Die Fürsten von Florenz

(The Princes of Florence)

A board game for 3-5 players by Richard Ulrich and Wolfgang Kramer, published in German by Alea
These comments copyright 2000 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated June 16, 2000

Die Fürsten von Florenz is a very fine game from the designers of El Grande and El Caballero. (Kramer has also been designer or co-designer of many other fine games, including Tikal, Torres, Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix, Wildlife Adventure, and many more.) The components, although largely cardboard, are striking. Each player has his own small board, and there is one scoring track board for the middle of the table. The small boards have elegant writing and lovely illustrations, as well as an attractive plot of land to develop. There are four decks of cards, many cardboard building and landscape pieces, chits of various types, and a few wooden pawns.

At this point in time, the game is only published in German. This is unfortunate for most Americans, as it's one of those games that needs a translation of some of the cards to be truly appreciated. I have translated two of the decks of cards (they're posted to the BoardgameGeek, where you can also find a rules translation), and it works fine. It's well worth the bit of work needed to print the cards in English!


The theme is both appealing and well implemented: the players are sovereigns of principalities in Renaissance Italy vying for prestige in sponsoring the best artists and scholars. Unlike most German games, which have thinly pasted-on themes, the theme of Die Fürsten von Florenz permeates the game giving it a rich atmosphere.

In order to promote the arts and scholarship, you have to provide for your artists and scholars. You have to consider both their needs - a building for them to work in - and also their desires. They all long for freedoms to be implemented - freedom of religion, of ideas, and of travel. They like beautiful landscapes to wander in (or boat upon) for inspiration and relaxation: woods, lakes, parks. They like entertainers, and the company of other artists and scholars. Of course, all these things cost money, but what is mere money compared to being recognized throughout history as the greatest patron of the arts and sciences?


There are two phases of play: the auction phase and the action phase. They are quite distinct, and have very different feels to them, making the game play quite interesting.

The oldest player is the initial First Player, which is a slight disadvantage. It passes from player to player during the game - there are only seven turns in the whole game, so you don't have to be First Player too often.

The Auction Phase

The first phase is the auction phase. There are seven things you can bid on, and this is the only way to get any of them. They are the three landscape types (woods, parks, lakes), two employee types (architects and entertainers), and two types of cards (Prestige Cards and Enticement Cards - more on these later).

So the First Player chooses something he wishes to purchase or hire, and bids 200 Florins, the minimum bid allowed. The other players may then bid him up or pass. If they pass, they're out of the auction on that item. If they bid him up, the auction keeps going among all those who bid until only one remains. The winner pays the money to the bank, takes the item he won, and places a marker of his color on the pile of remaining items of that type. This shows two things: that he is ineligible to bid further this turn, and that no further items of that type may be auctioned off this turn.

If the First Player won the auction, the player to his left then chooses an item to bid on. If the First Player did not win the auction, he chooses a second item to bid on. This continues until all players have won one and only one item. The game now passes on to the next phase.

The Action Phase

The action phase is played very differently. The First Player now simply chooses two actions, performs them, and play passes to the next player. This continues until all players have performed two actions. The turn marker is then advanced, and the next player becomes First Player, and the game continues with another Auction Phase.

There are five possible actions:

  • Construct a building (2)
  • Hire a Personality (1)
  • Institute a Freedom (1)
  • Buy a Bonus Card (2)
  • Publish a Work (2)
The number in parentheses is the maximum times you may perform this action in a given turn. Otherwise, you may choose two actions from the above five choices in any order and any combination. The first four choices cost money, the last choice earns you money (or prestige, or some combination thereof).

There are ten types of buildings: three large ones, five middle-sized ones, and two small ones. Large buildings are used by three different personality types, middle-sized by two, and small by one. Your board lists the 21 different personalities you can hire. You start with a hand of three Personality cards, and may hire more in the game. These are the various artists and scholars, ranging from a Mathematician, Physicist, Alchemist, etc., to a Poet, Playwright, or Painter. Each personality card lists which building the scholar needs, and which landscape and freedom appeals to him.

There are three types of freedom: travel, ideas, and religion. These are limited to one less each than the number of players, by the way.

Work Number

Bonus Cards are tied in with the Work Number concept, the only mildly confusing part of the game to learn. In order to Publish a Work, you must have a certain number of Work Number (WN) points. This number changes from turn to turn, listed on the turn record track. You only need seven WN to publish a work in the first turn, but 17 in the seventh turn, for example.

You can think of WN as reflecting the conditions suitable for publishing a work. An artist or scholar needs a certain environment to work, and WN show you how well you've met those environmental needs. You can get WN from any of the following sources:

  • Personalities (each personality you hire is worth 1WN - you start with three, so you already have 3 WN to begin with)
  • The appropriate Building is worth 4 WN
  • The appropriate Landscape is worth 3 WN
  • The appropriate Freedom is worth 3 WN
  • An Entertainer is worth 2 WN
  • A Bonus card is worth a variable number of WN

A sample Bonus Card might read: "Each Large Building you have is worth 2 WN," or "Every Landscape you have is worth 1 WN." When you choose the Bonus Card action, you draw the top five cards, look through them, choose one, and return the other four to the bottom of the deck.

Publishing a Work

So if you still have an action left, and can meet the minimum WN for the turn, you can publish a work. Choose a Personality card from your hand, lay it face up on the table, and calculate the WN. Place your marker on the scoring track at the appropriate WN - there is a bonus to whoever produces the work with the highest WN in a given turn. Of course, if you don't meet the minimum WN, you have to take the personality back into your hand.

So publishing a work might sound like this:

"My painter is publishing a work. I have built a Studio, so that's 4 WN. I have a lake, so that's 3 WN. I don't have freedom of travel, so nothing there. I have one Entertainer, so that's 2 WN, giving me a total of 9 WN so far. I have four personalities, bringing me to 13 WN, and I'm playing this Bonus Card which gives 2 WN for each architect - I have two, for a grand total of 17 WN. Since this is turn four, the minimum necessary is 14 WN, so my work is indeed published."

The player would then place his marker on the 17 space. At the end of the round, whoever published the best work gets 3 Prestige Points (PP).

Prestige Points

Prestige Points are victory points in this game: whoever has the most PP at the end of the game wins. When you publish a work, you may collect either cash, PP, or some combination. You get 100 florins for each WN of the published work. At that time, you may turn in 200 florins for 1 PP, and do that as many times as you wish. So for the 17 WN work published in my example above, you could collect 1700 Florins, or take 100 Florins and eight PP, or some variation in between those extremes.

There are other ways to get PP during the game: each Building you construct earns you 3 PP, for example, while every landscape of the same type after the first earns you 3 PP. The second and third Architect you hire earns you 3 PP. (One Architect reduces the cost of building from 700 to 300 Florins, by the way, and the second Architect allows you to place your buildings adjacent to each other in your grid. A third Architect means you can erect buildings for free.)

The only other way to get PP is through Prestige Cards, which you can win in the Auction Phase. Each card shows a condition you must meet at the end of the game; if you meet the condition, you get the stated PP, ranging from 3-8. The conditions range from having the most buildings to all three freedoms to the fewest empty spaces showing at the end of the game (that is, you've built the maximum combination of landscapes and buildings, which cover up your initial territory most efficiently).

Enticement Cards

These are also briefly confusing, and of limited value, in my opinion. An Enticement card allows you to entice a published artist or scholar of one of your opponents to join your establishment. You can then publish a work with that personality if you wish. But you leave the Enticement card in its place, which counts as a Personality card for all purposes, so you can't hurt your opponent using one. You may not even be able to help yourself using one - it's not always easy to publish. However, they do count as a Personality card for WN purposes, so they have some benefit, even if you buy them but never use them.

Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?

Well, it's a tad complex for a German game. Not as bad as some, but it lacks the simple elegance we've come to expect from German games. Once you grasp Work Numbers and Enticement cards, though, it's easy to understand - there's just an initial "hump" you have to get over.

Also, I find the game doesn't work well with three players. The only thing you limit is the number of Freedoms - all other pieces are available for the game. Thus the auction phase is a bit lackluster - with seven choices and only three bidders, there's not a lot of competition, except near the end when everyone wants a Prestige Card. I'm tempted to institute a special auction restriction for three players: only one landscape type may be built each turn. That is, instead of opening an auction with, "I'll bid 200 Florins on a Park," you would instead open with "I'll bid 200 Florins on a Landscape." Whoever won the bid would take their choice of Landscapes (woods, lake, or park), but no one else could put in any Landscape this turn. This would bring the number of items for auction down to five: Landscape, Entertainer, Architect, Prestige Card, Enticement Card - this is similar in feel to the current five-player set-up, in which five players bid for seven items. I haven't tried this yet, and it may not work, but I don't like the three-player game as is, so I might give it a whirl sometime.

While the auction phase is more interesting with five players, it's also a longer game, of course. This can be especially true in the second phase of each turn, if you have slow, calculating thinkers, trying to maximize their two actions. You only get 14 actions over the whole game, so you can't really blame someone for wanting to make the best choices each turn. But it can slow the game down, and make this game feel like "multi-player solitaire." Fortunately, I play with fairly quick players, so this doesn't bother me at all, but your group may be different.

Summing Up

The flaws are minor to me, though I don't care to play the three-player game. The theme is wonderful, and largely well implemented, with only a few illogical things thrown in. (Hiring three architects gives you a free building? Ha! In the real world, the more architects you hire, the more expensive a building is ... But that's minor; I can live with it.) There are lots of interesting decisions to make, and the luck of the game is minimized. (For example, whenever you draw a card, you draw five and choose one.)

Overall, I enjoy this game very much and recommend it highly. I hope it comes out in English eventually, but in the meantime, I think it's worth buying the German version. The only cards that you really need in English are the Bonus and Prestige cards, and I've translated them for you on BoardgameGeek. The other German components aren't a problem, honest. Try it!

Back to SOS' Gameviews
Back to Steffan O'Sullivan's Home Page