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Court of the Medici Design Competition - Fringe Powers Entry

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rcjames14
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Court of the Medici: Fringe Powers
by Jesse Catron (2010)

Court of the Medici is an intense tactical card game of political intrigue, power grabbing, and backstabbing. Powerful Houses vie for the favor and influence the Archduke Cosimo I d’Medici. The plot thickens in this four player expansion!
If you played the original 2-player Court of the Medici, you will be familiar with most of the gameplay in this expansion, but there are significant differences. The following rules apply to playing with three or four players.

Players: 3-4
Playing time: 45 minutes

EXPANSION COMPONENTS
25 HOUSE Yellow cards (similar to House Gonzaga and Della Rovere)
25 HOUSE Green cards (similar to House Gonzaga and Della Rovere)
4 Spy cards (one for each House)
4 Bodyguard cards (one for each House)
Rulebook

OBJECTIVE
To make your House have the most influence over the Archduke by the end of the game.

SET-UP
Each Player chooses a House (color) to play with. Take the corresponding deck and remove the special cards (The Minister, The Lady-in-Waiting, the Jester, the Spy, and the Bodyguard) and the Duke. Shuffle the remaining cards, then place the top three cards in the middle of the table. These cards form the Archduke’s Inner circle (9 cards for 3 players and 12 for 4 players).
Reinsert the special cards and the Duke back into your draw deck then reshuffle. Draw the top 5 cards to form your starting hand. Place the top card of your draw deck face-up. This represents the FRINGE card (see FRINGE CARD).

GAMEPLAY OVERVIEW
This expansion version of Court of the Medici is played in rounds. A round consists of each player getting one turn. The turn order for the round is determined by the value of the Fringe card (Jesters count as 1). The player with the highest value Fringe card goes first, the player with the second highest value goes second and so on. If there is a tie, the player with the most nobles in the Inner Circle goes first amongst tied players. If still tied, flip a coin. The Fringe card remains face-up until the player ends their turn.
On your turn you MUST play one card. You may do one of the following with your card play:
1. Send a noble to Outer Court.
2. Build an Alliance.
3. Conspire
4. Plan for the future.
After you play a card, draw the top two cards of your deck (This would normally include your Fringe card). Place any one card from your hand (including any you just drew) on the top of your draw deck. This will become your new Fringe card for the next round. This ends your turn. At the start of a new round, each player will reveal their Fringe card and use its value to determine that round’s turn order.

GAMEPLAY DETAILS
1. SEND A NOBLE TO OUTER COURT: This is the same as in the original game. Play a noble to the table in front of you to Outer Court (not into the Inner Circle).
2. BUILD AN ALLIANCE: This is the same as in the original game. Play a noble on top of another noble or stack of nobles. This may be in Outer Court or in the Inner Circle.
3. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE: This is the same as in the original game. Play a noble to the bottom of your draw deck.
4. CONSPIRE: This differs from the original game. When you conspire, you simultaneously form an Alliance and take action against another alliance or noble. Play a noble on top of another noble or stack of nobles. This may be in Outer Court or in the Inner Circle. A conspiracy requires at least two nobles. Add up the values of each card in this stack. This is the value of the Conspiracy. Next, determine who has Control of this Alliance (see Control of an Alliance). Then determine the target of this conspiracy (who you want to attack). The target may be any lone noble or alliance whose value (sum of nobles values) is less than the Conspiracy value.

CONSPIRACY DETAILS

  • If you have Control of the Alliance and the target is in the Inner Circle: The targeted Alliance or noble is demoted to the Outer Court. Move the cards to the Outer Court of the player who has Control of the targeted Alliance. If no player has control, the alliance is disbanded. Each noble is separated and placed un-stacked in front of their owners in Outer Court. If the conspiracy was in the Outer Court move the conspiracy stack to the Inner Circle.
  • If you have Control of the Alliance and the target is in the Outer Court: The targeted Alliance or noble is discarded. Each card is placed in their respective owners discard piles. However, the player with Control of the targeted Alliance may choose to save one of his nobles by using his Fringe card as a “scapegoat”. To do so he would discard his Fringe card and replace it with the noble he wants to save.
  • If you have Control of the Alliance and the target is the Fringe Card: Discard the Fringe Card.
  • If you don’t have Control of the Alliance and the target is in the Inner Circle: Demote one noble of your choice in the target alliance to the Outer Court. Note that your Conspiracy value must be greater than the target alliance’s total value not just the target noble’s value.
  • If you don’t have Control of the Alliance and the target is in the Outer Court: Discard one noble of your choice in the target Alliance. If that noble’s player has Control of the targeted Alliance they may use their Fringe card as a “scapegoat” and discard the Fringe card instead. The targeted noble becomes the new fringe card and is placed face-up on top of the draw deck. Note that your Conspiracy value must be greater than the target alliance’s total value not just the target noble’s value.
  • If you don’t have Control of the Alliance and the target is the Fringe Card: Discard the Fringe Card.

EMPTY DECK
This is similar to the original game. When you draw your last card, reveal it to your opponents by placing it face up on the table. For the rest of the game you may not play any nobles with a higher value. Also, this becomes your Fringe card for the rest of the game (unless you “scapegoat” it).

ENDING THE GAME
Whenever a player can’t play a card, the game ends at the end of the round. OR The game ends if one player has Majority Control of the Inner Circle at the end of a round (see Control of the Inner Circle).

WINNING THE GAME
When the game ends add the influence values of all the members of your House at Court (both Outer Court and the Inner Circle but NOT your Fringe card). Add 3 for each noble you have in the Inner Circle. The player with the highest total wins. If tied, the player with the most nobles at court wins.

FRINGE CARD
This is the top card of your draw deck. It is used to determine turn order for the round and can be used as a “scapegoat” for a card about to be discarded from Outer Court. However, it can only be used as a scapegoat for the player who has control of the alliance being attacked. The Fringe Card in NOT considered to be in court and is NOT scored at the end of the game.

CONTROL OF AN ALLIANCE
A player has control of an alliance if that player’s nobles’ influence values are greater than half the total value of the alliance. To determine this add up the total value of all your nobles in an alliance and compare it to the total value of all the nobles in the alliance. Control may shift as new members are added! An alliance must contain a minimum of 2 cards.

CONTROL OF THE INNER CIRCLE
A player has control of the Inner Circle if the total value of all their nobles in the inner circle is greater than half the total value of all the nobles in the Inner Circle AND that player has greater than half the number of noble cards in the Inner Circle. If a player has control of the Inner Circle at the end of a round the game ends.

SPECIAL CARDS
LADY-IN-WAITING: same as original game.
THE MINISTER: same as original game.
THE JESTER: same as original game.
THE SPY: you may use an alliance containing your spy as if you have Control of that Alliance. Influence Value= 1
THE BODYGUARD: you may discard the bodyguard in place of another noble in the same alliance whose been selected to be demoted or discarded. Influence Value= 0
(Other suggestions: use colored winks matching each house to delineate control of each alliance. Place your color wink or token on the alliance stack when you gain control. This will cut down on the calculations the player has to make each turn and gives a visual clue as to who’s winning.)

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EVERTIDE GAMES ASSESSMENT

The design for this 3-4 Player Expansion is quite radical. Without changing many rules, it creates a very different dynamic of gameplay. It introduces four new mechanics into the game. The mechanic of demotion/promotion. The mechanic of control. The mechanic of variable turn order. And the mechanic of scapegoats. It has also changed one existing mechanic by allowing conspiracies to target any alliance of less value. It is difficult to ascertain completely how all these mechanics will collectively alter the dynamics of the game, but there are a few foreseeable global effects.

By altering the mechanic of conspiring, very quickly one alliance will dominate the board. Rather than become a lightning rod, an 'untouchable' alliance will become a launching pad for conspiracies. Depending upon control of this uber-alliance, existing cards will either be collectively demoted, collectively destroyed or singularly targeted for demotion or destruction until there are no alliances left in the inner circle. There will simply not be enough time to allow emerging alliances to effect the uber-alliance... so the game will likely come down to someone waiting until just the right time to play a minister to destroy it and win.

Although players will try to forestall this maneuver until they have enough of their people in the Inner Circle, the incentive for playing a card to the uber-alliance will be too great to allow for new blood to enter the Inner Circle. As soon as a card appears in the Inner Circle, it will be demoted. The effect of this will be to give the lady-in-waiting and the minister a tremendous amount of game-ending power. And, the person who happens to draw the spy in his opening hand will have a great deal of positive power because he can use it to control an uber-alliance as soon as it emerges.

Once the spy is laid down, every subsequent play can be used to eliminate any other rival alliance anywhere and the only recourse to stopping him will be the lady in waiting or the minister. Meanwhile the variable power of the jester will be rendered all but useless. He effectively will become either a 1 when you want to target his alliance or a 10 when you want to use him to conspire. So, there will be a substantial reorientation of power among the special cards and a great deal of imbalance between them and the other cards.

Rather than solve the problems that come from unequal alliances or alliances that threaten to get out of reach, we foresee these new rules governing targeting quickly creating a situation where the special cards become the centerpiece of the strategy in the game. Although it is not necessary that the game simulate the existing game mechanic, it is a problem when there becomes no real substantive difference between a majority of the cards in the game. Once an uber-alliance emerges, it won't really matter whether your card is a 10 or a 2, each will allow you to do the same thing - demote or destroy one card in another alliance.

Of all the novel mechanics, the Fringe mechanic is the most promising. Since it allows players to continually bid on their turn to act in the up-coming round, they have the ability to either exploit a double turn to great effect or mitigate the ability for other players to accidentally throw the game by setting up a third person for victory. As it currently stands, the variable turn order mechanic introduces some interesting trade-offs between cards which allow you to go first and cards which are good for game play. Along with the rule that bigger is better, a high value noble will be more valuable in your hand than as a bid to go first. However, since each player will receive a turn at some point, this trade-off may not be as significant as it appears. It is also further mitigated by the fact that high value cards are less likely to be discarded as Fringe characters because once you play, you no longer have the opportunity to discard a scapegoat.

The most fascinating part of the Fringe mechanic is its ability to protect high value cards in play asynchronously through scapegoats. Since you can exchange low value cards for high value cards, you don't necessarily preserve your points on the board. But, you do preserve your options. You might get more than one play out of a minister, or recycle the duke over and over again. Any card in the game could return through this mechanic. And, there seems to be little reason not to do so, because you lose a card either way. You might have to balance the value of cards in your hand against their powers when choosing which card to recycle, but this ultimately becomes an element of deeper strategic consideration. When combined with the allocation of turn order, recycling has the potential to add complexity. However its potential to solve the king-maker problem for players who have not yet played is not realized because it does not negate the elimination of cards from play. As a result, there is still no insurance policy against someone making a mistake (or deliberating) throwing the game.

The mechanics of control of alliances and the inner circle is liable to become a bookkeeping issue and an option inundation issue without a compensatory upside. Since there are two different factors (total influence and total number) that determine control for every independent entity on the board, there will be a lot more things to keep track of when you consider which card to play and what the board will look like by the time it is your next turn to play. While at the same time, it renders that consideration increasingly meaningless as the alliances grow in size and no one can every regain majority control. By altering the rules so that control is given the house with the most influence (plurality), then all alliances will have an owner and the power of the spy will be more strategic.

In the end, this design alters the dynamic of the game from one of number matching to alliance building. Sub-prime alliances have no defense against the ruling alliance and the ruling alliance has no defense against the special cards. As a result, the power of the special cards will be more significant and most other non special cards will appear more like victory points than participants in the action. The value of high influence VP nobles (the Duke, the Marquis) along with the potency of special cards will only be accentuated by the recycling mechanic of scapegoats making it even more important what alliance you choose. But the design has not solved the fundamental problem of king-making. There is near unlimited targeting in the game. So, the leader will always come under scrutiny and attack. The game will most likely generate as many situations where one person cannot win but can choose who will as it will generate satisfying victories. As a result, the game design better represents a variant for the two player game than a viable expansion to a four-player game.

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