Gaming Unplugged: The Princes of Florence

July 24, 2007

Which Renaissance aristocrat can inspire the greatest intellectual works and gain the most prestige amongst his peers? That’s the premise behind The Princes of Florence (Princes), a game that combines auctions, restricted actions, limited resources, and a wide variety of options into seven turns of possibilities.

The strategy inherent in Princes begins before the actual gameplay, as you get to choose your starting roster of three Professions out of the four cards dealt to you; each Profession is inspired by different buildings, landscapes, and freedoms that you can potentially add to your palazzo over the course of your seven turns. Once that’s taken care of and you’ve received your starting Florins, the game begins.

Each turn is divided into two phases. In the Auction phase, each player bids on one of seven items that can aid them in their journey of inspiration; this is the only way these items can be acquired, so you will only be able to obtain seven of them over the course of the game — choose wisely. Further coplicating the matter is that once a specific item has been won, no other player can win that item on that turn, presenting a potential opportunity to deny your rivals of a vital piece of their strategy… that is, if you can outbid them. There’s also a limited number of each item available, so don’t miss your chance to pick up something you really need.

After the final player wins an item at the Auction, each player enters his Action Phase, wherein they have two opportunities with which to complete five different actions. These actions include completing the Work of one (or two) of your Professions, which is the primary method for gaining Prestige — and the only way to earn more Florins for future purchases… but at the expense of some of your hard-earned Prestige. Of course, unless you use actions to add buildings (if you have space) and freedoms (if any are left), the Works produced in your palazzo won’t be worth very much, so you need to plan carefully. As an additional complication, each turn carries an ever-increasing “minimum Work value”; if you can’t meet that minimum value, then you can’t produce a Work that turn… maybe you should invest in your palazzo (or a Bonus card to goose a future Work’s value) instead?

Once the final turn has ended, there is one final phase in which any Prestige Cards (purchased at Auction) may come into play. These can be powerful, game-swinging effects that might add from three to as much as eight Prestige points to your score if you can meet the conditions on the card. Picking one of these up early will allow you to tailor your plans to meet their conditions, but at the expense of a potentially vital stage of early palazzo development. After these last-minute adjustments, whoever has the most Prestige is the winner.

As you can see, Princes offers a dizzying array of options and a tormentingly limited number of chances to take the ones you want (or need). There are strategic decisions that have to be made at every turn, and making the wrong choice could result in a sacrifice of Prestige in order to fill your meager coffers with enough Florins to proceed. It’s a delicate balance that may seem overwhelmingly complicated at first, but most players pick up on the basics quickly and are soon in the clutches of the varied strategy provided by Princes.

The physical appearance of Princes isn’t quite as intricate as the actual gameplay, however. There is a substantial amount of text, including three different types of cards (actually four, but Recruiting cards are all identical), and some rules aren’t outlined on the players’ palazzo sheets, so additional reading for reminders might be necessary on occasion. The other pieces are mostly lightweight cardboard with basic illustrations; the Florins are a little thicker, because they get handled more often. Landscapes and buildings are arranged in Tetris-like structures that must be fitted into your palazzo’s limited space when purchased; additionally, buildings cannot be adjacent to each other unless you have won your second Builder at Auction, adding yet another layer to the game’s strategy. The final components are colored wooden markers for keeping score on the track and for marking which Auction items have been won by which player.

Of course, Princes isn’t out to win any beauty contests. The very premise of the game is the completion of great intellectual works (ok… some of those have aesthetic roots), so naturally its greatest strength is its intellectual challenge. While this may provide something of a barrier to the more casual gamer, the depth of play offered by Princes will reward anyone willing to give it a shot (or two).