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Court of the Medici Design Competition - Alliances Entry

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rcjames14
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Court of the Medici: Alliances
by Luca Holme (2010)

Note: Court of the Medici: Alliances can be played as a two player game according to the normal rules for Court of the Medici or it can be combined with the cards in Court of the Medici to play with four players using the rules described below.

Components
27 Black House Cards *
27 Yellow House Cards *
2 Additional House Gonzaga Cards
2 Additional House Delle Rovere Cards

* Twenty-five of the twenty-seven Black & Yellow house cards are identical to the Gonzaga and Delle Rovere decks. There are two copies of one additional card:
The Mistress: She can have any value between -1 and -10. She is worth -1 influence point.

Setting Up

  • Players divide themselves into two teams of two.
  • Each player sits around the table so that there is an opponent between him and his teammate in both directions.
  • Each player chooses a house of cards and shuffles his deck together.
  • Each player deals himself a hand of 5 cards from his deck.
  • Each player takes the top card of his deck and places it face up in the middle of the table.
  • Form an alliance between all the cards revealed this way by stacking them one on top of the other so that you can see the number and title of each card.
  • Each player performs this same task three more times so that there are a total of four stacks of cards on the table each with a number of cards equal to the number of players.
  • Each player totals up the value of influence on all his cards in play.
  • The player with the highest influence goes first.

Inner Circle
The cards played during setup collectively form the duke's inner circle. No player may play a card to the Inner Circle. If the Inner Circle is ever empty, the game ends.

Goal for the Game
The team with the most influence worth of cards on the table at the end of the game wins.

Playing
On each player's turn, he may perform one of the following actions. After the player has performed his action, he draws a card and the next player goes in clockwise order.

Actions
1. Send a Noble to Court - The player places a card on the table by itself.
2. Build an Alliance - The player places a card on top of any card or stack of cards at court outside the inner circle.
3. Conspire - The player places a card on top of any card or stack of cards at court outside the inner circle and eliminates one other card or stack of cards at court (either inside or outside the inner circle) with an equal influence value. Place the eliminated cards in their respective owner’s discard pile.
4. Plan for the Future - The player places a card on the bottom of his deck.

Ending the Game
The game ends whenever either there are no cards in the Inner Circle or a player cannot play a card. At that point, each player totals up the influence value of all his cards on the table and adds that to his partner's total. The team with the highest total influence wins.

Running Out of Cards
Any time a player draws the last card of his deck, he must reveal it to all other players. From that point on, that player may not play a card with a higher value than the value of the card that he revealed.

Adjudicating Ties
If there is a tie during setup, the player with the highest value noble goes first.
If there is a tie at the end of the game, the team with the highest value noble wins.

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EVERTIDE GAMES ASSESSMENT

The design for Alliances is elegant and familiar. Any player who picks up the Alliances expansion would find very little difficulty assimilating the new rules. Since the dynamics are nearly identical to Court of the Medici, any player who enjoys Court of the Medici would also enjoy Alliances. The key difference between the games comes from the fact that the Inner Circle is essential seeded with nearly indestructible alliances so a great deal of the game revolves around finding a way to destroy these alliances (if you're team is trailing) or protecting them (if your team dominates the Inner Circle.

Since the Inner Circle cannot be 'attacked' by the minister, the lady-in-waiting or by another alliance in the Inner Circle, each alliances commands a strong position at the beginning of the game. In order to be eliminated, these 'power players' must be eliminated by a conspiracy from the Outer Court and since the power alliances begin with either 3 or 4 cards, they already begin with a leg up on any rivals from the outside. Consequently, it feels very much like a game between the members of the Inner Circle as they manipulate members of their house on the outside to either keep them weak or build them up.

Since the game only ends when the Inner Circle is empty, each partnership is presented with a choice at the beginning of the game: try to keep the outsiders weak and time out the game or try to build up the outside in your favor so that when all the Inner Circle becomes vulnerable, you can strike quickly. It is possible (and probably advantageous) to do a little bit of both, but the question really comes down to style of play. Much like Court of the Medici, where players can either build up the Outer Court and nickel and dime their opponent or strike down everything right away and hope to come out on top after the blood bath, players can pursue either the slow or quick strategy depending upon their style.

The biggest problem with the design is the partnership structure. Although partnership games are popular, we also need a game design that can accommodate 3 players and for which there can be a single victor. Looking at the design, it is clear to us why it is a partnership. Because the game can end unexpectedly between a player's previously turn and next turn, it is possible for one player to spoil the game through either an intentional or unintentional play. However, with team play, each team effectively alternates its play with the other and one player's mistake benefits both his enemies. So, there is either team victory or team loss. Team play also introduces some interesting emergent teamwork. Once one team realizes that one of its opponents lacks a certain card (minister, jester, or mistress, usually), then it has the possibility to isolate that player and stack multiple plays sequentially with less interruption.

The mistress is an interesting concept. After the release Court of the Medici, some people suggested the idea of a 'negative' Jester. However, our view at the time was that any negative Jester would be just another Jester. In this design, however, a negative Jester plays a vital role for any outer court alliance that has grown beyond the Inner Circle. Since you cannot play a card on the Inner Circle, it becomes necessary to play 'down' instead of up. Of course, that downward play also makes the alliance vulnerable to upward building alliances.

In the end, we think that this design is usable as a variant for the expansion we are working on, but it cannot be the main design. Since it does not accommodate 3 players, it won't work as the main design. But, for games with four players, we believe that this design will be an excellent alternative 'partnership' variant.

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