Money, money, money......money. Just like the O'Jays sang in their 1973 classic, "some people just gotta have it." That was true then, it's true now and you'd best believe it was true back during the Renaissance. To be precise we're talking about 13th-15th Century Florence, Italy and that's where Medici comes in.
Word has come through the grapevine that a shipment of high quality goods is being delivered to the local marketplace. It seems like a great opportunity to snap up a bargain, sell it on and make a quick buck in the process, well, a quick bit of silver or gold to be more accurate. Saddle up the horses, we ride for the market!
But hang on a second, it seems those low down dirty merchants from the rival families have also received the tip off regarding this new delivery of goods. Hmmm, your powers of negotiation will need to be at their strongest. As you approach the market you see fine cloth, multi-coloured dyes, extravagant furs, exotic spices and golden yellow grain. Let the bidding commence!
Visit the Auction House
This is a bidding game and a........well, that's it actually. All you do is bid. Bid, bid, bid. That may sound pretty boring and monotonous but in reality the Medici hides this well in the board design and game flow.
Auctioneer duties pass around the table and when you're in the hot seat you put your hand in the magic velvety draw string bag, pull out random tiles and begin auctioning off anything from 1-3 goods (that you can still bid on yourself). Then each player gets one, yes just one, chance to put in a bid. As if it wasn't hard enough trying to second guess how high others might go, the bids are not done simultaneously but in a round-the-table format.
If you really want those goods and you're first to bid you better make it a high one. If you're last and the others have kept it low, or even passed, you might get a cheap set of goods. But wait a minute, the auction is for fur and grain and you don't really want them. But then again you can snap them for a measly bid of just two. What to do, what to do!
The game takes place over three rounds, each of which have two scoring phases. Firstly, each player buys goods to fill the five empty spaces in their ship's hold. These take the form of the five types mentioned above and have a number printed on them ranging from 0-5. Money is then awarded to each player based on 'size of ship' or in other words the cumulative total of the numbers on all the tiles in a given ship, e.g. my ship has a one grain tile, one herb tile , 0 cloth tile, 0 spice tile and a two fur tile. My ship total is four. The biggest valued ship get the most money and so on.
The second scoring phase in Medici now takes place and this is where the middle of the game board is used. Each player's colour marker is moved up one position for each type of a certain good they have in their ship. Using my example ship above, in the fur category I'd move up two places and then one in each of cloth grain and spice. In a similar way to the ship, scoring the highest in each good type gets money. After three rounds the player with the most money wins. Simple.
Wow, that's clever
Here's the first clever bit. Scoring in the first and second phases are independent but still somewhat linked. Do I bid for goods that will give my ship a high value, regardless of their type which might not score me any points in the goods-type scoring? Or do I try and target specific types, not caring if the ship scoring numbers on the tiles are low? Is it in fact possible to try and optimise both strategies?
I mentioned earlier that all players do is bid. That might be true but they still have to make hard choices about what to bid on and how much to bid. Add in the random nature of the auction tiles that get revealed and things get even more tense.
Wow, that's even cleverer
Here's the second clever bit. Points are money and money is points. Players start by placing one of their tokens on either 30 or 40 on the scoring track (depending on the number of players). Then when they win auction lots they subtract the money from their score. When they receive points for ships and goods scoring, they add to their score.
I love this mechanic. I might be able to compile a fantastic looking ship's hold that contains luxurious high numbered cloth and bullet free mink fur that will score highly, but if it cost me a ton of cash to acquire I might not be making big gains in the long run. Hard choices, like I said.
For me, any kind of bidding game produces great player interaction and Medici is no exception. There are also great opportunities for screwage. Sam has already loaded three spice tiles in his boat. I'm on auction duties and I pull out a spice tile. During auctions, the auctioneer can choose 1-3 tiles but the great thing here is (third clever bit?) they can decide to stop or continue drawing after seeing what has already been pulled from the bag.
I don't want Sam getting that spice so I decide to pull a second tile hoping it's something he doesn't want (when you bid on a lot you have to take everything in it) but it's spice again. Wow, I know Sam will be bidding on this lot. However, I screw his overconfident merchantness and pull a third and final tile. As his ship only has two empty spaces he can't bid on this lot. Take that, you spice fiend!
Other things to note. Smallish box for convenient travel? Check. Plays with 3-6 ? (5-6 is best)? Check. Plays in under an hour? Check.
If I was to pick holes in Medici I'd say that ultimately, although there is a certain level of strategy involved, it's not that deep and some players will likely see it as quite formulaic. I think that is probably accurate but in the end the tension, randomness and 'name calling' override this. Yes there will be abuse and with that in mind I do feel this works best with a group of players who are happy to embrace the screwage.
Also, if a new player is introduced this can create an imbalance in the bidding as they will not be familiar with what is considered a 'valid' bid for the multitude of differing auction situations. That being said, the game is quick enough that after one play through they will probably have the hang of it.
On a side note, although I haven't played it, I hear Reiner Knizia's other auction/bidding game Ra is also very good.
Disclaimer - I have a previous version of Medici. In the new printing (which I haven't played) it seems the tiles and bag have been replaced by cards which I think is a downgrade although the board itself does look better. The new version also includes a two-player add-on, which is nice.