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Merchant Prince (series)

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Machiavelli: The Prince redirects here. For other uses, see Machiavelli (disambiguation).

Merchant Prince is a series of video games taking place in Italy starting in 1300. You play the part of head of a merchant trading family in Venice, and compete with the other three Venetian trading families using a range of methods, some fair, some foul. The games focus 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 games.

This article describes the Merchant Prince series with a focus on Machiavelli: the Prince.


The player starts out with minimal resources and a map of the known world, which is accurate close to home but becomes less so as the player gets farther from Venice. The 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 demands 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 and engage in politics.

Trade Units

Unit Terrain Cargo Comments
Donkey Land 8 units Good in mountains (vs. rockfalls)
Camel Land 8 units Good in deserts (vs. sandstorms)
Small Cog Water 6 units Slow, good in deep water (vs. storms)
Large Cog Water 8 units Slow, good in deep water (vs. storms)
Small Galley Water 2 units Fast, can outrun pirates, vulnerable to storms
Large Galley Water 4 units Fast, can outrun pirates, vulnerable to storms


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 be given 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, which means they generally favor his own trade routes. You will lose popularity if you don't spend at least half your budget, but you can pocket it all if you choose.

You can bribe senators away from other players if need be (which is 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. The Pope opens cardinalship positions from time to time, and any open cardinalship can be bought. Your cardinals will pay you a cut 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 sets things up right. If the indulgence rate is set too high, it may trigger the Reformation. That will 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 city and open it to trade with Venice, you get big popularity points. 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: it's much easier for the Council Head to have your senators 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 minor, 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 comes with a higher risk of being caught.

An obvious way to get ahead of the competition is to attack your opponents' cities, military units, and especially their trade units. Obviously this tends to invite retribution and one-upmanship, especially in that area. Also, the closer it was to Venice, the greater the chance of being caught and facing a loss of 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.


If the player was not caught in his slanderous actions, then the slander would start with "Someone said that [player's name]" ... followed by one of the 40 phases below, which are moddable by editing the SLANDERS.LIE file:

  • LIKES to wear tights.
  • has the manners of a Viking!
  • drinks canal water!
  • coins slanders like a mint.
  • thinks the world is ROUND! [though this is historically inaccurate]
  • is the son of siblings!
  • would sell his Ma for a Fl. [Florin]
  • spreads vicious lies!
  • is a heathen scoundrel!
  • is a rot-eating bastard!
  • is an eater of worms!
  • practices sorcery!
  • is an amoral cad!
  • sleeps with servants!
  • is a reckless libertine!
  • SUCKS!
  • is a REAL pocket fisherman!
  • has a nasty, fishlike smell.
  • is an instrument of Eeevil!
  • is a pestilent knave!
  • is subtle and treacherous!
  • is a pickel brain. [typo in original]
  • is a botchers apprentice! [typo in original]
  • is a pagan Heretic!
  • a muddy mettled rascal.
  • is gross and fat as butter.
  • is heir to a mongrel bitch!
  • is a WITCH! BURN'EM! [typo in original]
  • has hairy palms.
  • is a big goof!
  • is a bubou on a yak's ass! [typo in original]
  • bathes regularly!
  • stuffs his codpiece!
  • is TOO friendly with animals.
  • is a Momma's boy.
  • traffics with Lawyers!
  • is a Genoese bastard.
  • plots betrayal with Turks!
  • traffics with the Deviiil!
  • is a harlot's son!

If the player was caught in the act of slander, then the player's name would be revealed.

Military Options

Fighting in Renaissance Italy was done largely by mercenaries.  There are several mercenary companies which are available for hire in Venice, and more in other cities, which will become available to you when you first visit those cities.  Military units can be very useful in 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.

Game History

The game's series ran like this:

1993  Merchant Prince
1995  Machiavelli: the Prince
2001  Merchant Prince II

Merchant Prince 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 was a Florentine, not a Venetian). Machiavelli came in two boxes: a thinner purplish and a thicker black box. The black boxes included a copy of The Prince by Penguin. 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 which 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 the original's practice of playing the music too loud).

Many fans considered the sequel to be a huge disappointment, much like Master of Orion III a couple years later. Little was added to gameplay, and while the graphics were updated, many complained they had become ugly and actually got in the way of playing. Some complained that the updated interface made it more difficult to play the game and made the learning curve more steep. Also, 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 that 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. 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[1] if you turn off EMS. Merchant Prince II was written for Windows 95/98, runs well on most modern Windows machines, and runs on Windows Vista.

Known Bugs & Issues

  • Clicking on a trade route while it's in motion gives the player the option to cancel its orders (and edit it)--otherwise the player has to wait till all the pieces have moved, remember which one he/she wanted to edit, find it, and click on it. The trouble is that when the player agrees to cancel orders, the trade route is cleared. It would be much better for gameplay if the trade route were left alone--the player could change it, but it would default to the way it was before.
  • Sometimes the game tells the player falsely that all his/her pieces have moved (by putting the cursor on a piece that has moved). To find the unmoved pieces, the player has to click Wait on each piece until he/she cycles through to one that hasn't gone yet--and the game doesn't indicate 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 a trade route delivers goods to a city and some of them are stored in the player's warehouses there (because of insufficient demand), and another trade route comes there for some of that commodity, it takes them from the warehouse first, then starts purchasing more. That's as it should be, but instead of then marking those warehouse empty, it sets them to purchase more of that commodity. Then the player is stuck with commodities in his/her warehouses that he/she never wanted to buy in that city.
  • When a trade route comes to a city that's infected with the Plague, it asks if the player wants to trade there--which would fetch much higher prices but may cost those unit(s) due to plague infection. If the player says No, the trade route moves on to its next destination. The trouble is that if the unit doesn't have enough movement points to leave town, at the start of the next turn it will trade there even though it was instructed not to, risking plague infection.
  • The manual says that the player can choose whether to use Heavy or Light guards on a given trade route, implying that the selection will be kept so long as the selected type is available at any given point on the route. Instead, it doesn't matter which is selected; when a given trade route comes to town, if that city has the other kind of guards, the current ones are sold and the locals are loaded up. Note: if this was as intended, there is no need to change it, but the manual should have been updated.


Machiavelli: The Prince was reviewed in 1995 in Dragon #220 by David "Zeb" Cook in the "Eye of the Monitor" column. According to Cook, "Machiavelli quickly becomes a game of doing the same old thing over and over. For a game that touts its historical basis ... it just doesn't mine the richness of their period."[1] Machiavelli: The Prince was reviewed in Dragon #221 by Jay & Dee in the "Eye of the Monitor" column. Both reviewers gave the game 3 out of 5 stars.[2]


  1. Rolston, Ken, Paul Murphy, and David "Zeb" Cook (August 1995). "Eye of the Monitor". Dragon (220): 63–68. 
  2. Jay & Dee (September 1995). "Eye of the Monitor". Dragon (221): 115–118. 

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