Die Fürsten von Florenz, known also as The Princes of Florence, is a board game published by Alea and Rio Grande Games and designed by Richard Ulrich and Wolfgang Kramer, the same team that made the magnificent Torres, among others. It is a German-style open-ended strategic board game for three to five players, playable in roughly 90 minutes.

The game is set during the European Renaissance. Each player is a rival Renaissance prince whose prestige comes not just from your wealth but from the way that you use it as a patron of learning and the arts. You seek to attract painters, scholars and so on to your court and you provide the conditions under which they will produce great works. Of course, these works which will then reflect glory on to yourself and your family, so in drawing these intellectuals you seek to improve your own status.

Each player has a board which shows their estate in the form of a rectangle, with their palace as a block in one corner. On the rest of the land they will put up the buildings that their protégés need and create the landscapes which will inspire them. Pretty straightforward, but it also sounds as though it could be extremely pretentious and dull. Fortunately, though, the game designers put enough meat on this framework to make it extremely interesting. Essentially, it becomes a game of "too much to do and too little time," as many German-style board games are; this is one of the best ones.

The game lasts seven turns; each turn has two phases (all players play simultaneously in theory, though it is better to take it slow lest the game descend into chaos). In the first phase you buy an object from a menu of seven. Each of the seven can be chosen only once in a given turn, which means there is an auction when more than one player wants the same thing. In the second phase you perform two actions.

The underlying goal of the game is to get your people to produce works. These works have varying values depending on what conditions you have provided for them on your estate. There are 21 of these people in the game, all different and each with a different set of demands: the right building to work in, the right landscape to inspire, and the right type of intellectual freedom. The more of these demands you meet, the more productive the person will be and as a result the more prestige you will receive.

The seven items you bid on are woods, lakes, parks, architects, entertainers, prestige, and enticement. The first three are landscape types that you can place on your estate. An architect makes it less expensive to erect buildings on your estate, which you do in phase two. An entertainer boosts the value of the works that your people produce. Prestige cards set goals for you to meet during the game (usually some permutation of buildings, people, and so forth in comparison to your rivals); if you meet them, you get a big prestige bonus. The last, enticement, lets you lure a person from another player's court.

Ideally, you'd like to have a couple of each type of landscape, a couple architects, a few entertainers, a couple prestige cards, and an enticement or two. Unfortunately, this adds up to a lot more than seven, so you have to determine an overall strategy and work towards that. Of course, others can disrupt your strategy... and that is the beauty of this game.

The second phase allows you two actions out of eight possible ones. You can produce a work, erect a building, or acquire a bonus card, each of which you can do twice in a turn, or take a new personality card or introduce a new freedom, each of which can be done only once a turn. This usually requires as much planning and forethought as the first phase. Producing a work is your basic method of scoring points; you play a personality card from your hand that can legally be used with the estate you have to the table and earn its point bonus (or cash, or a mixture of both). You need points to win; you need cash to build buildings (and you don't have much cash), so you need to strike a balance. Erecting a building is simple at first, but becomes very difficult very quickly without an architect or two (they make buildings cheaper and simpler to place on your estate, and your buildings must fit!). A bonus card gives some sort of bonus, either points or cash.

The freedoms are required for your people to produce their best work, so you'll usually have to use an action for one or two of these. The last choice in the second phase is the personality cards themselves; the cards that represent the creative people in your court. You get a choice of these; again, another strategic choice based on what you can do best and what your opponent does worst.

There are a lot of elements going on here, but the rules are actually really simple to pick up. I learned from a single game what was going on and had the system down cold by my third game. In fact, it is this variety of elements that make the game so enjoyable, along with the theme and the beautiful artwork. You'll discover after playing it a time or two that the huge number of choices makes the game highly strategic, making you carefully consider the weight of every move. Considering that in essence you only have twenty one moves in the game, you have to plan very carefully.

This game is thoroughly enjoyable and has brought me hours of fun. The game is available for $29.95 at better hobby shops everywhere. Other games you might enjoy if this one sounds interesting are Torres, Acquire, and The Settlers of Catan.

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