I opened up the box of Il Principe (Z-man Games, 2006 - Emanuele Ornella) for the first time and started reading the rules. As soon as I got to the phrase "Each player is the leader of an influential family in Italy during the Renaissance Age" I put the rules back in the box and put the game away. I mean, come on! Don't we have enough games with this theme around!? After playing several well themed games, I finally got around to finishing off the rules and trying out the game.
And while Il Principe isn't anything that is going to see long-term greatness, it does have some unique, enjoyable mechanics, which slightly transcended the utterly drab theme. It's a fairly quick game with some unique area control and card management mechanics, and scores at the end are often quite close. It's a middleweight game that doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is and runs nicely with three players, although it handles up to five also.
A board is placed on the table, showing six regions and fifteen cities - each city bordering one to three cities. The amount of regions that a city borders determines its size - small, medium, or large. Ten role cards, two each of five colors are placed on the board, and a deck of building cards - that match the five colors - is shuffled and placed next to a deck of City cards. Four city cards are turned faced up, and a pile of money chips is placed nearby. Each player takes a group of tokens that match a specific family, showing a shield, and place a small reference card with the family token in front of them. Players place one of their counters on the "0" spot on the scoring track. One player is chosen to be the "Il Principe", and the game begins with the first turn.
Starting with the Il Principe, each player receives five money chips and four building cards. Players then pick any two cards from their hand and place them face down in front of themselves. Once each player has done this, all the cards are turned face up and placed in the middle of the table, organized into groups by color. Starting with the player to the left of the "Il Principe", each group of cards is auctioned off - with the largest groups of cards auctioned off first. Players continually up the bid or pass out until one player wins, paying their bid in coins and adding the cards to their hand. They also take the "Il Principe" marker and have the option to immediately build one city.
Once all cards have been auctioned off, the "Il Principe" takes the first turn, and then play passes around the table. On a player's turn, they may either build one city or play cards from their hand. (Cities may not be built in the first turn). Each city card shows the name of the city, the number of victory points it is worth (4 for a small city, 6 for a medium city, 8 for a large city), the cost in money to develop the city, the building cards necessary for building the city, and the amount of shield counters the player may place on the map.
When building a city, a player simply discards the money necessary to build the building while placing the building cards necessary face up in front of him. They then receive the victory points mentioned on the city card and may place the amount of shields on the card in the region(s) adjacent to the city. If any other player happens to own one of the two role tiles that matches one of the colors used to develop the city, they receive two points for having the major role tile, and one for owning the minor role. A new city card is then flipped up to take the place of the built city. Also, instead of building a city, a player may play as many cards in front of them that are of the same color.
After this, any role tiles that players might have are returned to the board, and then each set of role tiles is examined; and the player who has the most face up building cards in the matching color in front of them receives the Major role tile, with the player with the second most receiving the minor role tile. Ties are auctioned off amongst all qualifying players. The player who receives the major role tile must flip face down half of their cards of the corresponding color. Each role allows a player to have a special ability (the major and minor roles give the same ability - the only difference is the amount of victory points they award when other players build cities with that color.)
- Green (Master and Apprentice): Flip face up 1 non-Green Building.
- Red (Confalonier and Notary): Draw one Building card from the deck.
- White (Bishop and Preacher): Gain one victory point.
- Blue (Lord and Knight): Place one shield on any region.
- Yellow (Banker and Merchant): Gain two coins.
When there is less than four cities left to build, or when the building card deck is down to a certain amount of cards, the last round of the game occurs with a few minor rule changes. At this point players add extra victory points to their score - two points for each major role tile they control, one for each minor role tile, two points for each building card of the color which they have the least number of cards, two points for the player with the most money, two points for the player with the most cards in hand, and five points for the most shields in each of the six regions - two for second place. The player with the most victory points is the winner!
Some comments on the gameâ€¦
1.) Components: The components are fairly nice - although a bit lackluster. The building cards are nice in that each shows not only a different color, but also a picture to help those with color-differentiation problems. The money and shields are small cardboard tokens, and are a bit small, but aren't too difficult to handle, although the one denomination coins are a bit annoying at times. Everything fits extremely easy into the medium sized box - perhaps some of the components could have been bigger? Still, it's decent enough for the price of the game.
2.) Rules: The rules are on three pages and are in very small print - I have to squint to read them, although they do a decent job explaining how the game works. One clarification that wasn't awfully clear was that the cards used to build a city are also placed in front of a player, which changes the game quite a bit. I usually have to role-play through a round before most people get it - and even then the endgame often surprises people with the way it works.
3.) Auctions: The auctions usually work out with the result of each player winning one of them - most people realize after only a few auctions just how critical they are - and how tight money is. Even though players get a steady income of money each turn, it never seems as if you have enough; as players must also save enough money for building cities and possibly for tie-breakers amongst the role tiles. Games with tight money can be rather interesting - but also can mean doom for those who make some mistakes in auctions.
4.) Role Tiles: All role tiles are NOT created equal - although there certainly is a time and place for all of them. At first I thought that the white cards were the best - and I'm still not sure that they aren't, as a victory point is rather useful - but some of the others can come in handy later on. The most underrated tile by new players are the green tiles, which allow you to possibly go ahead and capture other tiles. Yellow gives you a nice advantage on money, and Blue is very nice when you can't build in a city next to a region you desperately need to capture.
5.) Fun Factor and Strategy: I really didn't think that I could separate these two, as all the fun in the game comes from the clever mechanics and the interesting strategies that players can undertake. There's not much of a theme here (okay - almost none), and it has a real possibility of feeling simply too dry. But the way the building cards, role cards, and money work together almost seamlessly is going to be a fascinating study for some people. Many will not enjoy the game because they will most likely be pummeled in their first playing, but others will pick up on the subtle cleverness of the ideas.
I can recommend Il Principe, but only conditionally. If you're looking for great components, nice theme, and an easy-to-understand game, then this isn't it. It is a collection of unique mechanics tied elegantly together to produce a nice game. My biggest fear is that Il Principe is a forgettable game - one that's enjoyable now but will be forgotten in a couple years. It's the flavor of the month, and perhaps lack of theme will kill it in the long run. Most certainly it is a "try before you buy" game.
"Real men play board games"
You can buy this game directly from Funagain games.
BoardGameGeek entry for Il Principe