Updated: May 15, 2021
In the 15th Century, Florence was among the largest and certainly richest cities in Europe. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance and its de facto rulers were the Medici family: bankers to the Pope. This is the setting for Florence, the third city-themed title from Braincrack Games. It is being described as the final part of a trilogy of games (following Ragusa and Venice). There is a thematic and stylistic link between the three games but they are three distinct games, each from a different designer. And tho' Braincrack describe Florence as the final game in the series, with so many other historic European cities out there, there's ample scope to further extend the series to a quadrilogy or beyond...
In Florence, designed by Dean Morris, the Medici family feature prominently but they aren't the characters controlled by the players. Instead, the 2-4 players (or single player, in the solo mode designed by the ubiquitous David Turczi) control other families in the city who are rivals for the attention (victory points) awarded by Cosimo, Contessina and Giovanni Medici - non-player characters whose carriages take them around the board to the various scoring locations. The families controlled by the players are so far unnamed, so distinguished only by the colours of their meeples. They each comprise, in ascending rank, 5 Debutantti, 3 Donne and 1 Maestro - all used at the game's nine locations to compete for area control. When these pieces queue at locations, higher ranking meeples jump ahead of those of lower rank - exactly as you'd expect in Medieval society. Players also have guards, gifts and 'Brag' markers.
It is time that is the game's currency. In the first round, players can spend 12 units of time, turning a wheel on their individual player boards to reflect the time spent on the various actions available to them. For example, placing out a Debutant cost 4 units of time; promoting a Debutant (replacing it with a Donna) costs another 5 units. Just as we'd have liked to have seen the players' families given thematically appropriate names, so it would be better if time were given an actual measure (ie: hours). These are trivial points and they could well be dealt with as the prototype shown here on Board's Eye View is further developed for final production.
The amount of time available varies each round, and you'll know two rounds in advance how much time you'll have to spend. You'll also know which locations Cosimo, Contessina and Giovanni will be travelling to next on the peregrinations around the city. The locations visited by the Medicis score for area control, but each Medici differs in the way control is reckoned. Cosimo grants victory points for each meeple according to their place in the queue; Contessina does not condescend to socialise with mere Debuttanti so only awards victory points to Donna and Maestro meeples. Giovanni rewards area majority but players only score for this if they also expend an indicated amount of time.
Florence is a game where players will always need to plan two moves ahead so that they have the right meeples in the right place at the right time. Movement of meeples already placed out onto the board costs only 1 unit of time, so as the game progresses it becomes increasingly an optimisation puzzle.
Locations on the board allow players to claim victory points for meeting specific criteria. This is considered a 'Brag', and you only have six Brag markers so you'll want to optimise their use. That said, players might also use a Brag to block a location to prevent a rival player from benefitting from it. Gifts allow you to place out guards which afford additional benefits or bonuses depending on which Medici you give the gift to. There's further flavour too in the Scandal cards, which you can earn and play (mostly with a time cost) to shake up the game (for example, by altering your meeple's place in a queue).
Florence is an excellent area control puzzle game. Its use of time to limit actions and the impact of non-player characters visiting locations put us in mind of Vital Lacerda's Kanban (Stronghold/Eagle-Gryphon) but Florence has its own distinctive flavour and is notably easier to teach, learn and play. Judging from the prototype we've been playing, artist Dann May and the publishers have done a (Brain)cracking job in the production, including a wheel that shows the upcoming destinations of each of the Medici, and coaches to represent their current locations.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)