What will you buy next?
Princes of Florence has settled into a steady attendance pattern befitting
a classic game.
GM Eric Brosius (right) keeps tabs
on his finalists which include defending champ Eric Freeman.
In Princes of Florence, you play the role of a Renaissance
aristocrat, planning and developing your principality in an attempt
to gain more prestige than your fellow aristocrats. Money
is no object -- but it is an essential ingredient of success. You
wouldn't believe how much it costs to construct buildings, plant
forests and dig lakes, furnish the latest in entertainment and
do all the other things that will make sure yourprincipality
is where the hottest artists come to put on their works.
Ideally you will finish the game without a florin in your pocket
because you spent it all to put on a spectacle everyone will
talk about for years to come.
Princes of Florence is known as a "gamer's game,"
but it is easy for beginners to learn because it has a clear
structure and a familiar theme -- shopping. Six or seven
newcomers showed up for the demo before the first heat, and several
of them told me after the tournament that they felt comfortable
playing after attending the demo. The game takes seven rounds,
and in each round you may buy one item at auction and carry out
two actions -- thus, you have 21 opportunities to maximize your
You can play the game with three to five players, but in my
opinion it's best with five because the greater interaction puts
a premium on planning (and on adjusting deftly when opponents
upset your plans.) I name assistant GMs so I can play if
there's an opening, but I only play if it will convert a 4-player
table to a 5-player table. Assistant GM Cally Perry helped
me enter people for the first heat, as did my wife Claire. When
we counted the names we had 50. One person dropped out
at the last minute, making 49, and I inserted myself to bring
the numbers back to 50, giving us ten tables of five. Once
the players were seated, the games ran smoothly, as the experienced
players provided answers as needed at the tables. I had
no more than five rules questions during the entire tournament.
There were many close games this year. The "bad
luck" award in the heats goes to Winton Lemoine. In
his first heat he scored 53 PP, but finished behind Brian Kowal,
who also scored 53 PP but had more cash. In Winton's second
heat the scores were a remarkable 52-52-52-51-49. Jason Levine
and Cally Perry each had 52 PP and 200 florins while Winton had
only 100 to take third. The winner was decided by the "lowest
numbered Profession on the table" criterion -- Jason's lowest
Profession was #4, the Botanist while Cally's was #8, the Goldsmith,
making Jason the winner. A three-way tie at 50 PP in another
game was resolved based on florins, with Eric Eshleman edging
out Cheryl Meek and Brad Sherwood.
People may worry when the GM sits down to play at their table,
but there was nothing to worry about this year. In my game
both Andy Latto and Josh Cooper pursued Builder strategies. Josh
used a full-fledged Builder strategy, while Andy's hybrid strategy
included Builder elements. The Physicist was in my hand,
and I planned to build a Laboratory to earn three PP and help
the Physicist put on a solid work. I procrastinated, and
suddenly all three Laboratories were built by my opponents (one
by a player who didn't need it for a Profession, but was building
it as part of the Builder strategy.) The unexpected shortage
put a dent in my game. It wasn't the deciding factor, though. Alex
Bove won with 61 PP, ahead of Josh by two PP as I finished last. Alex
is a strong player who has won a number of tournaments, but he
had never made it to the Princes of Florence Final.
Some people complain that Princes of Florence is
heavily slanted toward the player who plays second in Round 1,
with the 1st and 3rd positions being next most desirable. If
this is true, it didn't pan out in 2008. The 4th player
won six of the 17 preliminary games. They weren't all squeakers
either: David Platnick won as 4th player by 14 PP and Rod
Spade and Rob McFadden also did well from that seat, winning
by ten and nine PP respectively.
The second heat drew exactly 35 players, so I didn't play.
The seven tables yielded six new winners and one repeat winner,
Bill Murdock (who won the Puerto Rico tournament in his
last visit to WBC.) Bill was assigned the 4th seat in both
heats, and he demonstrated that he has the position down cold
by winning twice.
A list of 25 qualifiers and 17 alternates was posted on the
event kiosk. Fortunately for Winton, his strong 2nd and
3rd made him a qualifier (there were only 16 winners, so the
top nine non-winners qualified.) 23 of the 25 qualifiers
appeared for the semis, and the top two alternates were added
to fill five 5-player games.
In the semis and Final players bid for player order, paying
florins to get their choice of seats. This year, the average
bids were as follows:
1st: 117 florins
2nd: 317 florins
3rd: 17 florins
Winton Lemoine continued to live on the edge in the semi-final,
tying for first in Prestige Points for the third consecutive
game, this time with David Platnick at 61. This time Winton
had the upper hand, with 700 florins left compared to David's
200, and the third time mattered most as Winton advanced while
David had to settle for 6th place laurels. Three others
who were in the Final for the first time joined Winton, as did
last year's champ, Eric Freeman.
As the semi-finals were winding down, a helpful passer-by
pointed out that halfway through the Final game, the Liar's
Dice tournament would be starting in the same room. It's
hard to play your best when 1000 dice are being shaken simultaneously
in their plastic cups. We left for another room where the
noise level was more manageable. As we entered, Alex mentioned
that he was exhausted. Semi-finals and Finals had eaten
up his planned rest time and he was working on just a few hours
of sleep. I heard him, but it's hard to get sympathy when
your problem is being in too many Finals! He'd just have
to see how well he could play while half asleep.
The players bid for seating order, and Alex took the 2nd seat
with a bid of 300. Eric paid 100 for 1st seat, Winton paid
100 for 3rd seat, and Chris and Aran took the 4th and 5th seats
at no cost. Winton announced that he was determined not
to finish in second place. He had finished in 2nd too often
recently, and if he couldn't win, he'd rather have 3rd, 4th or
It was a tense game. All five players were experienced. Alex
bought the first Jester for 1200 florins (you didn't expect him
to get a bargain at this table) and Winton earned the Best Work
bonus with a 10 WV Bell Maker in Round 1. In Round 2, Aran
realized he had built a Laboratory in Round 1 rather than the
Library he needed. He was greatly disappointed at this error,
but I could not let him take it back, as time had passed since
the build. He built the Library in Round 2 and thought long
and hard about how to recover from this error.
Just as in last year's Final, Eric earned several Best Work
bonuses, but it was an extremely close game as we headed into
the final round. Alex bought a Prestige card for 200 and
selected his card carefully. It's a risk buying a Prestige
card in Round 7 because you may not get one you have time to
fulfill. Eric won yet another Best Work, and it was all
down to the Prestige cards. Chris and Winton,
who trailed on the Prestige Track, had two Prestige cards each,
and they both scored 14 PP as a result. Alex turned over
one Prestige card, the one he had drawn in Round 7, and it gave
him 7 PP for Most Works. Alex had suspected that card was
still in the deck, because it was worthless to anyone else, but
he was relieved to have drawn it in the five cards he had to
choose from. With the help of this card he had just barely
enough to beat Winton. The final scores:
Alex 58, Winton 57, Aran 55, Chris 53, Eric 51.
I took notes during the Final, so watch www.BoardGameGeek.com
for a detailed play-by-play report.
Congratulations to Alex, who earned a victory in his first
trip to the Final. Winton finished second again, just where
he had said he didn't want to be! What really bugged him is that
he finished with an unusually large bank of 900 florins. If
he had taken just 200 florins less in cash during the game, taking
one more Prestige Point instead, he could have won. Aran
recovered nicely from his early slip, finishing only three PP
behind, and relative newcomer Chris also performed well. Eric
dropped from 1st place in 2007 to 5th in 2008. This surprised
me because I didn't see any substantial errors in his play, but
the game was tight and little differences mattered. Princes
of Florence is a tough game, and your opponents' actions
heavily influence your success. Some people call it "multi-player
solitaire," but I can't disagree more.
If you're interested in Princes of Florence, come
to WBC next year and give it a shot. I'll explain the game
during the demo and you can display that effortless aristocratic
lifestyle as you play!