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MEDICI vs. STROZZI

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Abacus/Rio Grande Games, 2 players, ages 10 and up, 30-45 minutes; $22.95)

 

If you created a matrix crisscrossing the long list of games designed by Reiner Knizia with the long list of games using auctions as a central part of their design, you can make a serious argument that the cream rising to the top would be Knizia’s Medici (featured in the Fall 1998 GA REPORT). But for all its good qualities, Medici was not a game that could be played by two. Now, after all these years, that vacuum has been filled with Medici vs. Strozzi.

Medici vs. Strozzi, designed by Reiner Knizia with special thanks to Sebastian Bleasdale (whose On the Underground is also featured this issue), comes small boxed with three harbors, six merchant ships, 26 merchandise tiles, 8 wooden “monopoly” markers, 48 coins (in denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 50), a cloth bag and rules (in both English and German).medicistrozzi

The three “harbors” are placed between the players. Two of the harbors display three “goods” tracks; the third harbor has only two tracks. Players represent either the Medici or Strozzi faction and each player gets three ships which he will attempt to fill with cargo. Ships have maximum limits. One ship can hold five items, one ship four and one ship only three. There are four types of cargo and six merchandise tiles for each type, in denominations of 0, 1, 2, 3 and (two valued at) 4. In addition, two “gold” tiles, valued at 5, are in the mix. All cargo tiles are placed in the cloth bag. The 8 wooden monopoly markers are placed in the center of each harbor track. With each player primed with a starting bankroll of 300, the cargo competition begins.

The first round begins with the Medici player drawing a tile. He may draw one, two or three tiles from the bag. (The only restriction here is that he must have room in at least one of his ships so that ALL drawn tiles could be placed there.) He then sets a price for these tiles. Now, the Strozzi player is faced with a decision. If he pays the price, the tiles are his. If he decides to pass on them, then the Medici player MUST purchase those tiles at the price set. Whoever purchases these tiles may then place them in one of his ships. (Alternatively, a player may buy tiles and then jettison them if he finds them unsuitable for whatever reason.) The player who bought the tiles now repeats the process. When one player has filled all of his ships or when there are no more merchandise tiles in the bag, the rounds ends and we score.

The value of each ship in each harbor is equal to the cargo it holds. The player with the higher total in each harbor will score 20. (If tied, there is no payout.) Now, the monopoly markers are moved. For each good on the ship corresponding to the matching track in the harbor, the monopoly marker is moved one space closer to the player. (A tile with a value of 0 compensates for its low value by shifting the marker TWO spaces closer.) For each monopoly token on your side, there is an additional payout of 10. (The last two steps on each track carry a bonus value of 10 and 20 so there is the potential for higher payoffs.) Once players receive their money, the next round begins. There are three rounds in all with the Strozzi player starting rounds two and three. With the final payout of the third round, money is totaled. The player with the highest total wins!

The pivotal factor of the game is that money is Victory Points and you bid VPs in order to amass more of them! One of the key (and most enjoyable) points of strategy is to determine how much a load of goods is worth to your opponent. Towards the end of the game, as ships fill with cargo, you need to be able to correctly assess their value to BOTH of you since, even with a ship unable to take on a full load available, your opponent can still buy the goods and dump them to keep them out of your hands – unless you are willing to pay the price and your enemy is not.

While the game design is virtually flawless, the Medici curse is still alive and well! And that curse centers on the graphics! In each of the two previous releases of Medici, the game play was undermined by the choice of colors used on the board and cards making it difficult to easily distinguish between the different commodities. You would think such a problem would be avoided with this “2 player Medici”. Not quite. Not that this problem wasn’t addressed. To make differentiation of different commodities easier, icons have been added. Amazingly, not only are the colors hard to tell apart but the icons are difficult to identify too thus defeating their purpose! Hopefully, the next printing will opt for more easily recognizable primary colors.

Once again, Reiner Knizia has risen to the challenge of converting one of his classic boardgames to a card game format. First, it was Euphrat & Tigris with the Euphrat & Tigris: Contest of Kings Card Game (Spring 2006 GA REPORT) and now Medici. Of the two, Medici vs. Strozzi is more satisfying. The head to head “auctions” capture the “threshold of pain” feeling so wonderfully presented in the original game and maintain the flavor of the original classic while, if anything, adding more tense decision making to the mix as you go head to head against your foe. Recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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