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Last, but not least. . . Concordia from Rio Grande Games

A warm glow from a table lamp, at left, shines on Concordia
A warm glow from a table lamp, at left, shines on Concordia
Skip Maloney

Concordia

Rating:
Star4
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Now, finally, I get to Concordia, the most requested and sought-after Rio Grande release at Cafe Jay this year; Cafe Jay, of course, being the name of the area at the World Boardgaming Championships, where Rio Grande Games, in the person of me, lays out a set of new (sometimes not so new) games and teaches them to anybody interested. There were 10 games in all in Cafe Jay this year. Three of them were in the cafe last year - Copycat, Unexpected Treasures (both Friedmann Friese designs) and Goblins, Inc. Five of them I've reviewed here already - El Caballero, Renaissance Man, Boxcars, The Doge Ship and Myrmes. I received one of the games - The Quilt Show - upon my arrival at the WBC. According to the distributor who passed it along to me, it was a very popular game at Origins this year. Proved to be a popular game at the WBC, as well.

On to Concordia, which I was pleased, early on, to discover really had only one rule - On your turn, you play a card from your hand and do what it says. And then, it's the next player's turn, etc., etc. to game's end when the card deck is exhausted or one of you has placed his/her last house in a city on the board. There are no in-game victory points to be earned in Concordia. Scores are calculated once, at the end of the game.

The Concordia board was laid out in something of a cul de sac corner of Cafe Jay, and had a nice lamp on it. The atmosphere was congenial, Concordia was the only game on that corner table, and I think at least some of the people who dropped by were drawn like insects to the somewhat unusual light source of a lamp, cutting through the illumination cast by the overhead lights in the ceilings.

I have yet to meet anybody who hasn't liked this game, myself included. It's been rated over 2,000 times on BoardGameGeek and is edging toward an average of about 8 on the 1-10 scale (7.78, as I write). This qualifies Concordia for early membership in The Cult of the New club in which newer games rocket to high ratings. Puerto Rico spent a lot of time as the #1 rated game, a pinnacle it reached very shortly after its release in 2002. Twelve years later, it's still one of only six games to maintain an 8+ average on the rating scale, but it has dropped to #5 on the list's Top 10, behind Twilight Struggle (2005), Through the Ages (2006), Agricola (2007), and Terra Mystica (2012). Concordia is at #118, just behind Reiner Knizia's Battle Line (2000), and Stefan Feld's In the Year of the Dragon (2007). In true Cult of the New fashion, I spent a lot of my time cajoling the general public into playing any of the other nine games, but people came to the Cafe, looking for Concordia.

When people who'd heard of the game, but knew nothing about it, asked about it, I started telling them that I could teach it in five minutes. A number of people took me up on that challenge, and though no one actually timed me, I'm pretty sure I was able to do it within the promised time frame. This is relevant, of course, to the game's charm. It is really quite simple. Its central puzzle is engaging, and it doesn't take long to level the playing field between the experienced and newcomers to the game. And it's not kid-simple, either. The concepts are kid-easy to understand, but they're packaged in a process that makes execution of your goals challenging.

The key to understanding the game is the multiplication process involved with tallying the final score, similar to the way one scores in Stone Age, except with Stone Age, in-game scoring is vital to success. You start Concordia with seven cards, each with a different color strip identifying a particular enterprise in the world of the game. Personalities, they call them - Architect, Prefect (2), Mercator (merchant), Diplomat, Senator, and Tribune. You also start with two colonists in Rome (one land and one sea colonist) and four more in your personal storehouse (two each), along with two food, a brick, a tool, a wine, and a cloth.

You will produce more of these commodities as play progresses, and eventually use them to purchase new cards for your hand, or, in trade, to purchase other resources you need to purchase specific buildings. Each building you put onto the board requires the expenditure of particular resources, and some money. Multiple players can place buildings in cities, but the money cost increases each time. To build a house in a tool city, for example, the first player to do so will pay a brick, a tool, and three bucks (sestertii, in the parlance of the game). The second person to build in that same city will spend the same resources (brick & tool), but twice the money (six sestertii). The third person's price is triple the money amount, etc.

A draw deck of cards allows for the purchase of other cards to add to your hand. Seven of these cards are on display during the rounds of play, and as purchased, they're replaced from the deck. Some of these will be duplicates of the starting cards, while others (Colonist, Consul, and what are known as specialists; Mason, Farmer, Smith, Vintner and Weaver) have specific attributes associated with their use.

There is a European map, embracing both sides of the Mediterranean. You are in the Roman Empire of 2,000 years ago and there are a lot of cities on this map, all producing random goods; brick, wheat, tools, wine and cloth. At the beginning of the game, tiles with these resources depicted on them are randomly placed on the cities. The game, therefore, plays out a little differently, every time. On a player's turn, using one of the cards, in the start hand of seven, a player will select an action, take that action and play moves clockwise.

Without delving into exhaustive detail, players, using the Architect card, will be able to move their colonists, along land or sea routes, and at the conclusion of such movement, exercise the option of purchasing a house to put into a city, located to one side or the other of the spot on the board where the colonist came to a stop. The Prefect card allows a player to activate a particular province, and whether he/she has a house there or not, it allows the player to collect one of the province's most valuable resources. Of course, if the player does have a house in that city with the most valuable resource, the player will collect it twice. In fact, with use of the Prefect, every player in the chosen, activated province reaps the harvest of cities in which they have houses. Once activated, the most-valuable-resource token in that province is turned over, revealing a picture of either one or two coins. At some point, when a number of provinces have been activated, a player can choose (using the Prefect), instead of activating a province, to collect all the coins depicted on all the activated regions to that point in the game. The tokens are turned back over to their 'resource' side and are available for re-activation.

Other cards will allow you to trade goods (Mercator), buy new cards (Senator), use someone else's most recently used card to perform the same action (Diplomat), and finally, pick up the cards you've already used (Tribune).

And so it goes. . .

At the end of the game, your score will be based on how effectively you've been able to move around this map and place facilities in as many cities as possible. Each of the cards you have in your hand at the end of the game relates to certain goals you've accomplished on the board, and each is represented by a Roman God (thematically) and a color. Blue, for example, represents Jupiter, and you will multiply the number of such cards you have in your hand, times the number of non-brick producing cities into which you have managed to build a house. There are also purple (Vesta) cards related to the amount of money you have at the end of the game. Yellow (Saturnus) cards are related to the number of provinces you have managed to inhabit during the course of the game. If you've managed to have houses in eight provinces, and you have four yellow Saturnus cards in your hand at the end of the game, you'll score 32 points. Brown cards (Mercurius) represent the number of different types of goods that you produce (each house you've built is in a city that produces a specific good); maximum here is five, but each is worth two points, and again, if you're producing the maximum and have four brown cards, you score 40 points. Orange (Mars) cards are related to the number of colonists you've managed to get onto the board (six, maximum, worth two each) and green (Minerva) cards are related to specific resources; three points for each resource that you produce, listed on whatever Minerva cards you have managed to collect.

It is a logistics puzzle that effectively blends conceptual simplicity with just enough complexity to make it challenging. While it's true that it has a predictable, Euro-like core (collect resources to trade, one way or another, for victory points), it seems to have snuck past any boredom issues associated with the familiar process. It is not without its detractors on BoardGameGeek, who articulate variations on the JASE theme (Just Another Soulless Euro), but I find fan comments (those who rank it 9 or above), to be more insightful about why this all just just seems to work.

Concordia, designed by Mac Gerdts, with artwork by Marina Fahrenbach, is published by a number of companies, foreign and domestic, including Rio Grande Games, from whom I did receive a review copy. It can be played with 2-5 players and has a recommended age of 13 and up. The game box indicates 90 minutes, which is fairly accurate, whether you're playing for the first time or the 50th time. First time set-up might stretch this just a bit. It retails between $45 and $50, with the usual bargains to be found by the savvy shopper. As of August 17, there was a "New" copy available in the BoardgameGeek Marketplace for $37.