Monday, September 24, 2007

Princess of Florence

I've always been a fan of Princes of Florence.

Over the years, it's proven to be an excellent game. It provides a little bit of lots of things, auctioning, planning, spatial layout, etc. All the different bits adding up to a complete package that has never struck me as painfully solitaire, scripted, or any of the other complaints I've heard. I enjoy the fact that the auction is very new-auction-person friendly because you must raise by exactly one step and the more you lose, the more likely you are to pay less money.

Over the years of many games of Princes, I've seen auction values solidify. The jesters are worth lots of money, the landscapes aren't. Building is a viable strategy, but only if the auction values are high. To sum up, there are several paths and choices to take in obtaining victory, and the best paths often depend on the auction value of jesters and recruiting cards. If those items are going cheaply to players who know what to do with them....

But that's the case with most games where an auction is used to balance disparate items. I've run through my thoughts in order to give you a background of where I'm coming from, since I've recently finished playing Princes of Florence with the "Princess and Muse" expansion1.

It was great. Easily the best expansion for a game I've played all year. I wish I didn't have to play with the printouts from BGG. Why was it great?

It changed the game. Princess and Muse adds another auction to the game. After the standard PoF auction, players then bid on character cards. There are six characters that are auctioned in a Amun-Re/Evo/Vegas Showdown style. This means that all characters are auctioned at once, players can win at most one character, by placing their markers next to the cards on the amount they want to bid, taking markers off when they are outbid. Once each player has a winning bid on a character (or has passed), players pay the current bid and get the character they won.

I won't detail the characters abilities here (files available at BGG), but the abilities of the characters throw all the traditional auction valuation of PoF into disarray. To underline this fact to regular PoF players - in our game one player obtained four jesters. He came in fifth. Several of the characters have abilities that provide greater competition for Best Work towards the end of the game. Landscapes become more valuable. Hanging back in Victory points becomes a valid strategy. More prestige/bonus cards can enter the game. It changes a lot of things. All interesting.

In summary, it opened up new ways to win the game, and strengthened some older risky strategies. By doing this, the stronger strategies were weakened. It also feels like it increased the scores - the winning scores were about 10-15 points higher than normal. But that's hard to state with just one play.

It fit. The addition of the characters didn't feel jarring, and it didn't feel like a leftover idea. It feels like a fully developed add-on to the game. This is important to me - all too often expansions feel like the leftovers of design or development - ideas that get published after being rejected for the initial design. Princess really feels like a further development of the game.

But I would be remiss to not mention the drawback. There's one, which you could probably see coming. It adds time to the game. With the addition of another auction phase, our game took about 1.5 times as long. Part of this was obviously learning the characters, but I doubt a game of PoF with this expansion could be done in 60 minutes - something that was theoretically possible for a group of experienced players. So I wouldn't recommend the expansion become a permanent part of PoF - especially when teaching new players.

Two big thumbs up for Princess and Muse. If you like PoF, I encourage you to grab the translations from BGG and give it a try. The files aren't the best of quality - but it's good enough to play the expansion.



1 A recent republication of Princes in Dutch shipped with three expansions to the more common Alea/Rio Grande version. The changes are: Two-player rules, the "Princess and Muse", and "Cooperative Building". I'd also like to try the Cooperative building rules, but haven't yet2.

2 And these aren't actually the first expansions for PoF. They are simply the first published ones. Kramer (the designer) posted a series of tweaks and changes to the game on his website several years ago. These tweaks are obviously less developed than the Princess expansion - my guess is that the newer expansions came out of his tweaking the game. I've never used any of the tweaks, though we kept planning to do so3.

3 Okay, enough already! But I also felt I should mention that we do use one rule tweak in our games of PoF, and we have since the dawn of time(tm). That rule is as follows: "In a 4-5 player game of PoF, once there is only one profession card left in the deck, that card is turned face up next to the board. No player can buy this card, but it can be recruited as normal". This means that no player has an 'extra' profession card. Unless a player decides to forgo a profession card and another player snatches it. End of tiered footnotes.

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