Players in Argent: The Consortium are competing to win the votes necessary to be named the new headmaster at a school of magic that is not Hogwarts, we promise. The game, from Level 99 Games, is a worker placement European-style game that is unique in part because the win conditions are somewhat unknown to the players.
The very pretty game, published in 2015, is recommended for 2-5 players, unless one of the expansions is also in play. The expansions add more characters and expanded rules, increasing the difficulty of the game. The game claims that it takes about half an hour per player to play, meaning our four player game should have taken two hours. It took closer to three. That might have been because we were all new to this game, but we are all very experienced gamers.
Become Headmaster – The Objective of Argent: The Consortium
In Argent: The Consortium, each player chooses a character that is vying for the opportunity to become headmaster of the school. To become the headmaster, the player need only get more votes from the Consotium board members than the other players get. There are twelve votes to be won through the acquisition of various things during the course of the game.
Each player’s character has a bevy of underling mages scurrying about the university, peddling influence to try to curry favor with those board members. The problem being that only two of the board members have made it clear what they want to see in a new headmaster. One vote will always go to the player who wields the most influence and one will always go to the player who garners the most supporters, but after the other ten board members keep their voting criteria a closely guarded secret that they will reveal, selectively, throughout the five rounds of the game.
As with most worker placement games, this game has a lot of things to keep track of that can and do influence the final outcome of the game. Players can earn and collect, mana for casting spells, research for finding more spells, intelligence for initially learning spells, wisdom for increasing the spells’ powers, money, treasure, influence and marks.
Marks are essentially the information collected about the board members which then persuades the board member to reveal, only to that player, what he requires to vote for the new headmaster. Among the other criteria that we saw in our game were: most marks, most divine (a type of magic) research, most mystical (a specific type of magic) research, most consumable treasure and most mana. These ten goals are selected from about 20 cards and kept hidden until the final counting of the votes.
Argent: The Consortium Game Play
The game board for Argent consists of several tiles representing the various rooms of the college. Each room has between three and five slots available on it for lesser mages, the players’ minions, to be placed. Each placement gets the player some reward that helps them toward the goal of becoming headmaster. In the vault, for example, the mages may be able to find a treasure that can assist with their quest while in the library, they may become wiser and research new spells. Generally speaking, the higher slots are better and only one mage is allowed per slot.
Additionally, the board features a number of bell tower cards which may also be taken as an action. The bell tower cards serve two purposes: first, each has a game effect, such as determining the first player for the next round and second, when all the bell tower cards are claimed for the round, the round ends.
The person who most recently attended a university class is the first player during the first round. Each player has five underling mages to begin with, though more can be discovered over the course of the game. Each player has one fast action and one action per turn.
Taking a card, casting a spell, using a treasure, or placing a mage is usually an action, though that can be modified by various types of spells, mages and treasures, so each round will usually consist of at least five turns per player so that everyone gets a chance to place their workers. But players who have mages that can be placed as a fast action (like the purple player) might want to end the round earlier to place others at a disadvantage. Additionally, some spells and character abilities allow the player to attack another’s underling mage, forcing them out of the slot they had selected.
In the beginning, each player also has one mark, meaning that they know the one other victory condition. Other marks can be acquired through game play, though it is not necessary to know what each board member wants to get lucky and win their vote. The first round all four players were focused on their own strategies of acquiring information and the round passed very quickly, but the subsequent rounds began to see fighting over resource spots, attacks on underlings, and the development of an attack plan that allowed you to take advantage of what you knew of the victory conditions but also didn’t tip off the others to your strategy. By the final round, everyone at the table knew that most marks must be one of the victory conditions, but I was already several “marks” ahead of the others so they left that point to me.
In the final round, the ability to end the round quickly became much more important. One spell, for instance, would have forced six of the underling mages off their resource generating spots and to the infirmary for treatment of their injuries. Thor opted not to cast that, instead preserving his mana in the hope that highest mana was also a victory condition. It was.
I’ve played a fair number of worker placement games where it is clear that one player, usually one who has played the game before, knows the tricks of the game and by the third turn, they have a clear advantage. In Argent: The Consortium, it seemed like the hidden and variable victory conditions kept that from happening. In the end, one player (Thor) had four votes, two of us had three votes and the final player had 2. Even as we began tallying the final round, it was unclear who would claim the win.
This is not one of our huge collection of board games, but belonged to another player at our monthly board gaming gathering. Because Euro games are not generally our preferred game type, Thor and I will not be running out to buy a copy of Argent: The Consortium, but we’ll happily play it again if someone else brings it to the table.