Buzzworthiness: The Cohort

Thanks to MAGE Company for providing a review copy of this game.

Today’s game is a light set collection game called

image by BGG user exa1zar2ius3
image by BGG user exa1zar2ius3

The Cohort is a game designed by Jeremie Kletzkine that will be Kickstarted sometime in the near future by MAGE Company.  The game is for 2-6 players and takes from 15-30 minutes to play.  It’s set in Ancient Rome, and you’re trying to be the first to set up a Legion, which consists of three Cohorts.

The game comes with 144 cards (that’s what it says on the box – my copy has 168).  These cards are divided up into eight factions – Velites, Legionary, Equites, Sagittarii, Catapults, Centurions, Praetorians, and Primus Pilus.  At the start of each game, the cards are shuffled and the last player to see a peplum movie is the start player.

Oh, sorry.  A peplum movie is an Italian-made sword-and-sandal movie, usually to do with Biblical or ancient Roman times.  Kind of the predecessor to the spaghetti Western.  I had never heard of that term before playing this game, so there you go.

At the start of your turn, you draw two cards.  Keep one for yourself, and give the other to another player.  Then, you may play a card into one of your Cohorts.  I’ll explain why you might not want to do that later.  You’ll then end your turn by discarding down to four cards in hand if necessary.

A Cohort is a set of 3-5 identical cards, with the total number needed being determined by the card type.  You can have as many Cohorts going on as you choose, but beware – once in play, each Cohort will have some sort of restrictive effect on you.  Here are the effects, with the number needed to complete the Cohort in parentheses:

  • Catapult (3): When you distribute cards at the beginning of the turn, do so randomly.
  • Centurion (3): Play with an open hand.
  • Equites (4): Your maximum hand size is now 2.
  • Legionary (5): Discard any Primus Pilus you have in hand or in Cohorts.
  • Praetorian (3): No one can pass you cards.
  • Sagitarri (4): When you draw cards at the beginning of your turn, draw the first one from the discard pile.
  • Velites (5): Before drawing and distributing two cards as normal, first randomly give someone the top card from the deck.
  • Primus Pilus: This is not actually a card that will form Cohorts, but one that has two different uses.  One is to add it to one of your Cohorts as a wild card, but then you must discard the rest of your hand.  The other is to discard it and discard a card from a Cohort belonging to another player.

When one of your Cohorts is completed, flip it face down.  The effect listed on the Cohort is no longer active.  Also, when you complete a Cohort, pick another player and force them to discard their hand.  The first player to complete three Cohorts is the winner.

image by BGG user exa1zar2ius3
image by BGG user exa1zar2ius3

COMPONENTS: I was sent an early preproduction copy of the game, and as such, I don’t think the components were final.  The art, which you se above, probably is final and looks good.  It’s cartoony, but that helps to give the impression that this is a light game – which it is.  I’m not crazy about the font used, but it is stylistic.  The box is the same size as the box Carrotia came in, and I’ve been told this is to fit extra cards that will hopefully be unlocked during the Kickstarter.

THEME: The game is set in ancient Rome, but that’s as far as the theme goes here.  It’s really just a framing device for card play.  There’s not narrative arc to speak of, and the game probably could be rethemed without much effect on gameplay.

MECHANICS: The Cohort is a set collection game.  The twist is that, while sets are necessary to win, they are not helpful while being built.  In fact, they’re often quite painful (some moreso than others).  This is a pretty unique mechanism that isn’t in many games – more often than not, you get benefits for working on and completing sets.  Learning how to work with the restrictions you get from building a Cohort is key to understanding this game, and not taking on more than you can handle.  The restrictions themselves are pretty interesting, and seem to balance well with the number of cards needed to complete each Cohort – having to deal out all cards randomly with the Catapult is much more painful than giving one extra card randomly with the Velites.

The card draft at the beginning of each round is another unique aspect of the game.  Drawing two and keeping one is not an unfamiliar mechanism, but instead of discarding it completely, you are giving it to someone else.  I like that you can choose your target, which can be a worrisome experience if you don’t know what they’re looking for.  Having to discard down to four at the end of your turn means that if you get passed a bunch of cards, you’ll have to make some tough decisions.  These are all pretty cool aspects of the game.

There is one big thing I don’t like here.  That is the way that you can force another player to discard their hand when you complete a Cohort.  This is an unnecessary take that mechanism that feels shoehorned into the game.  It might be a catchup mechanism for players who are behind, but the players who are out front will get to use it first, so it seems counterproductive.  I’d say just leave it out when playing.

STRATEGY LEVEL: A lot of this game is going to be luck of the draw.  There’s some strategy in how you distribute cards and which sets you’re going to be going for, but ultimately, it’s going to come down to how you pull cards out of the deck.  People aren’t just going to hand you that fifth card you need to complete your Velites Cohort, so you have to draw well.  That’s not to say that there’s no opportunity for psychological warfare, to try to negotiate for someone to give you a card or to not give someone else a card.  And you may want to set up your sets to work for you – only start an Equites Cohort if you have three in hand, or use the Sagitarri so you know the first card you’re drawing every time (or if you’re sitting to the right  of someone who has a Sagitarri, making sure you don’t discard something they need).  So there are opportunities to strategize, but there is luck involved.

ACCESSIBILITY: The Cohort is a fairly light game.  There are not a lot of rules, and people can jump in without too much prelude.  Part of the game is discovery, and it walks that line very well.  It’s definitely not the deepest game in the world, but it’s also not trying to be.

SCALABILITY: I have not played this game with more than three players, so I don’t know how it will work.  Currently, BGG says it is best with six.  I think there might be a bit more chaos with six and the game will probably take a lot longer.  At the same time, there’s the potential to collect a lot more cards before your turn, so that may help form strategies quicker.

REPLAYABILITY: There are only seven possible Cohorts, and you may find that you’re gravitating to the same ones every time you play.  I think that limits the shelf life of the game, but we’ll see if any new cards are added to increase that.

INTERACTION: The game forces interaction with the distribution at the beginning of each round, but that’s as far as the direct interaction goes (at least, if you throw out the force-someone-else-to-discard-their-hand-when-you-complete-a-Cohort rule).

FOOTPRINT: The game doesn’t take up too much space.  You only need room for your Cohorts, the deck and the discard pile.  A smallish table should do.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I like The Cohort.  It’s a unique take on set collection that is light enough for all players to enjoy.  I’d recommend you check it out when the Kickstarter goes live.  Here’s the BGG page so you can keep up to date until the campaign launches.

Thanks again to MAGE Company for the review copy, and thanks to you for reading!

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