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Hello everyone! I don't review a ton of games, but every once in a while when I feel like my input could be appreciated I take the plunge. Other people have done a great job adding pictures and going over gameplay so I'm not going to do that, instead I'm going to focus more on the types of gamers that I think would like or dislike Council of Blackthorn.
To start, here are my various ratings by category on a 1-10 scale:
Theme: 8/10 - Theme is pretty solid but not totally immersive
Complexity: 6/10 - There are enough moving parts but all are easy to understand
Stress: 6/10 - There is some stress behind the Treason cards but not a ton.
Components: 7/10 - Cardboard chits, really nice cardstock and finish, nice thick player boards. Card iconography can be really confusing though.
Length: 8/10 - Game is long enough to feel like you did something but doesn't overstay it's welcome. Still generally going to be over an hour though.
Fun: 8/10 - Very fun game, nothing is clunky.
I play in a pretty diverse game group, there has not been one game yet that everyone is legitimately excited to play, and for Council I have good news and bad news.
Bad news first: I don't think it'll be anyone's favorite game in my game group.
Good news: There is a limited list of games that nobody will pass on, and Council makes that list.
Council of Blackthorn is a fast-paced game of balance that just barely dips it's toes into a lot of different game mechanics. There is asymmetry, hand management, hidden points, take that, bluffing, and more. Normally when a game incorporates a lot of elements like this you end up with heavy, complex games like Terra Mystica or Mombasa, but each of these elements are subtle in their execution and this light touch is why I think it was well received by the group. It had something for everyone but the elements that people don't like aren't so overbearing that it takes away from the fun of the game. It says something that the worst thing anyone said about it is that some of the graphic design and iconography on the cards is confusing (make sure on the cards you look at the symbols closely).
I also think the same light touch is why it won't be anyone's favorite game. It doesn't pick one thing and do it well, so it will never really cater to a specific niche of gamer.
As I said before, my gaming group is really diverse and it gives me a pretty good insight into the games we play. Some of my friends are too tough to break down into stereotypes, so not all of these relate to actual people:
The Tactical Gamer: This is me, and I prefer games that give me the ability to outplay my opponent through clever maneuvering and variable objectives. Council certainly employs enough of a psychological game and enough asymmetry to do some of this but it isn't really central to the game. Probably the most enjoyable part for me is reacting to the treason cards and point values and making decisions based on that. I wouldn't pass on playing this game and would sometimes request it.
The Race Runner: This person tends to prefer games where you are making constant forward progress, utilizing each turn to it's maximum effectiveness. Council probably has enough constant forward momentum to stay interesting, though the treason element makes it more about pacing yourself than pushing yourself. They might pass on playing the game once in a while and I'd be surprised if they requested playing it.
The Theme Junky: A gamer who prizes theme and prefers games where the complexity of the mechanics doesn't break their immersion, this game hits a lot of the right spots. The various titles, the intrigue, and the actually very simple mechanics that give way to lots of interesting decisions. While the theme is pretty strong the game isn't totally immersive, as the treason cards are very simple and lack flavor text or thematic reasons to obtain them. This gamer probably will never pass on playing and I suspect will often suggest it.
The Strategist: Strategists tend to like to develop a big metagame strategy early in the game and then work to execute it as well as possible. Council has too many shifting variables and not enough ability to plan beyond a turn or two, so I think that pure strategy gamers will end up being frustrated by the game. This gamer would probably avoid playing this game.
The Casual Gamer: Casual gamers prefer games that aren't complex and have enough variability to make them feel competitive even if they lack knowledge of the game in comparison to other people. Council is firing on all cylinders for this kind of gamer. The mechanics are pretty simple and the treason element means that if someone is obviously winning then it's easy to make them lose. I think that casual gamers would always play Council and often suggest it.
Nice twist on a game review. I am glad that your group likes it enough for none of them to pass on it when it is suggested.
I certainly respect your opinion, but I'm going to argue that there is enough Strategy in CoB to keep a Strategist engaged. I tend to plan a grand strategy and then adapt it as the game progresses, which makes me fall in-between your Tactical Gamer and Strategist stereotypes. I quite enjoy CoB because you can't rest on one strategy, you have to adapt to what your opponents do.
If there are Strategist gamers who stubbornly stick to their initial strategy, I submit that they probably get frustrated with many games.
I think the biggest reason why I don't think CoB is particularly suited to Strategy oriented gamers is that between the dice rolls and the treason cards, your particular objective can and will change as the game progresses.
I generally view Strategy Gamers as people who like to know the objective from start to finish. The two static goals of CoB are to have the most victory points and anything but the most Treason points, but the methods you use to get there will change dramatically over time. There are a lot of times I'm holding two cards in my hand for several turns, waiting for a particular track to roll a 2 or a 3 so I can use the first card to set up the second one to trigger.
I do agree that there are some limited strategies you can employ from the start, but overall I just see CoB as a much more tactical game.