- Machiavelli: The Prince redirects here. For other uses, see Machiavelli (disambiguation).
|Machiavelli: The Prince|
Merchant Prince is a video game published in 1993 taking place in Italy during the Renaissance. Starting at Venice, the player must increase their wealth and gather a fortune larger than those of the competing families.
The game was rereleased in 1995 under a new title, Machiavelli: The Prince, featuring improved graphics and sounds but unaltered gameplay.
The player starts out with minimal resources and a map of the known world, which is accurate close to Venice but becomes less so as the player gets farther from Venice. After finding cities, the player may initiate trade with them. Usually each city supplies certain goods and demands the others at a varying rate. Trading can be done using four different types of ships differentiated by their speed, cargo space and the ability to survive storms, or by using donkeys and camels that can carry a lot of merchandise but may be slow if no road is present.
Politics in Merchant Prince are fairly simple but may influence the player's strategy significantly. Venice is led by the Doge and a ten-member Senate (technically, the Council of Ten, not the full Venetian Senate). Senators are usually neutral but may be bribed by any of the players. The Doge decides the receivers of various government posts: council head may remove senators by accusing them of treachery, General and Admiral are given funds to upkeep the Venetian army and the Road planner is given funds to expand a road network. A faction may only hold a single post, and each faction with a senator must receive a post. An election is held periodically to decide the new Doge - a faction with enough senators may have the Doge's seat for themselves and get full control over the appointment of government posts.
Religious politics is also a major opportunity for the players. Each faction may purchase cardinalships for themselves, each generating steady income in the form of indulgences as long as the cardinal lives. The amount of owned cardinals also determines the player's voting power when a new Pope is elected. Controlling the Papacy has several advantages; the Pope may increase the cost of indulgences, sell new cardinalships, summon a temporary army of crusaders and excommunicate a city. Taking too much advantage of the Papal seat may trigger the Protestant Reformation, which causes several cities to turn against the Venetian families and create a Protestant army that will attempt to disrupt trade and attack cities friendly to Venice.
Each family has a popularity rating with the Venetian public. Popularity is gained by donating conquered cities to Venice, commissioning art, constructing a villa, throwing masquerades and donating money to the Church. Popularity may be lost through slander, attacking units or cities friendly with Venice or by getting caught of other inappropriate deeds.
To hinder their enemies, each faction may hire slanderers to ruin the popularity of their opponents, arsonists to torch villas and warehouses, and assassins to remove inconvenient senators, cardinals, the Doge or even the Pope. In some cases the player may attempt to frame one of their enemies for the deed, but this carries an additional risk of being caught. Being caught will usually penalize the player's popularity, with the amount depending on the severity of the crime (slander being the least and assassinating the Pope being the worst).
The player may also use mercenaries to attack other Venetian traders' ships and caravans. This is a good way to ruin enemy profits, but carries a chance to get caught that decreases the further the crime happens from Venice. Getting caught while damaging another player's trading will not only cause the loss of popularity, but the offending player has to pay for the lost goods.
While military is not required for victory, it can be used to strategic advantage, namely to conquer enemy cities for Venice or personal gain, combat pirates, highwaymen and enemy armies, and disrupting other people's trade routes. Mercenary groups can be hired at the Campanile - while expensive to hire and maintain, they're the most widely available form of military. The Pope may use a crusader army, and Venice has a military force and a navy of its own, maintained with public funds by the current General and Admiral, respectively. In addition, trade units may be assigned light or heavy guards, taking up a single cargo space each. If a trade unit with guards is attacked, the attackers must destroy the guards before having a chance to attack the trade unit.
The game's series ran like this:
1993 Merchant Prince 1995 Machiavelli: the Prince 2001 Merchant Prince II
Merchant Prince was written by Holistic Design (HDI) and released by Quantum Quality Productions (QQP) and Several Dudes Gaming in SVGA graphics. It was re-released by Microprose a couple years later with greatly improved graphics and better sound, and renamed "Machiavelli: the Prince" (notwithstanding that Machiavelli himself was a Florentine, not a Venetian). Machiavelli came in two boxes: a thinner purplish and a thicker black box. The black boxes included a copy of The Prince by Penguin. Unfortunately, out of the box, Machiavelli: the Prince would crash almost immediately if you set the computer players to a higher level than Novice. A v.1.1 patch was released which fixed that bug.
Then, six years later, Talonsoft and Holistic Software released a sequel to the game, Merchant Prince II, thus reverting to its original naming scheme (and the original's practice of playing the music too loud).
Many fans considered the sequel to be a huge disappointment, much like Master of Orion III a couple years later. Little was added to gameplay, and while the graphics were updated, many complained they had become ugly and actually got in the way of playing. Some complained that the updated interface made it more difficult to play the game and raised the learning curve needlessly. Also, the game added a research tree, but instead of introducing new units for added gameplay, it removed units (large ships, for instance) and you had to research to get them back. On a positive note, the game introduced five new scenarios:
- Die Hanse - Play the Hanseatic League
- The Med - Play a weaker and lesser-known Venetian family
- The Orient - Start in Shanghai, and play in Asia
- Marco Polo - Relive his travels
- Atlantis - Maintain control of the damaged continent and expand to Europe and the Middle East to make your new home
Merchant Prince II also had a v.1.1 patch, which fixed several bugs, including some crashes and issues specific to multiplayer mode. Even patched, though, the game was reported to be buggy, and it still retained the issues mentioned above that impeded gameplay.
Merchant Prince I offered two multiplayer options: Modem and Direct Play (Null Modem). Machiavelli: the Prince added PBEM (Play By EMail). The modem options were limited to two-player games. Merchant Prince II offered TCP/IP, but it is reported to be problematic. Some people had trouble getting its TCP multiplayer feature working, and others indicated that trade routes became particularly buggy in multiplayer mode.
Machiavelli: The Prince was reviewed in 1995 in Dragon #220 by David "Zeb" Cook in the "Eye of the Monitor" column. According to Cook, "Machiavelli quickly becomes a game of doing the same old thing over and over. For a game that touts its historical basis ... it just doesn't mine the richness of their period." Machiavelli: The Prince was reviewed in Dragon #221 by Jay & Dee in the "Eye of the Monitor" column. Both reviewers gave the game 3 out of 5 stars.