Master of Magic--A Single-Take Review of Argent: The Consortium

Today we're reviewing Argent: The Consortium, a worker placement game from Level 99 Games. The chancellor of Argent University--a prestigious magic college--is stepping down. You and the other players are trying to become his successor. You have one week to secure the votes necessary to win. Will Argent put a spell on you? Or is it that Lightning Bolt LARPer who went viral? Let's find out!

The Setup

There are a ton of pieces included, so I'll do my best to hit them all here in the setup, which is pretty massive. 

First, each player selects a Candidate sheet, and takes the associated Marks and Loyalty Badges. The sheet is double-sided, and it's recommended you play on the A side for your first game. Whichever side you choose, take the associated Starter Spell. Each player also starts with:

  • 2 Mages associated with your department (which is shown on the Candidate sheet)
  • 6 Gold
  • 2 Mana
  • 2 Intelligence
  • 2 Wisdom

On the Consortium board, stack the players' Influence markers on the fifth space of the Influence Point track--with the start player on top, and the other markers going down from there in clockwise order. Now you seed the Consortium with Voter cards. Two cards have white borders and are in every game (most Influence, and most Supporters). Shuffle the rest of the Voter cards and place 10 of them facedown in the remaining spaces--and put the rest away without looking at them. These Voters want something in order to get their vote. It might be most Mana, most Treasure, most Natural Magick, most Research, and many more. 

Now you'll create the University. As with Voters, there are three rooms with white borders that you'll use every game (Infirmary, Council Chambers, and Library). The other cards are added randomly,and the number will vary depending on the number of players. Or you can choose one of the pre-generated layouts provided--which can be useful for a first game where you're trying to keep things manageable and less complex. 

You'll place out a number of Bell Tower cards based on the number of players. 

Create a stack of Round cards from 1 to 5, with 1 on top. 

There are three different kinds of cards in the game: Spells, Vaults, and Supporters. Shuffle each deck and deal out three Spell and Vault cards in a line next to the deck, and five Supporter cards in a line next to the deck. If someone draws a Spell or Vault card during the game, it's replaced immediately. But empty Supporter spots remain empty through the Round. 

Now players draft Mages. Starting with the last player and going counter-clockwise, each player drafts a Mage. Do this again, going clockwise from the start player, and then once more going counter-clockwise from the last player. Each player will now have five Mages--but note that you can never have more than two of a type of Mage. 

Finally, each players takes one of his or her Marks, and places it on one of the facedown Voter cards--at this point each player has to place the Mark on a different card. Players can always look at Voter cards with their own Marks on them. And you'll probably want to do that now. This means each player will have a little more knowledge about what Voters are out there and what they're looking for. 

After all that, you're ready to play. Yes, it's a lot of setup. Yes, it takes up a lot of table space. 


The Gameplay

The game is played over five Rounds. After the fifth Round, you reveal all of the Voters, and whoever has earned the most Votes, wins. Remember, there are lots of things you can do in this game, but it's most Votes that wins you the game. 

There are three Phases in each Round. 

Setup Phase

  • Untap any Spell or Vault cards you used in the previous Round. 
  • Flip over used Merit Badges to their unused side. 
  • Return all Spell, Vault, and Supporter cards out on the tableau to the bottom of their respective decks. Reveal new cards for each of the decks--three, three, and five, as at setup
  • Return Bell Tower cards to their spots.
  • Perform any room-specific setup effects.

You'll skip the Setup Phase on the first Round.

Errands Phase

This is the meat of the game, so buckle up. There's a lot here. 

Starting with the start player and going clockwise, each player may take one Fast Action, and then must take a regular action. Players continue taking turns taking actions until the end of the round is triggered. There are five actions you can take in this phase.

1. Place a Mage

First, let's talk about Mages. There are six different types. 

  • Yellow--These aren't associated with any department, so they have no special power. 
  • Red--When placing a Red Mage, you can choose to spend one Mana to boot a Mage from a spot and take that spot yourself--sending the booted Mage to the Infrimarty. 
  • Grey--When you take the Cast a Spell action, you may place a Grey Mage after you complete the Spell. (This only works on regular Spells, not Fast-Action or Reaction Spells. I'll explain those in a minute.)
  • Green--Green Mages can't be Wounded--or booted by Red Mages--but they can still be affected by Spells or other tactics that don't Wound. 
  • Purple--You can deploy Purple Mages as a Fast Action, so you can place a Purple and then still place another Mage on your turn.
  • Blue--Blue Mages are never affected by Spells cast by other players. They can still be affected by Red Mages, Supporters, etc. 

These are the A sides of the Mages. Each one also has a B-side ability you can choose for variety. 

Each room has a number of Errand slots where you can send Mages.

  • Regular slots: These have no restrictions.
  • Merit slots: You must have an unused Merit Badge in order to activate this spot. (You don't have to have a Badge when you place the Mage; you just have to have one when you resolve the room at the end of the Round.) 
  • Shadow slot: You have to use a Shadow effect when placing here, which come on Spells, Supporters, and Vault cards. 
  • Shadow Merit slot: As you can guess, this combines Shadow and Merit. 

When you resolve rooms, you resolve from top spots down, and regular slots before Shadow ones. Most rooms resolve at the end of the Round, but some resolve immediately. 

2. Cast a Spell

First you'll pay any Mana required, and then turn the card 90 degrees to show you've cast that Spell. Most Spell cards have three levels of a Spell on them, but whichever level you cast, you tap the whole card. 

3. Use a Vault Item

There are two types of Vault cards: Consumable and Treasure. If you use a Consumable, you'll place it in your personal discard pile, which is on your Candidate sheet. If you use a Treasure, you turn it 90 degrees to show you've used it this Round.

4. Use a Supporter

Various game mechanisms will let you draft a Supporter. You'll just keep the Supporter in front of you until you decide to use it. When you do, you gain the benefit, and then place the Supporter into your personal discard pile on your Candidate sheet. 

5. Take a Bell Tower Card

You take one of the available Bell cards, get the benefit, and place the card down in front of you. When you take a Bell card, your turn ends immediately. If you take a Bell card, you can continue taking actions on future turns this Round. And you can even take more Bell cards on those turns. 

When someone take the last Bell card, the Round ends immediately. 

Resolution Phase

Now you resolve the rooms, starting with the top-left room and moving left to right. Pay any costs that might be associated with the errand, perform the effect or gain the resources, and remove the Mage to its owner's Candidate sheet. You can choose to forego rewards and costs of a spot and immediately gain 1 Influence Point. Sometimes this happens when you don't get a needed Merit Badge, or someone moves you to a spot you can (or don't want to) use. 

Unless this was the fifth Round, move on to another Round. If it was the fifth Round, the game is over. 

Flip over Voters and determine which player gets the vote. Ties are broken by the number of Influence Points. If there's still a tie, the player who was on the Influence Point spot first wins. Whoever has the most votes wins the game. And, once again, ties are broken by Influence Points. 

Believe it or not, there are a bunch of details I didn't even talk about. I know. 


The Verdict

Holy cow, there's SO MUCH going on here--plus all of the variability. There are 15 different rooms, and each room has a second side. Each Candidate has two sides. And each Starter Spell has two sides. And you're only using a portion of the Consortium cards each game. Plus there are a lot of other cards included, so you're unlikely to see the same batch from game to game. All that to say, you'll have a lot of unique games before you get bored or start to think of getting the available expansion. 

There's a lot of interaction in Argent. That's a nice way of saying it's a knife fight. You're knocking people off of spaces. You're getting knocked off of spaces. You're playing Spells to pound people. You're taking spots you know people need. They're moving your Mage to a different spot--one that's more expensive, or that gives you different rewards. I would totally understand if that puts people off.

I'm usually not a take-that kind of guy, but that might be because that mechanism is usually tied to a crappy game. It's not here. And while it is a knife fight, there are defenses. Smartly used green or blue Mages can protect you. Spells can protect you or heal you. And some Spells and Treasures help stave off some aggression simply by being there. The mere threat of your knife can serve as an excellent deterrent. If you play with people who like to attack just to be jerks, then the take-that will be annoying. Why are you even playing with them? But in this game, you know someone is messing with you because of some points-related purpose--maybe even one you can't see right now. 

The Bell Tower cards add uncertainty. Someone might have fewer Mages than you, but that means he can rush the end of the Round. I like how dynamic that makes Rounds. Rather than "everyone gets three actions," you never quite know how it's going to play out.

The game plays surprisingly well with only two. There's an official two-player variant in the rulebook, and then the designer has his own preferred way to play with two. I've tried both, and they both work well, though I have a slight preference for the one included in the rulebook. 

Even though there's an amazing amount of stuff going on, the game is still relatively simple. It reminds me of some Felds, in that there are relatively few options, but each of those options are meaty and full of things to keep track of.

The components and art are well done. I'm not a huge fan of the Mage holders: The Mages don't always stay in, and it's not easy to see the player markers that show which Mage belongs to which player. But it's not a deal-breaker. The artwork is similar to many of Level 99 Games' offerings: highly stylized manga-type art. I like it. And the icons are clear and useful. 

I have a couple of small issues. First, the setup takes quite a while. Second, and related, is that it takes up a TON of table space. There are boards and cards and more cards and piles and piles for miles and miles. Still, those are minor issues. 

My one bigger issue is that Argent takes a long time to play. In our first game, with three quick-playing players, it took a solid two-and-a-half hours. Add in a single AP-prone player, and that's going to increase exponentially. I can't tell you how this plays with higher numbers, because I would have to be convinced to play with four, and I would NEVER play with five. And the expansion adds a sixth player, which is just madness. I'll play Twilight Imperium III for 5 hours. I'm not playing a worker-placement Euro for 5 hours. 

Firestone's Final Verdict--While it's not elegant, and it's kind of a beast, Argent: The Consortium just worked for me. I like the mechanisms, the variety, the interaction, and the fact that they took a worker-placement game and mixed things up. It's on the complex end of the Euro spectrum, but that suits me fine. Argent is a very good game. 

Thanks for reading!