A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.
– Colin Powell
I honestly don’t remember exactly how it was that I came across this game, but when you read and think about games as much as I do, sometimes these things get blurry. I read about it somewhere, and after just a brief overview, I knew I had to play it. And when you have as poor impulse control as I do, you don’t wait for it to find its way into your playgroup through another means. Let’s take a look at Argent: The Consortium, by Trey Chambers and published by Level 99 Games.
So…What Is It?
First, I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not Yet Another Worker Placement Game (TM). The field is getting crowded, and there are plenty of really great titles out there in the genre, like Agricola or Lords of Waterdeep. If you’re going to have a hit, you need to innovate. Argent: The Consortium proves that there is new life to breathe into the genre.
The easiest explanation of the theme here is that you are at a professor at a University of Magic, not unlike the University in The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. (Sure, the easier, more-accessible comparison would be Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series, but really you should read The Name of the Wind.) The Headmaster position of said school is open, and all of you have eyes on it.
Cool. How do I win?
Argent: The Consortium isn’t another dry run for Victory Points. In fact, there are no VPs at all in this game. Instead, The Consortium, a cabal of clandestine characters carefully controlling the campus caucus, conclusively confer the role upon the most critically calculating custodians of curriculum. (Alliteration Bonus 14 points!) More simply put, they vote for a winner.
Members of the Consortium are randomized at the beginning of the game, and all but two are kept secret from the players. They will award their vote to the candidate who best fulfills their desire. One may cast their vote for the player who ends the game with the most money. Another may cast their vote for whomever has researched the most Spells, etc., etc. Each player starts with the knowledge of what one of the secret members will vote for, though there are ways to find out what the others want.
Being a professor at such an institute, you ‘ll be casting spells and sending students (each mages with their own unique abilities) to do your bidding all over the school to determine what you need to win, and then getting it.
At the conclusion of the 5th round, all of the Consortium members are revealed and they cast their vote according to the criteria on their card. The player who collects the most votes wins the House Cup! Er, game.
Things What I Like About Argent: The Consortium
1) Holy fuck the replay value. The University is comprised of a number of tiles that changes with the number of players. There are way more tiles than there are necessary, which means that every game you’re playing with a different school layout. In addition, each tile is double sided with more advanced abilities that can be mixed and matched. Each Professor is double sided with its own signature spell. Each worker type has a double sided reference card so you can decide each game what you want mages of different types to do.
2) Wait, what’s that you say? Asymmetrical starts? My 3 regular readers by now know how much I love this. We all start with more or less the same amount of stuff, but totally different approaches to the game.
3) Variable round lengths. In many WP games, the round ends after all workers are placed. Not so in Argent. One of the actions you can take with your turn is to take a Bell Tower card (which is typically accompanied by a small reward. When all of the Bell Tower cards are gone, the round ends. This means that a savvy player can work the game clock and leave many people with unused workers. Snap.
4) More interaction than space blocking. In a lot of WP games, the main disruption element is taking a space that an opponent wants. It works in a lot of games. Argent has this too, but it’s a bit different, on account of every space having multiple tiers of rewards, and if someone takes the tier that you want, a perfectly viable solution is to shoot them with fire and take their spot. How many other WP games do you wish you could do that with? And that’s not the only thing. There are spells to be cast, resources to be stolen, and more, which adds a nice social component to the game.
5) It’s awful purty. I don’t normally go for this style of character artwork, but for this game, it really works. The iconography is simple to understand, and simply put, the game is beautiful. I’ve been learning a lot about graphic design lately (it’s really all quite fascinating), and this title delivers solid design decisions throughout the entire spread.
6) Magic is totally rad. This much we already know. Spell cards in Argent are super rad. When you research, you can either learn a new spell, or improve a spell you already have. It sounds simple, but this is insanely cool to me. Hm. Do I upgrade my little zinger spell to a hellstorm that will wipe out an entire room? Or so I take a new spell and expand my repertoire of abilities?
7) The game mechanics and the theme play super well together. I love it when the theme goes well with the play of the game, and in Argent, the theme runs to the marrow.
Things What I Don’t Care As Much For.
1) Holy hell is this game a table hog. We’re talking an offender on the same lines as Eclipse. If your table space is limited, this game will present difficulties. Cardboard chits. Plastic jewel crystal things. Coins. Tarot sized cards. Smaller cards. Player mats. Room tiles…the list goes on. This game is component heavy.
2) Wonky components. The components are nice, but mildly troublesome. Most WP games have you choose a color and you get all of the pieces of that color. Nice and easy. In Argent, the color of the workers determines what they do, and each player will have a variety of colors. The way this is handled is that the workers are all figures that plug into little bases, and the bases have a slot for a cardboard token indicating who they belong to. It’s a workable system, but you have to more or less constantly move around yourself or the pieces to see who they belong to. An easy fix to this would be to paint all of the bases in the colors of who they belong to for a faster visual reference.
3) Crappy coins. Most people complain about the base + chit situation I listed in the point before this. I don’t mind that as much, but I hate the coins. They come in 2 colors and do not mark what denomination they are. The metal coins in the Prima version of the Viticulture expansion Tuscany set a whole new bar for coin quality. Jamey, if you’re reading this, I would be happy to give you American Dollars if you can magically come up with a spare set of Tuscany coins for me to use with this game.
4) Set up is a beast with this game. With a game with this many necessary components, it takes a solid 10-15 minutes (and frequent reference to the rulebook) just to get ready to play. Taking it down a bit longer.
My Thoughts as a Designer
My first thought honestly? I wish I would have created this game. There aren’t many games that give me that feeling. This one hammers most of my gamer brain’s pleasure centers. It’s immersive, entertaining, has just the right amount of “take that!” (which sometimes manifests as pinging one opponent’s mage to the Infirmary, and sometimes as you blowing up a room), plenty of choices, plenty of metagame to be exploited (for example, hoarding a particular resource in order to make other players think that that is one of the Consortium’s voters)
The first expansion already includes more mage types, more professors, more spells, more rooms, more of everything that makes the game awesome. That would have been my first designer recommendation, and they beat me to it.
I’m only a couple of games in and this game has me thoroughly enchanted. I plan to come back and edit this part after more plays and some of the inevitable flaws start to reveal themselves.
This is definitely one of the more heavy, meaty games in my collection, and not the game you want to use to introduce someone to gaming, or the genre of worker placement games. The game admittedly has a steep learning curve, and there are a lot of things to keep track of, but the nature of all of those things are reasonable intuitive. You’ll be consulting the rulebook for a spell, but not so frequently as some other games I can think of. There are a LOT of options, so if your group has someone prone to AP, their turn might run a little long. Player focus will go a long way with this one.
If you are a fan of heavier games, I heartily recommend this one. In just a few plays, it’s launched itself to the list of games I will always be excited to play.
It says a lot that with as long as this is, I had to stop myself from talking about it more. This is hands down, unquestionably, the most clever and entertaining game in the worker placement genre that I have played. Trey Chambers, you have my gratitude, my envy, and my fandom. Well done, sir.