A game for 3-6 players by Reiner Knizia published by Amigo (Germany) and Rio Grande (USA)
These comments copyright 1999 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated June 23, 1999

Medici is a game that took me a long time to like - over a dozen games before I accepted it was a good game. I still have never won (as I type this), mind you, but I now like the game. It's an auction game, the only one of Knizia's auction games I like. It's also one of the few games which has radically different components between the European and Rio Grande versions: the Rio Grande version is frankly much less appealing, visually, but provides colored counters the Amigo version leaves out. There is no German in the game except the rules, and English translations are available on the net, so I recommend the Amigo version if you can find it. You can add small colored pieces of paper, wood, cloth, etc., to denote who owns which color.

The board has a scoring track and five commodity pyramids. The pieces are wooden - five small markers of each of six colors, and a large marker for the scoring track. Finally there is a deck of 36 cards: 0-5 and an extra 5 for each of five colors, plus a "10" card in a neutral color. The small markers are placed in the base level, one for each player in each pyramid. The scoring markers start on the 30 or 40 space, depending on the number of players. The deck is shuffled, and a first player chosen.

The premise is simple: you are Renaissance merchants, each with a ship - which is abstracted as the space on the table in front of you. You have an amount of money - florins, represented by the scoring track - and five spaces for cargo in the hold of your ship. You must buy commodities and try to corner the market in them - there is no profit if you don't at least tie for the second largest quantity of a given commodity. There is, however, a fairly large bonus for whichever ship carries the most cargo. There are only three rounds, so you will fill your ship only three times.

All that, however, is window dressing. This is a Knizia game, which means the theme is at best a thin veneer over an abstract game mechanic. The game feels very abstract, which is one reason it took me so long to like it. It doesn't feel like ships carrying cargo, merchants spending and gaining florins, dealing in spices, metals, etc. It feels and is very abstract. But I've come to like it in spite of that.

At the beginning of the round, you shuffle the cards and reduce the deck so there are only six cards per person. This is the entire deck in a six-player game, but otherwise you will be setting some cards aside. The first player then turns over cards, one at a time. You may stop after one, two, or three cards. You may not turn over a fourth card. When you are ready, you then auction off the card(s) you have face up on the table. The player to your left gets first bid, and you get last bid. Each player may only bid once.

You are bidding florins, which are, in reality, victory points. Everyone starts with 30 (or 40 for 3-4 players) florins, and may not go below 0. If you have turned up the red 5, blue 3, and green 2, and I'm to your left, I might bid "4" on that. The next player could either raise that bid or pass, and so on around the table to the dealer. The dealer always has last chance to buy the commodities offered.

The player who won the auction takes the cards. The deck is passed to the dealer's left, and that player turns over one, two, or three cards, one at a time, and may stop any time, as before. These also are auctioned off, and so on.

You may not have more than five cards at the end of a round. Once you have five, you sit the rest of the round out - you don't even deal. If you have bought three cards, you can't even bid on a three-card auction. Once everyone has at least three cards, the dealer may not turn over a third card. If everyone passes on certain cards, they are discarded. Since there are six cards per player, and each player can take at most five cards, it's okay to discard up to one card per player without fear. Any cards discarded beyond that, however, mean that someone won't be able to fill their "hold" of five cards. Someone's ship will be going home light.

The "10" card is not associated with any commodity. It will, however, help you significantly in the race to carry the largest cargo.

Once either everyone has five cards, or the deck is exhausted, the round is over except for scoring. First, determine who has the largest cargo. This is simply a matter of adding up the numbers on your cards, ignoring commodity type. So if I have a 5, 5, 4, 3, 3, I have a total cargo of 20, which is pretty good, but probably not first place. The first place person receives 30 florins (victory points, remember, and are just kept track of on the scoring track around the board). Second place gets 20, and so on - only the lowest score receives no florins.

Next, the markers are moved up for each of the commodities. At this point, the numbers on the cards have no meaning, only the color. If I have three blue cards, it doesn't matter if they're the 0, 1, 2 - I move my token up three spaces on the blue pyramid. Once all commodities have been recorded on the pyramids, players receive florins based on first and second place. The first place in each pyramid is worth 10 points and second 5 - no one else receives any points.

The deck is shuffled and whoever is in last place becomes first dealer for the next round. Repeat this until three rounds have been played, and the winner is the player with the most florins.

There are a lot of interesting decisions in the game: after looking at the first card you turn over, you have to decide whether or not you want to turn more over. Once you see what's offered, you have to decide how much to bid. Do you go for highest cargo value or for concentrations of colors? The top two places in a pyramid grant 20- and 10-point bonuses, so they're worth shooting for. But you can only get 15 commodities, at most, during the whole game - it takes six in a given color to reach the 10-point bonus, and seven to reach the 20-point bonus level. So you don't want to spread yourself over too many colors. Do you bid someone up for cards you know they want - but if you do, you risk getting stuck with them? And so on - lots of tough decisions on most turns.

It may take a while to get to like Medici - it certainly took me many games. But I've come to accept it as an excellent auction game that takes a lot to master.

Other games by this designer I've reviewed are:

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