Three kingdoms, four councils, one goal; become the most successful merchant. Council of Four is a game for two to four players from the designer duo Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini and it is lovely.
How do you play the game?
In Council of Four you are merchants and you are trying to influence the councils of the three Kingdoms to get the best building permits for your Emporiums. The merchant who has built the best network of Emporiums is the winner of the game.
That’s the basic idea. You start the game with ten potential Emporiums, your disk on the money track, six politics cards and some assistant tokens in front of you, depending on the player order.
The board consists of four pieces. There’s the King board, where you find the Nobility track, the Money track, the scoring tokens. the permits and the four councils. Plus there are three, double-sided, region boards with five cities, in five different colours, in each region with names with a starting letter ranging from A to O.
A council consist of four randomly drawn councillors. There are councillors in six different colours. The politics cards match these colours and in addition to the regular colours there’s also a multicoloured wildcard.
The game can begin. Your turn starts with drawing one politics card and then you must do one main action and may perform one quick action before or after your main action. The first main action is ‘elect a councillor’. You take a councillor meeple from the supply and insert them into a council balcony, pushing one councillor out at the other end. This one goes back into the supply. You get four coins for doing so.
The second thing you can do, and the reason you may want to elect another councillor earlier, is ‘acquire a permit tile’. You choose a council to satisfy and you discard, from your hand, one to four politics cards matching the colours of the councillors of that region. When you’ve discarded four cards you can take one of the two open permit tiles of that region for free. When you discard less than four, you have to pay additional money, depending on the amount of cards you’ve used.
A permit tile depicts two thing; one or more letters and one or more bonus icons. When you take a permit, you immediately obtain a bonus, like coins, points, cards, assistants or an extra action. Later on you use this permit to build in a city matching one of the letters on it.
And that’s also the third main action, ‘build an emporium’. You then turn over the permit tile and place an emporium in that city. If other players have built there earlier, you have to pay one assistant per emporium there. You then get the reward of the city and all other city rewards from cities where you already have an emporium and are connected to the city where you’ve just built. These rewards are randomly placed at every city at the beginning of the game and reward you with, for instance, a step forward on the nobility track, coins or cards.
The nobility track is a way to get other bonuses and the player who is furthest on the track at the end of the game gets five points and the second player gets three.
The last main action is ‘build an emporium with help of the King’ (or the Emperor. The political situation over there is a bit unclear). To do so, you must satisfy the council of the King by discarding cards with the same colour as his councillors and then you may move the King pawn to the city of your choosing. You have to pay two coins for every road you travel along and when you reach the city you can place an emporium there. You still have to pay if you are not the first, but you do get all the rewards.
These city bonuses are not the only rewards you might get, because when you have built an emporium in all cities of a region or in all cities of one colour, you get the corresponding bonus tile, plus a King’s rewards tile, the first player gets twenty-five and the fifth three points, if there are any.
Those were the main action. Before or after these actions you may perform a quick action. They are; pay three coins to get an assistant, discard an assistant to replace two permit tiles on the board, discard an assistant to elect a councillor without getting the four coins, discard three assistants to get an additional main action.
The game ends when one player has built all her emporiums. She then gets three extra points for triggering game-end and the other players get one more turn. Then, they add-up all points from their bonus tiles and position on the nobility track. Plus, the player with the most permit tiles gets another three points. The player with the most points wins the game.
Let me start with the bad, or more accurately the ugly, so we can end with the good, because there are a lot of good things about this game.
The bad things I want to cover here are about the graphic design. There are several misprints in this game. There is a missing bonus token area at one of the cities, there’s a picture in the rulebook that’s totally pixelated, the number fourteen on the money track has a colour that the number fifteen should have had and the names of the cities look a bit pixelated too. Plus, I find the arrows next to the councils terribly confusing. They are the same arrows that are used to depict a step forward on the nobility track. A bad design choice.
But that’s it, we continue with the good.
I love the straightforwardness of this game. It’s not an easy game per se, but the rules can be explained in a couple of minutes and you can only do so much in your turn. Plus the different scoring tiles, regions and coloured cities, give you a sense of direction.
The rule-set might be short and the game really takes seventy minutes at most, you do have to make some meaningful decisions.
You cannot build in random cities. You might think that building two emporiums in the two blue cities is an easy thirty points, five points for building in all blue cities and probably twenty-five points from the king, but these cities are far apart, so you have to work harder to get a good network. The other players, probably will take it slower and build a solid network, giving them the same bonuses multiple times with every emporium they build, and, in the end, they can also complete the ‘build in the yellow cities’ task, and get an equally high amount of points from it. The key is to recognize what other players are hoping to achieve and adjust your plans if needed.
The idea of network building in combination with the corresponding creation of your city bonus engine is really well thought of. If you play it right you can make, normally, very costly moves, but because of the bonuses they will not cost you a thing in the end.
Let the board do the work for you, because you will need the money, assistants and card bonuses. You might not have a lot of cards to match four councillors, but you still want to buy a permit right now or otherwise your opponent will, so if you then have enough money you can discard only one matching card, pay ten coins, and get the permit you need. The assistants are also really important. You can get an extra action, which can be used to buy and build during the same turn, for instance, or use them to manipulate the board before you do you perform your main action. Plus, don’t forget that assistants are used to build an emporium in a city with other emporiums. So, make sure that you never are without assistants and money . Planning your routes to get the assistant and money bonuses at the beginning of the game is therefore very important and very fun.
The bad The wonderful
This is a wonderful game. It’s much lighter, much more accessible, than their earlier work, Tzolk’in and the Voyages of Marco Polo, but it’s very enjoyable. It plays equally well with every player count and it doesn’t take very long, which makes it also more family friendly. The colours on the cards and board look very vibrant and the 3-D councils are a gimmick, yes, but they just look nice. It’s just a lovely game where route building, resource management and hand management come together and produce a solid medium level Euro game. Another success for Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini. Bravo!