Ah! Another chance to travel the Mediterranean!
Your old job had you bidding on goods to carry in your ships, but that was stressful. You like your new job much better: you just walk into random warehouses and take what you like.
But not so fast! It looks like you’re serving the same employer–a mysterious K. Nizia–and you always have to take something from the last place you visit. Oh dear. Life can never be easy. There always has to be a twist, doesn’t there?
How It Works
Medici: The Card Game is a press your luck set collection game for two to six players. Players are merchants competing to get the most valuable goods on their ships and to be the best trader in five separate commodities. The player with the most florins after three rounds is the winner.
To begin, the goods deck is shuffled, and each player receives the two player aids. Players choose a start player and begin.
Each round, players will take turns flipping cards from the deck and loading them onto their ships. Each player’s ship has five cargo holds, and once these holds are full, the player is done for the round.
On a turn, a player may flip from zero to three cards from the deck and place them in order at the end of the lineup. No matter how many cards are flipped, the player must take the last card in the line. In addition, the player may take up to two of the next cards in the line and load them onto their ships. Any cards not chosen remain in the line.
Most cards are commodity cards showing one commodity and a value that contributes toward the most valuable ship bonus. Other cards include straight value cards (no commodities, but they contribute to ship value) or bonus cards (cards that show value or commodities but don’t take up space in a cargo hold).
Once all players but one have filled their ship, the remaining player takes one additional turn, and the round is scored. Players first score points in descending order for most valuable ship. Then, players place their commodity cards in front of them and score for each commodity. (Ship value is evaluated freshly each round; commodity cards score each round based on what players have collected in all rounds.)
The unchosen cards from the line get shuffled back into the deck, and the player with the fewest points begins the next round. At the end of the third round, the player with the most points wins.
Deja Vu, or Something New?
When I first heard about Medici: The Card Game, I had my reservations. Obviously, they weren’t enough to deter me from getting it–the pull of Reiner Knizia, Medici, and Grail Games was enough to garner my support on Kickstarter as soon as it launched–but Medici without the auctions seemed like a thin premise. Isn’t Medici all auctions? How can this work? Reading the rules also didn’t make the game sound that exciting.
But truly, I should have known better. This is Reiner Knizia, and the good doctor always has some tricks up his sleeve.
Here the tricks are the new cards and the new distribution of cards. Most of the cards match, more or less, the cards you might find in Medici: they have a commodity that matters for each round’s scoring and a value that matters for that round’s scoring. But there are some tricky cards in the deck that add some novel twists to the card game.
First up are the green-banner cards. These cards are freebies that don’t count against the cargo holds of your ship. These are free commodities or free value that bolster your ship for zero risk. These cards are awesome, but there aren’t many of them in the deck, and the prospect of uncovering one is tempting. It keeps players turning over cards when they might otherwise stop.
Next are the double commodity cards. These have no value when loaded onto your ship, but they are worth two commodities for each round’s commodity scoring. While points in the moment are tempting, it’s difficult to pass up a cash cow like these, which score each round (and put players closer to the bonus if they have five or more commodities).
And finally, there are the straight value cards. In Medici, there is a single, coveted 10-value card; in the card game there are ten 7-value cards, and since each round’s ship-value scoring is a huge cache of points, these cards can make up for deficits in other areas.
These cards are all interesting and heighten the core tension of the game: how many cards should I flip over from the deck on my turn? Since I will always have to take the last card flipped, it makes sense to stop as soon as you reach something you like. Then again, the prospect of better cards in the deck makes this choice tense. Each flip produces major FOMO–what if I’m leaving a better card for the next person’s turn? There’s also the subtle change from Medici: if only one player remains, that player doesn’t fill their ship for free; rather, they get one more turn. So if one player is waiting around for a prime opportunity and the other players force her, she might leave with empty cargo holds.
The tension here works, and while the result is a game that isn’t as deep as Medici, it is a game that is both shorter and easier for new players to jump into. The chief criticism of Medici, or really any auction game, is that it can be hard for new players to know what to bid. This is especially a problem in Medici, since players bid on lots, essentially, with their victory points. Here, players expend a different commodity: opportunity. You always have to take the last card, and unless it’s a green-banner card, it will take up room on your ship. This is easy for players to understand. They want commodities, but they also want high-value commodities to have a shot at both scorings each round. The set collection makes sense, the tension of short- and long-term goals makes sense, and the press-your-luck opportunity makes sense. This is a simple game to grasp.
Yet for all its simplicity, it is also a satisfying game to play. I’ve played this game so far primarily with my lunch games group, which is also the group that I play Medici with most frequently. I was afraid they would view Medici: The Card Game not just as simple but as simplistic. Instead, they’ve enjoyed it as a good lunchtime filler for when we want to play something lighter. It doesn’t replace Medici, but neither does Medici make the card game superfluous: there’s room for both, even with an audience that likes the larger auction game.
There’s one other point that makes Medici: The Card Game a brilliant adaptation of Medici (more than just “Medici without the auctions”), and that is the way scoring works. Now, the scoring table is mostly the same, and while cards are kept from round to round instead of being marked along a track, it feels mostly the same. However, there is one subtle difference: there are only 5s, 10s, and 50s for tracking points in the card game. What this means is that any ties that would result in denominations of less than five are lost. This introduces another tension to the game: it is no longer beneficial to tie in several categories. This simple change forces players to press their luck to really collect sets, as unlike in real-life investments, it is not always in players’ best interests to diversify their portfolios. This, like the different new cards described above, is one of the simple but probably less appreciated changes that makes Medici: The Card Game shine.
Of course, Medici: The Card Game will not be a slam dunk for every player. For one thing, it is a much lighter affair than Medici, primarily because it is susceptible to the vicissitudes of the blind card draw. In some ways, so is Medici, but Medici is balanced by the auction: if a player turns over a particularly good lot, the players will (or at least should) drive the price up. In Medici: The Card Game, there’s no balancing mechanism to the luck save the feeling that it usually comes out right in the end; good luck now is balanced by bad luck later, or by other players at the table having good fortune too. It’s also balanced a bit by the player who turns over cards being forced to take the last card turned over, meaning there are risks to turning over more cards, and by there being more straight value cards to bolster bad draws. Medici: The Card Game also relies on its press-your-luck mechanism, meaning that good luck is usually not something to get upset about; the other player, by turning over cards, is risking something; therefore, they’re entitled to some kind of reward. Medici, again, uses a press-your-luck mechanism, but the primary mechanism is a once-around auction. Because the bidding is absent from Medici: The Card Game, the valuation is much easier, meaning it may not be for hardcore Medici players who dislike uncontrolled luck.
The components for Medici: The Card Game are mostly good. The cards are Euro sized, and while these could easily have been mini Euro sized, based on how much information they convey, it’s welcome that they are in this format. Vincent Dutrait’s illustrations, despite that there aren’t many different pieces, give the game an attractive look. The shiny foil on the score coins is a nice extra. I also like the small box, which makes the game easy to toss into my backpack. My biggest gripe here is that the 5-value coins are tiny and needn’t be. They are eclipsed by the 10s and 50s and nowhere near proportion with regard to the other coins. This is minor, but it has been the source of comment in each game I’ve played. The insert card wells are too shallow to hold the cards in place, but I fixed this by banding my cards.
The game can be played with two to six players. I’ve played several times now, but each of my games has fallen in the three- to four-player range. It works great here, which is more than I can say for the full Medici game (which I only play with five or six). I think this would probably work with more players, too, although with five or six, we would probably pull out Medici at work. The two-player game uses the same hack as the larger Medici game (each player’s ship has seven holds), and while I haven’t played this, a friend I loaned the game to tried it and didn’t recommend it. (I probably wouldn’t play this with two anyway because there are so many other good choices for two-player card games.)
Medici: The Card Game succeeds in being exactly what it sounds like–Medici without the auctions–and in being better than what I would have imagined this concept to be. It’s a clever adaptation of the larger game that is quick and simple without being simplistic. It may turn off hardcore Medici players, but it has gone over well with my lunch group that loves the larger and longer game, and the simplicity of turning over cards (without having to bid on them) opens the game to a still wider audience. While I think Medici is the better game, there’s room in my collection for both, especially because Medici: The Card Game plays so well at lower player counts and with players who aren’t interested in auctions. This is one I look forward to introducing to my family over the holidays and to keeping in the games cabinet at work.