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Court of the Medici Design Competition - Shadow Alliances Entry

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rcjames14
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COURT OF THE MEDICI: SHADOW ALLIANCES
by David Hampton (2010)

COMPONENTS
25 House Orsini Cards (2-10 Nobles x2, Minister x2, Lady-in-Waiting x2, Jester x2, Duke x1)
25 House Colonna Cards (2-10 Nobles x2, Minister x2, Lady-in-Waiting x2, Jester x2, Duke x1)
25 House Delle Rovere Cards (2-10 Nobles x2, Minister x2, Lady-in-Waiting x2, Jester x2, Duke x1)
25 House Gonzaga Cards (2-10 Nobles x2, Minister x2, Lady-in-Waiting x2, Jester x2, Duke x1)

SETUP
Choose a house, shuffle all your cards together and deal yourself eleven cards. Then place one card face down in front of each other player. If you are playing in a three player game, place one card face down in front of you as well. Once everyone has placed three cards face down, place one card face down on top of each card in front of you. Then, once everyone is finished placing cards, flip over the top card in each pair. If the total value of all your face up cards is greater than any other player's face up cards, then you go first. If there is a tie, then the younger of the tied players goes first.

VICTORY CONDITIONS
You win if you have more influence from cards you control at court at the end of the game than anyone one else.

GAMEPLAY
On your turn, you may perform one of the following actions:

  • SEND A NOBLE TO COURT - Place a card in the middle of the table.
  • BUILD AN ALLIANCE - Place a card on top of any card or stack of cards in the middle of the table.
  • EXECUTE A CONSPIRACY - Place a card on top of any card or stack of cards in the middle of the table and eliminate any one other card or stack of cards with an equal total influence value in the middle of the table.
  • STRIKE FROM THE SHADOWS - Place a card on top of any pair of cards in front of you, turn over the face down card and eliminate any one other card or stack of cards with an equal total influence value in the middle of the table. Then, place the shadow alliance in the middle of the table.
  • PLAN FOR THE FUTURE - Place a card on the bottom of your deck.

After you have performed your action, draw a card and play passes to the next player in clockwise order.

SHADOW ALLIANCES
At the beginning of the game, three shadow alliances are created in front of each player composed of one face up card and one face down card. While an alliance is in the shadows, it cannot be the target of a conspiracy and you may not play any cards on top of it (unless it is part of the Strike from the Shadows action). If, at the end of any turn, there are no shadow alliances in front of any player, the game ends.

END OF THE GAME
When the game ends, add together the value of all your cards in the middle of the table. Do not count any cards which are still part of a Shadow Alliance. The player with the greatest total influence wins. If there is a tie, the tied player with the card with the highest influence wins.

EMPTY DECK
If you draw the last card in your deck, reveal that card to all players. For the remainder of the game, you may not play any card with a higher value than the card you revealed. If you cannot play a card, the game ends immediately.

CLARIFICATIONS
You may not perform the Strike from the Shadows action unless you can use it to eliminate another card or stack of cards.

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EVERTIDE GAMES ASSESSMENT

The design for Shadow Alliances preserves a significant portion of the dynamics of Court of the Medici and eliminates one key component. There is no longer a distinction between the Inner Circle and the Outer Court. Instead, there are Shadow Alliances. These Shadow Alliances perform a similar function to the Inner Circle, insofar as they act as a clock mechanism, determining when the game ends. However, rather than the game ending when a significant number of initial cards have been eliminated, the game ends once all of a player's Shadow Alliances enter play. In this sense, every player has an independent opportunity to end the game when he chooses.

Although it is still possible under these circumstances to 'throw' the game and act as a king-maker, the effect of everyone having control of when they can end the game actually creates a dynamic whereby everyone wants to wait until he is in the lead before ending the game. But, since each player is not sure exactly what each Shadow Alliance contains, it is never entirely clear whether another player can actually act to end the game when it would be possible to win. So, it is often only clear in retrospect that one player acted as a spoiler. Since everyone has only partial knowledge of the secret capabilities of the other players and a move to end the game has to take into account the added benefit to the ally in the final Shadow Alliance, there are often too many considerations to take into account to feel like one person made a mistake. And, the fact that a three-card conspiracy must end the game gives players a lot of control over the circumstances on the board that will allow a player to win.

The dynamic of hidden information and seeded play is complex and yet preserves the balance between cards in Court of the Medici. It is not entirely clear what cards each player should 'give' to another player at the beginning of the game, because those cards could either end up helping the player win or helping you win. It is clear though from that dynamic that you could end up with all of your cards not counting towards influence if the players who control them choose not to use them.

One problem we encountered with the design was the time it took people to choose which cards to place where and the relative aimlessness of initial choices when there were no cards on the board to attack. However, we believe that we can resolve both of these issues with only minor adjustments to the design and preserve the dynamic that has been introduced by the Shadow Alliances. The ability to choose what you give to another player could be simplified into a fixed setup like the rules for setting up Court of the Medici. And, we have been experimenting with the idea of seeding the middle with alliances in addition to the Shadow Alliances.

All in all, this design is very workable and benefits by the fact that it doesn't require any additional cards. We like it.

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