Friday, September 10, 2010

Cheap Gaming Month! Court of the Medici

Recent events being what they are we'll be concentrating on cheap games for a while. Specifically let's look at some inexpensive and fast games, which are not a bad thing when playing with kids or when foisting another set of rules on the long suffering spouse.

Court of the Medici (CoM) got good reviews at Boardgamegeek and for less than $20 it seemed well worth a look. The product itself is very attractive. CoM is a card game and each card features a painting of a noble or personality from renaissance Italy. The paintings are really superb, something I suspect the artists are well aware of as they sign only their first names a la' "Brad" and "Angelina." So if "Raphael" and "Titian" feel entitled to first name celebrity then more power to them.

Each player in CoM has a deck of cards featuring a noble on each card. Each card also has a number value ranging from one to ten. In a given turn you place a card from your hand upon the table. If you place it on top of another card you have made an "alliance." When you make an alliance you may then eliminate a different pile of cards which have the same total number value. For example, stack a Painter (value 3) on top of a Poet (value 4) and you can eliminate any card or cards whose value adds up to 7. The goal of the game is to eliminate your opponents core group of cards and be left with the higher total of survivors on the board. The twist is that you can stack your cards on your opponent's cards and you may eliminate any stack on the table.

Our playtests revealed a number of positive things about CoM. For one, this is a fast game. Fast as in ten minutes of play. I reminisce about games of Civilization lasting eight hours but that was back in the age of dinosaurs and now a ten minute game sounds pretty fine. We also discovered that there is quite a lot of strategy occurring in those ten minutes. A player must create a cache of survivors as well as knock off the opponent to win. You can stack one of your cards on your opponent's and see if they'll eliminate both. We tried a game in which one player simply tried to eliminate the other as quickly as possible- that was a failure. A winning strategy has some bluffing, some sacrifice, and some luck as well. This was certainly a game that declared it's good qualities only with play.

Finally, the play of the game suits the theme. When you stack your card on an opponent's card you Have made an "alliance" of sorts. And in the next turn you may have to ruthlessly eliminate a stack that includes some of your own cards. Just like life in the courts of the Medici! The whole thing has a pleasingly sneaky and conspiratorial quality to it.

CoM doesn't have the level of awesomeness that Ticket to Ride does, but it also costs one fifth as much and can be played in one fifth the time. There's some basic math skills that are required but it's simple enough for young children. The game looks fabulous and has a certain cut throat quality that does evoke the era of the Medici. As our first cheap game of the month, this was a great success.

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