My problem is I've only played the game twice face to face. Almost all of my experience with the game is on the iPad against the AIs, which really doesn't give me a good sense of the game.
(I am not big on playing against computers but I think they are particularly weak in auction games or negotiation games. I am just a human elitist in that regard.)
However, there is no denying that Medici is an important part of Knizia's auction games and auction games in general. And since I have had at least a little bit of experience with it, I am prepared to say something. Just take it with an even smaller grain of salt than usual :P
Modern Art is defined by having a wide variety of auctions and dynamic market values. Ra is defined by having a push-your-luck element and an intricate network of scoring elements. Medici is defined by being a pure as the driven snow auctions. Even High Society, with its special tiles and poorest loses rule, is more watered down than Medici.
You could argue that Medici does have elements of push-your-luck and set collection. But, unlike Ra where those are their own chunk of the gameplay, Medici just uses those elements to facilitate auctions and evaluate them.
The story in Medici is that you are all Renaissance merchants trying to earn the most cash through buying low and selling high on your shipments. But even by the standards of Euro games, the theme in Medici is pretty thin. You strip away all the art and replace the goods with colors and you'd barely affect the gameplay experience.
Medici is played out in three rounds where each player will be collecting five tiles or shipping five lots of goods. The tiles come with two different pieces of information on them. There will be one of five different goods and have a number ranging from zero to five, not counting a gold tile that has a ten on it.
On your turn, you choose one to three tiles to flip over for auction. You can't flip over more than you have empty spots for. Then, there's a once around auction with the person who flipped the tiles going last. You bid straight up points. When everyone has five tiles, it's time to score them up.
You earn points based on two things. The total value of your tiles, er, shipment, and the number of each type of good you've shipped throughout the entire game. There's a first place, second place, etc. And each place is a set amount of points, with ties dividing the points. You also get a bonus if you get to the top of the goods track.
And, of course, who ever has the most points at the end wins.
I have to make a special note about player counts. You blindly discard tiles with the fewer the players meaning the more tiles go bye bye. And more scoring positions get added for more players.
Medici has been around since 1995, over twenty years. It's gone out of print in a regular basis but it always swings back around and comes back into print. Folks keep on loving it. It might not be a juggernaut Catan but it's no flash in the pan.
So, this is my uneducated, haven't-played-Medici-enough guess as to why: the economy of the game is so brutally tight. The return on your investments is set and that's the only way you have to get points.
Other games have money equals points but they usually have other ways of earning money. Auctioning off paintings in Modern Art, for instance. In Medici, even a small overbid can be catastrophic. Sometimes, you can get ahead by paying as little as possible but that can sink you if that's all you do, unless you are very lucky and the other players play very badly.
In short, I think Medici works by taking the auction and honing it to a razor's edge. That might be too sharp for some folks. Too sharp for me some of be time, to be honest. But I can see why the gameplay is so strong.
Huh. I see a card game version is coming out. Looks like, just like the Modern Art card game, the auctions have been removed. That worked surprisingly well with Modern Art, with the use of special abilities and the changing values market. With Medici, that leaves a fairly simple push-your-luck element and a fairly simple set collection element. I don't know if that's enough and it definitely seems like it should be a much lighter, less brutal game.