Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Game 255: Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio

A Cambrian explosion of Hamurabi clones diverged throughout the 70's, undoubtedly driven by David Ahl's BASIC conversion. The emphasis on formulas appealed to the computer nerds of the day, its primitive implementation lent itself well to expansion, the BASIC language made this simple, and programmers around the world took their shots at it, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes producing entirely new games. Like so many Cambrian species, the vast majority are extinct, forgotten, with not even a fossil record to remember them by, and yet, virtually all economic simulation games owe their lineage to this event.

One of the most successful of these games was Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio, a city management title originally published in the December 1978 issue of SoftSide Magazine as a TRS-80 BASIC type-in program, where it's billed as Santa Paravia en Fiumaccio and credited to Rev. George Blank. It was successful enough to receive an expanded tournament edition, ports to Apple II and Commodore computers, and a graphical remake on 16-bit machines in the late 80's. The full extent of its influence is unknown, but designer Brian Reynolds cites it as an influence.

In Santa Paravia, you own a sizeable fiefdom in 15th century Italy and are tasked to develop and expand it into a city-state, with the ultimate goal of recognition as a king or queen - a title contingent on accomplishing tasks such as accumulating money, land, population, and city improvements.

Up to six players may compete with the goal of being first to reach the highest rank, but interaction is limited. Each player gets their own fiefdom, with player one owning Santa Paravia, player two owning Fiumaccio, player three owning Torricella, and so on. Apart from the race to the crown, the only means of interaction is the possibility to steal another player's lands, should your army become much larger than theirs.

There are quite a few versions of Santa Paravia available to download, most of them as loose BAS files, but I'm not sure I trust these to be accurate to the type-in. Quite a few have typos, and a number all have a coding error where a 50% interest rate is incorrectly calculated by adding 1.5 to the debt instead of multiplying by it. I've instead chosen to play the cassette version distributed by Instant Software Inc around 1979-1980, knowing that it features some minor enhancements over Blank's original.

I spent some time puzzling over Santa Paravia's mechanics - the instructions don't really tell you how to succeed, or even what your goals are. The article in SoftSide goes into some detail, but a lot of the information there is wrong.

The first thing you might want to understand about Santa Paravia is how to achieve ranks. There are twelve goals, mentioned in the magazine but not the ingame instructions:

  • Build 10 markets
  • Build 10 palaces
  • Build 10 cathedrals
  • Build 10 mills
  • House 50 nobles
  • Hire 500 soldiers
  • House 100 clergy
  • House 500 merchants
  • House 20,000 serfs
  • Own 60,000 hectares of land
  • Own 50,000 florins
  • Achieve an economic factor 50 (not directly visible)

You don't need to achieve all of these goals in order to win, but each is worth up to 10 points, with partial credit given for partial completion. At the easiest difficulty, you must earn 48 points. At the most difficult, you must earn 72.

After spending some time coming to grips with how things work, I went for the highest difficulty, Grand Master.

Each turn has three decision-making phases, starting with the harvest.


Here, we already have some improvements from the Hamurabi format. Instead of simply buying or selling land for grain in a one-time, irrevocable decision, you may buy or sell both grain and land for currency. Make a mistake and buy the wrong amount of land? It's okay, you can just sell it back. Unfortunately, there's no good indication here of the amount of land you currently own, so you'll need to keep track of that yourself.

Once you commit your purchases, you have to decide how much grain to distribute. The amount must be between 20% and 80% of your reserve.

Here, there's a critically important factor - always distribute at least 130% of the demand. If you haven't got enough grain, buy it. If you haven't got enough money, sell some of your land or accept debt. This encourages people to come to your land - not just serfs, but also nobles, merchants, and clergy, who you absolutely need on the higher difficulties. Furthermore, you get an economy bonus. The number of serfs who come is affected by the amount of extra grain you give them, but the rest don't care - you either meet the 130% threshold or you don't.

Two other factors are important but not quite as much, because unlike in Hamurabi, grain production isn't everything. The amount of "workable" land is equal to your number of serfs times five. To optimize your harvest, you will have enough leftover grain to seed your lands at a rate of one stere per two hectares.

Hidden from this screen are your serfs and hectares. We always begin with 2000 serfs and 10000 hectares, a perfect proportion so that all of the land is workable.

Math time. 130% of the demand is 14820. I will also need 5000 to seed all of my land. If I have 19820 steres, these plans work out. 14820 is less than 80% of that total. I already have more than that, so I sell the difference rather than let the rats eat it.

Prior experience tells me that I can count on collecting 1500 florins in taxes on my first turn. Land isn't cheap right now, but it's inexpensive enough to pay off later, so I'll buy 1533 hectares for 3066 florins and end my turn exactly 1500 in debt. And finally, distribute the 14820 steres to the people.

Paravian babies are born ready to work.

As I mentioned, whenever immigration occurs, it includes nobles, merchants, and clergy. This is kept hidden from you, for some reason.

The next phase is taxes.

You can play around with the rates and see your projected income before committing. The instructions say that high taxes slow economic growth, but this isn't quite accurate. There are two rules, which come into effect the following turn:

  • If the sum values of Customs and Sales taxes add up to under 35%, then 1-4 merchants will immigrate.
  • There is a (100% - 5*[INCOME TAX)) chance that 0-1 nobles immigrate, and 1-2 clergy immigrate.

I want nobles and clergy, so I keep income tax at zero. And I've found that customs duties always pay better than sales tax, so I keep customs at 34% and sales tax at zero.

But the real money comes from corruption. And that brings us to justice.

The maximum level is "outrageous," where the judges are bribed, verdicts go to the highest bidder, and you get 700 florins per title you've achieved. SoftSide says this harms the economy, but I haven't seen any proof of this. There are two main downsides - the first is a severe score penalty. And this isn't that big a deal - just set it to "fair" on turns where you think you'll get promoted, and the score penalty will immediately go away. Then you can go back to outrageous justice once you acquire a new title; you can't get demoted by losing points, and you'll enjoy even more lavish kickbacks with your higher title. The second downside is that serfs tend to flee, but with my 130% grain demand strategy the population seems to trend upward regardless, and I don't need a lot of serfs to win as long as they produce enough grain to feed themselves and everyone else.

Before the third phase, we get a view of our fiefdom.

And an anticipation of Civilization's city view

This is mostly visual fluff, but the icons here are meaningful. The size of the rectangle indicates how much land we own. The squiggles in its upper-right corner are supposed to be a plowman driving a horse, and its position indicates optimal grain harvesting for the amount of land owned - when we have too many serfs to put to work, he'll be above the line, and when we have unused land, he'll be farther below it. Lastly, the castle in the upper left means we are adequately defended.

The final phase is state purchases.

  • All buildings improve the economy, and the more expensive the building, the bigger the effect.
  • Marketplaces generate 75 florins every turn - hardly amazing as it takes 14 turns to turn a profit and your game isn't guaranteed to last more than 20 - but also attract merchants.
  • Mills generate 56-305 florins every turn and improve the economy even more, but each mill owned causes 100 serfs to be unproductive for harvesting grain.
  • Palaces attract nobles.
  • Cathedrals attract clergy.
  • Soldiers are needed as your land grows, or you risk invasion. Each platoon bought converts 20 serfs into soldiers, and will cost 60 florins every turn.

 For now, I invest in a single marketplace, and the turn ends.

Here, grain is cheap and land costs more than I want to pay for. So my strategy is to buy as much grain as I can and still have manageable debt, and give it all to encourage serf immigration.


I buy another 2 marketplaces.

For the next few years I continued this pattern, selling extra grain, buying land on credit, and refilling my pockets through Machiavellian justice. By the year 1405, I was pulling in over 3000 florins per turn, owned 10 marketplaces, and my population included 11 nobles, 45 soldiers, 16 clergy, 118 merchants, and 2595 serfs working 13146 hectares of land. It was time to seek a promotion, so I temporarily set my justice level to "fair" and lived the next turn in austerity, buying just a mill when I could have otherwise afforded two.


New taxes under Baron Ahab. That crown won't buy itself.

With my newfound wealth I bought three mills in 1406 A.D. And this was just the beginning. With each turn, wealth increases - more merchants mean more duties, improved economy means more tax revenue (i.e. more duties), more mills mean more export revenue, and more titles mean more payola. But the cost for more titles goes up as well - at first you can advance through marketplaces at a cost of $1000 per point, but no more than ten count. Eventually cathedrals cost $5000 for the same prestige benefit, though they also bring in clergy and further improve the economy.

By 1409, I became a count, was bringing in 5899 florin per year, and acquired my tenth mill. I started investing in soldiers, which provide no economic benefit other than land protection and require yearly salaries, but at an up-front cost of 500 florin per 20 men, it would only cost me 12,500 florin to get the maximum score bonus and advance another rank.

It only took until 1411 to reach the next rank, Marquis.


Poor harvest meant I had to buy grain at inflated prices to meet demand, let alone the 130% rates I'd always done, but the price of land had doubled, so I simply sold some of my extra, unused land to make the gold difference. I bought 18,028 grain and sold 285 hectares, and the immigration continued as I allocated 31,857 steres of grain despite the shortage.

Taxes and bribes were now bringing in 7432 florin per year, and I could start building a palace to advance my rank further.

Depicted: Castle, partially finished palace, ten marketplaces, ten mills.

1413 A.D. saw my promotion to Duke, and another poor harvest. No matter, I was bringing in 9180 that year, and bought five more palace installments. The next year I bought the last one, and in 1415 A.D. was promoted to Grand Duke, and brought in 11,176, which I began investing in expensive cathedrals.

At this point I stopped buying land except for when it became unusually cheap. The money would be better spent on a cathedral.

Complete palace and in-progress cathedral.

In 1418, I got promoted to Prince, which could have brought in 13821 florins, but I was pretty sure the end was near, kept justice fair, and finished the cathedral, paid for on borrowed coin. This, combined with my population, was enough to get me crowned king.

GAB rating: Above Average. Santa Paravia was recommended to me almost two years ago, and I'm glad I played. It isn't going to blow any minds today, it's not especially convincing as a simulation or as a historically accurate setting, and success at higher levels depends entirely on understanding its invisible rules, but planning my city, managing harvests, and seeing my numbers go up as I made the right decisions was a fun little spreadsheet exercise. It's not hard to see how games like Civilization and SimCity might have been inspired by its gameplay family, if not by this exact title.

Coming up next is an all-time classic.


  1. Thank you for "solving" this game - it is the kind of game I really don't want to play, but I really want to know more from the "historical" point of view, including on design.
    Interesting how the very early games had pretty "high culture" settings : ancient Sumer, Renaissance Italy, ...

    You may want to take a look at "Civil War" (1968), which is an Hammurabi-like game about the US Civil War. I can't gather the will to play it, but it will be interesting to have your analysis of how your "logistics" decision impact the result of the battles.

    1. I did check it out a little bit. There's a BASIC listing from Creative Computing here:

      TBH it isn't all that Hamurabi-like, because there's no economy. You get money and decide how much to allocate on food, salaries, and ammo. And then you pick a strategy.

      I got as far as figuring out the optimal food and salary distribution. These affect morale, determined in this line:
      230 LET O=((2*F^2+S^2)/F1^2+1)

      In other words:
      Morale = (2*Food$^2 + Salary$^2)/(Food Demand)^2 + 1
      Food Demand is $5/6 per man, determined in an earlier line.

      Basically, just allocate $1.77 per man on food and give them no salaries to ensure a morale of over 10, which is the highest meaningful value.

      I did not care to decipher the effects of ammo budget and strategy. The immediate effect is on your own casualties, calculated by these four lines of hell:
      410 LET C5=(2*C1/5)*(1+1/(2*(ABS(INT(4*RND(1)+1)-Y)+1)))
      412 LET C5=INT(C5*(1+1/O)*(1.28+F1/(B+1))+0.5)
      414 IF C5+100/O<M1*(1+(P1-T1)/(M3+1)) THEN 424
      416 LET C5=INT(13*M1/20*(1+(P1-T1)/(M3+1)))

      C5 is your casualties. C1 is historical casualties for the battle. Y is your strategy, and B is your ammo budget. M1 is your men. P1 is accumulative casualties, and T1 is accumulative historical casualties. M3 is the total number of battles fought so far.

      I won Bull Run with 2058 casualties, but when the next battle, Shiloh, informed me that I had -3999996 men, I stopped playing. I don't feel like trying to figure out where the error here is.

  2. Woot ! Thanks for investigating. I assume it was Hammurabi-like, and actually hope it was. I guess I will have to cover it - and your calculation will be invaluable.
    You won Bull Run with 2K+ casulaties... but for which side ?

    1. In this version you always control the Confederate Army.

  3. "The instructions say that high taxes slow economic growth, but this isn't quite accurate."

    LOL! The long reach is Reganomics.

    1. One place where Reaganomics does factor is that the tax system follows a Laffer curve. During my trial runs I'd obsessively fine-tune the tax rates to maximize projected revenue. Corruption is much better in the end, though.


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