Princes of Florence Review
Here's a game that was very highly rated on the 'Geek, so I decided it'd be nice to try and thus traded for it: Princes of Florence.
In Princes of Florence, each player is trying to score the most "prestige points" (victory points) by (primarily) creating the most impressive works. To do this you must (of course) hire amazing artists... and what makes an artist amazing? In this game, it is by making them happy by meeting certain criteria (like having the correct building, landscape, and freedom in your kingdom, as well as having other artists and jesters). Each turn starts with an auction - this is where you can buy landscape, jesters, bonus cards, cards that re-use other player's artists, and builders. After the auction, you are able to take a couple of actions - this is where you can buy freedoms, hire new artists, have your artists create a new work, build buildings, and a few other things. Whenever you create a new work, you immediately get an amount of money equal to it's "Work Value" (calculated based on how happy the artist was, and which must be at least the minimum "Work Value" for that round), or you can trade in some or all of the Work Value for victory points (and the person with the nicest work each round gets a bonus 3 Victory Points). There are a few other rules that I won't bother covering, but this is the gist of the game - it continues like this for seven rounds, and then whoever has the most Victory Points (after playing the "Prestige Cards" that you can buy in an auction) wins.
There are several things that I really like about Princes of Florence, but here is where I will start: the random draws are not very random. Any time that you draw a card from one of the decks (whether a Prestige card during the auction or an artist or bonus card as an action), you get to draw 5 cards and choose one of them. This helps you to actually be able to develop a strategy; instead of simply drawing a card (telling yourself, "oh crap, that's not helpful") and trying to work it into a strategy, you can have a strategy going into the action, and normally gain a card that is actually able to help based on what you have done in the game to that point. This is amazing coming from so many games where I simply draw one card and almost always wind up drawing several useless cards throughout the game (several of which will still be in my hand when it is over as a monument to wasted actions).
The next thing that I like about Princes of Florence I will briefly describe as the game being "tight". The more long-winded way of saying this is that I like the fact that I can't do everything that I want to do each turn. Ideally, you will have the correct building, landscape, and freedom (and some bonus cards) before playing a work - after all, this is how it scores the most points! However, that's often not plausible, because if you wait until you have all of that, you will probably only build about one work per game. Therefore, you have to decide which works will have to be built without scoring full points. This tightness factors in both in the auction and the action phases of the turn - because there are several things that are incredibly valuable in the auction each round, but you can only buy one thing per turn. You wind up having to decide, do you want an advantage in buying buildings? Do you want a Jester which adds 2 to any work? Do you want a Landscape to be able to add 3 to certain works? These decisions of what is the most "bang for your buck" are the true heart of the game, and they show that it was very carefully balanced and playtested. And I enjoy the very slight frustration that it gives me to have to decide not to do one action in order to do another one that is ever so slightly better.
Another thing that I like about Princes of Florence is that it is up to the players to keep the game balanced. Specifically, in the games that I have played, if a player is able to get a Jester each turn (without paying thousands of dollars for it), he will often run away with the game. This is because each Jester adds 2 "Work Value" to a work - so if you have enough Jesters, you don't really need to worry about any of the other conditions on the card. However, the Jesters are only acquired through the auction. I would imagine that the designers of the game knew how good the Jesters could be, and that's why they only let you acquire one by outbidding your opponents (and only one can be sold each round). Therefore, it is up to the other players in the game to make sure that no single player winds up having 6 Jesters by the end; because if a player has that many, he will probably win the game (and it won't even be close).
An interesting aspect of the game that I will list in the "pro" section is this: the minimum "Work Value" to create a work goes up each round. This forces players to actually play with more strategy to determine how they are going to be able to create works both early and late in the game - this also factors into the decisions of whether you should hold onto your work until later in the game when everything is matched, or whether you should play it earlier and start working on the next one. I didn't ever really feel like this was a huge part of the game, but I do think that it is a very interesting little aspect that they added.
The final pro that I will mention is how important money management is in the game. There are two ways of getting money in the game - when you build a work you gain money, or at any time you can sacrifice victory points to get money (but you paid 200 per victory point and you sacrifice them for 100 per victory point). At the end of the game, additional money is useless. However, most actions in the game require money (aside from creating a work). Therefore, the player that is able to most carefully ensure that he has enough money to do everything that he needs to do, has enough that he can buy what he would like in the auctions, and doesn't have too much extra money at the end, will have a distinct advantage.
Another note that I will add to the game that isn't really a pro or a con is that there really isn't "that much complexity" (relatively) to this game (note I said "complexity" and not "strategy" or "depth" - there are tons of both of those). Whereas some games have millions of options throughout the game, and each card drawn is unique and opens up more possibilities, Princes of Florence really isn't like that. The cards in Princes are all very similar - all the Profession cards (works) have the same basic things, but are different based on what makes the artist "happy"; there are a few different bonus cards, but they are all based on the handful of things you would do anyway, and the same with Prestige cards. This means that once you catch onto to how the game works, it can probably be played in around 45 minutes, and yet has a lot of strategy through determining how to spend your actions and some highly important player interaction through the auction. However, people that really love games where the depth of the game lays in the cards each doing something unique and "breaking the rules" of the game will not see that element here.
Overall, I give Princes of Florence a 9.0/10. I was quite pleased with how my trade ended up, and I plan to keep Princes of Florence (and keep playing it) for quite some time. Unless you have some significant aversion to auction mechanics, or to games that mention art (yeah, it's about "creating art", but only sort of), I highly recommend you trying this game.
If you like Princes of Florence, you might also check out Puerto Rico, Tigris and Euphrates, Power Grid, and Phoenicia.