Dave and Lawrence arrived to find another of the recent Essen games set up
on the table and ready to be explained as we launched into Il Principe by
Emanuele Ornella (designer of last year's Oltremare).
Set in Renaissance Italy (there's a rare game theme), player represent the
head of an influential family trying to establish prestige (as measured in
victory points). Prestige can be achieved by building cities or by gaining
the lead in the spheres of culture, religion, politics, nobility, and
business (represented by cards, with each sphere a different colour).
Each turn players get money and 4 cards. Each player contributes a pair of
cards from their hands (need not be any of the cards just received) to a
common stock to be auctioned. The cards are sorted by colour (ie by sphere
of influence) and auctioned off by colour. After the auction, players can
these chose to build a city (by paying the cost of that city and the
necessary cards) or play cards of a single color to their stack of cards in
front of them.
The cards played by each player determine which player has the most
influence in each of culture, religion, politics, nobility, and business.
The player with a majority gains the lead role in the sphere of influence,
the player with the second majority gains a minor role in the sphere of
The roles are not only important at games end for prestige (VP's) but also
gain prestige (VP's) when a player builds a city requiring that cards of
that colour. As multiple players can gain victory points, the game is not
simply about gaining VP's, but rather about out-gaining the other players.
For example, it might be better to build a city worth 5 VP's that only gives
2 VP's to another player instead of building an 8 VP city that gives 6 VP's
to another player. A net gain of 3 is better than a net gain of 2 VPs.
Chosing families, Rich selected Gonzaga in honor of the noble person who
actually got the games at Essen and shipped them over. Lawrence went with
the Medici, while Dave selected the Carraresi. The first round starts
slowly as no one has any influence or prestige yet (and none of the roles
have been assigned.) The end of the round sees Dave playing White
(Religion), Lawrence playing Yellow (Business), and Rich playing Red
(Nobility). And we each gain the major role in that sphere.
The next round saw Rich build Perugia to gain 4 VP's but as Religion is
needed to build Perugia, Dave (holding the Major Religion role) as gains 2
VP's. Having played cards in 3 colours to build Perugia, by the time it
came to establish the roles again, Rich managed to maintain his Nobility
majority, but added minor roles in religion (white) and culture (green).
Dave maintained his Religion majority, but added the Culture majority.
Lawrence had only the Politics majority.
The observent reader will be asking why not the business majority for
Lawrence? In an interesting mechanism, when a player gains the major role -
half of the cards in that colour are turned face down. As a result, the
player will start the next round with a smaller basis of influence.
Lawrence's yellow card that had gained the business majority in the first
round was now face down. Intermediate scores: R(5), D(4), L(0)
The third round saw Dave build Siena while Rich built Verona for 4 VPs each.
But both citys needed politic cards to be built, so Lawrence also gained 4
VPs (2 from each city) as the major role holder in Politics for a nearly
even round for all players.
When it came to reassign the roles, Rich and Dave were tied for several
roles. In a cut-throat fashion, should there be a tie for the majority
role, the tied players will bid for the role with the losers getting
nothing, not even the minor role. So, Dave and Rich entered into a series
of auctions for the 3 roles in which they were tied. But both had spent all
their money building their cities and couldn't bid anything. As a result,
several roles were not assigned at the end of this round. Intermediate
scores: R(10), D(10), L(4)
Rich noticed that the money given each round was just enough to build a
city, but in order to build a city, a player must win one of the card
auctions at the beginning of each round. This made the money very tight.
So Rich entered this round with the idea to perhaps bid only 1 to buy some
cards cheap, but otherwise pass and perhaps not build at all to save money
until the next round to get a bit of a cash flow buffer. Dave built Urbina
while Lawrence built Pisa to move ahead in victory points. Rich just
hoarded his money and played cards instead. Intermediate scores: D(19),
Hoarding money worked well, for Rich could now afford to build one of the
major cities (Rimini) for 8 VP's. However, Dave had majority roles in 3 of
the necessary spheres of influence to gain 6 VP's on Rich's effort. But the
next round, saw Rich build another major city (Mantova) for another 8 VP's
while Lawrence built Lucca. Intermediate scores: D(32), R(31), L(24)
We also were very aware the game would end in a couple of rounds as the
building card draw deck was approaching the end. In the penultimate round,
Rich built a third major city (Firenze) while Dave built Padova and Lawrence
built Venezia for 4 VP's. However, as Rich had a major or minor role in all
5 spheres of influence, Lawrence's build actually gave Rich 5 VP's as role
holder. Intermediate scores R(48), D(42), L(33)
Then we hit a bit of a shock in the game. We knew the end was coming and
had accounted for the fact that players don't draw cards and select 2 for
auction. We had all mentally overlooked that the other part of that phase
(get money) was also cancelled. In other words, we would go into the final
round with whatever money we had on hand. Unfortunately, for Lawrence and
Rich - that meant no money whatsoever. Therefore, Dave could pick up some
of the cards for auction at the minimum bid of 1. Everyone opted to play
cards (instead of build a city). Rich and Lawrence were forced to do so
(couldn't pay the city costs). Dave decided to play cards as he felt that
would maximize his VP income. So the final Intermediate scores: R(49),
At the end of the game, a variety of bonus points are awarded. Points are
awarded for holding a major role (2 VP per role) or minor role (1 VP per
role). 2 VP's are awarded to the player with the most cash (Dave) and the
most building cards in hand (Dave again). Adding these points, the scores
were: R(52), D(52), L(39).
Next each player picks up 2 VP's for each complete set (1 each of all 5
colours) in front of them. This is equivalent to 2 VP's per card in each
players smallest stack of cards. Rich had 4 sets (8 VPs); Dave had 3 sets
(6 VPs); Lawrence had 3 sets (6 VPs).
The final set of points comes from controlling the regions around the built
cities. When a player builds a city, they can play 1 or 2 of their shield
tokens into the neighbouring regions in an attempt to gain majority control
of the region (5 VP). Gaining a second majority is worth (2 VP). Rich had
(or shared) the majority in 3 regions as did Dave. Lawrence controlled 1
region. Rich had (or shared) the second majority in 3 regions, while Dave
and Lawrence both had 2 regions.
So adding up all that, the final scores Gonzaga (R): 81, Carraresi (D): 77,
Medici (L): 52
A very interesting game. As Dave commented afterward, the game is busy in
that lots of things need to be kept track of as plays tend to interrelate.
Award VPs to the players building the city, but also see which players also
share. One needs to save money to build cities, but cities can't be built
unless you have spent money to win a card auction. Cards spent to build a
city are then used to determine roles, so the choice of which city to build
is a bit more than just VP gain - there are continued impacts with regards
to the role assignments.
But based on this initial play, I liked how all these things interrelated.
One gets just enough money and cards to believe that one can do many things,
but really one must manage the riches carefully. Even the choice of cards
laid down for auction relates to later turn strategy. I wanted to build a
city, so needed to win an auction - but didn't want to overspend in the
auction. One tactic I tried was to play 2 differing colours hoping that a
few singlets would be up for auction that could be purchased cheaply instead
of a massive block of colour that everyone might want.
Even though our first play was a bit on the longish side, once we got going,
the game flowed very smoothly. We moved through the phases fairly briskly
with only a few pauses. The game play itself is fairly easy to explain, it
is the relationship between the various plays that takes some thought.
A very nice game and a nice addition to my collection. Based on this one
play, I am impressed with the game and look forward to future plays.
With a bit of time left, Rich offered up a Rüdiger Dorn design to finish off
the evening...Emerald. And again Sabrina joined us as she has played this
Players control 5 knights as they move down a forest trail and into the
Dragon's cave to get jewels and gold. But patrolling the cave is a dragon
intent on protecting her young. As only the dragon's movement is controlled
by a die, this is a game in the move and roll genre (thanks Dave, for the
Players may move 1 or 2 knights each turn, but each knight moves the number
of spaces equivalent to the number of knights in the space before movement.
Therefore, a knight by itself will move 1 space forward while a knight
sharing a space with 3 other knights moves forward 4 spaces.
If a knight lands in a cavern spaces which contains either gold or gems
(represented by cards), the knight must collect a card and the player's turn
ends. The goal is to get to the treasure room at the end of the cavern (and
its 5 gold reward). But should the knight end up next to the dragon - a
player has 2 choices. Bribe the dragon with a gold card (any value) or have
that knight removed from the game.
The game ends when all 4 treasure cards have been claimed or 1 player has a
single knight left in the game. Points are simple the amount of gold (worth
1 to 5 each) and gems (worth 1 gold each) collected. To help encourage the
collection of gems - there are bonus points available to the player with the
majority in each colour gem and also to the first player to collect 1 gem of
We started the game placing our knights into the castle. We were a friendly
bunch setting up with 3 groups of 6 knights each in 3 of the starting spaces
and a single pair in another starting space. With such large movement
points available, Sabrina and Lawrence both jumped to just outside the
entrance of the Dragon's Cave. A few turns later, Sabrina ventured inside
the cave first, followed shortly thereafter by Lawrence and Rich.
But Dave was the slow and steady knight. With everyone rushing ahead, he
could move his knights to spaces that would give him sustained moves. While
Dave was the last into the Cave, he was the first person to enter the
Treasure Room to collect a Treasure Card. Rich worked his way through the
cave picking up a variety of gems and gained the 4-colour bonus.
But there can be some meanness in the game. Rich moved one of his knights
onto a square with one of Dave's knights and after the Dragon landed on the
same square, Rich nicely offered up Dave's knight to the Dragon. Dave
sacrificed a 3-Gold card to keep his knight in the game. This was followed
by Dave triggering another Dragon move that landed on one of Rich's Knights.
Rich actually sacrificed the knight rather than give up a Gold card.
Eventually, Lawrence and Rich both made it to the treasure room and
collected their treasure. Sabrina also made it in, collecting the last
treasure card and ending the game.
Tallying up the scores:
Rich = 32
Dave = 30
Sabr = 26
Lawr = 24
With the top 3 players sharing the various gem bonuses (2 each for Rich and
Dave and 1 for Sabrina).
Emerald looks very simple to play and has nice bits that attract children to
playing the game. But there are some tactics in the moves due to the
luckless knight movement. But the Dragon movement in the cave is controlled
by a die, so has a bit of luck around that, resulting in a nice lighter
Certainly a game I recommend, especially for those with kids. It is
playable by all members of the family with just enough brain engagement to
keep adults interested.
Until next week,