Machiavelli: The Prince
Machiavelli: the Prince is a part of the Merchant Prince series of games, and is arguably the best of the bunch. This page discusses Machiavelli in particular, but also the Merchant Prince series as a whole. I first found Machiavelli: the Prince at Costco, back when (IMO) they stocked worthwhile computer games. My brother said he "wasted $40" on the game, but I loved it. I played it on my roommate's 486, then on my brand-new Pentium 120, and boy did the pieces fly on that thing, by comparison!
The game takes place in the Old World starting in 1300; you play the head of a merchant trading family in Venice, and compete with the other three Venetian trading families using a range of methods, both fair and foul. The game focuses mainly on trading and skulduggery. The object is to end the game with more money (including assets) than any of your rivals. How you go about it (naughty and/or nice) doesn't directly affect who wins or loses, but actions do have consequences in the game. It runs for a set number of years (i.e., turns), which you set at the beginning: either 15, 30, 60, 100, 150, or 192 (which takes you to the discovery of the New World, and a tremendous upheaval in the focus of European trade).
You start out with minimal resources and a map of the known world, which is accurate close to home but becomes less so as you get farther from Venice. Your first task is to begin exploring, to find other cities and start trading with them. Generally speaking, when you find a city which supplies something for less than it costs somewhere else, and will buy something that's supplied more cheaply in that same city, you purchase a ship or caravan and set it up to follow a trade route back and forth. A large network of such trade routes supplies the income you need to expand your commercial empire, engage in politics, and hire military muscle as needed.
| Camel||Land||8 units||Good in deserts (vs. sandstorms)|
| Donkey||Land||8 units||Good in mountains (vs. rockfalls)|
| Large Cog||Water||8 units||Slow, good in deep water (vs. storms)|
| Small Cog||Water||6 units||Slow, good in deep water (vs. storms)|
| Large Galley||Water||4 units||Fast, can outrun pirates, dangerous in deep water|
| Small Galley||Water||2 units||Fast, can outrun pirates, dangerous in deep water|
Politics are fairly simple but very important. You will need to bribe one or more of the ten-member Senate (technically, the Council of Ten, not the full Venetian Senate) so that when the next Doge is elected, you will receive a government post: Council Head, General, Admiral, or Road Builder. Council Head allows you to have senators executed, making it easier to dominate the Senate and become Doge--though exercise of your authority can also make you enemies. The military posts give you a fighting force, and the Road Builder is given money to build roads at his discretion, letting you favor your own trade routes. You will lose popularity if you don't spend at least half of your government pay, but you can pocket it all if you choose.
You can bribe senators away from other players (more costly than bribing neutral senators), have them executed (if you're Council Head), or have them assassinated. You can also, if you control a majority of the Senate or can get backing from enough of your opponents, have yourself elected Doge. The Doge dispenses the government posts, which is always desirable: you can choose the one you want--one only per family, and each family with a senator must be given a post.
Next is religious politics. Remember simony from Renaissance history class? The Pope opens cardinalship positions from time to time, and any open cardinalship can be bought. Your cardinals will give you kickbacks every year from the sale of indulgences, so they're another source of income--until they die, usually of natural causes. Also if you control enough votes, you can become Pope when the old one dies. The Pope gets a cut from the sale of cardinalships and controls the cost of indulgences. He can call a crusade, giving him a free but temporary army. He can also excommunicate a city, which disrupts its pricing structure to his advantage, if he plays his cards right (a trick I've never worked out). Be careful about the indulgences, though--if you set them too high, you can trigger the Reformation. That will immediately turn a number of cities against the Venetian families, burning down warehouses, disrupting trade routes in the area, and calling a Protestant army that marches on Rome.
Each family has a popularity rating with the Venetian public. When you conquer a closed city and open it to trade with Venice, you gain popularity. If you conquer a friendly city or attack fellow Venetians (and get caught), you lose points. Having a low popularity can make things difficult for you: your senators are less loyal and it's much easier for them to be bribed or executed, for instance.
The Den of Iniquity is a place to go to engage in some nefarious means to your end. The mildest thing you can do is hire a gossip to slander one of your opponents. You can also hire an arsonist to burn down someone's warehouses or villa. Most severely, you can hire an assassin to kill an opponent's officials: a senator, a cardinal, the Doge, or even the Pope. Of course you run a risk of being caught; the penalty is higher the worse the deed. Slandering is no big deal, arson is bad, and having someone killed will really turn people off. As you might expect, the bigger the target, the more it will cost you: senators are bad, cardinals are worse, the Doge is awful, and killing the Pope is downright medieval (or in this case, Renaissance)! The game does give you the option of framing an opponent for the deed, but that increases the risk of being caught. Use with caution.
An obvious way to get ahead of the competition is to attack your opponents' cities, military units, and especially their trade units. This makes your opponents irritable though, and invites retribution and one-upmanship. Also, the closer it was to Venice, the greater the chance you'll be caught and lose popularity.
Popularity can be increased by doing good deeds like liberating cities for Venice, but you can also use more direct means. At the Clock Tower you can spend money to appease the populace. In order of increasing cost and effectiveness, you can: donate money to the Church, throw a party, commission a work of art, or build (or add on to) your villa. Villas have the added advantage of giving you a sustained boost in popularity. However they are vulnerable to arson by your opponents, and once a villa reaches a certain size you can no longer add to it.
Fighting in Renaissance Italy was done largely by mercenaries (part of why they got their a**es kicked when the French decided to get seriously involved in the peninsula). There are several mercenary companies available for hire in Venice, and more in other cities, which will become available to you when you first visit those cities (or when they first open to trade with Venice). Military units can be very useful for disrupting other players' trade routes (if you want to play rough), combatting pirates and brigands in an infested area, defending Venice from attack (by such infrequent but very serious threats as the Genoese and the Protestants), and most of all, for conquering hostile cities. However, as useful as military units are, they are also quite costly, so it's important to hire and retain them only as needed.
The game's series ran like this:
1993 Merchant Prince I|
1995 Machiavelli: the Prince
2001 Merchant Prince II
Merchant Prince I 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 wasn't Venetian but Florentine). Machiavelli came in two boxes: a thinner purplish and a thicker black box. The black boxes included a copy of The Prince by Penguin, one of the few good translations I've seen. 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 that 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 reviving the original's practice of playing the music too loud, but with a vengeance--MPII is so loud you have to turn your speakers almost off to get the volume right). Once you turn it down, though, the music doesn't disappoint: it would make decent listening on its own.
Apart from the music, the sequel was a huge disappointment. Gameplay remained the same, but the graphics, while more modern, lost the crispness they had in Machiavelli: the Prince. Also, the minimap, where much of the actual gameplay takes place, became almost unusable. While it remained about the same size as in the previous games (that is, a little too small), the icons inside were much larger, meaning you couldn't see much at any one time. The small icons and text on the left giving commands like build roads, view world map, etc. were replaced with large icons that took up a lot of space along the bottom of the screen, and took some time to learn because it wasn't obvious what each icon represented. 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 which 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.
Merchant Prince I and Machiavelli: the Prince are both MS-DOS games, and, as such, can be problematic to run in Windows. Merchant Prince I seems to run ok in XP, though it can be clunky, but Machiavelli is quarrelsome. It ran well in DOS, but in Windows 95 it generally had to run in DOS Mode if the user wanted sound (which is worth having). Windows 2000 and XP are even worse--Machiavelli has been known to blue-screen XP, even when running in Compatibility Mode. However, it runs very well in DOSBox. Merchant Prince II was written for Windows 95/98, and should run well on most modern Windows machines.
Ah, downloads! I have a couple items that might enhance your merchanting experience.
Merchant Prince I [2mb]
Machiavelli: the Prince (ISO of the CD) [4.5mb]
Machiavelli: the Prince (installation for 2000/XP/Vista) (About this file) [4.6mb]
Merchant Prince II (ISO of the CD, with the 1.1 patch) [61mb]
Merchant Prince II v.1.1 patch (Instructions) [.5mb]
Extras for Machiavelli: the Prince
Game Manual - Courtesy of Home of the Underdogs
The Technical Stuff - Technical details of installing in DOS (Mostly obsolete, but included for historical/curiosity/thoroughness reasons)
Machiavelli the Prince: Official Secrets & Solutions - The official hint guide to the game
Reprographics copy of Official Secrets & Solutions - Lets you print out a book-size copy (includes instructions)
Slanders Mod - Corrects spellings, makes several improvements: see here for details
Cog Icon - Great for your Windows shortcut to Machiavelli: the Prince
Cheats - If you're into that sort of thing
According to the Machiavelli manual, there are two things you can change to mod the game: SLANDERS.LIE (the wording of slanders, as you might expect) and COMOD*.INF (the descriptions for commodities). I've found you can also modify (at least to some extent) RELICS.TXT, to change the names, and probably the values, of the relics found when you're the first player to visit a given city. Merchant Prince I and II have similar SLANDERS.LIE files which I assume can be modded as you like. Merchant Prince I also has similar COMOD*.INF files, which can probably be modded as well, but like with SLANDERS.LIE, I haven't tested them with the two Merchant Princes.
Bugs & Enhancements
This is a list of enhancement requests for Machiavelli: the Prince. While it was not the last in the series, it was probably the best and most polished, and might arguably be the most promising candidate for a new patch or a sequel. The game ran well, and there were just a few improvements that could have really fine-tuned it. This list might be of use to anyone who chooses to write a new patch for the game, if the code is ever released.
Bugs I know of
- Clicking on a trade route while it's in motion gives you the option to cancel its orders (and edit it)--otherwise you have to wait till all your pieces have moved, remember which one you wanted to edit, find it, and click on it. The trouble is that when you do cancel orders, the trade route is cleared. Instead, the trade route should be left alone--let the player change it, but have it default to the way it was before.
- Sometimes the game tells you falsely that all your pieces have moved (by putting the cursor on a piece that has moved). To find the unmoved pieces, you have to click Wait on your pieces until you cycle through to one that hasn't gone yet--and the game doesn't tell you when you've come full circle; you just have to guess when you're done, click End Turn, and see if it warns you (again) that you have unmoved pieces.
- If one of your trade routes delivers goods to a city and stores some of them in your warehouses there (because of insufficient demand), then another of your trade routes comes there for some of that commodity, it takes them from your warehouse first, then starts purchasing more. That's as it should be, but instead of marking the warehouse empty, it sets it to purchase more of that commodity when some comes available. Then you're stuck with commodities in your warehouse that you never wanted to buy there.
- When one of your trade routes comes to a city that's infected with the Plague, it asks if you want to trade there--which will fetch you much higher prices but may cost you your unit(s). If you say No, they move on to their next destination. The trouble is that if they don't have enough movement points to leave town, at the start of the next turn they will trade there (and risk infection) even if you told them not to.
- The manual says you can choose whether to use Heavy or Light guards on a given trade route, implying that your selection will be kept if any of your choice are available at any given point. Instead, it doesn't matter which you select; when your trade route comes to town, if that city has the other kind of guards, the current ones are sold and the other are loaded up.
Enhancement Requests (roughly in order of priority)
- Add the ability to name a trade route when you create it. You can rename them later on (which usually disrupts the trade route), but not at the time of creation. That would make it a lot easier to know what you need to replace when you lose a route to bandits, shipwreck, etc.--"Paris-Novgorod" would be much easier to figure out than "Group38", for instance. For that matter, how about if the name defaults to [first city]-[last city] instead of Group #?
- When one of your units or groups is taken out by bandits, pirates, natural disasters, or enemy attack, the game should give the option to replace it, complete with the same trade route as the original. The new unit(s) should probably start in the first city of the trade route. If you lose only some of the units in a group, you should have the option of replenishing the group's numbers at the next city (this should be for trade groups, of course, not military units).
- When you leave a building in Venice (such as the Doge's Palace), it sends you back to the Movement screen. Taking you back to the Venice screen would make gameplay much smoother, since you usually want to visit several buildings at a time when you visit the Venice screen.
- Similarly, when you open a city in the Movement screen then close that city, it takes you back to your active piece. This makes it hard when you're looking around an area to find a profitable new trade route. The cursor should stay on the city you just left--you can get back to your active piece easily enough by pressing C (for center).
- When one of your trade units approaches a city with the Plague, you're asked whether you want to trade anyway, or not. If you say No, your unit moves onto its next destination, often bouncing back and forth between plague-infested cities. Players should be given the additional option of waiting outside the city until the Plague passes. (Note: an adequate substitute would be to fix the bug that sometimes causes units to trade next turn even when you've said not to.)
- When you open and then close a unit/group's trade route, the unit/group should continue on like nothing happened, rather than starting the trade route over and going back to the first city on its route.
- It would be helpful to show whether a trade route is profitable or not. Something like this might be very useful: a trade group shows a number (+ or -) saying whether it's making or losing money, with a number after in parentheses taking into account the cost of guards. For instance, a three-way route might look like this: London-Padron 100(60)/40(0)/30(-10). In this example, the run from London to the second city (Paris, say) is making 100 Fl. profit and spending 40 on guards, bringing its net down to 60 Fl. The next leg, to Padron, is grossing 40 Fl. but also spending that amount on guards, and the return trip to London is actually losing money.
- Likewise, warning the player when he/she is about to sell something for less than its purchase price would be helpful.
- When a computer player has locked you out of a city they own, there should be a way to ask their price (if any) for letting you trade there--just as you can Bribe a hostile independent city. On the flip side, you should be able to set a price to allow computer players access; it should also be available as a gift in the send message window. The prices should be on a per-rival basis, so you (or the computer) could give discounts to rivals you/they like, and high prices to those you/they don't.
- The Senate itself doesn't actually do much of anything in the game. One huge opportunity for gameplay would be if bills could be proposed and voted on, and those bills have a practical effect in the game: much like in Alpha Centauri and Master of Orion III. The Doge's authority--to veto, to vote, to break a tie--should be worked out to try to approximate the Venetian Doge's power (I'm not sure what's appropriate here since I don't know much about Venetian political history).
- It would be a lot easier to manage your current trade routes if you could pause, edit, and resume them without zeroing out their instructions. (While you're watching all your trade routes run their course at the start of each turn, you sometimes see something you want to jump in and take care of, but if you stop the action it actually breaks the current active trade route and you have to reassign it.)
- TCP/IP multiplayer would be ideal. (Of course it didn't make it into the original because it wasn't used in DOS games.) While we're at it, it wouldn't be a bad idea to include an option for IPv6.
- When you own a city and you close off access to a player, you automatically burn all your rivals' warehouses. But sometimes I'm playing nice with someone and don't want to tick them off. Instead, the game should offer you several options, on a per-rival basis: burn warehouses, plunder warehouses (taking their stuff), plunder and take over warehouses (so you get them and their contents), and leave alone (leaving the warehouses and their contents alone until the rival has access to the city again).
- The minimap should be made a bit larger. That would make it easier to plan your trade routes etc.
- When you've taken a city and are keeping it for yourself, you should have the option to open it to Venice later if you want to, gaining maybe half the popularity you would have if you'd opened it up immediately. This option should probably be unavailable when the city is under siege, especially if under siege by a rival player.
- When Doge elections are taking place, it would be handy if you could request a position in the new government (e.g., "I would like the position of Road Builder"). Perhaps bribes could be offered with the request.
- When a city's commodities are being skewed by unusual circumstances (siege, plague, excommunication, etc.), their normal prices should show in parentheses after their current prices, or something like that.
- If your trade route comes into town to buy, say, 6 gold and 2 ivory, but the city has 5 gold and 3 ivory available, it simply leaves one of the gold cargo bays empty and goes to its next destination. Adding the ability to specify alternate cargo would be helpful in such cases (though it might make for a complicated UI in the trade route screen).
- It would be helpful for long-distance trade routes if there was an option to instruct a trade route to stop at the nearest city and replace lost guards. So for instance, a trade route from London to Singapore--if it lost some guards fighting pirates around Calicut, would pull into port at the next city along the way and pick up replacement guards.
- Pressing V at the main screen should bring up the Venice screen.
- When you are Council Head, if you have already accused someone this turn, the Accuse button should be grayed out. Maybe also the Buy Cardinal button could be grayed out in the Vatican if there are no cardinals available for purchase.
- When you've been elected Doge, if you haven't visited the Doge's Palace since your election you should be prompted about it at the End Turn screen (it's too easy to get busy with your turn and forget about it!).
- You should be able to send computer players the same canned messages they send you: in particular, you should be able to send an "I'll have revenge for your unprovoked attack" message like they send you whenever you attack their units.
- This is a small one, but it's always bugged me: The city's names are Marseilles (or Marseille), not Marsielles; Molucca, not Molluca; Xiangrila, not Xiangrala; and Khanbaliq, not Kahnbalig.
Shoot me an email if you have comments or questions, or something you'd like to add.