Dale Yu: Review of Crown of Emara

Crown of Emara

  • Designer: Benjamin Schwer
  • Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 60-75 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Pegasus Spiele

Crown of Emara is one of the new games from Pegasus from SPIEL 2018.  This was a game which I didn’t really learn about until close to the show itself.  In general, Pegasus co-produces many of their games, and I had been looking at the usual EN partners to check out their new releases.  However, this year, Pegasus is choosing to distribute two titles on their own here – Crown of Emara and Adventure Island. Pegasus has a track record of solid games, but some of their games which they have distributed here on their own haven’t gotten the exposure that they deserve (IMHO) – exhibit A would be Chariot Race, a fun Matt Leacock game from 2016.

There appears to be some sort of political crisis of succession in Emara, and unlike most kingdoms which use the easily understood but not necessarily fair system of primogeniture, the Crown of Emara is apparently going to be given to the candidate which is able to persuade the most immigrating citizens to support them.  Now, really – this makes no sense for a system of government. Why would you bring actual skill and/or ability into choosing your leader? But stranger still, why would you leave the decision making to newly immigrating citizens and not the existing people in the country, who you would assume have a much more vested interest in the leader of goings on of Emara?  Well, anyways, put that all behind you, because while it might not make any sense, it’s the basis for the competition that you’re going to be a part of… In the end, you have to satisfy as many citizens as possible; but you also have to provide enough housing for them or else those immigrants won’t be able to stay in Emara to vote for you.

Emara is depicted in two areas; 4 triangular wedges that make up the countryside and 4 wedges that make up the town; one of which is the Castle.  Each game, the wedges are randomized to give a slightly different setup each time. Each town location has 2 Advisors randomly dealt into that wedge.  Each player is given their own player board, colored bits and deck of 9 action cards – these are shuffled and players draw a hand of three cards. Each player will end up with one Councilor in the countryside and one Councilor in Town.  There is a score board with two tracks on it; all players start at zero on the Citizen track, and all players start of a value on the Building track as specified on the first Event card.

The game itself is played over six rounds, and in each of these rounds, players will each take three actions – based on Action cards that they play.  At the start of each round, an Event card is drawn – and the effects of the card are applied to the game. Then, the round moves into the Action phase.  Players look at their hand (starts at 3 cards), and in clockwise order, the active player chooses a card from his hand and then plays it into one of the three actions spots on his player board.  This play will determine both the card action and the movement action for this turn.

The three spots are numbered – and the number of the spot tells you how many movements you get with that action.  You move one of your councilors clockwise to a new Location, and then you do the action associated with the location where movement ended.  The picture of the action on the card tells you what the actual main action is for this turn – this could be gain resources, trade resources into gold or vice versa, move a councilor, use a Town action, etc.  The player can choose which order to take the movement action and the card action in.

Countryside board

The location actions in the countryside are easy – you can a resource that is associated with it, and then for each of your Craftsmen there, you can either take another resource or pay 1 grain to bake 1 Bread.  The city actions are a bit more complicated. In the cathedral, you can donate resources to get a book and a favor token. In the castle, you can make a gift to the king to get a Signet Ring, and you can also sell a book to get 5 Building points.  In the market, you can sell resources for Gold, and you can also sell books to get Citizen points. In the Construction site, there are three different ways that you can convert different resources into Citizen and/or Building points.

City Board

After those two things have happened, then the player can take up to three Bonus Actions.  You can progress up the Nobility scale (by paying Signet Rings and gold) to get a higher rank – and this comes with Citizen points.  You can Hire a Craftsman – this occurs in the Countryside region where your Councilor is, and you pay the cost for any empty hut, place your meeple and take the associated Citizen points.  Finally, you could recruit an Advisor. To do this, you choose an advisor card in the Town region where your Councilor is; pay the costs shown on the card, and then move the card next to your player board.  This will score you Citizen points.

Nobility Cards

At the end of the round, the three player action cards are discarded, and players deal themselves a new hand of three cards from their deck.  At the end of the third round, all 9 cards will be played, so a new deck is created from the discard pile. By the end of the game, you’ll have played each action card exactly twice.

At the end of the game, there is end game scoring.  You get points for each resource you have left (at varying amounts); and you can choose to make them either Citizen points or Building points.  At the end of the game, your final score is the lower of your Citizen or Building scores. Ties go to the player with the higher second scoring marker.

My thoughts on the game

I hadn’t heard much about this one prior to SPIEL, mostly because it wasn’t getting a US release, and I figured I’d take a look at it at the show.  Pegasus was kind enough to send me a copy after the show, and I’m darn glad that they did. This is one of those games that hits my Euro-sweet-spot.   The main reason for this is that I love games with a fixed (and limited) number of actions – in this game, you’ll get 18 turns, two each based around each of your nine action cards.

You’ll have to be as efficient as possible in each game as you only go through your deck twice.  The round system gives you the action cards in blocks of three, and you’ll have to be adept at crafting your plans in accordance to the random dealing of those cards to you.

There are plenty of choices open to the player, and to be honest, for the first game or two, a newbie might be overwhelmed by the choices – how many spaces to move; which councilor to move, which action to take, etc… and that’s not even considering the possible bonus actions afterwards!   In general, you’re going to need resources first to do anything else, so I would suggest that route as an initial exploration. Once you get some resources, then you can move into the more complex city actions…

As with all games that I like in this style; you are being asked to be efficient.  You have a very limited number of actions to get everything done. In addition, there is a bit of time pressure placed on you.  The interaction in the game is mostly indirect; but there are times that you need to beat your opponents to a particular spot in order to get a lower price or to get a specific Advisor that you want.  This might disrupt your plans a bit, but hopefully it’s worth it! You can also choose to spend actions to get a helper in the town or the countryside – this will help you out on later actions; but this will cost you resources in the short term… Will it be a good investment?

The game forces you to balance your actions given the scoring system – your final score is the lesser of your two tracks, so you will be working to increase both your Citizen as well as your Building points.

For me, now that I’m familiar with the game, I do enjoy the puzzle of being able to figure out how to take my actions as best as possible.  And, while there is a bit of thinking that goes on to decide upon my course of action, the game continues to move along quickly. My games have rarely pushed past the hour mark in play-time, and Crown of Emara gives you a great game in that short gaming window.

The game gives you plenty of variability – with the in-game dealing of the action cards as the main change.  Though the modular board as well as a number of official variants in the rules (such as being able to choose from all 9 cards at the start of the game) giving you a number of options. The boards are even double sided to give you a high-contrast side and a low contrast option. We’ve been happy playing with the standard rules, and I can see Emara keeping a place on my shelves in the gaming Basement.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Doug G: Shelley and I enjoyed this new Pegasus title quite a bit. The double rondel can make for some slow play as one attempts to figure out what move needs to happen first, then second, etc., but it worked quite well with 2 players. I’m surprised that someone hasn’t picked this one up for US release. We discussed it on Episode 648 of the Garrett’s Games podcast.

Lorna:  This was my sleeper from Spiel. Hadn’t heard much about it before the fair, didn’t even look at it while I was there. Upon return heard a little buzz so since I was still looking for a bona fide hit from Spiel I picked this up. I’m glad I did. There is not much new in this game, collect resources trade them in, a two pronged scoring mechanism where your winning score is the lower of the two, throw in cards for actions and a couple of rondels and boom! instant Euro.

So the key mechanism in this game involves playing your cards into one of 3 slots each round. The slots allow you to move one of your meeples ’round the rondel and take actions of the quadrant landed on as well as the action of the card played. This leads to some nice decision making. Lots of ways to score and trying to balance the scores is a nice feature. Everything’s I want in a Euro.

Crown is a nice concise gaming experience played over 6 rounds. Lots of interesting decisions to be made.

Patrick Brennan: Why settle for one rondel when you can have two! This had a neat mechanic of placing one of your action cards against one of your three available movement slots for the round, whereby you get the card power and then you get to move one of your dudes around a rondel of your choice by the movement option chosen, thereby earning a second power. This provided thought-provoking mini-decision trees every turn, and created many opportunities to pat yourself on the back after making an excellent series of turns. It’s otherwise a standard “resource gathering, build some production capability, develop a strategy to maximise their conversion into VPs via any number of means” type of game, but the action selection mechanism by itself was enough to make it fresh and win me over, especially as there seemed to be other routes to victory remaining to be explored.

Simon Neale: Similar to the other comments, this game missed my Essen preparation completely and it was by chance that myself and fellow OG’er Simon Weinberg sat down to play a demo of the game at the show. We were both taken with the game and bought a copy each.

The Crown of Emara really does encapsulate the Euro game with the double rondel, careful planning for card play driving the worker placement and optimising your victory point generation. The gameplay is fast and there is plenty to think about. With a certain amount of variable set up, each game does feel different enough to ensure a lot of future plays.

Dan Blum (2 plays): A pretty good middleweight Euro – a bit busy but not too much so, and the action selection is interesting. Some people were annoyed by the standard rules where your nine cards in each half are randomly divided into three hands, and having played twice that way I think I would prefer to play with the official variant where you choose your hands, but using random hands definitely speeds things up with new players.

Tery: This game was also not on my radar, and I have only played it because a member of my game group bought it and was pushing it. I wasn’t expecting much after the rules explanation, but once we started playing I warmed to it quickly.  There are different paths to optimizing your victory points but you have to plan carefully and develop a strategy given the limited number of turns you are going to have. Like Dan, I didn’t love the random hands and in one of my games I feel like it really hindered me, so I look forward to trying the variant where you select your cards; I think that will elevate the game for me.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Lorna, Doug G., Patrick Brennan, Simon Neale
  • I like it. Dale Y, Dan Blum, Tery, James Nathan
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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