From The Wizard of Oz to Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to The Magicians the idea of being able to bend reality with the use of magic remains as a favorite trope of human imagination. Now, it’s gotten to a point where Magic is almost cliche. It’s a cheat, but a fun cheat and a profitable one. Creative types are getting wise to the fact that simply having a character that can cause move things with a flick of their wrist isn’t going to cut it. This goes for board games too. Magic is cheap in our hobby. Without a tantalizing hook or a strong mechanism integration you’re just showing something flashy with no substance. Basically, I’m trying to excuse myself for having overlook Argent:The Consortium on it’s initial print run. What’s almost necessary now for a compelling magical narrative is that the magic needs to almost be the backdrop to another form of intrigue. And in this twisted hobby of ours world altering Magic can take a back seat to interoffice politics. This is evident in the game Argent: The Consortium.
In Argent: The Consortium, players take on the role of faculty at a school for young wizards. Sound familiar? “The Chancelor” is stepping down and a new head of the school must be voted on. That’s where you come in. Each player is vying for the votes from a panel of 12 board members. Each board member will vote based on a specific criteria. It could be whoever has the most gold at the end of the game, whoever has the most mana, whoever has the most of a certain type of spells etc, etc. These voters, with the exception of the starting two, keep their criteria hidden. Rooms are chosen for the school, then players gather their starting two mages based on their character and take turns drafting three more. They are then given their starting spell and resources. The game then begins and continues for 5 rounds.
During these rounds, players will take actions. The first thing they can do is take a quick action which is indicated on cards by a lightning bolt. Then they must take a main action. They can cast a spell that they’ve learned. When doing so the player must pay the mana cost and then tilt the card sideways to indicate that it is exhausted. Exhausted spells and other multi use items become available when the round ends. As an action a player can take one of the Belltower Offering cards. These will offer immediate benefits when they are taken. However, if the final Bell Tower card is taken, that ends the current round. A player may also play a card, weather that be a supporter or a treasure. They resolve the effect, then, unless it’s a reusable treasure, they place the card in their personal discard.
The final main action that can be taken is the heart and soul of this game. Placing mages within the school. A player must decide which of their mages to place. They select one of the rooms and place one of their pieces on it. There are a few requirements for placing mages, so knowing that you can pay the cost is vital before doing so. Each color mage has a specific power, which is important to know when drafting them.
Purple Mages are quick, they can be placed a a fast action, thus freeing up your main action for either placing more mages or doing another action. Red Mages can injure other player’s mages. When they’re placed they can move another mage into the infirmary and take that spot. Green Mages cannot be wounded and sent to the infirmary. Blue Mages cannot be effected by spells. Gray mages can be placed on a space as a free action AFTER a player has cast a spell as an action.
Each of these unique abilities works into the timing of the game. Spaces and actions are going to earn you money, mana, treasure, supporters and marks. All of which will help you learn what the voting criteria is and help you achieve that.
There’s a lot more details to this game, but I’m not going to go into them because this would quickly divulge more into a rules explanation than a review, which it already seems to have swerved a little. Basically, in this box you are given an entire magic school, complete with faculty and students. There is so much variety in this game that You could play this a million times and never have the same game twice. This is one of the things I love about Level 99 games, they would literally throw a kitchen sink into their game boxes if they could figure out a feasible shipping plan.
And that’s going to be a problem for some people; it’s overwhelming. I set this game up and introduced my wife to it. After getting halfway through the explanation her eyes began to glaze and I could tell she was genuinely not looking forward to playing this. It’s not that any of the concepts are overly complicated or convoluted it’s just that there are SO many of them. Each room has rules, each individual character has rules, each mage has rules all within the scope of the larger rules that orchestrate the game. The information overload is almost on par with Millennium Blades, but without the timing mechanism to keep players in check. I know there are people that I will not want to ever play this game with because any amount of analysis paralysis is going to be crippling. That’s bad, because this has the potential to be a very long game if you let it. I won’t comment on they annoyance I had with the pieces, because they’ll largely be resolved in the upcoming second print run.
Now, if you find people that are willing the sit through the rules explanation which is, again, not all that complicated there’s just a lot of them, you’re in for a fantastic ride of a game. If you’re anything like me and millions of other people, you’re a big fat sucker for the magical school theme. And putting the players as faculty members trying to earn the votes of board members is such a fun idea. And as cool as that idea is, the mechanisms of the game really drive the point home. With so much hidden information at the start of the game, players are going to be forced to balance between learning information, thwarting each other and gaining the necessary items and supporters to win themselves votes. It’s a fantastic mix of Euro game thinkyness with Ameritrash take-that pinache. You have to consider each action you take. Each turn can be used to do a whole range of things, alternating mage powers with spells allows you to fit in a lot more than just one fast action and one main action. If you wait too long, however, the bell tower cards could be taken and the round could end well before you’ve completed everything you need to. It’s a worker placement game that gives you what you need in excess. Where Agricola is punishing and strenuous because you know exactly what you need and can’t get it, Argent gives you far more paths than you could ever hope to comprehend and pursue in a single game.
The variety is off the charts as well. The rooms and characters all have two sides offering different powers, you can customize the game exactly to your liking. It also works great as a 2-player game, which is fantastic because that will cut down on the runtime. And once you play a round or two, the rules will click together. My wife ended up loving this and whalloped me 10-2
For me, this is such a fantastic game. Everything from the theme to the mechanisms to the variability is a big win. It’s a table eater, sure and it can sometimes take a little longer than I’d like. But if I plan accordingly and know the people I’m playing with won’t take too long on their turns, I’d be up for a game of Argent: The Consortium at just about any time.
The gameplay can stretch to be a little long depending on both player count and the sheer amount of options.
There are a ton of options. None of them are overly complicated, but explaining the game can be overwhelming.
A little more cutthroat than your standard worker placement offering. Maybe not a con, but something to be aware of. Your strategy can certainly be interrupted by other players, which can be annoying, but is a core part of the game.
It’s a space eater.
The sheer volume of the components is rivaled only by their quality.
The theme, for me, is a direct hit to my sweet tooth. I love it.
The mechanisms flow throughout that theme seamlessly.
It hits that fun factor that’s hard to describe. Some people love games I hate and that’s fine. This is one that I just love.