OK, technically, a prince and a princess. And Apologies to anyone who got a Spin Doctors song in their head after reading that subject. It happened to me and I was forced to share.
I had not even considered playing Princes with 2 before. Recently, I introduced Thurn & Taxis to my group and one of them wanted to borrow it. He then proffered Princes of Florence (which he had brought in case we had 5). I regarded him with confusion and he told me there was a decent two player variant. So I gave it a try.
Having since looked at the Variants forum here and seen the list of official and unofficial variants for 2 players, I realize I now need to say which variant the box contained. It is one originally posted on hilinski.net, in which the minimum bids are set for each item in each round (based on a WBC game) and the availability of some resources is restricted. It has a ghost player, but only as far as meeting a minimum standard to get Best Work and also to give the living players some extra professions to Recruit. It turns out that the original file is no longer there and so I re-typed it and added it to BGG. You can find it here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/44034
So my wife J and I tried it out. I had played PoF before, several years ago. J had not played it all. So something of a refresher was in order and that first game was that. The main thing I remember about it was I bought lots of jesters and J bought two prestige cards, but I had nothing to do in my last action of the game and J made both Prestige cards to overtake me in the final scoring.
Second game, the planning was a bit more thought through, for me at least. We both had diverse professions, needing a lot of different buildings. However, it was me that got the early Builders and J fell behind and lost heart a bit.
The third game was the best one of the series. After the previous game, I did not want to butt heads too much with my beloved. After reviewing my professions, as well as seeing the early moves from the ghost and my opponent, I realized that a no-builder game was quite feasible. I played to get 2 recruiters and all 3 landscapes. I got 2 freedoms before they became unavailable and I had all 3 professions in the University. I played an early work basically for the income, without the required building. J and the ghost played one each from the Laboratory, so that became my 2nd building. I picked up 2 or 3 Bonus cards as well as a Jester too. I think I only made one Best Work, but I definitely had the quantity of work down.
Coming into the late game, J had 3 jesters and 2 builders, a park and a lake. She got a nice bonus card that played into her collection of medium-sized buildings. She ended up on 51 points, with no prestige card in hand.
I did two works last turn. One lacked the freedom but was pushed up to the required standards by a bonus card. So neither was stellar but both combined to give me a good haul in points. It took me to 49 and a prestige card in hand.
I turned it over.
See, I had taken that card first turn. I had hoped to use it as a basis for my game, combined with my other strategies. But the crop I had in those 5 choices had been tricky. Most parks, most lakes, most landscapes - all 3 seemed risky early on and even a little wasteful (why buy an extra park when I could buy an extra Recruiter?). There was one for most buildings - with me planning to build as few as possible. And then there was fewest empty spaces.
J had that one covered by quite a way.
So I lost by 2 points. But it was quite a satisfying loss somehow.
And so, yes, we did enjoy the 2 player version. The auction is rather flat. The group think (if 2 can make a group) was that if you bid second and raise, then the other player passes, allows you to pay above minimu and then gets something else useful for minimum price. So the variant set minimums almost defaulted to 'the price you pay for that'. Though J being unwilling to bid above minimum for builders in the 2nd game ended up hurting her, so there is some point to evaluating what the item is worth to you.
Resources are minimally impacted by the changes to the game - you only can get at most 2 extra professions (and you should only ever get 1) and you have to be quite dedicated to get all 3 freedoms. The buildings are quite freely available - I have not played it enough with more players to know if that is often a source of conflict. I did read something of the other variants and might suggest adding to this one a rule such that if one player bids on a Landscape, the other may not. That would add some tension, I am sure.
If nothing else, it was an enjoyable hour or so and has re-awoken that feeling I get when playing a game with a lot of planning (and recall from playing PoF before) - how to best fit the actions you want into the matrix of 7 bids and 14 actions, so even if it is not quite as tense as the full game, it does scratch something of that itch at least. It has also given me a drive to get 5 players together for a full game. Which can't be bad.