Long term readers of Geeky Hobbies probably already know that I am a fan of Reiner Knizia. While all of his games may not be great, in my experience any game designed by Reiner Knizia is going to at least give you some enjoyment. Medici vs Strozzi is a two player game that is a more streamlined version of Medici one of Knizia’s highest rated games. With all of these positives I was excited to try out Medici vs Strozzi. While there are things that I like about Medici vs Strozzi, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the game.
How to Play Medici vs Strozzi
- Place the three harbors between the players.
- Place one marker in the center of each harbor track.
- Each player takes the three ships of one color and a value of 300 in coins.
- Place all of the merchandise tiles into the cloth bag.
Playing the Game
Medici vs Strozzi is played in three rounds. The Medici player starts the first round and the Strozzi player starts the second and third rounds.
The current player will draw one tile from the bag and places it face up on the table. The player then decides whether they want to put that tile up for auction or whether they would like to draw another tile. The current player can draw up to three tiles. If the current player doesn’t have three open spaces on an individual ship, the player can only draw as many tiles as they can fit on one of their ships.
The current player then has to decide on a price for the tiles that they drew. The other player decides whether they would like to purchase the tiles for that price. If they choose to buy the tiles they pay the amount to the bank and take the tiles. If the other player decides not to purchase the tiles, the current player is forced to pay the price to the bank and take the tiles. If a player does not have enough money to purchase a set of tiles they can take a loan from the bank. The player will have to pay the loan back to the bank at the end of the game but they don’t have to pay any interest on the loan.
Whichever player buys the tiles will either have to place all of them on one of their ships (they cannot be split between several ships) or discard all of the tiles. When the first tiles are loaded onto a ship, the ship must be placed in one of the harbors. Only one ship from each player can be placed in each harbor. Once a ship has been placed in a harbor, it cannot be moved to a new harbor.
The player who bought the last set of tiles will be the player who draws the next set of tiles from the bag.
The round ends when one of the players has completely loaded all of their ships or all of the merchandise tiles have been drawn.
When a round ends the players will first compare the value of all of their merchandise tiles in each harbor. The player with the higher total in each harbor will receive a value of 20 in coins. If there is a tie neither player will receive money for that harbor.
After all of the harbors have been scored the players will handle each harbor. For each tile in the harbor that matches a track, the player will move the marker one space in their direction. Each tile with a value of 0 will move the marker two spaces towards the player. If the marker is on one player’s side of the board, that player will receive a value of 10 coins. If a maker ends up on one of the 10 or 20 spaces, that player will receive a bonus of 10 or 20 in addition to the 10 for controlling that marker.
After scoring is conducted all of the tiles are returned to the bag. Each player takes back their ship boards. The markers stay on their current positions and a new round begins.
End of Game
The game ends after the third round has been completed. If either player took out a loan during the game they must pay it back to the bank. Players then count up the value of their coins. Whichever player has more money wins the game. If both players have the same amount of money, the players share the victory.
My Thoughts Medici vs Strozzi
I would say that at it’s heart Medici vs Strozzi is a bidding game. It is not your typical bidding game though. Instead of bidding against several other players you are only competing against one other player. You also don’t hold a normal auction as one player sets the market price for the tiles and the other player has to either accept the price or let the other player buy the tiles for the price they set.
While I have seen similar mechanics in other games, I think this mechanic is what I like the most about Medici vs Strozzi. While the mechanic is really simple it actually adds a lot to the game. When you are setting the price for a set of tiles you really need to put thought into it. Put too low of price on the tiles and the other player will get a bargain. Put too much on the tiles and you will get stuck buying them for more than you would like. I like this mechanic because it forces players to actually put a fair value on the tiles instead of being able to just take them for basically nothing. The pricing decision in the game is critical as one mistake in this area could lose you the game.
How most players will approach the bidding mechanic is kind of interesting. For most of your first game you are probably not going to have a great idea of what you should bid for a set of tiles. While you might somewhat analyze how the tiles will help you and your opponent, you will mostly just come up with an arbitrary price for the tiles.
The more you play the game though it becomes more obvious what you should pay for a set of tiles. Unless both players are not taking the game very seriously, you are going to want to mathematically analyze how the tiles will impact both players and set your price based on your analysis. For example if the tiles would lead to the other player earning 50 or you earning 30 you should probably set the price between 30 and 50. If you charge less than 30 the other player will likely buy the tiles since they are getting a good deal and they are preventing you from potentially getting 30 in coins. If you charge more than 50 the other player is likely going to let you take the tiles since you will only get 30 in coins while spending 50 and they will be paying more than they would receive from the tiles. Players may differ on what price in the range is appropriate but likely both players will always stick to that range when making their bid.
While I like the bidding mechanic I do potentially see an issue with it the more you play the game. First off if one player has more experience with the game then the other player, they will likely destroy them since Medici vs Strozzi is one of those type of games where experience is quite helpful. The other potential problem with the bidding mechanic is the fact that I feel the bidding is going to become almost robotic after a while. If you play against another experienced player you are likely both going to determine the same value for a set of tiles and then the tiles will always be put up for that much. With both players having a set formula to determine the value of a set of tiles, I fear it is going to feel like the game is playing itself.
While on the topic of bidding I would like to quickly talk about the loan mechanic. Most economic games have loans but very few charge no interest like Medici vs Strozzi. This was an interesting decision for the game. Thematically it makes no sense that you can take out an interest free loan. At the same time though the idea of interest free loans actually works on a gameplay level. The reason the game chose to use interest free loans was to let a player that has less money be able to bid as much as the other player. While I don’t love the idea that you can spend as much money as you want without any punishment, I do like that it lets both players stay on an equal footing when it comes to bidding.
Other than the bidding the other main mechanic in Medici vs Strozzi involves loading the merchandise onto your ships. Basically there are two things you have to consider when choosing which merchandise to load onto ships. The first thing you need to factor in is the value of each piece of merchandise you load onto a ship. Basically you want to load more valuable merchandise onto your ships in each harbor than your opponent. Most of the strategy come from maximizing your valuable tiles so you don’t put them in a harbor that you already easily control or put them in a harbor you are not going to win anyways.
The more interesting decision involves the type of merchandise you load into each harbor. While it might not seem that important at first, control of the different merchandise tracks in each harbor can actually be quite lucrative. In order to get control over a type of merchandise you want to load a lot of that merchandise into the harbor. Each piece you load moves the marker one space in your direction. The zero tiles are also really important in this regard since they let you move the marker two spaces in your direction. Controlling different merchandise tracks is important because the control lasts between rounds so if you build a large enough lead you can earn money from that track for a couple rounds without having to address it much in future rounds.
While on the topic of strategy I would like to point out that to be successful in the game you need to avoid being too aggressive or passive. This applies to the bidding process as you don’t want to bid too high or low since you will just end up helping out your opponent. I think it is also pretty prevalent in how you load up your ships as well. At least in my opinion you don’t really want to load up your ships too quickly or slowly.
If you fill up your ships quickly you are presented with a potential problem. Since the other player has plenty of space left on their ships they can put up three tiles for auction at a time. Since you won’t be able to add them to one of your ships you either have to let the other player have them for cheap or you need to spend money just to throw away the tiles. This means the other player will either get a really good deal or you will be forced to throw away money while receiving no benefit.
On the other hand you don’t want your opponent to get a lot more tiles than you. The problem with having a lot fewer tiles is the fact that the other player can end the round prematurely which will allow them to earn most of the money at the end of the round. If a player is only one tile away from filling their ships they will likely charge a lot for the tile because the other player will otherwise buy it to prevent them from ending the round. This forces the player that doesn’t have many tiles to either pay a lot for one tile or let the other player have it and thus lose most of the end of round money.
I think these two situations illustrate how important at times it can be to control the bag of tiles. While it is much harder deciding on a price for a set of tiles than deciding on the price given by the other player, being in control of the tiles gives you a lot of power in the game. In the above two situations the player with control of the bag can either get a great bargain or force the other player to waste a lot of money just by having control over the tiles. As control over the tiles goes to the player who last bought tiles, at crucial points in the game I can actually see paying a little more than normal in order to just get control over the tiles.
With all of this talk of strategy I have probably scared off people that aren’t big fans of strategy games. While the game has a lot of potential for strategy, the game still has the feeling of a Reiner Knizia game. The game as a whole is pretty straightforward as all you are doing in the game is bidding on tiles and placing them on ships. The mechanics are quite simple so if you don’t put a lot of thought into the strategy I don’t see the game being that difficult to learn. As I have already mentioned though if one of the players takes the game more seriously or has more experience with it, they are going to have a significant advantage in the game.
Being a game where you are trying to run a business I have to admit that it is kind of weird that you will usually end up losing money in Medici vs Strozzi. I actually would go so far as saying the only way you won’t lose money is if one of the players is really cheap. Otherwise there really is no way for you not to lose money in the game. Basically Medici vs Strozzi is a game that supports the saying “You have to spend money to make money” except in the game you won’t be making money but might win the game.
So why are you basically guaranteed to lose money in the game? This comes from the fact that good players are going to set prices for tiles that minimize the amount of money that the other player will gain from purchasing them. When both players do this it means both players won’t get any bargains and thus will pay more than they will receive at the end of the round. If you offer a set of tiles for too little the other player will obviously buy the tiles and they likely will destroy you. If you end up with more money than you started with it most likely means that the other player did a poor job of setting the prices.
While the objective of trying to lose less money than your opponent doesn’t ruin the game, it does hurt the game’s theme. The theme of the game is supposed to be running a successful business but the game ends up becoming an exercise of who can run their opponent’s business into the ground more efficiently. The fact that you are just trying to lose less money than your opponent just rubbed me the wrong way. When I am playing a business style game, I would rather build up a business rather then trying to just outlast the other player’s business.
I think the biggest problem that I had with Medici vs Strozzi is that it just feels kind of dull. I was actually a little surprised that I felt this way about the game since I usually really like Reiner Knizia’s games. While the theme is well done for what it is, I just felt it was kind of dull. When you factor in that the decisions on what to bid become pretty obvious the more you play the game, I just wish the game had a little more excitement to it. While none of Knizia’s games are action packed games, it just felt like something was missing from Medici vs Strozzi.
The fact that Medici vs Strozzi is kind of dull leads me to the game’s components. I personally found nothing wrong with the game’s components. The components aren’t of a fantastic quality but they are pretty good for a cheaper designer board game. While all of the components are made out of cardboard (outside of the markers), the cardboard is thick and sturdy. While the artwork is well done, it suffers from the same problems as the game as a whole. The artwork is well done but is just kind of boring to look at.
This fact is the main reason why I was a little disappointed with the game. With how well the game is rated I was expecting a little more out of the game. The game has some good ideas and is fun at times but I think the game could have been more entertaining. Medici vs Strozzi is far from a bad game but I just see it as the type of game that some people will enjoy more than others. I can see some people hating it just as easily as I can see a lot of people loving the game. I just see myself as somewhere in the middle.
Should You Buy Medici vs Strozzi?
Medici vs Strozzi has a lot of things going for it. It is pretty hard to design an auction/bidding game that only supports two players and yet it works pretty well in Medici vs Strozzi. I like that the game forces one player to set a price for the tiles while the other player has to decide whether they will take that offer or if they will pass it back to the player that made the original offer. It is somewhat hard to figure out how you should bid early on but as you get more familiar with the game it becomes pretty easy to pick a good value to the point where the bidding becomes a little mechanical.
Other than the bidding mechanics the game offers a decent amount of strategy with how simple the mechanics truly are. Players receive money for controlling different harbors while also controlling different goods inside each harbor. This leads to some interesting strategic decisions. It is kind of strange though that a game about business generally ends in both players losing money with the winner losing less money than the other player. The biggest problem with the game though is the fact that while fun it still can be a little dry at times.
If you aren’t really a fan of bidding/economic style games I don’t think Medici vs Strozzi is going to be the game for you. If you don’t mind games that involve a lot of math to figure out optimal prices, there are a lot of things that you will probably like in Medici vs Strozzi.