Reviewed by Herb Levy

CROWN OF EMARA (Pegasus Spiele, 1 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 45-75 minutes; $49.99)


The kingdom of Emara is prosperous and at peace – but good times do not last forever. Wise King Theodorius, needing to prepare for a successor, has come up with an interesting way to determine the most worthy of his want-to-be heirs: Whoever manages to attract the most immigrants to the kingdom AND provide food and housing for them to garner their support will become the next king. This is the challenge faced by players as they compete to win the Crown of Emara.

Crown of Emara, a Benjamin Schwer design, utilizes a double-rondel mechanism as players use one rondel to gain resources and the second to put those resources to work, earning Citizen Points  (CPs)AND Building Points (BPs). These two types of points are tracked separately and each is important for the winner of this contest is the player who has amassed the highest LOWEST score of their two!

The two boards used (“Countryside” and “Town”) are four puzzle pieces each placed randomly together. The basic resources of the game (wood, cloth, stone and wheat) go into their particular quadrants. Similarly, the Castle, Construction Site, Market and Cathedral make up the Town with items placed in their assigned positions (Signet Rings and “Gift Markers” in the Castle, Favor tokens and Donation Markers into the Church, Bread and Stone markers at the Construction Site and Gold Coins in the Market). The deck of Advisers (marked A) are shuffled and 8 randomly placed around the Town, 2 in each quadrant. Remaining A Advisers are removed from play while B Advisers are shuffled and placed by the board. Nobility cards, ranging from Baron to more exalted titles, are placed alongside the board. All players have an individual player board where they place their four “Craftsmen” (small meeples). The Event deck is shuffled and the first Event used to determine starting positions of the players’ Councillors (large meeples) on each board and their two scoring markers (Citizen Points always start at zero, Building Points vary based on the number shown on the drawn Event card). 

Each round starts with an Event card being drawn. (Most are positive granting additional resources or offering the possibility of generating extra Citizen or Building points for that round.) From that point, Action cards come into play. 

Everyone has an identical set of 9 Action cards  These are shuffled and 3 randomly drawn as your hand for this round. On a turn, a player will place one of those cards into the 1, 2 or 3 movement slot of his/her player board. The slot chosen determines how many quadrants one of your Councillors (on either the Countryside or Town rondel) may move. (Once a slot is claimed, it may not be reused that round.) Cards also have a “power’ or “ability” that may be done such as granting an additional resource of a specified type, the ability to exchange resources for gold (at a discount), an additional movement, the ability to perform ANY action in ANY quadrant of the Town and hiring a Craftsmen or Adviser at a discount.

On the countryside board, players receive 1 of a resource when moving into its quadrant. There are 3 huts in each quadrant. By spending the stipulated resources of a hut, a player may add a Craftsman there. Craftsmen so assigned reward a player with CPs; they also allow a player to take another of that resource when they next visit. Alternatively, a Craftsman allows you to convert 1 wheat into 1 bread.  Resources collected power the actions you can take in the Town.

In the Cathedral, players may make a donation of 1 or more resources and receive a Book (of knowledge) and 1 Favor Token. (Three of these are drawn, 1 kept and 2 discarded.) Favor tokens deliver a bonus when a player finds himself in the matching town quadrant.

In the Castle, a player may make a gift (of 1 or more resources) and receive 1 Signet Ring. They may also discard 1 Book to receive 5 Building Points. 

The Market allows a player to exchange 1 resource for 1 Gold and/or discard 1 or more Books to get Citizen Points. 

The Construction Site can convert many resources into points including Stone (which gives you both Citizen AND Building Points), 1 to 3 Breads for Citizen Points and 1 or 3 Wood for Building Points. 

Once a player has done his Movement and Card Actions, he can do any or all of three Bonus Actions EVERY turn! And these are:

Hire a Craftsman – This is when you can occupy an available hut in the quadrant where your Councillor is located. 

Recruit an Adviser – Town quadrants generally have 2 available Advisers. By spending the required number of resources an Adviser demands, a player can take that card and enjoy its benefits which may be immediate (Citizen or Building Points) and/or ongoing such as discounts on Craftsmen and Advisers and more. 

Increase Noble Rank – The ladder of nobility may be ascended, going from Baron to Count to Prince to Marquess to Duke. Each level earns Citizen Points. Rises in rank require some combination of Gold with a Signet ring and must be done in order. (No skipping!) All players can earn 3 CPs when becoming a Baron but the other ranks reward players with more CPs for getting there first!

After six rounds (going through your set of Action cards twice), the game is over. Citizen and Building points earned by players are compared, The player with the highest LOWEST score wins! Tie? Then the second score that is higher breaks the tile! Still tied? Then it’s the player with the highest Nobility rank. Still tied, then it’s the player with the highest valued rank. Still tied? Then victory is shared!

Citizen Points are easier to get than Building Points (which is why the Building Point marker starts roughly 30 points ahead on the scoring track). While it’s tempting to pile up CPs, that won’t help you if your BPs are lagging behind so balance is the ideal approach.  The Countryside and Town are modular boards so relative positions of resources and town quadrants can shift from game to game making the programmed movement of cards fresh and different each time you play. The “aerial” view of these boards is pleasing to the eye but, with so much going on particularly in the town, is a bit busy! 

There is a definite “race against the other players” factor here. Donations and gifts in exchange for important benefits get more expensive each time they are done. Conversely, exchanging stone and bread at Market pays less and less as the action is done. Nobility rank payoffs pay less if you wait too long to claim them too.

Card play is key.  You know you have a hand of 9 cards but do not know precisely when they will appear. A variant is offered where players hold all 9 cards in their hands. The downside to this is the danger of analysis paralysis which can considerably lengthen play time. From our point of view, we suggest foregoing that variant as it removes the “surprise”  you get when you see just what 3 cards you have to work with that round which, in our plays at least, added an enjoyable edge. But WHERE you slot your card is important too! That is how you control how far your Councillor can move (and set up actions for the next play) but you need to decide whether you want to move your Country or Town Councillor: you cannot do both! 

The use of rondels in Euro style gaming has become very popular over the last few years, propelled by some excellent designs from Mac Gerdts such as Imperial (Winter 2007 GA Report) and Concordia.(Fall 2014 GAR).  Schwer’s twist in using a double rondel works exceedingly well helped by a solid graphic presentation.  Crown of Emara is certainly an ambitious design. More importantly, it is a successful one.  – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

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