The MErchant Prince series

Has anyone ever played this gem of a series? Well there’s only the original and 2 (and Machiavelli: the Prince).

Anyways, the premise is that you are a merchant prince in Venice starting at 1300, and the goal is to become teh first millionare. Failing that, be the wealthiest when the turn limit ends (usually 192 turns, each turn a year…) When Columbus comes up like an upstart and makes all your theories and crap useless.

The movement and combat system are not unlike the Civilization series. I think Microprose had a hand in making it, but I’m not sure. In any case, for the Civ players, things should be pretty familiar.

The base of the game is simple: buy stuff at ports and ship them via caravan or ship to another port and sell it for more money. Not bad at all actually. Buy, sell, buy, sell. You can make trade routes to ease this process. Now this is all fine and good… and your major moneymaker. But it’s not the only thing.

Like any proper merchant prince, you’ll want to indulge in politics. And you ahve two venues: the Church and Venice itself. Venice is pretty simple. You can bribe one of ten senators on the Council of Ten. By bribing more senators, you wield more influence. wtih enough, you can effectively decide who becomes Doge. Yuo ahve you, your three rivals, and the Neutral faction to chose from.

Now, Doge gets pretty boring actually. All they can do is set the tax rate (or appoint jobs on the turn they are elected). The fun part is appointing one of four jobs to any faction with a senator in place: Council Head, Admiral, General, or Road Builder. If your’e the Admiral or General, you control Venice’s Home Fleet and Home Army, respectively. Obstensibly for the defense of Venice, but hey, everyone fudges, right? Road Builder does jsut that, they build roads to ease trade passages. Each of those positions gets a stipend as specified by the Doge, and are expected to spend at least half of it each turn (Roads, mercenaries, whatever). The Council Head doesnt’ get one, but they can accuse any senator of treason and get them hanged, thus opening up a more easily bribed senator. Dirty, yes, but effective.

The Pope gets a bit more fun. You can effectively buy cardinals, and for each cardinal you have, you reiceve a stipend each turn equal to 10% of the current buying price… through selling indulgences. Also, the more you ahve in the College, the more weight you have in electing the Pope. The Pope could be you, one of your rivals, Florence, Rome, Genoa, Spain, France, and so on. Lots of choices. The Pope gets the option of setting the indulgence price (Problem is he can’t lower it, and if you set them too high… well no sense in starting the Reformation early), adding cardinals to the College (up to 36), or even more fun, calling Crusades and Excommunications. Crusades essentally gives you a free set of mercenaries under your control for a little while. Excommunications have all sorts of fun effects, like raising prices of desired goods in the city, weakening the civil defense, raising chance of plague, and so on. Excommunications can be VERY profitable for the merchant or the warlord.

Speaking of war, you can also hire mercenaries. You pay a straight fee and then upkeep each turn depending on what units are in the merc unit. You pay less obviuosly, for less units. With these, you can attack unfriendly cities. Win, and you can give control of the city to Venice, or control who can trade there. Controlling a prime port opens up interesting negotiating opportunites. And of course, there’s always piracy.

Getting on that subject, piracy is one of the several criminal acts you can indulge in. Of course, if you get caught in an act of piracy, you lose popularity and have to pay reparations… but you could also commander the trade units and cargo! Someone getting too popular for your tastes? The slanderer in the Den of Iniquities can help you with that. Envious of their villa or think thier warehouses are too much? Same place, call the arsonist. Want to open up new opportunities in politics? The local assassin proves that death is the ultimate career ender. Of course, carrying out criminal acts can be expensive, and if you’re caught doing it, you can kiss your popularity goodbye. Of course, you could always arrange for someone else to get caught…

Now, on popularity… it behooves you to become as popular as you can. If you’re popular, it becomes harder to commit criminal acts against you (or implicate you in such), it becomes harder to bribe your senators away or accuse them of treason, and so on. There are lots of ways to do this. Most of the time you’ll do it by upgrading your villa, throwing parties, donating to the Church or commissioning works of art. Although opening up hostile cities to the control of Venice and taking care of pirates can help too.

Finally, there’s the tech tree. You can play without it, but you can buy technolgies that can: allow you to use better mercenaries and trading units, prove you mroe resistant to criminal acts (or makes yours more successful) or even keep your units safer from the Plague… or make it occur more often (thus causing prices to fall more in your favor and lowering civil defense of cities). All sorts of effects can be applied that you may find useful.

All in all, this is a nice gem of a game I’d suggest to anyone who enjoys Civilization or trading games… with a bit of a ruthless bent. And I could use people to play against.

sounds interesting