The Cult of the Old

The Princes of Florence

Words by Tony Boydell

20 February 2023

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The Princes of Florence is a medium-weight strategic boardgame from the late 1990s - hot off the heels of Catan - that mixes actiontaking, 'recipe fulfilment', polyomino placement and auctions providing a toolkit for players to create the most prestigious Renaissance community of artisans and craftsmen.

The Princes of Florence is an exemplary exercise in optimization: you only get twenty one actions in the entire game - seven of them being opportunities to buy stuff at auction - with which to play out your Professions (the 'recipes'), earn your money and invest for the end game.

These Professions, when played,have a Works Value calculated on how complete its requirements are (the recipe) and can be supplemented by special bonuses; the final Works Value is converted to cash and then you decide how to split it.

Like many designs that came in its wake, The Princes of Florence forces you to decide between cash for now and banked points for later – the most delicious of dilemmas because, should you have to drop out of the bidding or 'lose by one', it's all your own fault for not planning properly.

Within this simple and intuitive framework of tricky options, the game is also willfully obstructive: making it progressively harder toplay out Professions (with a mandatory, minimum Works Value increasing each round); harder to build your community (your polyomino buildings have to exist in a confined, "no touching!" space); and by limiting the total resources available.

There are, however, several 'outs' for the befuddled collector of ingredients; design generously offers players the chance to "do what others aren't" by gifting Prestige Point bonuses in other ways: duplicating tiles, concentrating on building and/or fulfilling endgame scoring cards - you can win this game by (almost) ignoring Professions altogether.

Such a balancing of approach - aka the now-ubiquitous 'multiple paths to victory' - speaks further to the game's pioneering importance in the evolution of the modern Euro.

I should really return to the auctions as these are the black heart of the game; all the key elementsfor scoring can only be acquired in this phase: landscapes (ingredients), builders (helping with the polyomino problem), jesters (Work Value boosting), prestige cards (end game scoring) and the clever Recruitment card (lets you 'play' a Profession that someone else has already played).

When it's your turn as auctioneer in the phase, what item should you offer as a Lot (only one of each can be sold each round) and when do you offer it? Tracking other players' wants is essential, so should you lead off with something of no interest just to narrow down the bidding field later?

Bidding starts at 200 with increments restricted to 100 at a time (no jumping) and you might find yourself priced out at the wrong moment OR (joy of joys) picking up an absolute bargain. Everyone will get something - whether it's what they want is all down to timing, bluffing, up-bidding and shenanigans.

It might be an 'old' game but The Princes of Florence feels as fresh and innovative today as it would have done twenty years ago; its easy to teach and seamlessly-integrated rules offer a tight, highly-interactive and impressive challenge.

A timeless classic.

Tony Boydell is a game designer, and proprietor of the Museum of Boardgames in Newent, Gloucestershire.
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