28th Feb2019

‘Crown of Emara’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

emara-box

Anyone looking at Crown of Emara on a shelf would be forgiven for dismissing it instantly for one of the numerous, generic looking German euro/roundel style games that are released in their hundreds these days. The artwork is from Dennis Lohausen and whilst I haven’t seen his work in another game before, it has the distinct look of games like Marco Polo, Le Havre, Caverna and countless others. Dismissing it based on looks alone would be foolish, however, since Crown of Emara is one of my favourite roundel games to date, thanks to the way it juxtaposes the simplicity of play with the complexity of decision making efficiency.

I’ll explain in a moment why I find it such fun to play (and tell you a bit more about it) but before I do, let me also depose any myth I might have just created that Lohausen has created a boring looking game. On the contrary, in fact. The cover of the box simply does not do justice to the fantastic work that has gone into the components (especially the boards) that live inside it. There are two boards, each of which comprises of four separate, modular pieces. These two double-sided boards are built randomly at the beginning of the game (and can even be combined in a variant mode) and look absolutely fantastic.

With these boards laid out, players will then take their own personal board (which is a very simple image of their character, with a cardboard trident below it) and place it in front of them with their personal deck of nine cards. They will then place a number of their own coloured pieces onto the two main boards and a scoring track that runs alongside it. Various wooden and cardboard resources pieces are then placed at specific locations all over both boards to create quite a wonderful and extremely busy tableau depicting the romanticised, faux-medieval Kingdom of Emara. A few advisor cards are placed out and one or two pieces are set to the side and the players are ready to go.

Supporting one to four players, Crown of Emara tends to be over in about an hour, which is rare for this kind of game. I also feel as though its quite rare for such a game to feature a built in solo mode, although I might be wrong about that. In any case, if you haven’t already guessed from the title, players will be competing for what is essentially victory points, with the winner being crowned the King or Queen of Emara. Interestingly, the game tracks both citizen and building points for each player and at the end of two rounds (eighteen turns) the players will score both of these tracks and whichever is lowest will be their score. As such, it’s necessary for players to manage both tracks simultaneously throughout the game.

As I mentioned, Crown of Emara is split into eighteen turns, each of which involves the players using one of the nine cards in their deck. At the beginning of the game, the players will draw three of their cards and then play them one by one into the open spaces beneath the openings on their player board. Once all three are used, they will draw three more and then when the whole deck of nine is used, all cards will be shuffled and used once again in the same way. The significant of the cards is that whatever is depicted on them is the card action that the player can take, whilst the slot on the player board into which the card is placed dictates how far their pawn will move on one or the other board.

On that note, I should mention that each of the modular boards is made up of just four spaces and the pawns can move clockwise only. This means that when a card is placed into slot two for example, that player will have the option to move one or the other pawn just two spaces (and two spaces only, not one.) With the card chosen, the player may take the card action (like draw a resource) first, then take the action associated with the space their pawn lands on, or vice versa. They may then take bonus actions such as hiring adviser cards or craftsmen (which add bonuses to the various resource generation spots.)

The main meat of the game comes from trading up basic resources and then advancing your status on one of the two tracks. Basic resources can be donated at either the castle or the church, leading to a return in signet rings, books and favours. These are then traded in for other benefits (including points) and so it goes on. The really interesting thing about Crown of Emara is that at the beginning of each round you have nine choices in terms of which card to play and in which slot on the player board, but that is then doubled (at least) by the fact that there are two boards and subtly changed by the way that some of the cards slightly break the normal rules.

These features, as well as the fact that many of the trading up aspects of the game become more expensive with each use (giving the game a race feel) make Crown of Emara a very immersive puzzle. Planning out your three turns ahead is very, very interesting, but then having to tweak and change your plan as you place that last card (which you must use in the only slot you’ll have left) remains just as compelling. Often, making the final agonising choice is the most difficult, but what I really love about this mechanism is that Crown of Emara rarely leaves players feeling like a turn was wasted.

Crown of Emara is therefore a really excellent mid weight game that certainly surprised me. It’s super, super easy to pick up and learn and very attractive to look at, but when you have learned it, it never gets any easier to win because the core card placement and roundel systems kind of force it to be fair, balanced and close all the way to the end. This is superb game for playing with audiences of mixed and experienced players and I think it suits a wide range of ages as well. Certainly one to consider adding to your collection and definitely much more than a dry, dull euro.

**** 4/5

Crown of Emara is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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