Buzzworthiness – Argent: The Consortium

Thanks to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of this game.

Level 99 has created a name for themselves with games in the world of Indines, including BattleCon and Pixel Tactics.  Now they’re coming out with a new title that is different than anything else they’ve ever published:

image by BGG user Shampoo4you
image by BGG user Shampoo4you

Argent: The Consortium is a new game from designer Trey Chambers that successfully Kickstarted back in January.  It’s a game for 2-5 players (though two and five are recommended for advanced gamers only) that takes around thirty minutes per player (so 60-150 minutes).  The Chancellor of Argent University, the greatest magic school in the world of Indines, is relinquishing his post, and you are among the candidates hoping to take over the position.  A consortium of twelve voters from all over the world have assembled with the sole purpose of choosing the new Chancellor.  Each voter has their own idea of traits the new Chancellor should have, and it is your job to figure out what these traits are so you can win the consortium over.

This game comes with 36 spell cards, 36 supporter cards, 38 vault cards, 18 consortium voter cards, 5 Bell Tower offering cards, 6 round cards, 5 mage power reference cards, 15 double-sided university board tiles, 6 double-sided candidate sheets, a consortium board/influence tracker, 40 plastic coins, 50 plastic mana crystals, 35 mage pawns, 27 intelligence tokens, 15 merit badge tokens, 27 wisdom tokens, 42 loyalty badges, 60 mark tokens, 6 influence tokens, an astronomy tower marker, 4 room lock markers, and a first player marker.  In turn order, each player takes a candidate sheet, then takes the corresponding starting spell (side A for your first game), 7 loyalty badges, 10 mark tokens, and influence tokens, as well as two mages of their color, six coins, two intelligence tokens, two wisdom tokens, and two mana.

The university tiles are laid out, either randomly or in a preset pattern (there are suggestions for your first game).  Three tiles will be in every game – the Council Chamber, the Library, and the Infirmary.  For your first game, it is recommended that all tiles be on side A.  Players will then draft three new mages using a snake draft that begins with the last player in turn order (so in a four-player game: 4-3-2-1, 1-2-3-4, 4-3-2-1).  In a two-player game, you get seven mages to begin.  Then, in turn order, each player places a mark on a face down consortium member to see what they are looking for.  Two people can’t look at the same member at this time.

Argent is played over the course of five rounds.  In the first phase of each round, you will set-up by replacing all old supporters, vault cards, and spells that were not taken in the previous rounds with new ones from their respective decks (three spells, three vault cards, five supporters).  Also, each player can refresh all exhausted spells and items.

In the action phase of a round, players take turns.  You may first take a fast action, which is an action specified by certain cards and abilities as a fast action.  You can only take one of these per turn, and it must be performed first.  Then you may take your regular action, and there are five types: place a mage, cast a spell, use a vault card, use a supporter, take a Bell Tower offering.

image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone

PLACE A MAGE: For this action, take one of your mages (marked with a loyalty badge), and place it on any available space in the university.  Empty circles mean that anyone can go there.  Merit symbols mean that you have to use a merit badge in order to occupy the slot.  No, you don’t have to be in Boy Scouts – you earn a merit badge every seven spaces on the influence track.  These merit badges are flipped over to show they have been used, and will be refreshed at the beginning of each round.  There are also spaces with ghosts that indicate shadowing – if you shadow another mage, you can use the same space.  However, you need a spell or other ability to do this.

Each mage has its own unique traits based on which side of the powers card you use:

  • Red:
    • A. You can use a red mage to wound another mage, sending it to the infirmary while you take its spot.  Mages that get sent to the infirmary stay there until healed or banished, and also get a sympathy bonus of two gold, two mana, or one influence point.
    • B. Gain one mana per other mage in the room you place into (maximum of three).
  • Green:
    • A. These mages cannot be wounded.
    • B. If it’s possible to move a mag to another empty spot in the room when placing a green, you may do so and take its place.
  • Blue:
    • A. These mages are immune to the effects of spells.
    • B. Pay three gold to activate a merit badge slot this blue occupies rather than use a merit badge.
  • Purple:
    • A. These mages can be placed as a fast action, which means you could potentially place two on a turn.
    • B. Pay one mana when placing to shadow an opponent’s mage instead.
  • Gray:
    • A. These mages can be placed after you cast a spell.
    • B. If in a non-Infirmary space of the University, your non-free spells cost one mana less.

There are also neutral mages which don’t do anything, but give you an extra mage you can place.

image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone

CAST A SPELL: You can cast any level of a learned spell, provided you have researched it.  When researching a spell, you can learn it from the display and place a wisdom token on it, or you can progress on a learned spell by placing a wisdom token to it.  To cast a spell, you pay the associated mana cost (if any), then rotate the spell to show that it has been used and cannot be used again during the round.

USE A SUPPORTER: Supporter cards are basically one-time abilities that get discarded after use.  However, you discard in your own discard pile, and used supporters still count when resolving votes at the end of the game.

USE A VAULT CARD: There are two types of vault cards: treasure cards, which can be used once per round like spells; and consumables, which are discarded after use like supporters.

image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone

TAKE A BELL TOWER OFFERING: This is basically a pass.  You take a Bell Tower card, which gives you a small bonus (mana, gold, influence, heal a mage, first player, discount on spells).  When the final Bell Tower card is taken, the action phase ends immediately. (Hooray!  A game where everyone does not necessarily get the same number of turns!)

After the action phase, you move on to resolution.  In this phase, you resolve each room in the university one by one, left to right, top to bottom.  Mages are removed and the benefits are collected.  Merit badges are spent at this time, and if you ever decide not to take an action, you can just remove your mage and take an influence point instead.  After resolving each room, the round ends.  After the fifth round, assign votes, breaking ties by influence.  The player who collects the most votes is the new Chancellor, and once again, influence breaks ties.

COMPONENTS: The components in this game are top-notch, but there’s a lot of them.  A LOT.  I have a lot of good things to say with a few minor criticisms, so I’m going to bullet-point this list in order to not miss anything.

  • The art is gorgeous for this game.  All the characters and settings are very well rendered.  Love it.
  • The university tiles are big and double-sided.  They’re about 4.5 inches square, and have nice big icons that give you the relevant information.  There’s also text on the tiles to tell you what the icons mean, which is good for learning.  The text is small, but readable.  The only real knock I have against the tiles is that the spaces for placing mages really aren’t the right shape for your mages in their stand.  If it weren’t for the loyalty badge, it would be fine.  Still, that’s a small thing.
  • There are two sizes of cards – one large size for spells, and standard size for everything else.  It’s so nice to have an expansive game like this that doesn’t resort to using tiny cards.  You see that, Fantasy Flight?  IT CAN BE DONE.
  • The player mats are double-sided cardstock, and are large enough to hold a complete layout of what will happen in a round.  It also contains a spot for your personal discard pile, which is helpful for keeping it separate from all your other cards.  There’s an A side and a B side, but I can’t find any indication of which is which on the mat itself.  You have to look at the starting spell card for that.  For character selection purposes, I wish they had put A and B on the mat as well.
  • The loyalty badges are the smallest component in the game, and work very well to slot into the mage stands for identification purposes.  The stands apparently originally came out with too wide a slot for the badges, so they got them redone, and they work really well now.  My only complaint with the badges is that, due to the symbology identifying the mages, they are a little tough to identify from a distance.  They’re kind of dark.  I don’t know how you would fix that, other than making the symbols less complex or using brighter colors.
  • The plastic bits are great.  The mages all have different forms depending on their color.  My green mages seem to be kind of loose on their stands, but otherwise, they all work really well.  The mana gems are chunky blue plastic rocks, and are very pretty.  The coins are nice light plastic, and have a satisfying clink when you’re shifting them around.  The denominations feel odd to me – silver is 1, and gold (which looks more bronze) is 5.  It feels like that should be the other way around.  There’s no indication on the coins of what is which value, there’s just the same generic stamp on both sides.
  • The insert was clearly designed for the game, and has slots for the cards and tiles as well as other compartments for the other stuff.  The compartment for the spell cards seems a little tight, and I feel like the card on the bottom has to bend a little to get in, and then it’s tough to get it out.  With everything bagged and put in the insert, it all fits, but I feel like there’s not really a spot for everything.  At least not a spot that’s the right shape.  I don’t sleeve my cards, so I don’t know if it will work for those.
  • The rules are well put together and do a very good job of explaining the game, as well as illustrating everything.  There are a few pages explaining concepts before jumping into the rules, and that’s very helpful.  The player aids included are very large, and generally help with figuring out what voters are looking for.
  • And here’s my favorite component in the game – baggies are included!  Seven of them!  Huzzah!

Despite my little nitpicky issues, the components are great.  The Kickstarter money went a long way towards making a great looking game.

THEME: This game, like most Level 99 titles, is set in the world of Indines.  I’m not super-immersed in the lore, but I do recognize characters that have popped up in other Level 99 games.  It’s cool to see the link between the games.  Beyond that, the theme is that players are competing for the job of Chancellor at Argent University.  It’s a political game without any politics – there’s no negotiation, there’s no deals, there’s just you trying to do everything you can to win the most votes.  And as in real elections, every voter is looking for something different, so you have to try to appeal to as many as possible, knowing when to back off and when to forge ahead.  In that respect, the political theme is very good.  But even the arc of the game is highly thematic – as you get closer and closer to the election, the game gets more and more vicious as you unload your best spells to try to get in the best possible position.  I can just envision the wizards involved just raining fire on each other as they jockey for position.  It almost exactly mimics the end of a real world election.  Only in the real world, the politician’s weapon is the media, not spells.

Argent has a very rich theme that works perfectly with its subject matter.  Which is good, because the game is definitely a Euro that probably could have easily been about choosing a leader for the local trade guild in renaissance Italy.  I’m glad Level 99 went in a different direction.

MECHANICS: Argent is, at its base level, a worker placement game.  Each player has some mages, and you are taking turns placing them out on the board to gain certain abilities that will resolve later.  This description fits a lot of other WP games, including Caylus, Stone Age, Dungeon Lords, and Kingsburg.  There are several aspects, however, that set this game apart.  The first is that mages each have their own special abilities.  In most WP games, workers are generic, and if they have a special ability, it is usually tied to an ability of the character controlling them.  This game has starting spells and two mages of one type to differentiate characters in the beginning, but due to the mage draft in the beginning, each player will have the opportunity to initially control up to four types of mages.  This is a unique aspect in that everyone has access to special abilities depending on the mages they control.

image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone

Another thing that sets the worker placement apart is that it’s not the only thing going on.  There are spells, supporters, and vault cards that can be played in between mage placements, or in addition to mage placements.  Some of these cards have once-per-round usages, while others have once-per-game usages.  I appreciate the fact that using a card never means that you’ve lost it – it will still count for votes at the end, which is why you have a personal discard pile.  It’s actually really hard to lose stuff in this game – as far as I know, it’s always going to be voluntary.  Merit badges are renewable, and wisdom/intelligence tokens still count for you as well.

The Bell Tower cards act as an irregular timer for the game.  You know the round is going to end when they are all gone, you just don’t know the timing of when they will disappear.  This is a really cool aspect of the game – you have to weigh the need for whatever bonus is on the card with the likelihood that you won’t get another turn later.

image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone

The voters in the consortium add some more depth to the experience as each represents a secret objective that everyone shares, but that no one knows.  Having 16 potential voters from which only 10 are chosen means you don’t know exactly what’s there.  Using marks to figure out what they are gives you some of the information, and gives you goals you can start working on without others knowing what’s going on.  At least at first.  Plus, the final reveal at the end adds an element of suspense that really is much more climactic than adding up points.  In the two games I have played so far, it has come down each time to the final voter.

The game works together really well.  As my friend Scott put it, the game feels familiar but is still very unique.

STRATEGY LEVEL: This is very much an advanced strategy game.  Luck plays a small role in the game, but only in what supporters, spells, and vault items are available.  Apart from that, it’s all strategy and tactical maneuvering.  Timing is the biggest issue in the game – when do you want to do what.  What mage will you use to claim that space?  Do you dare take a Bell Tower card now and risk not getting another turn?  Should you put your efforts into placing marks or scoring influence?  There are a ton of decisions to be made in every turn, which can in itself lead to analysis paralysis.  But you are usually able to have a good idea about what should be done, and so can focus your energies.

image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone
image by BGG user asutbone

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a game I would recommend for inexperienced gamers.  I included it on my Advanced Strategy list I just posted on Tuesday – this is a game for experienced gamers who are familiar with concepts of worker placement and resource management.  The game can get long, and that’s another thing that can turn people off from playing – I haven’t played one yet that lasted under two hours.  I don’t think the game is overly complicated, there’s just a lot to keep track of.  A LOT.  It can get overwhelming if you’re not prepared.  However, the text on everything and the great player aids help out with remembering what’s going on.  There’s an A and B side to the starting spells, university tiles, and mage powers.  The B sides are a little more complex to understand, so using the A sides are recommended for a first game.

REPLAYABILITY: There is a lot of replay value in the box.  All 15 rooms are double-sided, so you can not only customize the layout of your university, but also the special properties of each room.  There are 12 different characters to use, each with a different starting spell.  Spells, supporters, and vault items will come out in different orders.  Also, the voters provide more variety as you never know exactly what the winning conditions are in the game.  Length will limit this game’s replayability, but if that doesn’t bother you, there’s plenty in the box to keep you occupied.  Plus, there are expansions already.  There are also a number of variants included in the rules, including a six-round game, alternate set-ups, and a two-player version.

SCALABILITY: Argent is for 2-5 players.  So far, I have played with 2 and 4.  I really liked the four-player game – it kept moving along at a good clip, and there was plenty of backstabbieness to go around.  I would imagine that five players could get a little too long.  The two-player game was interesting – it’s really a variant, with a 3×3 grid of tiles and seven starting mages rather than just five.  It ended up taking as long as my four-player game did due to the extra mages (and AP).  But there was still plenty of bumping into each other.  I think I would recommend the multiplayer game over the two-player experience, but I think two experienced players would have a grand old duel with two.

I will say that there are two cards in the voter pool that give their votes to the second best (influence and supporters).  I would recommend taking these out with two players.  Just a thought.

FOOTPRINT: This game takes up a LOT of space.  It’s a heavy box, and the game really does spread out all over the table because the components are so big.  Plan to use a big table.  You’ll see in the video I have posted below that we actually pulled up a second table for the consortium board and miscellaneous components.

LEGACY: Up to this point, Level 99 has primarily put out more tactical games.  This is their first Eurogame, and it’s a great effort.  One thing I like about the company is that they’re always willing to try new things.  I can’t really say that any of their games have been anything like any of their other games so far. (Well, except Pixel Tactics and Pixel Tactics 2, but they don’t count)  Additionally, this is the first published design for Trey Chambers, and it’s a doozy.  I’ll be looking forward to what else he can come up with in the future.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? You’ve probably already figured out my answer to this question.  I love this game.  This is definitely among my favorites that I have played this year.  I can’t wait to try it out using new combinations of rooms and mage powers.  Yes, it’s long, but it feels like every moment is meaningful to the endgame experience.  I can’t recall any time during either of my plays where I was ready to be done.  I can’t promise it’s going to be for everyone.  If you don’t like games with a lot of bits, or games that can last 2+ hours, or themes where people are using magical abilities against each other, you might want to stay away.  But it’s definitely a game that I enjoy, and I would encourage you to check it out if you have the opportunity.

BONUS! Here’s a video I recorded during and after my first play of the game.  This will give you some idea of the size and our immediate thoughts.

Thanks again to Level 99 Games for providing the review copy of Argent: The Consortium, a game I can wholeheartedly recommend.  And thanks to you for reading!


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