Knizia’s Medici: The Card Game rides a thin line. Like so many other simple games that rely on a healthy dollop of luck, it’s at constant risk of feeling arbitrary, leaving players with the impression that they’ve wasted their time. It can also inspire moments of genuine thrill as someone decides to defy the odds in pursuit of the perfect card. The problem is that you never know which Medici: TCG you’re going to get. Too serious a context and it can fall flat on its face. Better to play it at the end of the night when fatigue colors disaster a touch more humorously.
It’s a set collection game where you’re gathering cards to score in two ways: for cargo value, individually in each of the game’s three rounds, and for icon-collection, also scored each round, but built up throughout the game. So gathering high-value cards might get you that 30 points, but they only score once. An early foothold in one or two of the types of goods will score three times. Ties are quite punitive, so establishing an early lead can be important. But, of course, if you overplay that you’re wasting cards on something you’ve already won instead of winning other categories. There’s no bonus for winning with vigor.
That tension, along with the drafting system, create Medici: TCG’s rudimentary charms. Drafting is about being as efficient with your selections as possible. Each turn you can take up to three cards, but you’re capped at five per round, so it’s not about taking a lot of cards, but the right cards. The rule is simple: you can select from the three most recently revealed cards, but you must select the newest one. You can reveal up to three new cards. Did an opponent leave a decent card for you on top of the discard stack? You can take it and be done with your turn, or you can flip over a new one, knowing that if that card is good you can take both. But if it’s awful you’ve got to flip over another one to try to dig yourself out of this hole. It’s the sunk cost fallacy weaponized,
Medici: TCG’s success is dependent on context. The first time I played it was almost midnight after a long convention day, when watching someone flip over three stinker cards was the height of comedy. Other times it’s fallen flat as people get frustrated with the randomness and with how little room there is to come back from mistakes. It’s a fine game, no doubt, but its inconsistency makes it hard to recommend. Pick up Can’t Stop or Deep Sea Adventure or No Thanks instead, and you’ll get a more focused, immediate push-your-luck game.