It's been a long time, but I came back to playing The Prince: The Struggle of the House Borgia (sold as Borgia in the Netherlands) last week. The Italian renaissance has a strong attraction to game designers, it combines economic growth with art and architecture and intellectual growth. Princes of Florence, La Citta, Fresco, Leonardo Da Vinci and Medici are just some examples of games combining these elements. And that is ignoring all the games covering the exploration of the world in the same period.
But there's another side to the renaissance that attracts designers and that's the Machiavellian politics. When you want a game that has conflict and backstabbing as well as the above, the exploits of the condottiere and scheming of the renaissance popes offer a good background.
Not for nothing one of the games that takes this approach is named after the Florentine politician and philosopher. But there's others as well: Martin Wallace's Princes of the Renaissance and Borgia. While Machiavelli is a more detailed version of Diplomacy, the latter two games leave the physical map and use cards and counters to portray the expansion of power.
Borgia is the less complex of the latter two games. It plays in three phases where auctioning resource and action cards and attacking each other's resources make up the player's turns. The attacks can always be made on unprotected resources, ie they are not combined with a city. Otherwise it needs playing a condottiere card. They can be defended by playing condottiere cards as well.
The phase ends when all available cards have been auctioned. Then income is gathered and a papal election held, followed by a point tally. The points come from cities, famous artists and being chosen pope.
What proved interesting is that you can have a fun game threatening other players by attacking unprotected resource cards and then not play a condottiere card, hoping that the other player plays one, effectively wasting it. The downside is that you waste one of your limited actions and get nothing in return.
It became a very close run game in the end, with me losing by 151 to 147 points. I managed to take out a very valuable artist from my rival by stealing the medicine card of him first and then playing my plague card.
But he saved his victory by good defensive pairing of his stronger but less valuable cities to his artists and his weaker but more valuable cities to independent families that increased the defensive value. That meant that my condottiere cards were too weak to take them on and sway the game my way,
A sturdy game, but nothing can change my love for Princes of the Renaissance. Not even the fact that I suck at bidding games.