Medici Review

andrewasm chatOriginally published a decade ago, Medici is an abstract auctioning game from famed designer Reiner Knizia.  On the auction block today is a recent re-release by Grail games.  The folks at Grail (who were kind enough to offer us a review copy) have applied a stunning face-lift in the form of art by the always-amazing Vincent Dutrait, brushing the dust off this classic and making it available once more.  Framed as a struggle for economic supremacy between merchant houses, 2-6 players are each trying to out-score each other by bidding on sets of cards over each of the game’s lightning-quick 3 rounds.

andrewasm chatAndrew:  It’s a fast game – at the 2 player mark, we banged it out in literally less than 10 minutes, and higher player counts hardly increased its playtime at all. 30 minutes at 5, no problem.

joshasm chatJosh:  Yeah, I was really surprised at how simple it was, mechanically.  But like so many things, distilling the auction mechanic down to its core provides a uniquely pure experience.

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The board is gorgeously illustrated.

The rules of Medici are easy – each round, the lead player will draw cards from the Commodities deck – these cards are from the five goods (cloth, fur, grain, dye, and spice) and appear in values 0,1,2,3,4,5, and another 5.  There is a single unique card worth 10 that does not belong to any commodity type.

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The active player draws one card at a time, revealing them for all to see.  That player can draw up to three cards, deciding after drawing whether they want to pull another.  These cards become the lot players will bit on that turn.  Starting with the player to the lead’s left and continuing clockwise, each player will have exactly one chance to bid on the current lot of cards (or pass), ending with the lead player.  Whomever bids the most takes the cards and adds them to their ship board.

Each player gets a ship board. In the 2-player game, these boards are extended.
Each player gets a ship board. In the 2-player game, these boards are extended.

andrewasm chatAndrew:  There are a few minor restrictions on bidding – you can never bid on a lot that would over-fill your ship, for example, and of course your bid has to beat any previous bids.

Once all but one ship is full, the round ends (that last ship will get filled with random draws from the commodities deck, assuming some cards are left), and then scoring is done in 2 stages.

  • All players add the sum of the cards on their ship (regardless of commodity type).  The player with the highest sum gets a big bonus in points, with second place also getting a bit.
  • Then, each player moves their scoring marker up each commodity track a number of spaces equal to the number of cards (regardless of their value) of that commodity they shipped that round.  Then, for each commodity, points are awarded for players based on their relative position, with the player at the top of each type getting big bonuses.
This ship, with a total value of 24, will also move pink's icons up the ink track 1, silks track 2, and grain track 2. The 10 Gold only contributes to the ship's numeric value, not the commodity tracks.
This ship, with a total value of 24, will also move pink’s icons up the ink track 1, silks track 2, and grain track 2. The 10 Gold only contributes to the ship’s numeric value, not the commodity tracks.

andrewasm chatAndrew:  This process, of auction and scoring, is repeated two more times, and the person with the most points at the end is declared king of the money-havers!

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The most interesting thing about Medici, mechanically-speaking, is the fact that the currency you use to bid at auction are your victory points; there is a constant balance needing to be struck between wanting to make sure you get a good lot of cards to advance your scoring tokens and not wanting to spend so many florins as to nullify your profits for the round.

Commodity, round, and first player tokens.
Commodity, round, and first player tokens.

joshasm chatJosh:  Another really important part of the strategy is keeping track of what other players may want.  When you are in control of forming the lot by drawing cards, you want to make sure that you are building sets that will either cause bidding contention between other players or perhaps dilute good cards with weaker ones so that other players’ ships fill up with mediocre cards instead of great ones.

andrewasm chatJosh:  That’s easy enough in a 2 player game, and becomes very important very quickly once you start adding players beyond that.  I’d say Medici is a really solid game at 2, but more players is really where it comes to life.

Though, as always, there are a couple of criticisms.  For better or worse, the theme in Medici is totally non-existent, which is a shame to us because the art of Vincent Dutrait always delights and it would have been nice for it to find a more thematic vehicle.

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Also, though the game is very attractive, the radial scoring board could have benefited from being a series of vertical tracks instead – it’s harder to tell, at a glance, who is in the lead across multiple commodities, especially if those commodities aren’t adjacent to each other.

andrewasm chatAndrew:  And the score track is a little hard to read, especially given the frequency of score adjustments – remember, you are both gaining and losing florins every round, so that little score marker is going to get a workout.  And there are even points where the score track and the outer-most rungs of the commodity boards intersect slightly.  Overall, the game suffers a touch from its layout and graphic design, which is ironic since its layout and graphic design are also majorly attractive.

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By far, though, our deepest criticism of Medici is that it is a sterling example of a game where the rich get richer.  A good early round, where a player manages to both get the majority bonus for several commodity types as well as perhaps snagging the shipping bonus will set that player faaaar ahead of their competitors.  And since VPs are also currency, that means they can be more aggressive in their bidding (or alternately hang back and spend little on bad lots, while their competitors squabble over scraps).

andrewasm chatAndrew:  And since Medici’s gameplay is so short, a runaway lead in round 2 can be pretty tough to overcome in round 3, and by then the game is done.  Still, this certainly wasn’t the case most of the time, and we found Medici to be an excellent game at higher player counts, specifically because it fostered more heated auctioning and evened-out the point swings a bit.

Even with our nit-picks, we think Medici is an excellent game for its weight (which is decidedly light).  Don’t let the size of the box or the board fool you, Medici is a filler, and a really solid one at that, deserving of its classic status.



(Gameosity was provided a review copy of this title.  We were not otherwise compensated for our review.)

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