Renaissance Florence is a city on the rise. The rich and powerful demand an outlet for their abundance of wealth. And what better way to show one's wealth than a home that reaches to the heavens? Luckily, as a master builder, this means plenty of work for you and a chance to go down in history as the most prestigious Italian architect of your time.
As one of Florence's premier builders, you will be responsible for erecting towers throughout the city and fulfilling the orders of your patrons. To do so you'll need to gather the required building materials, manage your work space and deal with the various events and persons that will try and slow you down. Only once you've successful handed over a fully constructed tower will you receive recognition in the form of Prestige Points. The most prestigious player will claim victory and the adoration of the Florentines.
Flow of Play
Every turn of Firenze begins by selecting an offering of building materials. These materials are randomly placed on the board in groups of four. Your decision of which group of materials to choose will depend on the type of tower you wish to construct. Furthermore, each grouping is accompanied by a card. These cards are generally helpful and include characters such as masons, princesses and architects who will aid you in your duties or buildings that offer a boost in efficiency. Complicating your decision is the cost associated with each group. The leftmost card and materials are always offered free of charge, no strings attached. In order to take a card further down the line you must place a single building block from your personal supply on each of the groups of blocks you've passed over. The further down the line, the higher the cost. In this way, your blocks act as both building materials and currency.
Yet another wrinkle in the equation is the fact that not all cards are beneficial. You'll encounter fires and collapses, disgrace and scandal. You can choose to accept what is offered for little to no price and find a way to make it work in your favor or seek out exactly what you want if you're willing to pay the price. It's a fascinating system. It's simple yet incredibly flexible and givers the player agency over the direction they'll take. And despite all its elegance it feels slightly out of place. "Why exactly am I paying a block to get other blocks and why can I get others for absolutely nothing? And how exactly am I able to choose having a warehouse fire?"
All board games require a level of abstraction to some degree. But this particular instance stands out because nearly every other action and consequence in Firenze is supported by the theme. It's not disruptive, but it is noticeable because of how well it's handled everywhere else. Thankfully this thematic sacrifice comes with the benefit of a great and engaging system.
Once you've collected your materials it's time to start construction. It's as simple as placing as building blocks from your supply into your constructions area. Building anything in games gives a certain satisfaction whether it be a farm or a factory, but seeing actual towers grow before you is a special sort of pleasure. All of your towers must be of a single color because, honestly, who would want to live in a multi-color tower?
Normal construction speed allows you to place 2 blocks per turn. However, you can rush construction to build taller and more prestigious towers. The more you rush the higher the waste and you will have to discard building materials from your supply. And once again, it becomes a choice of taking what's offered to you or building exactly what you want if you're willing to pay the price. Why take the penalty of rushed construction? Once a particular tower is built, no other identical towers will be allowed. This town isn't big enough for 2 red towers of 6 height. The rich and powerful wouldn't be caught dead in the same exact house as someone else and would rather live in a smaller one if it means it's unique. So it becomes a race for the taller, more prestigious towers and you have to keep on eye on your competition lest you lose out.
You may have as many towers under construction at any one time. But once you've started construction you must continue to build or face condemnation. Any previously started tower that isn't built upon on your current turn will be condemned due to neglect and will have to be torn down. This means once you've started a tower you will be committing to building upon it on every consecutive turn until it's completed. You can play it risky and start construction early hoping you'll accumulate the needed blocks by your next turn or you can play it safe and delay construction until your supply is full of just the right materials. It's Firenze's main source of tension and it does a good job of keeping the game from slowing down and keeping players constantly building. It strikes the delicate balance of keeping you on your toes but not being overbearing.
Where did it all go?
Board games can earn a lot of goodwill from the quality of its pieces and Firenze earns a lot of it. The building blocks are attractively colored and are perfectly weighted. They're begging to be touched and the gentle clink as you stack them is motivation enough to craft an impressive tower. It is the perfect visualization of your efforts, your strategies brought to life before your eyes. And then you turn in your tower. Wooden blocks fade into a cloth bag to be replaced by ... a cardboard chit on a board? It's a practical solution, but it can't compare to the tactile satisfaction from constructing your wooden works.
Firenze is the board game equivalent of a picnic at the park. It's relaxed, enjoyable and everyone will have a good time. You'll look forward to playing in and remember it fondly for a few days, but it won't get you overly excited. You won't regale your grandchildren with tales of your plays of Firenze, but you won't regret your time spent with it either. Firenze does a lot of things right. It offers interesting decisions and allows you move at your own pace. Balancing risk versus reward is presented clearly and effectively. But it's missing that spark that brings cheers, laughter or excitement to the table. It's missing that spark that elevates Firenze to something great.