3-6 Players (2 player variant)
Reiner Knizia (Ra, Colossal Arena, Ingenious)
Auction, Press Your Luck
I've got four florins. Do I hear Five?
I really like Reiner Knizia’s games. I really dislike Auction-intensive games. Reiner Knizia makes quite a few Auction-intensive games, so what do I do? My disdain for the mechanic traces back to my unrivaled propensity to sit before what I deem “Chronic Passers” – players who always pass and never up the bid allowing the bid to be uncomfortably high by the time it comes back to me. Had they increased the bid instead, conceivably other players would have passed, but as a result the player that follows has little incentive to pass or increase the bid by much. However, I had a fascination with the game Medici for many years for reasons I cannot actually remember. I had a chance to try before I buy and I fell in love with the game. I completed my vow to buy the game the next time I had the opportunity.
Medici is played over three rounds, with each round having the same structure. Each player has one boat that can hold up to five goods. A deck of goods is created with six goods per player (one extra) and the current player will draw one card at a time, up to three, to fill a lot. When the player is satisfied with the contents, each player (beginning with the next player) will place a bid on the goods. If the goods go unclaimed, they are discarded. However, players only get one chance to evaluate the lot; if you bid low, the next player need only increase the bid by one Florin to outbid you, with the active player having the final right of refusal.
Every good card has a weight, and all but one (Gold) belongs to one of six families of goods. Players are rewarded for having higher overall weights on their boat while also scoring points for each item in that family (regardless of its weight value). After certain thresholds are met, players will be awarded additional points for these families. Any Florins gained in one round are carried over to be used as currency for subsequent rounds; the player with the most Florins wins.
As I mentioned before, I despise the Chronic Passer, yet in Medici it manages to be both a valid strategy, recipe for disaster and boon to the active player. Since you only have one chance to evaluate a set of goods, you have to be extremely precise. If you undervalue the goods, your opponents will get them cheaply; if you bid too high, you will waste Florins. If you fill your boat aggressively, players will be able to lock you out of future lots because you cannot fit the contents in your boat i.e. a lot of three goods when you only have two spaces available. If you wait too long to fill your boat hoping to do the same to your opponents, you may be left with empty slots or lesser value goods.
Although Medici is primarily an Auction game, it also demonstrates an intriguing take on Press Your Luck. Players do not know what goods – either type or value – will be coming later. I often find myself hoping to discard goods by filling the boat with useless goods, only for a valuable good to be revealed next. Additionally, instead of stopping with one desirable good, the next good might be completely worthless and ruin your turn if you intended to take it. The Chronic Passer is taking an extreme risk hoping that the cards remaining in the deck are more valuable for free than the cards available for bidding. Note that if there is only one player remaining, he automatically fills his boat with remaining goods for free, although this may leave more desirable goods on the table.
Despite only having two means of scoring (unless you count stingy bidding as a third means), Medici crams a lot of strategy into a surprisingly short game – rounds are much shorter than Ra, a similarly structured game. Since there are only five slots, every slot matters and must be used effectively. Being first in boat weight can net you many points, but if your resources are overly diversified to achieve this weight, you may be starving yourself of points from set collection. Weight resets each day, whereas the goods collected do not. Aggressively pursuing even a single good type can be pay dividends if the bonus is reached in the first or second day. Similarly, you might have to outbid your opponents because you cannot let them obtain a particular good if it would trigger the aforementioned bonus.
Each bid must be precise and players must think carefully about how to evaluate the lot of goods. While this may mean doing quite a bit of math, it is not particularly complex, which makes it accessible. Players must be aware of their opponents bidding tendencies and may even try to bait them into bidding for a lot they do not actually desire. Even one coin may be one coin too many. This is a Dr. Reiner Knizia game, after all – math is to be expected.
I personally do not see any flaws with Medici – it is a completely self-contained game that serves a single purpose and does it well. I know many will complain about the theme (or lack thereof) but that personally does not bother me. I am also aware that some people believe the game is broken at three players, but I disagree. The major argument is that not enough goods are used with three players, in which case luck of the draw plays a major factor. On the contrary, every player has a chance to bid on every lot and you yourself are to blame if you allow players to get valuable goods for free. I quite enjoy Medici with three players.
With support for up to six players and quick turns (assuming no analysis paralysis), Medici is a very enjoyable game that fixed the Auction mechanic for me and becomes one of new introductory games for the mechanic because it scales so well. Medici is simple to explain but requires finesse to play effectively. It took several years to get a new copy (which I got on sale!) but the wait was worth it. This remains a Reiner Knizia classic for a reason, and although a pure push your luck card game version has recently come out, I will happily stick with the board game.