Concordia is one of the hot new games from the recent Essen game fair. It is the latest game by Mac Gerdts, designer of Antike, Imperial and Navegador, and inventor of the rondel mechanism which can be seen in all the games above. This time there is no rondel, but the action card mechanism serves a similar purpose - restricting actions, more-or-less enforcing a cycle, and forcing players to plan around it and to work it to their advantage.
Players are great dynasties of the ancient Roman empire. They send out colonists from Rome to Europe, North Africa and around the Mediterranean basin to establish trading posts and colonies. These colonies produce various goods, which generate income to fuel further expansion. The game ends after a player establishes his 15th colony, or when all action cards have been bought by the players.
The engine that drives the game is the action card mechanism. Everyone starts with the same set of cards. On your turn you play a card from your hand, and do what it says. You can move your colonists and establish new colonies (paying money and resources of course). You can make a province produce goods, and every player with presence in towns there will gain goods. You can buy and sell goods. You can buy action cards from the board. You can reset your hand of cards by taking all cards back. The game is many overlapping cycles of producing goods, making money, and then establishing colonies and buying action cards.
Action cards available on the board are what augments players' abilities. Most action cards are improved versions of your basic action cards, while some grant new abilities. Buying an action card means you'll have more cards to pick from, and you'll be able to do more of that particular action type. It also means you'll have more time before you must spend a turn to reset your cards. More importantly, action cards are also scoring cards. Scoring is done only at game end. Each action card awards points based on a specific criteria. If you are meeting that criteria very well, e.g. you have colonies in many provinces, then it is in your best interest to buy lots of action cards with this scoring criteria.
The action cards. The coloured bar at the bottom of each card indicates the scoring criteria for the card.
The player board is your warehouse. You start with the six goods on the right. The four spaces on the left are initially blocked by four colonist pieces. When you spend resources to create new colonists on the board, you move these colonist pieces off your player board, thus freeing up more space for goods. The prices of goods are fixed and are listed along the top. There is no market mechanism that drives prices up and down.
Competition between players mostly comes in the form of racing to reach towns, and buying action cards. There is no limit to the number of players who can establish a colony in a town, but the later you arrive, the more you have to pay. There can be a bit of cooperation, because of how production works. You may be reluctant to give others a free ride when you produce, but there is an incentive - one free good if you take the produce action.
The tombstone-shaped tiles indicate the goods produced at each town. They are distributed semi-randomly at the start of the game.
I did a 5-player game, which I suspect is the best way to play. I was the 5th player, which was challenging at the start of the game because everyone else had established colonies near Rome by the time it was my first turn. If I were to go for the same towns, I'd need to pay more. No wonder they give you much more starting money. I decided to try something different. I bought two action cards instead, hoping they would give me an early advantage. I'm not sure whether it was a good idea. No colony meant no production. No production meant no income. After that I quickly colonised and tried to catch up with the production cycles.
This was the early game. Everyone starts in Rome. Colonists (be it the land type or sea type) start in cities but once they start traveling, they go onto land and sea routes. They can establish colonies on either city connected to the route they are on.
Leeching off the effort of others is wonderful. That feeling of getting free stuff when it is not your turn (like in The Settlers of Catan) is great! When picking colony sites it is good to see where others are going, so that mutually beneficial arrangements can be made. The downside of course is if many people are expanding in the same direction, the cost of establishing colonies would become higher due to people needing to share towns. Being the monopoly in a province can be good. When you produce, nobody else benefits. But then if the province is lucrative enough, you can't really stop others from coming if they are willing to pay the extra cost. Also from the scoring criteria perspective, many colonies in the same few provinces may not be a good idea.
Ken and friend (sorry, forgot to ask your name).
My warehouse was full. I had bought one special action card which allowed me to produce grain in all my grain-producing colonies. This is different from the normal production card which produces all goods types but applies to a single province.
The game has a certain rhythm to it. It is an ongoing cyle of production, making money and further expansion using the money and resources gained, plus the procurement of action cards to enhance players' abilities. In our game, the focus was mostly on racing to build colonies. However once we reached about mid game and the action cards started to get attention, the competition became fierce. Every card was points!
Players have some control over the pace and the timing of the game end. If you think you have more or less maximised your scoring potential, but others still have room for growth, then you would want to try to end the game as soon as possible. However, how well everyone is doing can be hard to assess. There is no interim scoring. You can only rely on rough estimation based on the board situation and what action cards your opponents have bought.
Near game end - only four action cards remain in the card row at the top right.
With 5 players, many towns are shared by two or more players.
Our end game scoring took a while. Sorting out the cards, checking the board situation, doing the multiplications and then the additions took some time. As I totaled up my score, I saw that I was doing well, but Ivan was just one point behind. That was too close for comfort, so I recounted. My hunch was right. I had miscounted and I was actually one point behind Ivan instead. Jeff was watching us play and suggested to recount for Ivan too. To our surprise he had miscounted too and his final score was further behind. How can these seasoned gamers be so lousy in maths?! Now that I was confident to have won, Ken finished calculating his score, and he was ahead of both Ivan and I! Aaarrgghh... after all that trouble...
Ivan's scoring was very focused on the type of scoring card which awards point per province with presence. He had been collecting a ton of these cards, and I hadn't realised that and I didn't stop him. He had also been trying to distribute his colonies far and wide, mostly having one colony per province. I had expected this would be the most efficient way of scoring - focusing on one or two criteria - just like in Navegador. To my surprise, Ken and I who scored higher were not really strong in any one criteria. We did do well in quite a few areas, but we were nowhere near Ivan's level of focus. About two thirds of Ivan's score were from one criteria. So maybe I am wrong about Concordia.
Game-end scoring took a while, with much multiplication and addition. I joked with Jeff (who was watching) whether we would suddenly have a black-out, and then when the lights came back on, the results would change dramatically*.
The rules and gameplay of Concordia are quite different from Navegador, but somehow they feel similar. It is probably the scoring mechanism that makes me feel that way. There are multiple ways to score, and you need to pick some to focus on, because trying to do everything will probably doom you. Concordia is very much a Eurogame. It is a development game. You establish your infrastructure to gain wealth and then use that wealth to further expand your infrastructure. It is non confrontational. You use action cards to specialise and to support your strategy. It has a very "Mac Gerdts" feel, and if you like his designs I think you will like this game too. I like his games well enough but I am not a particularly big fan. Concordia is well-crafted and well-tuned. The random distribution of goods production provides variability. Although I'm willing to play, I don't have a strong urge to revisit and explore. It's probably because it feels too familiar.
* For non-Malaysians, this is a Malaysian political joke in the election year of 2013. And also other years too I guess.