Reviewed by Herb Levy
MEDICI (Grail Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; $39.95)
Way back, in the Fall 1998 issue of Gamers Alliance Report, we featured a terrific game by Reiner Knizia called Medici. Game play aside, however, the graphics were a problem, a problem recognized immediately by its fans. Colors too similar, fonts hard to read etc. The hope was for these problems to be addressed in forthcoming editions, a forlorn hope as it turned out. Despite different publishers taking a stab at it, amazingly, the problems did not improve with subsequent editions; they got worse! At that point, it seemed that Medici with useful graphics would become a dream, a gamer’s “Holy Grail”. The brand new edition of Medici by the appropriately named Grail Games has set out to made that dream a reality: Medici with graphics that work! Now let’s backtrack a bit; just what is Medici all about?
In Medici, each player is a buyer for a different merchant house, trying to fill the holds of their ships with the most valuable cargo in order to make the most money. After three days (rounds) of this, the player who has accumulated the most money wins!
Each player receives a board and discs in his chosen color. Each board represents the cargo hold of his ship and has room for five goods (cards) that may be obtained each round. In a change from the original edition, the board of Medici this time around (if you’ll pardon the pun) is circular in nature and displays the five goods found in the game (cloth, fur, grain, dye and spice), each in their own section. All players begin by placing one of their discs in the bottom rung of each of the five sections. A scoring marker for each player begins at either 40 (for 2 to 4 players) or 30 (for 5 or 6) representing both the florins (money) a player has to spend AND Victory Points.
A 36 card deck is used in the game. Each good has cards representing values of from 0 to 5 (there are two 5 cards). In addition, one card, not tied to any good, has a value of 10. These cards are shuffled and, depending on the number of players, some removed without revealing. The randomly chosen first player now gets control of the deck and begins play.
Auctions are the key to Medici. On a turn, the active player reveals at least one card. That player, at his discretion, may then reveal a second or third card. Starting with the player to the left, players may bid to win the revealed card(s) – or pass – with the active player getting the last and final bid. High bidder gets all of the revealed cards, placing them in the cargo hold of his ship, reducing his position on the scoring track by the amount bid. A player MUST have room in his hold for all the cards won; otherwise, he may not bid and a player may not turn over more cards than at least one player can place in his hold. (So, for example, if all the players only have 1 or 2 slots in their holds for cards, then the active player may NOT put three cards up for auction.) If no one bids, then those cards are tossed and are out of the game. Play then passes to the next player who, again, must decide just how many cards to put up for auction. When the holds of all of the players are filled OR the deck of cards runs out, the round is over and we score.
Players see which goods they have purchased and advance their discs up the matching commodity track, one step towards the center for each card gotten. Each of the five commodities generates florins (Victory Points are charted on the VP track) to the player who is highest up the ladder (earning 10) and second highest (5). Ties are split between players (rounded down). If you get high enough up the ladder, your tenacity is rewarded by a bonus of 5, 10 or even 20 points if you can make it to the very top! Sweeter yet is that, in case of a tie on these steps, ALL players get the full bonus amount. Aside from the commodities, players also score for “weight”.
The number value of all cards in each player’s hold is added. This is where that 10 weight card can prove extremely useful. Although it is not aligned with any particular commodity and will not give you any “upward mobility” on any commodity section, this can lock you into a high weight total. The player with the most weight earns 30 points! (In a two player game, you get, a still hefty, 20.) Lesser weights also reward players with points too which are also added to the scoring track.
With all the points calculated, the player in last place becomes the start player for the next round. All cards are shuffled back into the deck, cards removed as required, and another round is played and scored. After the end of the scoring for the third round, the game is over. High score wins!
Medici is a brilliant game, so brilliant that it has managed to maintain its luster despite graphic attempts to tarnish it. In this latest attempt to do the game justice, kudos should go to Vincent Dutrait (probably best known for the artwork on Augustus, featured in the Summer 2013 Gamers Alliance Report). Card colors are now easily differentiated (silver vs. blue), you can finally tell, at a glance, if that is a number 3 or a number 5, and the individual player boards have the color of each player right on them so that everyone knows right away which player is in which position on the commodity and scoring tracks. But not all is perfect.
The muted brown and red/brown tones would have worked better had they been found on opposite ends of the circular board rather than next to each other and the larger cards used in the original edition would certainly have been my preference. And, for some reason, individual spaces on the scoring track are delineated with small black lines against a very dark blue background forcing players to be extra careful when calculating scores and moving their scoring tokens. Not only are do these scores indicate how much money you have to use for your bids, they also are your Victory Points! Still, on the whole, this edition benefits from the decided upgrade in graphics.
A plus in this edition is the inclusion of a two player version of the game. Knizia experimented with a two player Medici before (Medici vs. Strozzi featured in the Winter 2007 issue of Gamers Alliance Report) but this is a more direct adaptation of the original. Still, the game is at its best with more players as more players in the mix ramp up the competition for goods and adds tension to the bidding. The 5 point bonus step was an “unofficial variant” not found in the original edition but one we have implemented in our play of the game for years. It’s good to see it get an official sanction.
Certain games seems to best represent a certain type of game design. When it comes to bidding and auctions, that game is Reiner’s Knizia’s Medici. This is a classic game of perceived value. Just how many cards should I turn up for auction? How much IS that set of cards worth to my opponents – and how much is it worth to me? Which commodities should I concentrate on getting? Should I take that 0 card which will hurt my weight bonus chances in order to boost my standing in that commodity? Do I push my luck and turn up another card when the first one (or two) is so tempting?Since you’re bidding with your Victory Points, every bid is a crucial one. That it handles up to six players flawlessly is only one of its many strengths; that the graphic inadequacies of previous editions have been handled, for the most part, so well make this edition a pleasure.
If you’ve been intrigued by games with auctions at their core, look no further. Medici is a game worthy of it classic status and the Grail Games’ production worthy of the game. Highly recommended. – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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