Regular readers of the site will know that I’m far from adverse to writing about Kickstarter games. However, it’s rare that I’ll put down my opinions on something that hasn’t even had its campaign announced yet. But now there’s something new from Crash Games called Council of Verona and I’m getting a little bit excited. If AEG’s Love Letter was the game that ushered in the Year of the Microgame, I honestly believe that Council of Verona is going to be the release that takes it to the next level.
Cliches aside, Verona is a bloody good game. Between two and four players can get involved in a bid to exercise some level of control between the warring Montague and Capulet families. The story goes that Prince Escalus has grown tired of their quarrels and has formed the titular council. Over the course of each game players will attempt to secretly influence certain characters, with whoever has the most control taking the win.
The whole game is made up of only thirteen cards (split into Montagues, Capulets and Neutrals) and four influence tokens (marked 0,3,4 and 5) in four colours. That is IT. That’s even less than Love Letter, and yet it’s as solid and entertaining a game as its Japanese cousin. Each player is dealt one card at the start of the game, then a draft takes place where you take another card and pass the rest to the left. Once only two cards are left to choose from, the player takes one and the other is discarded, never to be involved.
Now that everyone has their cards, it’s time to get into the meat of the game. The play area consists of two “places” – the Council and the Exiled, and each turn begins with you playing a single card to one of these (Council are laid out portrait style, Exiled cards are placed landscape). Cards will either be Influential or Action, and mastering when and how to play both kinds is vital if you’re to be victorious.
Actions first. These are simple enough – you lay the card down and follow the instructions, but you don’t have to trigger the ability if you don’t want to. Sometimes just adding a character to an area is more than enough, but consider the fact that some allow for the movement of other cards, some switch Influence tokens or let you take a peek at what’s already been placed. They should never be underestimated!
The cards that can be Influenced have two important elements – Influence Spaces and Winning Conditions. The three spaces can be filled with your Influence tokens, but beware! The different cards have a selection of modifiers on them, so you may not have as much sway over the characters as you think. Having power over as many as you can is often a good idea, though don’t spread yourself too thinly; until the final card is played, there are plenty of opportunities for the balance of power to shift and screw over your finely crafted plans.
The various goals that the characters are looking to achieve fit well into the story of Romeo and Juliet, giving Council of Verona just enough theme to make it stand out as not just another microgame. The young lovers will score points if they’re together at the end of play, no matter where they are. The Lords want their own families to dominate the Council, while Mercutio’s desire to ruin both the Montagues and Capulets power is reflected in wanting as many characters banished as possible. Escalus desires peace and balance, so he seeks neutrality on the Council. Of course, not all of these can happen, but you can be sure that multiple Winning Conditions will occur. Just hope that you’ve got the highest combined total of Influence at the end.
Having had a fair few games of Council of Verona now, I’m beginning to see how the various cards can affect each other. Unfortunately there’s no accounting for what your opponents will do, so even if you’ve somehow managed to put together a decent hand of cards during the drafting phase of the game, you’re still going to have to pay attention to who is getting added to the Council, who has been exiled, and what Influence tokens are you think are being secretly placed. Like the Montagues and Capulets that are represented within, you’ll need to plan and plot and manipulate your opposition so that your devious machinations bear fruit… and it’s excellent. You’re constantly trying to out-think and out-bluff everyone else while still covering as many bases as possible. For such a tiny package, it packs a lot of challenge and I honestly can’t wait to see the final version.
Council of Verona was designed by Michael Eskue, plays with between two and four, and Crash Games will be running a Kickstarter very soon. That’s all you need to know. Apart from the fact that it’s fantastic.