliance” Strategy – which was gratifying for my first play.

This is a great game! I had read the strategy articles and the one thing that stuck with me was that you must commit yourself to a particular approach and stick to it. In the middle of the first decade, when I had given up on the military path (because it was overcrowed) and I didn’t have a plan yet, I was really worried. But as things came together toward the end of the decade, I felt more confident – at least I had a plan and was not just doing whatever came up (which I knew from reading was especially bad in this game.

Even though I didn’t follow one of the “accepted” strategies, just picking a path and sticking to it seemed to work pretty well. If a novice player like me can “discover” an approach that works (2nd place out of 5 ain’t bad) then this is really a good game. There are many paths to victory, and some of them are unorthodox.

Wow. Great game.
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