Princes of Florence – What if it had been an Essen 2014 release?

Assertion: Princes of Florence would have been a middle of the pack game if it had been released at Essen 2014.

Agree or disagree?

Imaginary review of a new game called Princes of Florence: PoF has tons of auctions, and aren’t we all tired of those, with some odd and irrelevant spatial aspects tacked on. Furthermore, you can easily get locked out of the second half if you don’t get additional characters, so it is non-newbie friendly.  In addition the valuations are highly variable and getting a few cheap jesters breaks the game.  Try it to get a taste, but does it have legs?

Tom Rosen: Kramer & Ulrich have struck gold again!  This impressive duo has proven their versatility with the recent release of a new entry in the big-box Alea line — Princes of Florence.  After providing gamers with such diverse offerings as El Grande, Die Handler, and El Caballero, Kramer & Ulrich have now gone in a completely new direction with their latest design.  Princes of Florence is reminiscent of Dorn’s classic Goa in its auction-action breakdown, where the players have a limited number of rounds (8 in Goa and only 7 in PoF), each of which is broken down into a distinct auction half and an action half.  As a result, players have to make use of different skill sets, both valuation during the bidding and economizing on their limited available actions.  Princes even includes a clever spatial element that rewards players for long-term planning.  This game has it all and is sure to be a classic in the years to come.

Greg J. Schloesser:  Disagree.  Princes of Florence remains solidly entrenched in my personal Top 10.  I still play it once or twice a year, and it is always a tense, exciting game filled with those agonizing decisions I love.  It has lost none of its lustre since its release.  A top-notch game that I will be playing and enjoying far into the future.

Ted Cheatham:  Disagree.  It depends on how you classify the “middle of the pack”. Princes of Florence is a very good game.  Like Greg, I play it once per year or so.  Comparing it to the current crop, it is an auction game that turns into multi-player solitaire and, an experienced player has a huge advantage that can come from a fairly one directional strategy.  That said, I still believe it would fall in the pack with the other top games from 2011 such as 20th Century, Pantheon, Burgund, etc.  So, my answer is that it would fall in the “middle of the pack” of the top games of this year.  And, remember, if it had come out this year, it would be a fresh idea that had not been fully explored to look back in hindsight.

Mark Jackson: Disagree. I like that you have a game where the theme (keep those geniuses happy so they can create great works) meshes well with the mechanics and where the auctions are important to the game but are structured so that they don’t drone on & on. I like the “draw 5 keep 1” card mechanic, which means the chances of a bad card draw (I’m looking at you, Amun-Re) are limited. Most of all, I love that your fate is determined in 21 moves – 7 auctions & 14 actions – there’s a purity about the design that makes me happy in my heart.

Larry Levy:  Yeah, I don’t agree with the assertion at all.  While it’s true that PoF doesn’t come out as often as I’d like, I love it each time I play.  But ignoring my own personal bias (it’s one of only five games I rate a 10), there’s no way this game would be considered “middle of the pack”.  The tight, multifaceted nature of the design would stand out at any point in time.  The fact that there’s only 21 actions grabs your attention right away.  Plus, there’s the attractive theme, the polyominos, and the fact that any Alea big box game demands attention.  But the biggest point is that, even after more than 10  years, there really aren’t any games that feel like Princes.

Would it be a top-flight, award winning game if it debuted in 2011 instead of 2000?  I’d like to think so, but it’s possible it might get a bit lost in the crush of new titles.  But middle of the pack?  Never!

Melissa Rogerson: Disagree. Sure, the theme has been done to death, and the graphic design is perhaps not quite up to 2011 standards, but I am a sucker for that limited number of actions mechanic. And Princes of Florence just gets it right. It’s like a chrome-less version of Days of Wonder’s Colosseum, only better. Even the annoying polyomino mechanic makes thematic sense.

It was love at first sight, for me. PoF was my first “10”-rated game (the others are Agricola and Halli Galli, with Goa and Caylus close behind). It’s as close to perfect as I have seen.

Patrick Brennan: Disagree. It’s still one of the best auction games out there, and still hits the table multiple times each year. It really shines when played amongst experienced players, where the valuations are broadly known and therefore tightly contested – how far over general value consensus can you afford to go without throwing away the game given what other people have done so far and likely to do next. There’s exactly the right balance between actions and auctions to keep the game flowing rather than being repetitive. And it would be remiss of me to complete a review without mentioning the cool polyominos! I did a quick trawl through the BGG ratings – many people have rated this a 10 who played it for the first time in just the last year or two, which shows it’s not just a nostalgia bandwagon thing going on here,

Lucas Hedgren: Disagree. Yeah, sorry, can’t be the contrarian here. I share Tom’s view that this has a similar structure to Goa, and even if had come out after that great game, I still would view it as superior. The “Draw 5, Pick 1” mechanic for all the cards in the game strikes a perfect balance between control and luck. The polyominos are fun to configure. The rising minimum work value increases the tension, as you sometimes need to strive to meet it. The auctions _are_ the interaction, other than then “best work of the turn” contest, but that is ok with me as the game requires such planning. Any more overt messing of others’ plans would not allow for that satisfying plan to come to fruition. I’ve always said that if you don’t know by turn 3 or 4 what the rest of your actions are going to be, you are probably not going to win. That doesn’t bode well for inexperienced players versus veterans, but when equally experience players compete, really bring out the sweet spot of PoF.

Brian Leet: Partially agree. This game has a lot going for it, but will it catch the attention of gamers amid the swirl of new options? The mix of elements seems reasonably well thought out, but you need a group where the players know the values well to keep the auctions balanced. Given the play time it was well represented, with the few copies in constant circulation, but it isn’t clear whether that will make it a runaway hit. Tossing the same rock into a larger lake makes the ripples look smaller. Not a middle of the pack game overall, but listed amidst several new games of which to take note, without special mention.

That’s what I’d expect of the general reaction. I’ll admit that PoF never grabbed me, so personally it would indeed have been a middle of the pack game this past year. A matter of taste, but in the same genre I’d choose 20th Century ahead of it as an auction game, and several others across genres.

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6 Responses to Princes of Florence – What if it had been an Essen 2014 release?

  1. For opinionated gamers, you guys sure agree with each other a lot :)

  2. Matt J Carlson says:

    Hmm… While my opinion would probably not go on to define any game as top-flight or middle-of-the-pack, I think the key point taken here again and again is the need for the game to be played with experienced players… I see that as a huge burden to overcome with new games… do you really think the masses will muddle through the auctions of the game enough times to get to the point where the game is deemed “great?” I’m not so sure. (I play with less “dedicated” gamers so we are often much more “game of the moment”…)

    • huzonfirst says:

      Matt, my response to that is to point out that Terra Mystica is the #2 ranked game on the Geek. It is clearly a game that needs to be played by experienced players (even more so than Princes, IMO), but that hasn’t kept it from being widely considered to be “great”. I have no reason to believe that wouldn’t also be the case if Princes was released today.

      • Dan Blum says:

        I concur.

        More generally, I will note that most players (in my experience) are perfectly willing to play a game more than once if it seems interesting. Terra Mystica, while definitely having the potential to overwhelm new players, meets that criterion for many people. I don’t see any reason to expect PoF that wouldn’t.

        Where a lot of newer games run into trouble is that (a)they seem kind of dull on a first play and (b)they supposedly only come alive with repeated play. It’s possible that (b) is true for some of these games, but most players aren’t going to find out because no one has time to play every new game even once, never mind enough times to be absolutely certain they’re not missing some subtleties.

  3. Jacob Lee says:

    Had PoF not come out when it did so many other games may not have either. It inspired so many designs. And then were it come out now it would blow us away. I think KanBan is one of the best games to come out in 2014 . . . but I think it could also get forgotten in time. Princes of Florence may still go through reprints in 20 years.

  4. seisyll says:

    I _absolutely_ agree that Princes of Florence wouldn’t create quite the stir if it were released today. (And I believe this is doubly true of El Grande.) I say this as an enormous fan of PoF. It seems like PoF has spawned a generation of games. Most Feld games feel like children of this game – what with a tableau, card powers, and somewhat diverse avenues for scoring points. The tetrisy buildings give it that feeling of a game inside of a game that is virtually everywhere now. Glen More, Bora Bora, Ora and Labora – they all feel like mixed-up versions of what Princes of Florence had going for it. But without auctions, which have fallen out of vogue. (Another reason why I think Princes of Florence wouldn’t quite garner the attention.)

    So what I’m saying is that there are a lot of equivalents to Princes of Florence today, which means it just isn’t as unique. But the trouble with this line of reason is that without Princes of Florence, I genuinely wonder if the landscape would be totally different. In which case, perhaps it wouldn’t have so much competition and actually would cause quite the stir. :)

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