Merchant Prince I box cover Machiavelli: the Prince box cover Merchant Prince II box cover

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.

Trade Units  

CamelLand8 unitsGood in deserts (vs. sandstorms)
DonkeyLand8 unitsGood in mountains (vs. rockfalls)
Large CogWater8 unitsSlow, good in deep water (vs. storms)
Small CogWater6 unitsSlow, good in deep water (vs. storms)
Large GalleyWater4 unitsFast, can outrun pirates, dangerous in deep water
Small GalleyWater2 unitsFast, can outrun pirates, dangerous in deep water


Venice screen in Merchant Prince I

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.

Venice screen in Machiavelli: the Prince

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.

Venice screen in Merchant Prince II

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.


Den of Iniquity

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.

Military Options

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.

Keyboard Commands

Number KeysNumber keys on the keypad move a unit one space as normal
Arrow KeysArrow keys move a unit one space as normal
Ctrl-Arrow KeysScrolls the map around without moving a group
CCenters the map on the currently active group
IIf the currently active group is in a city, brings up the Market screen; otherwise, brings up the group box
QLets you move the cursor around without moving any groups
TLets you move the cursor around without moving any groups—press Enter when done, and if you then press T the currently active geroup will move to that location

Game History

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:

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 DOSBoxMerchant 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.

Game Downloads
Merchant Prince I  [2mb]
Machiavelli: the Prince (ISO of the CD)  [4.5mb]
Machiavelli: the Prince (ready to run in DOSBox) (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

Enhancement Requests (things I'd like to see changed - roughly in order of priority)