After playing Rinascimento several times, I feel it's unbalanced and needs revision. The concept however appeals to me a lot and, after many weeks of work, intercalated with procrastination, and various unfinished drafts, today I finally got out a concept, almost ready for playtesting:
The game begins on the Spring of 1461 after the defeat of Ferrante of Naples (cadet line of Aragon) against John of Anjou (legitimate heir, backed by France) and the rebel nobles (also represented by neutral centers, one of them armed: Taranto, the main rebel stronghold). The situation is indecisive and much will depend on the ingenuity and and diplomatic ability of the two rivals.
- Republic of Venice: a major naval power and also a serious contender on land. Begins with 5 centers (Venice, Spalato, Padova, Verona and Brescia), 3 fleets and 2 armies. Especial notes: a Fleet begins in Gulf of Venice, rather than in Padova. Have to redraw Venice in order to include the Lagoon, however it's only reachable with ships (from Padova, Treviso and Gulf of Venice), never with armies (for all purposes it's a sea province - an army can still built in it but needs to be convoyed out via GoV).
- Duchy of Milan: the main contender of Venice and a land-based power. Begins with 4 armies.
- State of the Church: begins with 4 centers, 3 armies and one fleet. It probably hopes to retake control of the vassals which are de facto independent (the four neutrals around Forli) but surely other powers also have interest in them, so it may be difficult.
- Kingdom of France: begins with three scattered centers (Marseilles, Asti and Salerno) but has four units, so it needs to conquer something fast (possibly Naples or Reggio di Calabria) if he wants to keep them all. This power represents both the House of Anjou and France proper. While Marseilles allows for a corner position, otherwise France begins "in medias res", with an active conflict with Naples (essentially impossible to solve diplomatically) and the armed enclave of Asti (which in this map has absorbed Monferrat) which can be a threat and/or a magnet to Savoy, Genoa and Milan.
- Kingdom of Aragon: controls Sardinia and Sicily (3 centers) and has 3 fleets.
- Republic of Genoa: begins with 3 centers, 2 fleets and one army. Especial note: a fleet begins in Gulf of Genoa rather than in Genoa.
- Duchy of Savoy: begins with 3 centers, 2 armies and one fleet.
- Republic of Florence: begins with 3 centers, 2 armies and one fleet.
- House of Este (Dukes of Ferrara and Modena): begins with 2 centers and 2 armies.
- Swiss Confederacy: begins with 2 centers and 2 armies. It was often in conflict with Milano and Savoy in this period.
- Habsburg Crown: begins with 2 centers, one army and one fleet. It did not yet include the Spanish realms but was already forging the dynastic alliance.
- Kingdom of Hungary: begins with 2 centers and 2 armies.
- Ottoman Empire: begins with 2 centers, one army and one fleet. Especial note: Constantinople is an off-board center that cannot be conquered (fleets can move to South Adriatic or Eastern Ionian, armies to Saray or via convoy elsewhere, but no unit can go to Constantinople from these three pesudo-adjoining provinces. Hence this power cannot be eliminated ever.
Neutrals: most are armed neutrals (the units can be supported by players but otherwise they just hold every turn, being eliminated forever if dislodged), what requires at least two units to achieve a conquest and makes initial diplomacy and expansion more complicated. List of neutral centers:
- Margraviate of Modena, a long lived independent city-state.
- Republic of Lucca, a small Tuscan city-state
- Republic of Siena, a larger Tuscan city-state (I decided that Siena, a single center power in the original Rinascimento) is unplayable.
- Papal vassals:
- Ravenna (not armed), this area was contended often rather than being truly independent
- Duchy of Urbino
- Neapolitan rebels:
- Taranto was the main rebel stronghold, eventually deactivated
- Benevento (not armed): this center is a bit arbitrary, more strictly historical would maybe have done it in L'Aquila (Abruzzi) but that would pit Naples vs the Pope, what is not necessarily very historical. Also I wanted to allow Naples a center to fall to in case France captures Naples right away. The presence in that (otherwise Neapolitan) province of a Papal enclave (Benevento but only including the city of that name) also allows for some ambiguity about the status of this neutral territory.
- Ragusa: a long-lived Adriatic city-state.
- Tunis: at that time independent, later vassal of Aragon (to whom they asked for protection against Turkey). It was not yet an Ottoman vassal, in spite of the way it's represented in the classical game Machiavelli. On these dates the Turkish Empire was still consolidating the Balcans (Albanian rebels notably) and the Aegean (where Venice particularly had some important strongholds, also Genoa). Game-wise it gives something to Aragon to chew on if he choses not to throw everything to the Neapolitan war.
As it is the basic victory condition could be 26 centers. If I finally scrap the non-Italian powers (except France, see below), it would be 8 centers less, so 22 centers should be enough to claim victory the classical way.
Alternative ideas: on top of a minimal amount of centers (at least 1/4 of all centers) the player claiming victory must control three of these cities: Milan, Venice, Rome and Naples. That way the game is less about any centers and more about specific goals (but I disagree with the exclusive goal of Rome, on top of other 32 centers!, of Rinascimento), Rome was never that important - even Italy was first unified without Rome (and without Venice). The actual historical winner of the Italian Wars, Aragon/Habsburg Crown controlled Naples and Milan (Rome had been sacked too but not formally annexed) and these two states were the vortex of much of the Italian wars.
My main doubt is regarding the extra-Italian North and East.
On one side, the Swiss conflicts with Milan and Savoy are historical but of little geographic relevance. Adding a neutral dot representing Geneve, maybe instead of Vaud as that province is intended to be named could increase the significance of the initial conflict (and take off some pressure from Milan by giving both Savoy and Switzerland something to play with). Making Switzerland neutral so early in history would definitely not be historical but the big question is playability.
On the other side Austria, Hungary and Ottomans are there to add both to marginal historicity but mostly to balance Venice (although Hungary may work as Venetian ally at first). Expressing the whole conflict of the Danube/Balcans is well beyond the scope of this map, obviously. Austria and Turkey particularly seem necessary to balance Venice, which in the original Rinascimento seems to be totally unleashed, always making it to the middle and endgame in excellent shape. However it's possible that just the reinforcement of Milan and Ferrara, as well as the Papal fleet is enough, with minor changes such as replacing a Venetian fleet by an army for example.
So I'm seriously considering to gray out all that area and only leaving France as partly extra-Italian power. That would reduce the number of contenders from 14 to 10 but it'd be more strictly Italian.
Another important doubt is whether the Ligurian Sea would be better represented as single province, albeit with a modified western border (either touching land at Nizza or at Riviera di Ponente, i.e. Western Liguria).
Finally, is it a good idea that Naples is an independent power or should be rather it considered already part of the Crown of Aragon? Ferrante belonged to a cadet line of this House and was always somewhat dependent on family ties. On the other hand Naples was also an Italian power on its own right and had been one for a long time. If Naples is to be annexed to Aragon, this one may become too large (in any case centers would be reconsidered, surely scrapping Reggio di Calabria).
Naval balance: one of my issues with Rinascimento is that Genoa and Venice have a too easy naval expansion initially, while a third naval power (usually Naples but can be Turkey if lucky) is between them both, what is a very precarious situation unless played very well. Genoa is maybe less overwhelmingly strong but Venice can easily take over the whole Adriatic, where it has lots of candy, while at the same time also expanding on land.
Here Genoa is clearly much less cocky (France and Aragon are serious contenders, while Savoy and Florence begin with a fleet each, fleets backed with armies, not like the nearly unplayable Pisa of Rinascimento) and Venice, which is still a serious threat, is already somewhat balance by the Pope and possibly Naples. In the original draft above, Austria (Habsburgs) and Turkey (Ottomans) also add to this complex naval balance in the Adriatic. If I finally gray out (make impassable) all that extra-Italian area, I will have to make one of Venice's fleet into an army (Padova), so it's not so overwhelmingly strong in the sea.
Armed neutrals: this may attract criticisms, however it's not just realistic but also forces a more active and compromised diplomacy since day one. Also expansion should be a bit more gradual, even if most neutrals fall in the first years. Typically (unarmed) neutrals fall in the very first year, in this case it may take a bit more, depending on how well you negotiate. Also it makes more attractive in some cases to directly jump at the throat of your neighbor probably.
Criticisms welcome, preferably constructive ones.