Anime Wizardry At Its Best – Argent: The Consortium
Level 99 Games seems to have a thing about making games with so much variety it burns your brain cells trying to comprehend all the options available to you. Pixel Tactics was my first introduction to their line-up and a good one too, but man does your brain fry when you try to comprehend all the options on your turn and then think about all the different ways the game could go depending on what setup you used or how you arranged your characters.
Well, reviews I watched of Argent: The Consortium suggested to me that I would have an even worse case of smoking brain with the variety and options here, however I don’t class this as a bad thing in games. Paths to victory and plenty of options are two of my favourite characteristics in games, if a game feels scripted or linear, it’s not as good for me. I want the ability to do what I want, when I want and that way if I lose the game, I only have myself to blame, but I’ll feel happy that I’ve tried something new.
Of course one problem with games like this is the ability to teach them to other players. Anyone other than a hard-core heavy gamer will likely get bogged down in the options and Analysis Paralysis and frustration can set in. So will this one be any different? Well hop on board the Hogwarts Express and strap yourself in because this may take a while…
Designer: Trey Chambers
Publisher: Level 99 Games
# of Players: 2-5
Play Time: 60-150 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1212 / 8.09
Just Like Being At Hogwarts
In Argent: The Consortium, players take control of a teacher at a school of wizardry where the Dean has passed away (or disappeared, take your pick it’s a school of magic after all) and naturally all the teachers want in on the position, however the dilemma of who will be chosen is down to a consortium of 12 voters, each of whom have different requirements that would sway their vote such as “most gold” or “most supporters” etc. To make matters worse the voters are kept secret at the start of the game, meaning you will need to obtain more information to decide on your own strategy.
Each player begins the game with a drafted selection of mages from potentially 5 different schools of magic. Players will take their actions in turn to place a mage in various rooms in the school “a la” worker placement style to try and obtain the bonus from that room, however different mages have extra abilities specific to them such as immunity to magic or the ability to wound other mages (i.e. knock them off the room to the infirmary). In addition to this players can also use the abilities of their spells or supporters or items acquired during the game as well as take a one-shot bonus Bell Tower card which ends the action phase when the last one is taken.
After this phase is concluded, players will then resolve all of the room tiles by removing their mages and collecting the relevant bonuses depending on where they were placed. Various spells and items in the game can mess with mage placement so don’t expect them always to be where you left them! Each room tile has several different spaces from top to bottom and during resolution the highest space is resolved first. The highest space is locked to players unless they hold a merit badge (gained by having high amounts of influence) in their possession.
The game will repeat this process until the 5th round concludes at which point all of the voters in the Consortium are revealed and players will score a vote from each of them if they meet that voters criteria. The player with the most votes is the winner of Argent: The Consortium. Note that this is a simplified version of the rules and there’s plenty more to do that I haven’t gone into detail in.
Bogged Down In Teacher’s Paperwork
If you’ve seen this laid out on the table, you know there’s a lot of stuff in Argent: The Consortium. All sorts of different cards, coins and tokens, plastic mage figures, different room tiles and the Consortium board itself, but it all looks really good and constantly gets people’s attentions. The mana crystals are nice blue plastic gems and the artwork across the entire game is gorgeous, sticking to the same universe as Level 99’s War/Devastation of Indines games. It’s very reminiscent of anime in some ways, you could almost see this being its own TV series. The iconography is not hard to understand and thus despite the amount of table space this takes up, Argent: The Consortium has a very functional and clear structure to follow.
There are a couple of weak links however. The box insert isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. There are spaces to hold different pieces, but not enough to separate everything out individually so some have to share and unless you take the effort to bag up player starting pieces like I always do, the setup time could be quite long. Some may stick with it but I think I’ll be ditching it and sticking with my bags and hobby boxes.
The weakest link is the coins. They are very flimsy plastic and there isn’t anywhere near enough in the box to accommodate the game. We struggled to keep change even in a 3 player game and with 4 or more it’s almost impossible especially if enough players realise that one of the voters is interested in gold. Given the quality of everything else, these seem like they got left behind as an afterthought and I will use alternative money as a result.
You’re A Wizard Harry!
So Argent: The Consortium is a bit of a hybrid combining the Euro aspects of worker placement with the Amerithrash style of attacking other players or hindering their progress, all done so with magic, resulting in a very thematic experience. All the things you would expect from a magic school are present – you can cast spells and research new ones in the Library, you can grab a couple of potions or magic items from the Vault and a seat in the Council Chamber will grab you a new supporter or some information on the Consortium.
The mages have unique abilities, which is something you barely see in worker placement games these days, the only other prime example being Glen Drover’s Age of Discovery, and because you draft 5 of them to begin with, it’s up to you how many of each type you want with the only limitation being that you can’t start with more than 2 of a kind. Focus on two types or spread the abilities out, it’s your choice but you will have to alienate at least one school of magic if not two to begin with which may affect your game later, but even this is wonderfully thematic as if you were to focus in one school of magic; naturally you would likely have less knowledge of another.
The spells are my favourite thematic aspect of all though, I mean you’re a wizard, why wouldn’t you want to cast spells? Well here you begin with a unique spell of your own and during the game other spells are available for research with multiple levels that create different, more powerful versions of themselves. Whether you decide to barely tap into that power or go nuts with your Encyclopaedia spell book is up to you, but you can do some weird and crazy things to yourself and your opponents.
The unique selling point here is the victory condition itself, the Consortium voters. There are 12 voters on the Consortium and only two are known to everyone each game and players will only know one additional hidden voter of their choice to begin with. Therefore you don’t know how well you’re doing until you find out what the voters are after and whether you choose to spend time finding out or not is entirely up to you. Gaining hidden knowledge puts you at a potential strategic advantage, but that time could have been used getting more items and spells. This means you have to keep an eye on your opponents, for example if someone is stockpiling a lot of gold and not spending it, chances are that opponent knows that one of the voters requires you to have a lot of gold. However not every voter is used in each game so you can’t game the system and that opponent’s gold hoard may just be pure coincidence. This element of deduction keeps you on your toes as you don’t want to make the voter requirements only you know about too obvious to the other players.
On top of this there’s already a healthy amount of tension in the action phase. Just because your mage is in a room does not mean something won’t push him off it, and whereas in most games having lots of different item abilities and workers is an automatic winning solution, here it’s not so simple. The Bell Tower cards dictate the length of the phase and you can only do one fast and one normal action a turn. So if it takes ages to use all your shiny things and place your mages, you run the risk of another player ending the round before you’re ready especially as the bonuses on those Bell Tower cards are actually relatively useful. Of course as I did in my last game, ending the round quickly might be a good tactic. I felt I had a good chance of winning votes, but was concerned that my friend would unleash his spell book of destructive meteors and lightning bolts to screw me over so I sped through the Bell Towers quickly to put them in the conundrum of helping themselves vs screwing me.
So Much Variety Spice That My Mouth Is On Fire!
I’ve seen games introduce a good amount of variety, but my god this game could give Cosmic Encounter and Fields of Arle a run for their money. Let me lay it out for you:
• There are 15 room tiles that can be randomised and drawn from each game and the amount is dependent on player count.
• There are 35 item cards of which only 15 will be shown not counting draws.
• There are 30 spell cards of which only 15 will be shown not counting the six legendary spells, each of which has 3 separate spells on it.
• There are 32 supporter cards of which 25 will be shown not counting secret draws.
• Each of the 5 mage classes has their own ability.
• There are 19 consortium voters of which 2 are always used and 10 are added.
• You begin with a unique spell based on your school of magic and there are two different versions depending on which gender you picked.
Now that already sounds like a ton of variety there to keep your games fresh and new, but then let me add this little piece on. Every single room and mage ability in Argent: The Consortium has a “B” side as well as an “A” side. Holy moly, that’s a ridiculous amount of variations.
It really truly is mind boggling how Argent: The Consortium manages to pack this much variety in, and did I mention it’s already got an expansion? Does it really need one? It’s insane, but you know me, Mr Completionist, I bet you by the time the summer starts I’ll probably have acquired it and if I do, I’ll do my best to get a review of that done as well.
Essentially the “B” sides are slightly more complex versions of their “A” sides, much like the player boards in 7 Wonders. Don’t use them in your first game teaching however, save them for repeated plays as some do require some familiarity with how the game works first, but they are nice and varied when used.
And despite all of the different ways the game can be set up, there’s relatively little luck in the game. There aren’t many “secret” draws, most of the cards are on show, everyone has access to the same rooms and there is no dice to roll. So if you won the game, you did it, not Lady Luck, and that’s a good feeling when it’s done so thematically.
Overwhelming Magic for the Uninitiated
You might have realised by now why this game gets the reputation of being a heavy game to grasp. The rules themselves aren’t very complex, at least I didn’t think so, but you have so much you can do on your turn that the options alone can cause even the most hard-core Euro player into Analysis Paralysis territory. That’s not to say that the game drags, far from it as you’ll be invested in what you need to do as well as trying to predict what voters might be present that you don’t know about based on other players actions.
No-one can claim Argent: The Consortium isn’t a heavy game and you should ideally tailor your player base accordingly. I always warn others beforehand that they need to put their thinking caps on and don’t teach this to a non-gamer under any circumstances as it will not end well. You should expect a first teaching game to last over 2 hours or even close to 3, but subsequent games or fewer players should keep the time down nicely. I find 3 players to be the ultimate sweet spot (gee what a surprise I swear it applies to every game), but 2 and 4 work just as well. I confess I’ve not played it with 5 players, but then I’ve not played Caverna with more than 5 players either and it’s for the same reason – I’m not that much of a lunatic, the time length would just be too much.
It may sound negative, but in reality it really isn’t. There are long heavy games out there that bore the living pants off me. Argent: The Consortium doesn’t do that as the theme keeps me engrossed and you have a lot to think about.
Argent: The Consortium is one of my favourites from 2015 thus far, despite the issue of the restriction to hard-core gamers. It takes the worker placement mechanic and gives it a refreshing twist while offering so many different ways to play the game. The contents for the most part are well worth the price tag (but replace those awful coins) and the artwork is sound.
But it’s the theme and variety where this game shines. Everything you do makes sense to the context of being a teacher in a wizards school and the amount of ways to set the game up blows your mind wide open with all the different starting spells, teachers and “B” sides to all of the tiles and even the workers themselves. No game will ever be the same though that’s partially because you’ll likely not get this to the table as often as you would like due to the setup, table space and weight. But when you do, it’s really worth the investment.
You Will Like This Game If:
• You want so much variety that an expansion isn’t required.
• You like wizards as a theme – Argent: The Consortium has one of the strongest magic themes out there.
• You are intrigued by the hidden objective “voter” mechanic.
You Will Not Like This Game If:
• You don’t like heavy games – there’s plenty to fry your brain with here.
• You don’t like cutthroat gaming – be prepared for your mages to get zapped.
• You don’t think you’ll play it enough to justify it.
The following two tabs change content below.
I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.