Reiner Knizia doesn’t seem to be in vogue with modern gamers, and never was with the Spiel des Jahres jury.
One SdJ pöppel, 18 years after his first published game, for what was no more than a rehash of an early hit, seems a very poor return for his career.
Maybe the problem is that he has been so prolific. With more than 600 published games, there are bound to be a few misses, especially as he has done a lot of work for various franchises, most notably LOTR. A tie in with a film or with LEGO does wonders for sales and royalties but is unlikely to impress serious gamers.
But from the early 90s into the 2000s he produced a run of games that are still classics. They are notable for having relatively simple rules, especially when compared to some more modern games, but still giving players a plethora of interesting decisions. Medici fits this description perfectly. What could be simpler than 3 rounds of auctions, with each round causing scoring for both the total score of all your cards, and also for the number you have in each of five categories? Add in a couple of minor quirks, a double score non-category card, and bonuses for higher scores for one type of card and you’re done.
But how many decisions go into each round. How many cards do you draw when it’s your turn in the auction? Stop after the first one if it suits you? Or draw more, in the hopes that something even better turns up? Which categories should you shoot for, which do you sacrifice? Go for broke and concentrate on one or two types, hoping for a couple of first places with bonuses, or look for a bunch of second and third places?
And then there is the limit on cards you may win, five per round. Do you pick up that lovely set of three early, knowing that you will be blocked out of bidding on later sets of three, or do you save your powder and hope to pick up a bargain late on? How much should you bid? Will this set suit an opponent better than it suits you? Will it suit them too well and give them too much of advantage? Should you bid high to drive up the price, or stay low and hope that no one else steps in? Wait for your own auctions when you can choose the number of cards and have the last bid, or jump in on someone else’s, even though other players will bid after you?
So many decisions to make, any one of which could make the difference between winning and losing. And each one is intensified by the fact that every ducat that you spend in an auction, is one point less for you at the end of the game.
So that’s Medici, a slim set of rules, half of which are examples of play, some basic, if attractive, art work on the 36 cards and board, a few wooden discs. Not much really for your money. No minis, no packs of several hundred cards, no celebrity artist.
But what you do get is a game that, according to BGG Marketplace, is available for £20 or less (although it goes for a lot more in the U.S, despite the fact that Rio Grande published a version), that scales well between 3 and 6 players, packs into a thin box, plays in well under an hour, and yet gives you an intense gaming experience.
And that, for me, is a bargain.