One of the very first board games in my collection was The Princes of Florence, which introduced the auction gameplay mechanic to me, and had a little bit of familiar Tetris-style shape wrangling thrown in. I like to revisit older games and produce detailed How to Play videos for them, so in that spirit, here’s my How to Play guide for the game!
Eyyy! It’s a-me, Italian stereotype a-Ryan from Nights Around a-Table. This is The Princes of Florence, a tile placement auction game for 3-5 players. Let me show you how to play!
You and your friends play wealthy Italian families during the Renaissance, like the Sforza or the Medici. You’re winning items at auction to improve your principality, to make it more enticing for artsy-fartsy types to come there and create great works, which you can brag about to your rich buddies. By doing this you earn PP, or Prestige Points. At the end of 7 rounds, the player with the most PP wins the game.
You begin the game with 3 Profession cards. You can get more of these later. They represent the artsy-fartsy types you’re trying to attract. Each professional wants your principality to have certain buildings, landscape features, and freedoms. So the Botanist likes a Laboratory and a Park. He wants to enjoy freedom of religion. Just like anyone else, he likes being entertained by Jesters, and he’ll have a better time at your place the more professionals you have to keep him company. The Alchemist also likes a Laboratory, but he wants to see a Lake and to have freedom of Opinion.
You don’t have to have all these features in your principality to please a professional, but each one you do have increases the score that makes the artwork that a professional produces better and better. Let’s see how you build out your palazzo to please these professionals.
The game is divided into two phases: Auction and Action, and whoever named them that… should be shot.
In the auction phase, these features are up for grabs: the three landscape pieces – Forests, Lakes, and Parks – jesters, builders, and Prestige and Recruiting cards.
The first player chooses one of these items and starts bidding at 200 Florins – no more, no less. Each player clockwise, in turn, chooses either to increase the bid by exactly 100 bucks, or to pass. Players who pass will not get a chance to bid again on that item this round. Play continues, as the players gradually increase their bids until everyone else passes, and the highest bidder wins the thing.
The winner takes the item and places it in his or her principality – we’ll see how that works a little later. Then, the winner places his or her marker on that stack of things; nobody else can bid for those in this phase.
If the person who won that auction wasn’t the starting player, the starting player begins again by picking a different thing and starting another round of bidding at 200 Florins. Players who passed are back in the game, but anyone who’s already bought something has to sit out and can’t bid. Each player will get, at most, one thing during the Auction phase.
If the starting player does win an auction, that player takes the item, and puts his or her marker on the stack. The next player to start a round of bidding is the first player going clockwise who hasn’t already won something. Remember that types of things that have already been won get marked, and can’t be bid on again. You can choose to forfeit your opportunity to start bidding on an object, but that counts you out of the bidding for the entire Auction phase this round. Once everyone else has either won something or forfeited, the very last player who hasn’t won anything can choose to buy any remaining available item for 200 Florins.
If you’re strapped for cash, at any point in the game, you can move your figure backwards on the score track for 100 Florins for each point you lose. And for every landscape tile or builder you win after the first one, you get 3 pp.
In clockwise turn order from the starting player, each player can perform up to two actions. You can complete a work by playing one of your Profession cards, buy a building, buy a new Profession card, buy a Freedom, or buy a Bonus card. If you’re buying a new Profession card or Freedom, you can only do this for one of your actions – every other type of action can be performed up to two times.
Completing a work is the big show. This is where you decide to play one of your professionals and rack up-a the PP! Each work that a Professional produces is worth WV, or Work Value. And check it out: as each round progresses, the minimum work value score increases as people’s expectations climb higher and higher. If your Professional can’t match or beat this minimum value, you can’t complete the work.
Let’s say you play your Profession card, the Composer, so he can create a symphony for you. The Work Value of that symphony starts at zero. If you have an Opera house in your palazzo, the Work Value of that symphony jumps to 4. If you have a Lake, you get 3 more Work Value points for a total of 7. If you allow Freedom of Opinion, well now it’s 10 points. Each Jester you have boosts the Work Value by 2, and each Professional or Recruiting card you have – whether it’s in your hand or out in front of you – including the card that you’re playing right now – adds another point to the Work Value of that symphony.
You place your marker on the scoring track to remember how many WV’s the symphony is worth. Each WV gets you 100 Florins from the bank. Now you have a difficult choice to make: you can either keep the money, or pay some back to convert these WVs to Prestige Points. Each point you buy costs 200 Florins. So if you played a Professional who made something worth 13 Work Value points, you get 1300 Florins. You can pay up to 1200 of those Florins back to the bank to convert 6 of those WV to Prestige Points.
You have to make this decision NOW. You can’t change any of your other money into points, and you can’t decide to convert the money you earned for this work into points later. It’s do or die: the money, or the prestige.
Once you decide the ratio of money and Prestige Points to hang onto, you move your figure on the scoring track to represent your PP score, and keep your marker where it is. If you play another Professional as your second action, you place your marker to represent the higher of the two work values, not the sum of both. So if you produced a work with a value of 13, and one with a value of 7, your marker stays at 13 – it doesn’t move up to 20, or down to 7.
The reason you do it this way is that at the end of the Action Phase, the player whose Professional created the most impressive individual work gets a bonus 3 Prestige Points. If multiple players tie for this bonus, they all get 3 PP.
Another action you can take in this phase is to buy a building. Buildings come in large, medium, and small varieties, but each one costs you 700 Florins. Buying a building gets you 3 Prestige Points right away, but there are some placement rules about where your building can go:
You can flip a building back-to-front, and rotate it any way you like, but a building cannot touch any other building, including your built-in Palazzo structure, except at its corners. Buildings CAN touch Landscape features, and Landscapes can be adjacent to other Landscapes. Pieces can’t overlap, and they can’t go out of bounds. You can only have one of any type of building, but you can have multiple types of landscapes. And finally, a building laid is a building played: you can’t move your buildings or landscapes around after the fact, or get rid of them.
If you win Builders during the auction phase, they break a few of these rules. The first Builder you own reduces the cost of all buildings to 300 Florins instead of 700. If you have 2 or more Builders, you CAN place buildings adjacent to one another. If you have 3 or more Builders, all buildings are free! If you have 4 or more Builders, you’ve cheated, because you can’t acquire more than 3 Builders.
To spend one of your actions introducing a new Freedom to your principality, pay 300 Florins and place the Freedom tile you want on its slot. As we’ve seen, these various Freedoms increase the value of works your Professionals produce when you play them. You can’t have more than one of each type of Freedom, and the tiles are in limited supply.
If you want to spend one of your two actions buying a Bonus card, pay 300 Florins to the bank and draw the top 5 cards from the Bonus deck… or all of the remaining cards if there are fewer than 5 left. You keep one, and return the remaining ones to the bottom of the deck in any order that you like. You can play these Bonus cards alongside your Professionals when you create a work, and playing a Bonus card doesn’t count as an extra action. The Bonus cards increase the Work Value points of whatever your Professional creates. For Bonus card purposes, your Palazzo doesn’t count as a building. And you can play multiple bonus cards together when completing a work.
As with the Bonus cards, you can spend an action paying 300 Florins to buy a new Profession card. Draw the top 5 cards from the deck, or all of the cards if there are fewer than 5, keep one, and return the rest to the bottom of the deck in any order. But remember: you can only acquire one new Profession card per Actions phase.
All of the actions I just went over are optional. You can take up to 2 actions, but if it serves your strategy, you can take only 1 action, or none.
Let’s loop back to the Auction phase and talk about two items we haven’t discussed: Prestige cards, and Recruiting cards.
If you win a Prestige card at auction, follow the same method as when drawing other cards: you take the top 5, keep one, and return the remainder to the bottom of the deck in any order that you like. Prestige cards have secret scoring goals on them that you keep face-down until the end of the game – things like “Earn 6 PP for having the most buildings,” and “Earn 8 PP for having all three Freedoms.” The catch, though, is that at the end of the game, your opponents grind down these points if they unknowingly match the conditions. So if you get a Prestige card with a bracketed score at the bottom, you earn those points if you tie with one or more players at meeting this condition. If any other player beats you at this goal, you don’t earn any of the card’s points!
If you win a Recruiting card at auction, you either play it immediately, or save it to play on your turn during the Action phase in any round, where it doesn’t count as one of your two actions. A Recruiting card lets you take a Professional that an opponent has played face-up. You steal the Pro card, and replace it with your Recruiting card, and take the stolen Professional into your hand. The player who got their Professional wooed away counts this Recruiting card as a Profession card when they score a work, or for points on Bonus and Prestige cards.
Steal-backs ARE allowed, so it’s possible for you to play the Sculptor, have it stolen by an opponent with a Recruiting card, and later, the opponent plays the Sculptor, and then you steal him back with your Recruiting card! You can play as many Recruiting cards on your turn as you like, but you can’t steal your own Professionals.
To set up the game, place the scoreboard in the middle of the table. Everyone takes a player board, and the matching marker and player figure. Figures go on the board at zero, and the round marker starts on round 1. Shuffle the Profession cards and deal 4 to each player. Everyone keeps three of these cards, and returns the 4th to the deck, which gets reshuffled.
Each player gets 3500 buckazoids, and the rest forms the bank. Each player’s cash supply is secret, so put the money… in your pants.
Stick the auction items here, and the Action Phase stuff on the other side. Each stack of freedoms should have player count minus one tiles in it. The oldest player goes first, and takes the black starting figure token. At the end of each round, the token gets passed clockwise, and the round marker gets moved. Once the last player takes his or her actions in the final round, the game ends. Flip the Prestige cards and score those points. The player with the most PP wins, and money breaks ties. And now, you’re ready to play The Princes of Florence!
This game is all about the patronage system in Renaissance Italy. If you’ve ever wanted to become a patron to an artist whose stuff you’ve loved, i’ve got great news for you: there’s a modern-day equivalent called Patreon, which is a site where you can spend money on talented artists to create great works for you. i’ve got a campaign on the site where you can send me money to keep creating great board game videos like these. I’ve been spending full-time hours on these videos, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, lots of evenings, lots of weekends, and i know it sounds like a cliche, but i honestly can’t carry on without your support. As my patron, you’ll get great perks, like early access to videos, and special behind-the-scenes content. So if you appreciate what i’m doing here, and you’d like to see me keep doing it, pop over to the Patreon page and consider becoming my benefactor. Thanks so much!
Get Your Own Copy of The Princes of Florence
The Princes of Florence is #4 in a series of board games from Rio Grande Games (which includes #14, The Castles of Burgundy), which all line up like book spines to look quite lovely on your game shelf. Follow the Amazon link below to buy your own copy of the game, and we’ll receive a small commission.