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Thinking Out Loud

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I *want* to like Princes of the Renaissance... But it won't let me!

Got in a six-player game of Martin Wallace's Princes of the Renaissance last night. I'm the only one who had played before, so I was tasked with teaching the game. All I can say is thank goodness for the great BGG player aids available. I had played 4 times before, but it was still murky and difficult to explain... Granted, it had been a while, but I was disappointed with myself for how cloodgy the explanation was for the relative simplicity of the rules (only 4 pages).

But there's a heck of a lot going on in PotR. I call it a game of omniscience. You need to know at the very outset the value of virtually every game piece that's going to come into play -- because a big part of the game is auctioning off a variety of tiles. But instead of only a small set of tiles being available, nearly everything is available at the very beginning. Talk about a steep learning curve!

One of the problems I keep running into with PotR is the intimidation factor. There are so many options from the get go that it's hard to know where to begin. All the city, event and troop tiles are available -- so where do you start? Even with 4 previous plays under my belt, I felt I had no better advantage than anyone else going into my 5th game, as the game is so opaque that it's difficult to apply experience from one game to another if too much time passes.

In several games I've played, especially the most recent game, there's a distinct arms race as folks snatch up all the high value troop tiles (especially the ones that also generate influence income). In fact, this often goes on for several rounds in a row... The city tiles start out pretty darn expensive, and locking yourself into one of your three cities doesn't seem all that valuable, except for perhaps a few of the tiles (veto a war, gain +2 influence per turn, etc). So it's hard to decide when to auction them off, and which ones to start with. The event tiles have middling initial power, since the VPs awarded are fairly low... But I suppose you could snatch them for pretty cheap. But are you giving up too much by ignoring something else?

It's incredibly hard to have any basis for your decisions. It gets much easier in the 2nd and 3rd decades, where some game context has developed and you can better evaluate the players' positions and the relative value of auctions based on their more immediate returns... But that first decade is agony -- and invariably takes much longer to play out.

The Bottom Line: 6.5/10 (Was 7.5, with an 8.5/10 rating for "Potential") Despite the deceptively short rules (basically 4 pages), the game demands a lot from first time players. As with any auction game, players need to be able to gauge the relative value and importance of items being offered so they can bid intelligently. When you only have a few items available at a time, or work within a discrete set of items, that can be easily managed.

In Princes of the Renaissance, however, every tile is available from the outset. That means knowing and understanding the relative values of 8 different army tiles and 30 provincial tiles from 5 different regions. You need to know their relative value to yourself, if you want to bid/purchase them, as well as their relative value to each other player, in case you want to auction it off. And the relative value over purchasing/auctioning the tile compared to the value of instigating a war or taking one of the other actions available. This need for omniscience has turned several prospective players from the game. I've only gotten to play five times now, with three aborted attempts once the game was set up, as folks had no idea how to filter all that information.

Despite the frustration, though, I really want to play again to see if we can unlock some deeper sense of strategy and gameplay bred from greater familiarity with the auction elements and the mechanics.

1 Comments:

  • It's funny because we've played Princes of the Renaissance last sunday and each time I play it my enjoyment grows. I just love the way that the game doesn't set almost any boundaries to a player's actions. It's rare to see a game with such a wide array of different (and viable) paths to follow: you can win by having the biggest army, being the more agressive player and winning lots of battles, but you can also win without fighting at all.

    In fact, you have such a wide array of options, that you are completely free to ruin your chances without the game "letting you know" that you're doing it. It's a rather unique system and one that I enjoy a lot. :)

    By Blogger zorg, at 6:53 AM  

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