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Subject: ACOTM: Advanced Court of the Medici rss

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Grosse Pointe Farms
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My girlfriend and I love this game. We often play it at the park during picnics. It's short and fast and has a beautiful minimalistic quality to it.

However, I have been itching to play a longer version. I somehow want to get to know the mysterious figures behind these Titian portraits.

My girlfriend will often say "I think she is involved with him" or "He will betray the Duke".

Look at those half hidden smirks, that ruthless charm, the stifled fear, those arrogant glances...there is more than meets the eye behind these complex Renaissance characters.

So I designed a variant where the portraits begin to gain personalities. The Court begins to come to life.

This variant takes about 30 to 45 minutes to play and remainds me a bit of chess with cards. Anyway...the girlfriend and I have a riot playing it...when we want a longer game.

ACOTM Variant Rules

You will need a table large enough to hold approximately 50 cards displayed. The noble cards on the table represent the nobility of the Court of Cosimo Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and great grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who has just conquered this territory, destroyed his vicious rival Strozzi and been recognized by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Powerful mafia-like families (in ducal livery) now pay tribute while secretly plotting against the Grand Duke and each other. Medici is a political tyrant who ruthlessly collects taxes while relishing the distribution of pensions, annuties, contracts, titles, offices and patronage to his favorite sycophants, which are of course, constantly changing. Thus invitations to the social events of the Court are swiftest and usually the only path to power and riches.

Each player will choose one House, either the red cards (House Gonzaga) or the blue cards (House Della Rovere) to maneuver for the invitations of the Grand Duke.

Set Up

Select any 8 cards from your deck. Flip coin to see who starts. Players alternate in placing six cards on the table face up. The cards on the table represent nobles who are both at Court and On the List, in other words both members of the Court and receiving invitations from the Grand Duke.

The remaining two cards form your hand, which represents nobles from your House that are currently members of Court but Off the List (not being invited to the dinners, parties, balls and other functions). The deck represents the nobility of your House currently at Court, Off the List and with which you have little or no influence.

Add up the total value of your face up nobles currently on the table using the values on each card. The player with the highest total goes first. Ties flip coin. Shuffle the deck and then alternate turns until the game ends.

The Social Classes

Aristocracy: Duke, Count, Countess, Lord, Lady, Captain-General, Knight, Minister.
Clergy: Cardinal, Praefect, Friar.
Merchant: Merchant, Banker.
Artisan: Architect, Scholar, Poet, Playwright, Painter, Sculptor.
Servant: Chamberlain, Lady-in-Waiting, Jester.

Turn Procedure

When it is your turn you must do ONE of the following:

1. Develop Influence - Draw one card from your deck.

2. Place a Noble On the List - Place a noble card from your hand onto the table alone.

3. Enter an Alliance - Place a noble card from your hand on top of another noble card (from either House). The noble card entering the alliance may be placed face up or face down (see Schemes below). Alliances are groups of nobles who are friends and assist each other politically.

To calculate the value of an alliance add up all the values of the nobles in the alliance (yours and your opponents). The player with the most points in an alliance controls the behavior of the alliance (no one controls ties).

If an alliance reaches five or more noble cards the highest ranked member of the alliance separates and is placed alone on the table. This process continues until the alliance is back down to four cards. This separating occurs AFTER a Turn is complete.

4. Conspire - Place a noble card from your hand onto another card on the table (it may be either placed onto a face up or face down single card or an alliance of either yours or your opponents). If you control the alliance (after placing the card) you may conspire against any other alliance or alone noble (yours or your opponents) on the table.

If the conspiracy attack is successful (the attackers face up points exceed the defenders face up points) the nobles in the defending alliance are placed onto the bottom of their respective decks. If the conspiracy attack is unsuccessful (the attacker’s face up points do not exceed the defender’s face up points) all the cards in the attacking alliance are placed on the bottom of their respective decks.

Also if your opponent has any card in the defending alliance he may Escalate by drawing the top card from his deck, viewing it privately and adding it to the defending alliance either face up or face down (and thus possibly increasing the cumulative value of the defending alliance above yours and changing the result of the attack). If unsatisfied with this result then you may in turn draw a card from your deck and add it to the attacking alliance. Your opponent, if unsatisified with your draw, may in turn draw another card from his deck and place it on the defending alliance. This process continues until both players have drawn up to five cards from their respective decks or the deck runs out. Drawing cards is always optional, players are never forced to draw more cards. If your opponent refuses to draw a card you may then not draw any further cards.

After turning all cards face up, high scoring alliance wins. Ties result in no action. All noble cards of the low scoring alliance are removed from the table and placed onto the bottom of their respective decks. The victor’s cards drawn during Escalation remain in the alliance to which they were added.

This is how a real political confrontation works, the two groups continously attempt to call in allies to Escalate the confrontation until one group either backs off or runs out of allies. Every draw increases the stakes.

At least two nobles stacked together are required to facilitate a conspiracy (a single noble alone may not). A noble already on the table may not facilitate a conspiracy only a noble being played from the deck.

A built up alliance returns to four cards after a conspiracy is complete and the turn ends (see Enter an Alliance).

The Escalation cards may be placed face down or face up. Face down cards are not revealed until the Escalation ends and they do count in terms of total point value and will be put back into their respective decks if they lose. Face down Escalation cards force your opponent to guess as to how many points you have drawn so far.

5. Unsheath a Blade - During this historical period the aristocracy was armed and confrontation with other nobles frequent. High ranking nobles were usually reluctant to attend events without adequate protection as Assassinations, Swordfights and Duels were commonplace.

Only male nobles in the Aristocracy or Merchant class are eligible to participate in a Sword fight (they are only ones who are legally able to bear arms). Players sum all eligible points on the table and in their hand. Count only your male Aristocracy and the Merchants. High score wins. Ties result in no effect.

If the score differential (between high and low) is less than 10 points then one noble from the losing side is wounded (pick one noble on the table from the losing side and place that card at the bottom of the deck). If the differential is 10 or greater than one noble is slain (remove one on-the-table losing noble card from game, owners choice). Remember casualties or fatalities may only be members of the Aristocracy or Merchant class and must be on the table. Nobles in your hand are never affected. Knights are expert swordsmen and count double (14 points during a Swordfight).

6. Rearrange your House Compliment - Turn in any number of cards from your hand to the bottom of the deck and draw an equal number of cards from the top of the deck.

7. Maneuver in Secret - Add a Secret Agent by noting it in the Book of Secrets (see below).

Other Rules

The Duplicity of the Jester - The value of the Jester is always equal to the negative value of the lowest card in the alliance (other than the Jester of course) or zero if the Jester is alone or in alliance with another Jester. Thus if a Jester was in an alliance with a Count (10) and a Lady (8) the total value of the alliance would be 10 (10+8-8=10) as the Jester is now equal to the negative value of the Lady. Any time two or more Jesters are in the same alliance all Jesters are valued at zero. During an Inquisition a Jester also has a zero value.

The Gossip of the Servants - If a Lady-in-Waiting or Chamberlain joins an alliance (taken from your hand and placed on the table face up) the owning player may turn over any face down card on the table, view its identity secretly (meaning he does not have to reveal it to his opponent) and then place it back in its original position face down.

The Liaisons of the Coy and Demure - If a female and a male noble (they may be either from the same House or from opposite Houses) form an alliance without any other additional nobles the pair is considered romantically involved and players are not allowed to add another noble to the romantic alliance. If the romantic alliance is successfully attacked, both cards are placed onto the bottom of the female players’ deck (rather than into their respective decks).

This may possibly lead a player to having in his deck a card belonging to his opponent (a card of the opposite color). The card may be played like any other (and may be included in Escalation even though from your opponent’s House, but once back on the table it belongs to the original owning player) but usually players prefer to keep this type of card in their deck and thus deny their opponent potential points at game end.

While on the table, a romantic alliance is vulnerable to The Book of Secrets (see below) meaning a member of the romantic alliance may move to the alliance of a Secret Agent or a member of the romantic alliance may be a Secret Agent which would allow another noble to move into and turn the romantic alliance into a normal political alliance.

The Blue player has an extra female and thus a small advantage (supposedly). Romantic alliances are a method of removing solitary male nobles from the Court so be quick to find them allies.

The Aesthetic Devicism of the Artisan Class - When any Artisan is placed from your deck onto the table face up you get another Turn. Maximum limit is five turns in a row. Popular artists (such as Michelangelo or Raphael) had powerful influences on Court politics during this period.

The Accusations of the Grand Duke’s Minister - If a Minister joins an alliance of two or more nobles the attacker (player placing the Minister) may (his option) arrest the lowest ranking noble of the alliance (other than the Minister himself). If more than one exists it is the attackers choice. The targeted noble is accused and then executed for treason against the Grand Duke (place the accused card in the discard pile).

The Interrogatories of the Grand Inquisitors - If a member of your Clergy enters an alliance with one of your Ministers or if one of your Ministers enters an alliance with one of your Clergy, the Church may (optional) instigate an “Inquisition Regarding Matters of Heresy”. Accused nobles are arrested, tried in an Ecclesiastical Court and then executed (remove the card from the game). During your Inquisition, you may remove any number of cards from the Court totalling not more than 3 points total (including cards with a zero value).

Example: You could remove one Sculptor (yours or your opponents) worth 3 points or three Ladies-in-Waiting (each worth 1 point totalling 3) and every Jester on the table (each worth zero points so you have 1+1+1+0+0=3). Remove your cards or your opponents or any combination thereof, your choice, Torquemada.

The Wealth of the Merchant Class - When any Merchant or Banker from your hand is placed onto the table you are allowed to draw a card from your deck and place it in your hand (normally this would require a separate turn). You may not use the newly drawn card that turn (as you have already played a card).

The Schemes within Schemes within Schemes - When placing a noble card on the table a player may choose to place the card face up or face down.

Face up cards indicate Overt Alliances and face down cards indicate Covert Alliances.

If placed face down the card may be turned face up by the owner at any time (including in the middle of any action by either player). Until it is turned face up the card does not participate in attacking or defending during a conspiracy (do not count the face down cards points in either confrontation), a Swordfight or an Inquisition.

You may turn over any of your own face down cards at any time, meaning you could begin the turn with a card face down and then turn it face up in time to attack via conspiracy, defend or participate in a Swordfight or Inquisition.

If an alliance is eliminated during a conspiracy attack the face down card is eliminated with it even though points do not count in the defending or attacking alliance’s total if it is still face down.

A face down card may not be placed alone on the table. A face down card that is alone on the table due to circumstances may not be attacked via conspiracy. A face down card in alliance will make your opponent hesitate before attacking (since he does not know the value and thus an attack could backfire).

Once a card is placed face down the owning player may not look at the value of the card but may turn the card face up anytime.

The Book of Secrets

A Secret Agent is a noble that is part of an alliance but has a hidden agenda. .

At the beginning of the game all cards in both decks are placed on the table for both players to see. You and your opponent may write down two names of Secret Agents (covert operatives loyal to you and willing to betray their alliance) on a piece of paper that is referred to as The Book of Secrets. The Secret Agent may be from your House or your opponents.

The Book of Secrets is never revealed to your opponent but you may announce a Secret Agent at any time. The Book of Secrets only applies to conspiracies, never Swordfights, Treason or Heresy.

If a defending noble from your House is about to be eliminated by a conspiracy the owner of the defending noble may move it from its current location to the location of a Secret Agent, assuming the Secret Agent is in his Book of Secrets, on the table and face up. The noble being attacked may (optional) move to his Secret Agent and not the other way around.

If the movement causes a new alliance of over four cards follow the procedure under Conspire to reduce the alliance back down to four cards after Turn end.

Moving out of an alliance assures the moving nobles they will not be eliminated but others who remain in the alliance will be.

You do not have to announce a Secret Alliance (always owners’ option), it may be kept hidden until strategically appropriate.

Each house may accumulate an unlimited number of Secret Agents. Nobles may be added to The Book of Secrets by using a turn (see above). No limit on the number of nobles that may move to the alliance of the Secret Agent but the nobles must be under attack from a conspiracy.

If the Secret Agent is already in the alliance being attacked then the Secret Agent and all members of the defending alliance are placed back onto the bottom of their respective decks (unless another Secret Agent in a different location is available to move to).

If a noble is in a romantic alliance it may move to the alliance of a Secret Agent if under a conspiracy attack (in this case if the Secret Agent is alone and of the opposite sex the move would form a new romantic alliance).

A noble in a romantic alliance may be a Secret Agent and thus another noble may move into the alliance if under attack turning the romantic alliance into a normal political alliance.

Example: The Blue player has the Blue Countess listed as a Secret Agent. The Blue Countess is on the table and face up. An alliance of the Blue Painter, the Red Banker and the Blue Lord is successfully attacked via conspiracy. The Blue player has the option of moving the Blue Painter and/or the Blue Lord to the alliance of the Blue Countess and escaping. The Red Banker is placed on the bottom of his respective deck as a result of the conspiracy attack.

Example: The Blue player has a romantic alliance of Blue Count and Blue Lady-in-Waiting. Blue Count is a Secret Agent for the Blue player. Another alliance of Blue Architect and Blue Banker is successfully attacked. The Blue player may (optional) move both (or either) Blue Architect and/or Blue Banker into the alliance of Blue Count and Blue Lay-in-Waiting. This new alliance is no longer a romantic alliance and either player may now add new nobles.

Game End

Game ends when one House dominates the Invitational List of the Court (all nobles on the table are from that House) or 10 nobles are eliminated (killed in a Sword Fight or executed for Treason or Heresy) or a player no longer has any cards in his hand and the deck is exhausted. Player with the most points on the table, after turning all cards face up, wins (do not count cards in your hand or in the deck).

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Jeffrey Nolin
Nakamachi, Hiroshima
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Sorry, I wish I had been able to make it past the first couple of paragraphs of your advanced rules to see if you were doing anything more than complicating a really great game. I started to feel the fun being drained from my present impression of the game, so I stopped reading. Were these changes prompted by your love for another game with these other rules?
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Mark Mitchell
United Kingdom
East Sussex
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Nice work, really appreciated here, I look forward to playing this variant, can't get better than adding more players, flavour and depth. How have you found it has played out over time?
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Richard James
United States
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To answer your question:

I find that I constantly struggle with the law of unintended consequences when I design games. Unless the skeleton of the design is extremely well structured, the more rules that there are, the more likely it will be that a perverse incentive structure will emerge in permutations of play that I did not anticipate.

Court of the Medici was originally a 2-4 player game. However, during playtesting, I was unable to find a solution to a problem of intentional, or unintentional, king-making. When someone makes a mistake in a two player game, then they suffer the consequences of their mistake. They lose and justice is preserved. However, when a mistake by one player can lead a third player to lose despite all their carefully laid plans, then justice is lacking for the third player. The game becomes not fun. My attempts to rectify this problem only created even worse problems, so the number of players was reduced to 2. Despite the fact that it had already been sold to the publisher as more than that!

I also toyed with the idea of giving each different number a special power, not just the minister, jester and lady-in-waiting. Since the value of the cards for scoring is inversely related to the value of cards for play (ie. 10s are as valuable as they are vulnerable), I realized that every card could have a special function without unbalancing the game too much. However, this idea never developed very far on account of two main reasons: (1) every additional power would exponentially increase rules clarifications for card interaction (2) the game is mentally taxing as is - more special powers would add an unnecessary, and unwanted, additional level of complexity. The three powers that do exist are very simple - and decently intuitive. In the end, they were chosen in order to balance each other and solve problems associated with game play that emerged in playtesting. Once those problems were solved, then it became unnecessary to add any more.

Your variant is interesting though. Insofar as it changes the fundamental mechanic of the game, it may allow for many more additional rules without resulting in too much mental complexity, king-making or rules clarifications. If it can do this, then it has promise for solving a problem I could not (multiple players) and integrating an element that I personally find fascinating (collectibility).
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