Review: Concordia

Concordia harkens back to the beginning of board gaming’s golden age. A time before the terms ‘Kickstarter’ and ‘stretch goal’ were part of the lexicon. Back when most of the hottest titles among board game connoisseurs were about producing and trading little wooden resources. Although Concordia feels like it is from 2003, it was actually published just five years ago, in 2013.

Rather than being dismissed as a relic though, it has slowly but surely outpaced countless flashy new games. Even in the past year, Concordia has continued to climb in the BGG rankings, from #33 to #23. No other game from 2013 or before has climbed that many spots in the BGG Top 100 during the same span. In fact, only one other such game has climbed at all in the past twelve months (the singular classic The War of the Ring, from #14 to #12), while many others have dropped precipitously.

Seeing this statistical anomaly, I was anxious to see for myself what makes Concordia so special. I finally got the opportunity to try it with four friends last week. Below is a brief summary of the game, followed by my opinions on whether it lived up to my expectations.


Basic Medi-Terraining

Concordia transports 2-5 players back approximately two millenia, right into the heart of the Roman Empire. Each player enters the role of an ambitious aristocrat with a retinue of advisors at her disposal. Activating one advisor at a time, players race to spread their citizens across the empire to build a prosperous trade network.

While Concordia is a peaceful game, it is not without tension. As cities develop, the cost to build there increases considerably. Thus, there’s a significant incentive to be the first to break ground in a city, getting in before you’re priced out. But building isn’t free, and trading in volume is surely more efficient. And while you’re at it, you may want to hire some more advisors, or recruit some more colonists in Rome. How will you strike a proper balance between preparation and action? Whatever path you choose to take, sacrifices must be made. And here you thought that being a Roman aristocrat was just about reclining at your seaside estate and eating grapes.


I Sea the Appeal

Concordia exceeded the already high expectations with which I approached it. This game, at its core, is a well oiled machine. Even with a bunch of first-time players, the mechanics breed a crisp pace, while every turn carries a satisfying strategic weight. Here’s the key, in my opinion: you’re always presented with several good options to choose from. Psychologically, that makes it so much easier to make a prompt decision, and to feel good about it, than when you have to determine the ‘least-bad’ alternative.

On top of that, each advisor’s role is simple to understand, allowing your brain to focus on the strategic puzzle of the game rather than wasting energy attempting to interpret or remember a bunch of arcane instructions. Despite a firmly medium-weight rating of 3.12 out of 5 on BGG, the rules fit on just two double-sided pages, complete with illustrations and examples.

The flip side of the board has a different map for lower player counts.

Concordia’s system of providing victory points via advisor cards is another clever feature. Each starting and purchased advisor offers you victory points on a points-per basis. It could be cities, or colonists, or types of goods produced. Whatever it is, it offers you a specific, measurable, achievable goal to pursue. It’s never a matter of “how will I ever manage to build in every province” but “how can I build on one more province”? There’s never enough time to complete everything, and the player who is most efficient will end up as the winner. But this is not a game where anyone will come away feeling helpless or confused.

All of these factors lead to a well-paced experience full of satisfying decisions. So don’t be fooled by the ‘Mediterranean trading’ theme — this game is anything but boring. And dare I say, with how many games jump on whatever bandwagon theme of the moment these days, Concordia’s theme actually felt like… a breath of fresh air? It feels weird typing that, but given the high ratings, perhaps I’m not alone in that opinion. I would highly recommend this game to anyone who wants a mentally stimulating Euro game that can be equally enjoyed by avid gamers and beginners.

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