Thank you for checking review #64 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An Overview of Argent: The Consortium
Argent: The Consortium is a game designed by Trey Chambers and was published by Level 99 Games in 2015. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 60-150 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.82.
The time has come for the selection of a new Chancellor at Argent University of Magic, and you are among the likely candidates for the job. Gather your apprentices, ready your spellbook, and build your influence, while secretly discovering and competing over the votes of a limited Consortium of influential board members. Only the one who is able to fulfill the most criteria will be claim the title of most influential mage in the World of Indines!
Argent: The Consortium is a cutthroat worker-placement/engine-building game of manipulation and secrecy in which the criteria for victory are secret and the capabilities of your opponents are constantly changing. You’ll need to outwit the other candidates, use your spells at the right moment, and choose the correct apprentices to manage your plan.
Argent: The Consortium is a European-style game that minimizes luck and focuses on player interaction and strong core mechanisms that allow new strategies to emerge each time you play.
The designer keeps an updated Official Errata/Typo/FAQ thread on BGG.
Gameplay differences for 2 Players
You have 9 room tiles, set in a 3×3 square. Each player begins with 7, instead of 5, mages that they draft from the start of the game. Great Hall A and Dormitory are not able to be used. Infirmary Side B must always be used. All other aspects of the game remain the same.
Quick Take on the 2nd Edition Rules/Errata
This fixes three things that really enhances the overall experience:
- This replaces the 1st edition mage figures/bases/flags with new pawns that have badge rings which attach to the base of a mage.
- The first tiebreaker for a voter is a player with a Mark on that voter. If both have a mark (or neither do), the next tiebreaker is the higher Influence.
- In a 2-player game, the 2nd Most Influence and 2nd Most Supporters voter cards are removed.
It is hard to say which is the biggest change, but I suspect many will point to the first two as being essential changes. Some might have preferred being able to win voters by blitzing the Influence and gathering as much of everything as possible, but this change allows the player who takes the time to know what is being voted on to get the edge in a close contest. The figure change, while not affecting any rules, took away one of the most disappointing aspects of the 1st edition game.
This is my kind of worker placement game, because it has some serious player interaction and it isn’t simple a points/efficiency race. Yes, there is some of that in the game, but this is a satisfying blend of euro gaming and the thematic flavors of Ameri-style gaming. And rather than feel like a game that tries and fails to cater to both crowds, this one swings and hits a home run. At least for me, and for most people I’ve played this with. It opens the door to a lot of niche gamers that might not be interested in one or the other half of that style, and could be that bridge that unifies rather than dividing those camps.
Replay value. Those two words I like to utter a lot, and honestly there is a good reason for that. A game like A Feast for Odin, which is one of the Uwe Rosenberg big box games, is massive and impressive. However, every single game is played out in an identical fashion in terms of what you can do and how to accomplish them. The variety there comes from trying different tactics and, being creatures of habit, we tend to fall into the same routines that end with similar results. Enter Argent: The Consortium. The voter cards change every game (except for two of the 12), making the scoring conditions ever-changing. You never use all of the room tiles to construct the university board, which is great in itself, but then consider each of these tiles has an A and a B side. The magic power cards, which are tied to each of the colored mages you can use as workers, have A and B sides, making it so you can vary the powers of your workers from game to game. And each candidate board has an A and a B side, so even if you don’t choose a different one from the 6 available you’re able to change that experience based on your personal starting powers. Add in the drafting of your starting pool of mages at the start of the game and your head could be spinning from the variance available. And let’s not even mention the three decks of cards which you’re buying/recruiting from over the course of the game and how that add randomness (the only randomness to appear during the game, everything else being part of setup). You could probably play this every day for a year and end up with a different experience based on the parts and pieces for every single play.
Adding to that experience is the potential scarcity of resources on a given setup. For instance, the last game I played there was no location allowing you to gain marks (apart from choosing to take that over drafting a supporter on the Council Chamber location. So there were very few ways to get marks outside of learning spells or taking supporters/vault cards that provided a way to get those. One of us had a lot of those, and so she had a ton of marks out. I like that there can be a scarcity, making it so you need to try varying strategies based on the layout each game.
The rounds have player-determined ending conditions, which is a nice addition here. It has nothing to do with passing, or running out of workers. Instead, there are 3-5 Bell Tower cards and, for an action, you can take one of them. They provide things such as Influence Points, Mana, Gold, or the First Player Token, and so there is benefit to taking one of them. However, the real reason is to bring about the threat of the round ending because once that last Bell Tower card is taken, the round ends. Even if you’ve still got 2-3 mages to place, it is done. So players can all ignore them while doing action after action, or players can accelerate the end of the round to trigger the room resolutions sooner. I love this.
Speaking of the room resolution, I also like that this is a worker placement game where most of what happens is at the end of the round. The sequence of the rooms matters, as it starts from the top and goes left-to-right then top-to-bottom (like reading a book). Something you need to consider when placing workers, as that gold you need to make a buy might not be in your possession until after that buy card activates.
But there is consolation to be found in two places. First, if you place a worker you cannot (or choose not) to activate when the time comes, you can gain 1 Influence Point. So even if you don’t plan well, you can get something. Or if that 1 IP is essential to a future action, you can always opt for that. The other consolation comes when your mage is wounded and is sent to the Infirmary. It no longer gets to take an action, but you immediately gain either 2 gold, 1 mana, or 1 Influence Point (at least on Side A of the room…I forget Side B). So even when things go wrong, you get something. Just not necessarily what you want or need.
The 2nd edition fixes so many small things, but they all add up to an amazingly-better experience. And that is what this review is focusing on, is that new experience. The mage minis are wonderful, and I don’t miss the old style of workers who had to snap onto a base which would get a token slotted into the back. The tiebreaker change is a welcome surprise and it makes the experience a lot better at the end of the game. If you have 1st edition, I highly recommend making the upgrade if you can. At the very least, make that one rule change. It flips the game in the right direction.
This game can have some sharp elbows. Like, really sharp as I found out last night in our game with a friend. I had a round (Round 3) where only two of my mage workers activated spaces, one of them not on a space of my choosing due to a spell that moved them. Sure, three of them got me a small benefit in the Infirmary, but it was very small consolation by the end of that round. It tore down my efforts and put me in a massive hole to where I never fully recovered, ending with just 2 voters and one came by sheer luck. It all depends on who you play with and how they feel about dishing out the brutality. Some players will beat you down mercilessly and then continue to kick you long after you’ve been suppressed. If that is someone you play with, and you have issues with being on the receiving end of that, then you might dislike the game. But most players will walk a middle ground, doing some wounding/banishing/moving of your workers without taking it too far.
Setup and teardown time for this game is quite a task at times. It isn’t the worst game we own for this, but with everything in this box it requires a decent amount of time. The insert that comes in the box isn’t horrible, but it definitely is a game that required bagging right away. What it desperately needs is an officially-licensed insert from a company like Meeple Realty. If one exists, I’m not aware of it. But it really, really needs to exist in order to assist with the time it takes to get onto the table and the organization when it comes back off the table.
This thing is a beast on the table, something to be aware of. It takes far more real estate than you’d expect with all those cards, boards, pieces, etc. Especially if you have more than two at the table to play this one. So if space is a concern, be aware that you’ll need plenty of it.
The player aids. Really, did they need to be a single box-sized thin slip of paper? Not only does it feel like it could rip easily, but this thing is huge. With a game that already will dominate most of the space on a table! Disappointing is the word to use here, as this could easily have been reduced into a smaller booklet, or at least folded in half and put on something a little thicker.
This was the first game that Mina’s Fresh Cardboard really sold me on (the second big must-buy because of her is still not in my collection, sadly), and I’ve personally been delighted with the game ever since our first play. Unfortunately, my wife was left bitter after the first two games, primarily because of the Influence Track as the tiebreaker for scoring the voters. It took nearly 18 months to convince her to try it again, this time with the 2nd edition rules/components and a 3rd player to help bring a greater feeling of balance to the table in order to make the experience more pleasing.
And that play of the game…she enjoyed the game enough to want to play more. She couldn’t remember what she hated so much about it, and that is 99% of the battle. Now there won’t be such fierce resistance to the idea of replaying the game. I think it helps that they changed the tiebreaker to giving priority to marks first.
My opinions on the game have never waned, as you saw if you paid attention to my Top 25 that was revealed in June. It is a Top 10 game for me, and would possibly be Top 5 if my wife enjoyed the game more. I’m holding out hope for her, as it took at least 15-20 plays of Kingdom Builder to finally win her over on that one to where it is among her favorite games.
This is worker placement at its finest, as it has some excellent player interaction coupled with an insane amount of replay value. Seriously, I think you could play this game a hundred times and have a hundred different setups between the candidate sheets, the university board tiles, the mage powers, and the consortium voters. Add in the swath of spells, supporter cards, and vault cards and you’re going to get some fresh experiences along the way. So if you rate your games based on longevity over time, this game will deliver in spades. This isn’t your standard worker placement fare, with predictable paths where you see who plays best in their sandbox. This game can be gritty and grueling, evoking a beautiful worker placement game.
Yet it is far from perfect. I would argue it plays best mechanically at 3-4 players, although I don’t mind the 2-player game with the revised ruling. Players who dislike having conflict and confrontation will inherently dislike some aspects of this game because it thrives on that interaction. The game also takes up a LOT of space on the table. Not quite a Firefly: The Game (with expansions) or War of the Ring level, but it is pretty sizable. The player aids are massive, being a single sheet that is the size of the box. There are five of them, but at that size they add to the immense amount of real estate this game wants to claim.
Some day I hope to get to play a 6th round epic mode of the game. I want to pick up and try the two published expansions (Summer Break and Mancers of the University), especially the latter since it adds in a new type of mage. Regardless of my wife’s perspective on the game and whether or not it eventually changes to where the enjoys the game, it is one I am going remain happy about having in my collection. Even if it only comes out 1-2 times a year to be played with the right group.
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Argent: The Consortium. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
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