Alright Class. Take a seat.
Today we’re learning about Agent: The Consortium.
It starts with the Chancellor Nostros Calahaan’s resignation and a vacant job position. It pays a cushy salary and you get to wear your Harry Potter cosplay without judgement. So of course, you need to apply.
Name: Argent the Consortium
Publishers: LVL99 Games
Year Published: 2015
Designer: Trey Chambers
Artists: Jennifer Easley, Eunice Abigael Tiu
But it’s not going to be easy.
A panel of twelve secret judges selects who’s going to sit in the chair, and it’s up to you to win their favour.
But who are they? And what do they want?
Welcome to Argent the Consortium. To win you must win over the majority of the panel, but each judge wants something different from their candidate. From the richest, to most mana hungry, to most influential, to the candidate with the most support. These judges start the game face down. And reveal themselves to you only if they have your mark.
You start the game with one mark already on the board, but throughout the game you get chances to place more. Until you place all twelve, you never know where you stand and how close you are to the chancellery. This creates a level of uncertainty between you and the other applicants. As everyone starts the game with a different piece of information, you need to try and guess what they saw, or spend a turn to place a mark and confirm it.
This doubt makes you feel like you’re all stumbling in a dark room together. However, the game never gets that aimless. As you’re constantly growing more and more powerful, regardless of if you’re closer to winning.
This feeling of doubt grows when you do draw a mark. As you’ll immediately check the table for who’s winning it. And usually, it’s not you. This is when human nature kicks you crotch, as even though you might be winning several other marks – it’s the one you’re not winning that you’ll concentrate on.
Because of this you have this constant feeling of pressure and tension – you’re never satisfied with what you have. But when you go after another judge’s condition, it leaves the one’s you’ve previously been focusing on open for competition. At that point you become a plate spinner, trying to spin as many judges’ conditions as you can, while hoping no one knocks you over at the same time.
It’s a great change from boring old victory points.
But let’s go back to the start.
You begin with a waiting room of students looking for extra credit. On every turn you can deploy one of these students to a building on campus, this will net you rewards in the back-half of the round.
Right now though, you need to figure out where to place who. As each student is learned in a type of magic, and when placed they put their talents to work. For instance, the red students wound mages already in the room – sending them to the infirmary, meanwhile grey mages can be placed as an extra action when you spend your turn casting a spell.
This removes the delay between placement and feedback you often find in worker placement games. Allowing the decision of placement to go beyond the basic should I go here now, or later. Instead focusing on how best to allocate your resources. Should you use your red guys to take out an opposition early? Or your green gals – immune to wounding – to take up defensive positions? But if doing that means you won’t be able to cast spells and place grey students?
It’s this mechanic that should make you sit up straight in your chair right now. The way Argent the Consortium blends its tactical and strategic thinking together is what elevates the board game into a class of its own.
In the times you don’t want to place a worker down. You can instead use an item, supporter action, or a spell.
These spells come from different schools of magic. They are all unique, and all insanely powerful. With some spells allowing you to take multiple turns, others can send everyone in a packed room to the infirmary. Each spell can also be levelled up twice more, growing exponentially more powerful. Giving you the same feeling as a level 1, level 50, level 100 character from a mobile game advert.
While each game you’re guaranteed to get a spell, they cost a lot to cast, and even more to level up. However, when you do, you’ll be able to control the board in ways that would feel broken in other games. But feel right at home here. Making for some crazy turns, that stick in your memory a long time after the game is done.
The last action you can perform is taking a bell tower card. These cards give you a bonus for the round. When you pick up the last bell tower card, the round is over.
You and the other candidates can use this mechanic to play with the speed of the round like a two-year-old with the last pea on their plate. Sometimes you’ll have a slow war of attrition, whereby you’ll try and use each worker as efficiently as possible. Other times, you’ll use speedy mages to flood the board as quick as you can.
This is yet another mechanism that builds strategy and tactics into the game. With very little overhead. It also allows you to push your luck, as when the round is winding up you have a choice between using an action or spell or putting workers on the board. It’s just another fun, but tough choice this game throws at you.
Once the last bell tower has been picked up, each room, and each worker in the room is activated in turn. And you gain the bonus of the space that they’re on. It’s now that you cross your fingers and toes and hope that all your tactical warfare has led to a strategic advantage.
After five rounds, the game stops, and you reveal each judge in a dramatic fashion worthy of reality TV. Once all are revealed, you have your winner.
This is a heavy game, but in my opinion – it doesn’t feel that way.
Similarly, to Spirit Island and Great Western Trail the complexity of this game comes from the decision space, not learning and internalising rules. Also like those games it begins by constricting your moves when you begin playing. Giving you time to familiarise yourself with the rules and how to play before throwing you in the deep end.
The beauty of Argent the Consortium is even when you’re in the deep end and can’t swim, you can still flounder. And what I mean by that is that there are no bad moves. Everything you do makes you more powerful and feels meaningful. Even if no judge will praise you for it.
Speaking of depth, Argent has plenty. And that’s before you consider everything in the box. Every building tile is double sided with different worker placement spots on either side. Likewise, the playable characters. On top of that, there are more spells, items, and supporters than you would ever need.
There is such an abundance of playable material, you may never need another board game again.
This is a huge compliment.
But let me try to do one better. This game is special. It gets me excited just thinking about getting it to the table again. So much so, that in writing this review I got so excited that I bought the expansion. That’s never happened before. Argent the Consortium is absolutely in the top 4 games I’ve ever played. It’s a Critical Hit and one I can’t wait to play again.
The sub-text behind this review, is how much this game ramps up my anticipation for the next American style Euro game from LVL99 Games: Empyreal: Spells and Steam. Unfortunately, the delivery date was pushed back to September, but boy oh boy I cannot wait.