Princes of Florence
- Publisher: Korea Board Games / Wizkids
- Designers: Wolfgang Kramer, Richard Ulrich, Jens Christopher Ulrich
- Players: 1-5
- Age: 12+
- Time: 70-90 mins
- Played with review copies provided by Korea Boardgames/Wizkids. Played >50 times (estimation) with older versions (alea/RGG)
Says the rulebook: “Assume the role of the head of an Italian aristocratic dynasty and lead your family like the Medici or Borgia. The players support the builders, artists, and scholars so that their completed works will bring their families fame and prestige. As the patrons of the creators of great works, the players seek to multiply their fame and reputations, but only one will become the most prestigious Princess or Prince of Florence! “
As SPIEL 2022 rolled around, one of the most anticipated games for me was the Korea Board Games version of Princes of Florence, a game which first came out in 2000. For me, this one of the classic standard bearers of the hobby. Back then, we probably introduced people to games via Die Siedler, but then, when they were ready for more complexity, surely it was PoF, El Grande or maybe Torres that came next?
I’ll skip my usual review format and skip to the money shot for those of you who are already familiar with the game… The base game and rules are the same. A few expansions are included in the box (the Muse and the Princess, Cooperative Building) as well as a new solo game! The art has also been re-done by Lukas Siegmon – whose work you might be familiar with from Hallertau, Applejack or Reykholt, and it is an improvement both from the aesthetic perspective as well as the functional perspective. The art is also more inclusive, which I find appealing.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ll re-purpose the gameplay description from fellow Opinionated Gamers Chris Wray’s excellent retrospective from his IGA re-review articles…:
— copied text —
In Princes of Florence, three to five players each become the head of an Italian aristocratic dynasty during the Golden Age of the Renaissance. Each player must support builders, artists, and scholars (called “professions”) so that they complete works and bring their family fame and prestige.
Princes of Florence is played over seven rounds, with each round having an auction phase and an action phase. The player with the most prestige points (PP) at the end of seven rounds is the winner. Throughout the game, each player controls a principality, which is represented by their gameboard. The game rewards careful planning: to earn PP, players must complete “works” by matching their “profession cards” to the buildings, landscapes, and freedoms in their principality.
Each round starts with an auction phase, in which players vie to buy one of seven different “objects.” Three of the objects are landscapes — forests, lakes, and parks — and help add to the value of works later in the game. Landscapes must be immediately put on the player board, and since the landscapes (and buildings) are polyominoes, arranging and fitting them is a challenging part of the game, particularly as space generally becomes scarce towards game end. Two more of the objects — the jester and the builder — are characters that assist in completing works and building buildings, respectively. The jester increases the value of a work by two, as explained below. The builder makes it easier to build buildings: one builder reduces the price of buildings from 700 Florins to 300, two builders means buildings can be constructed adjacent, and three means buildings have no cost. The last two “objects” are the prestige cards (which award points at the end of the game if certain requirements are fulfilled) and recruiting cards (which allow players to recruit profession cards from other players).
During the auction phase, each player may take at most one object, and each object type can only be sold once per round. The auctions are one of the most crucial moments of the game. Any given player will only get 7 such objects, so planning is important. The start player (which rotates for each of the 7 rounds) chooses an object and puts it up for auction starting at 200 Florin. Bids must be in increments of exactly 100 Florin, with the highest bidder winning. If the player that started the auction is the highest builder, the next player puts an object up for auction. If not, then that player chooses another object to auction. The last player to start an auction does not actually start an auction but rather takes any available object for 200 Florin.
After the auction phase comes the action phase. Each player, in clockwise order beginning with the starting player, may execute two actions. These actions are: complete a work (once or twice), build a building (once or twice), take a profession card (once only), introduce a freedom (once only), or acquire a bonus card (once or twice).
A large portion of the points in the game come from completing works, and to complete a work, the Work Value (WV) must exceed a set threshold for each round. For example, in round two, 10 WV points are necessary, but 17 are necessary in round seven. The WV is controlled by the profession card, since each artist or scholar has on it certain buildings and features he wants to be in the player’s principality. Having the preferred building gives 4 WV, having the landscape gives 3WV, having the freedom gives 3 WV, each jester gives 2 WV, and each profession or recruiting card a player has in his hand or on the table gives 1 WV. Certain bonus cards can also add WV. In short, throughout the game, you’ll need to acquire the buildings, landscapes, and freedoms that correspond to your profession cards. The player earns money for a completed work, 100 Florin per WV. The player may, however, immediately take payment in PP rather than money, with 200 Florin equalling 1 PP. The player that completed the best work at the end of the round gets a bonus 3 PP.
Players may also build buildings. Building a building immediately earns the player 3 PP. There are several rules for how buildings can be placed, but in short, they must fit, and they may not touch other buildings, unless the player has at least two builders. Buildings always cost 700 Florin, unless a player has one or two builders, in which case they cost 300 Florin, or three builders, in which case they are free. Buildings (and landscapes) cannot be moved or demolished during the game, and each building can only be built once.
Players can take profession cards for 300 Florin. They take the top five, examine them, and add one to their hand. Players can also introduce a freedom — Travel, Opinion, or Religion — to add value to works. Freedoms cost 300 Florin, and their supply is limited, so you risk not getting a desired freedom if you don’t buy it early. Lastly, players may acquire bonus cards: they also cost 300 Florin, and they can add to the WV when played as part of the “Complete a Work” action.
Money can be tight. Players earn money by completing works, but players can also take 100 Florin at any point by moving backwards one space on the victory track.
The game ends after the seventh round. The player with the most prestige points wins.
— end copied text —
My thoughts on the game
Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I thought about re-visiting the argument about just how valuable Jesters should be… While this has always been one of the pillars of my game collection, and a game that I “grew up with” – you know, back in the days when there were maybe 20-30 new games per year coming out, and you were lucky to get four or five yourself, and as a result, you played every new game on a weekly basis for months… – it had admittedly been maybe four or five years since I had played PoF.
Admittedly, some of the issue might be because I didn’t actually have a working copy of the game. Due to a basement flood (two houses ago), the box bottom of my original German language Alea game and the player mats sitting closest to the bottom had taken a lot of water damage. For reasons unclear to my wife, I couldn’t make myself recycle the game, so it stayed in my game collection – though it was clearly unplayable. As soon as the new version arrived, I was finally able to let it all go… It is nice that I also didn’t lose any content as the new version also includes the Muse and the Princess expansion.
PoF remains a solid top-tier game. You constantly battle to get the things you need at the auction; knowing that the battles can be fierce given that only one of each type of thing is available each round. And… there’s always that one guy who wants to push the price of Jesters through the roof. In the end, most things in the auction could help you, but depending on your strategy and your profession cards; some are more valuable than others.
You’ll need to constantly work at getting the right things in your Palazzo – because while the minimum threshold of 7 is fairly easy at the start – as it nudges ever upwards to 17, you really need to start having all of the pieces in place in order to get your work score high enough to complete a work near the end of the game!
All of this costs money, and the money management part of the game is what makes it so tough to figure out your optimal plan. The sliding scale of Prestige Points to money conversion can force some agonizing decisions. At any time, you can trade 1 Prestige Point in for 100 Florins. However, at the moment you complete a work, you can Prestige Points at the cost of 200 Florins each. As you pretty much only earn Prestige points when you complete a work, you want to generate as much as you can… But if you’re greedy, you’ll end up giving those PP back, and only getting half of the Florin value! Figuring out how to best manage your initial stack of 3500 Florins is one of the strategic pillars of the game.
Each group ends up with their own groupthink about the value of a Jester – but the fact it adds 2 to the WV of every work for the rest of the game makes it very valuable indeed – especially early on in the game! A wise man once explained to me that Recruitment cards are also valuable, and should be worth at least half a Jester. This makes sense as they add 1 point to the WV AND they also let you maybe find a Profession that works with the things on your board.
Like many games of that era; there has been a lot (possibly too much) of consternation about game balance in a 5p game. This current version does nothing to change those concerns – though I’ve never been bothered too much by them as I don’t ever intend to play this game in an uber-competitive or tournament setting. In short, going second in player order seems to be the preferred location (mostly in part to being able to draft an extra profession card over your opponents): https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1418540/results-seating-position-princes-florence-update-a. Tournaments seem to work around this by having players bid some of their initial florins for the ability to choose seating position. Of course, this is only an issue if you only play the game 5p and are ubercompetitive. In all of my recent 4p games, we never actually ran out of cards in the profession deck.
The new artwork is a great improvement. From a functional standpoint, I’m super glad to see that the buildings now all have slightly different colors on them which makes it much easier for me to figure out what buildings are on other player’s mats. Sure, it doesn’t look quite as much like palazzo without all the matching tile roofs – but functionally, this works so much better for me. Also, the use of a reasonable font helps everyone in reading the necessary information.
I also like the character art and the fact that players can choose to be male or female by flipping over their player boards. The included player aids in the new version also make it clear to all players what the possible Prestige and Bonus card possibilities are. They also nicely summarize just about everything you need – the only thing not on it is the formula of how to calculate your Work Value; but this is found on the side of every profession card, so no need to repeat it.
The Profession cards are eye-catching, but I do wish that the number of the card in the upper left was more distinct. If you have a Recruitment card, or if you’re planning to buy one, it would be nice to not have to ask everyone if they have played card #2. This detail is honestly just a quibble, and everything else about the art direction is fantastic.
When this game first came out in 2000, I remember thinking that this was one of the ultimate brain-burners in my collection, and for a few years, it remains amongst the most complex games that I played. Looking at it through at 22+ year lens, it now feels firmly middle-weight – which is great for me, as this is the area of the hobby I enjoy the most. Our first few games of the new version took a bit longer as we all re-acclimated to the rules and whatnot. I’m pretty sure that my 4p group will settle back into the 60-70 min range for this classic, and I certainly anticipate this new version making it back to the table over the summer!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Chris Wray: Gameplay in Princes of Florence is always tense. The game rewards careful planning, but players must also maintain flexibility during auctions, an incredibly difficult balance to strike. As Kramer and Ulrich designed, there are multiple paths to victory. But any such path requires sound decision-making and strategy. Kramer and Ulrich seem to have gone out of their way to reduce the luck factor in the game, and in my experience, the better gamer usually wins Princes of Florence.
The decision space in Princes of Florence is incredibly tight, and every auction and action counts. Players simply aren’t able to do all of the actions they want — or need — to do. You can only win seven items at auction in the entire game, but you’ll want far more. You’ll constantly stress about your opponents buying up all the freedoms. And two actions per phase is simply never enough. I love this aspect of the design: Princes of Florence is all about knowing when a goal is attainable and when it is not. Timing is everything, and a good player knows when to defer an action until a future round.
Princes of Florence has been criticized as “multi-player solitaire,” but that has never struck me as true. The most critical moments are the auctions, which are, by their very nature, highly interactive. I will admit that the action phase is low on player interaction, but it is no worse than in many Eurogames, and with experienced players the action phase tends to be relatively short.
In sum, Princes of Florence is one of the designs that solidified Wolfgang Kramer as my favorite game designer. Kramer has always been best when paired with a partner, and his work here with Richard Ulrich is nothing shy of brilliant. This game’s interesting theme combines with the tense and strategic gameplay to create a rich gaming experience. Princes of Florence has a permanent spot on my game shelf.
Larry (50+ plays): More than two decades after its initial release, Princes of Florence continues to be one of my all-time favorite games and one of the few titles I rate a perfect 10. It’s an absolutely brilliant design that has held up very well over the years and, thankfully, continues to get played. The theme was unique and very attractive when it first came out and I really can’t think of too many other games that have employed it since then. There are quite a few strategies, and while it’s not a good idea to let a player grab a couple of jesters without paying through the nose for them, there are other approaches that work, so I’m quite happy with the game balance. I’m sure the PoF tournament players know of what they speak, but in my experience, your odds of winning from any player position seem to be very similar. The game has a bit of a learning curve, like any auction game, but it’s easy to teach and I’ve seen newbies do well and even win occasionally. Princes is a masterpiece of game design and I can’t imagine ever parting with my copy.
Alan H : A reprint is great, new art and more options and I’m glad it doesn’t (hopefully) include metal coins, a Gametrayz insert. They’re not needed. It’s just a great game.
Dan B: There are many games from the era when this came out that I don’t play any longer (e.g. El Grande) but PoF I still play fairly regularly, and I think it holds up very well. (The fact that players always rush to buy the extra profession cards is a minor niggle – I wouldn’t have minded seeing a rules tweak which changed the dynamic there – but it doesn’t really hurt the game.) I haven’t played the new edition yet but it looks fine, and unlike the previous edition which people went gaga over, from UPlay, this one doesn’t make a bad rules change. (The UPlay edition removed the tie scoring for prestige cards that compared you to other players.)
Matt C.: Coming from the perspective of someone who isn’t a part of a regular gaming group, the game just isn’t a good fit for me. Auctions are a big part of the game (surprise) which is an easy tool to make sure game options are nicely balanced, it also means it can be challenging for new players to be effective. Some auction games are rather forgiving, so new players can learn the ropes their first time through. PoF is not one of those. With only 7 auctions, a player needs to be bidding wisely from the get-go. New players can easily shoot themselves in the foot, or worse – unintentionally throw the game towards one of the more experienced players. Since it’s best played by only repeat players, it would be hard for me to get it to the table.
Nathan Beeler: As an auction game junky, I often cite Princes of Florence as my favorite game of all time. It has seven rounds of auctions: tight, dynamic, and meaningful. I adore everything about it, and still play it relatively frequently all these years after its release. I can’t speak to the new version, but as long as the game stays in print and I can continue to introduce it to new gamers then I’m happy.
Tery N: This is one of my top 5 games of all time, for all the reasons everyone has already given you. Every decision you make matters and affects the rest of the game, and you have to balance getting what you need with not making it easy for other players to get what they need. I have memories of so many great, close games of this and a very distinct fond memory of the first time I won, because it felt like such an accomplishment. I have played this game in recent history (still the original English version) and it has definitely held up well; I am excited that a new generation of gamers will have the chance to experience it.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Larry, Alan H , Michael W, Nathan Beeler, Tery N
- I like it. Dan B.
- Neutral. Matt C.
- Not for me…