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Subject: Do you believe in magic? A review of Argent: The Consortium rss

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Scott Sexton
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*Author's Note* I would encourage you to watch a game play video before reading this review.

I've been looking at Argent: The Consortium now since if first appeared on Kickstarter a few years back. I've always held off picking up a copy because the game just seemed a bit too much for my kids, and I've never like Level 99 Game's art aesthetic. In the past year, however, I've been constantly bombarded by second hand accounts of just how good Argent was. After a bit of a soul searching, my resistance was simply worn down and I finally decided to pick up a copy. So, what do I think about Argent?

What is Argent: The Consortium? The short answer is that it is a worker placement game with a Harry Potter/Hogwarts theme to it. That wouldn't quite do this game justice though. The key thing I think most reviews I've read about Argent seem to miss is that Argent mixes worker placement with a Martin Wallace styled action selection round flow. Each turn players will not only place workers on the board, but they will also be able to choose from numerous actions that they can take thanks to the various spells, supporters, and item cards that players collect during the game.

It isn't enough that the game offers you a huge number of choices between placing workers, castings spells, and so on, but the game generates a suffocating tension by having players limit the length of any given game round. Each round you have a set number of "Bell Tower Cards" that are available for any player to take (giving them a reward defined by the card such as extra resources). Here is the kicker though, when the last BT Card is taken, the round ends, no more actions for anyone. It is a very stark and potentially mean way to end a round. It doesn't matter if you had nothing left to do, or if you had workers you could still place, or if you had another dozen spells you could combo off of one another. Argent isn't going to reward you for building the best combo engine, it is going to reward you for the most efficient use of your actions. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but this is a game where you are going to be tempted to build that huge, lumbering, combo engine, but that isn't going to win you the game. The player who best figures out how to pick the most efficient action at any given time is going to win this game.

So what was that you mentioned about the art? I enjoy manga. I enjoy the occasional anime. I despise Level 99's faux anime style that reminds me of Fist of the North Star (which is an anime/manga that I've always hated the look of). Like, I really, really, really dislike it. There is just something about the character design and the color palate that falls into the "uncanny valley" for me and I can't quite put my finger on it other than to say I hate it. I get that art is subjective, but Level 99 really should look into doing some marketing research on this type of art, because I think that there are a good number of folks who've written off some of Level 99's games due to the art.

Enough bagging on Level 99's taste in art, what about Argent? Suffice to say, the art is serviceable and aside from a few questionable character portraits, it works ok. The rooms are all tastefully done, but ultimately are forgettable because of all the game text that overlays the art. Spell cards don't have any art per se, but they do use a liberal amount of iconography (which I'll get to in a bit). The Vault Cards (which are the items you accumulate during the game) all tend to be dark and drab looking. It's kind of like using a black primer coat when you are painting your minis. Ultimately, the Vault Cards are forgettable if not overtly offensive. Supporter cards all share the Level 99 aesthetic with the odd color palate and oddly proportioned character portraits. As I became more accustomed to the art, I was less put off by it, but at no point did I ever feel like the art did anything to help the game.

You mentioned iconography. Please continue. Yeah, there are a couple dozen icons in this game that are supposed to serve as short hand reminders so you can remember what you've got going on with all your different spells, items, and supporters. The problem here is that most of the icons you come across are forgettable. Most players can remember or figure out the icons for the different schools of magic (because they are color coded). Most players can figure out the fast action icon (because it is a lightning bolt). Most players can understand the "shadowing" icon and the "head boy/girl" crest if you have a good games teacher showing you how to play. Aside from that, the icons are a bit of a indecipherable mess. Luckily, they are largely unnecessary because most of the icons are accompanied by walls of text that do a good job of explaining how the cards work.

Components. The cardboard is thick and mostly well punched (the many smaller chits are a bit annoying to punch). The workers are nicely sculpted minis instead of the meeples you'd find in most worker placement games. The game cards are a nice thick stock with linen overlay. All in all, the components are impressive with two very damning problems:

1- Each mage/worker you get has a little base that you can slot an ownership token into. This way you are supposed to be able to look at the board and tell who owns any given mage on the game board. In practice though, the chits almost always look exactly the same. The color ink used for the chits is a bit on the drab side and so you'll find yourself squinting to see if a token is Green or Black. Yeah, its horrible. Also, the design of the base is bad. Not only are some of the bases malformed (in which case you'll have to ask for replacements) but the bases are bigger then the slots you are supposed to place them at on the board. This causes the minis on the board to look sloppy and disorganized. Also, because of how the chits slot into the base, it can be hard to see the chits if the mini is turned so that the mini itself is blocking your view of the chit. A better way of identifying the different owners of a mini would have been to use the CMON method of using colored bases you can easily add or remove from your figure.

2- The board icons in the worker slots should have been MUCH more brightly displayed. The crest and shadowing icons on the board are EXTREMELY important bits of information and the drab colors used to print them on the board make it a bit tricky for a player to tell at a quick glance if they are there or not. Luckily, most tiles are organized top to bottom in such a way that players can figure out what icons SHOULD be in different slots based on where they are on the given tile.

So how are the rules? The rules do a good enough job of teaching a person how to play the game, but, like many of Level 99's rule books, it can be a bit tricky. It would have been much more helpful if the rules gave an overview of the round earlier on in the rules to give the reader a better sense of how the game flowed. There are a good number of little rules that flesh out the game and so it can be easy to loose track of all the little bits. And this wouldn't be a Level 99 game if there weren't TONS of variants and optional rules tweaks for players to consider. There are so many in fact that a group could get bogged down deciding just which version of Argent they wanted to play. This isn't a legitimate criticism, but it is something that I could see being an issue for some groups. Overall, the rules are functional, but not ideal.

In defense of Argent. I've spent a lot of this review criticizing Argent. I stand by my critiques of this game. Despite all of those items I've raised, I think Argent is an AWESOME game and well worth owning. Before I get into why I love Argent, I want to address the most prevalent criticism I've heard about this game, one which I happen to think is total bunk. Is Argent's victory condition bad?

I have seen the criticism from other gamers that winning Argent comes down to whether a player is lucky enough to have focused their game on accumulating the right random things that voters will be looking for. On its face, the argument seems to have something going for it. Each game has a random assortment of 8 variable voters (plus 2 which are fixed). Most games I've been a part of came down to the winner getting 4 or more votes. This means that a person in theory could just randomly gobble up cards during the game and win due to the luck of the voters drawn for the game. While I suppose this is a possibility, in practice, the game never seems to boil down to luck. First, players never seem to win randomly. The player who accumulates the most Influence, usually can parley that stat into at least 2 votes. Experienced players will understand that gathering influence is perhaps the most important thing they can do during the game. The player who gets the most influence gets 1 automatic vote, PLUS they have the tie breaker for any of the voters that come up during the game's conclusion. Most games I've played had somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 voters where people tied. Having the highest influence can pretty much guarantee you aren't going to lose many of those highly contested votes. Then there is the matter of learning what the voters are looking for. You can always "risk it" by not bothering to research voters (and that is a viable strategy) but to really hone your strategy so that you can get the necessary votes to win, you only need to know the voting preferences of only 1 or 2 extra votes (because you start the game knowing 3 already). Observant players can usually figure out a couple of the voting requirements just by watching what their opponents are going after. Sure, players can cause the election to boil down to luck, but good players can take the time to make sure that things aren't nearly as random as it would seem.

What is there to love? First off, I want to say that Argent is a hell of a good bargain. As other reviewers have noted, there is easily enough content in the base game to last you forever (although I now want to buy the expansions). There is so much in the base game that it could have easily been broken down into a base game with 2 expansions. Content wise, it feels overwhelmingly expansive. That paired with the very reasonable $40 to $60 price tag, and I cannot imagine anyone coming away feeling like they didn't get their money's worth out of Argent.

I really enjoy the integration of theme in Argent. I feel like I'm a powerful wizard trying to win an election. I like how this is a game that empowers players. I may start the game with a hand full of loyal students, but by the end of the game, I'm a powerhouse with more magical gizmos then I have time to use. Even if things don't go my way, I'm always becoming more powerful with each successive round.

Argent is a wide open sandbox, both in game and out. During any given game, you have a ton of options open to you. Where do you go? How do you optimize your actions? When do you take certain actions in a given round (timing is a HUGE deal in this game)? What do you prioritize with your strategy? Do you try to stretch out the round or do you want to end it early? There are SOOOO many options and varieties of strategies that open up for you that it puts Uwe Rosenberg to shame. And that is just in playing the game. Out of game, you can tweak the hell out of your game too. Do you want to randomly build the game board, or do you want players to "draft" where tiles are placed? Do you use the base side of the room tiles or do you use the advanced side? Do you use the base characters or do you randomize in the advanced variants? Do you toss in the expansions for even more variety (yes, the answer to that question is yes)? Do you start tossing in the official variant rules?

Argent has sooo much player interaction, you'd be forgiven if you forgot you were playing a Euro. You usually don't get player interaction in most worker placement games beyond the normal shtick of "Darn, you took that spot before I was going to!" or "Nuts, I was going to buy that card!" Argent cranks the interaction up to 11. Like in Carson City, players can knock other player's mages out of board slots BEFORE the game resolves the room tile actions. Add to that the huge variety of powers your mages have and all the different spells you can use to tweak your mages and you have a stunningly large number of ways that you can mess with your opponents. In fact, a huge part of this game boils down to how you want to plan on having your own mages "messed with" by your opponents. There is so much pushing and pulling over action spaces and resources, the game almost feels more like a combat heavy area control game (like Cyclades or Kemet) then it does something like Lords of Waterdeep. That isn't to say that the combat itself is as robust as what you would find in those kinds of euro-combat games, but it is HIGHLY interactive. You aren't playing Argent in your own little bubble.

The real beauty of Argent is in the emergent qualities of the game as a whole. There is so much going on all at once that the game play becomes an cohesive symphony of what are normally disparate mechanisms. When I play Argent, I find myself stopping to marvel at the complex situation I am in, but never becoming overwhelmed by the game itself. The game is simple, it is the emergent game state that is nuanced. I love to have the game open up like this, where I have so many interesting things I can do, but I know that I am racing against the clock to finish things before my opponents end the round. Do I press my opponents in the hope that I can extend the round by forcing them to restructure their turn? Do I rush to maximize my position? How do I even learn the information I need before I begin to work on executing my ultimate strategy? Argent is a game that forces you to craft long term strategies while you are constantly weighing immediate tactical decisions. The end result is a thoroughly satisfying experience. A true "thinking person's" type of game.

In conclusion, I simply adore Argent as a brilliantly crafted game design. In spite of the few blemishes I discussed earlier, the game play itself is what will stay with you long after your time at the table has concluded. For players who want a bold euro game that offers heavy handed player interaction at a roughly 2 hour play time, this is a game well worth owning. Be warned though, that this is a game that asks you to be in for the long haul. This is not a game for folks looking to fill a light 60 minutes. For players who are intrigued by the faux Harry Potter theme and enjoyed Lords of Waterdeep, this is a game well worth checking out. If you are intrigued at all by this game, buy with confidence! There is something magical in the bones of this game, at least enough so that even I believe. BGG rating - 9.0.
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Trey Chambers
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Thanks for the review!
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Scott Sexton
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Shampoo4you wrote:

Thanks for the review!


Thank you for making such an excellent game!
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Peter S.
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I'm going to quickly note (not argumentatively!) that I happen to love Argent's / Lv. 99's art, specifically their unhesitant use of saturated color and tones. It really is a matter of taste, though I think they can be given props for having the guts to truly try to have style.

Then I'm going to go back up and read the rest of the review. whistle
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Pasquale Cirone
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I love Argent as it is probably my favorite worker placement Euro game. Influence is pretty critical though. As you mentioned in the review, it'll often win you the game.
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Nathan Dennis
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malakim0 wrote:
Influence is pretty critical though.


I played so many games where influence as the tie breaker has determined the outcome of the game ... it simply cannot be overstated on how important it is!


Argent is one of my favorite games ... I love it! I personally don't care for the artwork, but theme/mechanics/game play keep me coming back to this game .. Thx again Trey for such a great game!
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Eric Randolph
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I dig the faux-anime style art. Literally half the reason I picked up BattleCON (and Argent).
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Anthony L.
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While I do disagree with you on the art, I will agree that the mage stands and markers are bad. Like, really really bad. I solved this problem quite easily though. I took some krylon primer to the bases, bought some acrylic paint from a hobby store that matched each available player color, and painted a full set of bases for each player. Now we don't have to bother with the fiddly little flags and it's considerably easier to tell which mage belongs to which player. I would highly suggest doing something like that to your set if you'll be playing a lot.
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