PLAYlist 51: Crown of Emara | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, September 25th, 2020  

PLAYlist 51: Crown of Emara

Feb 24, 2020 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share

Hoo, boy, we have a brain burner for our readers this time around. Crown of Emara is an intricately-designed Euro, but needs invested players who are willing to keep up with its many, many moving parts.

You and your opponents play as up-and-coming young nobles in the medieval kingdom of Emara. The land has been ruled for a generation by a kind king who cares deeply for his subjects, but the king is getting old. With no heirs, he wishes to appoint a successor he knows will care for his people as much as he did. You’re essentially given the opportunity to audition for the crown, by bringing supporters to your cause through kindly rule and making sure you can keep the lands’ ever-growing population fed and sheltered.

That’s roughly it as far as theming goes, but this isn’t necessarily the type of game that needs a strong theme to succeed. Instead, it’s up to Crown of Emara’s complex design to win over Euro fans.

The game’s two boards are easily what’s going to grab the eyes of many gamers. Crown of Emara essentially plays out over two rondels, each made up of four cardboard triangles that combine together into a “countryside” and a “town” board. On each of these boards, players will place one of their two, tall “councilor” meeples. Much of the game will be spent moving these pieces around the boards in a clockwise direction and taking the numerous actions on the spaces you land on.

The countryside board is all about gathering resources, which include stone, wood, grain, and cloth. You’ll need those items to pull off any of the game’s baseline actions and upgrades – and you can forget going to town without a stockpile of one or more of those base needs. You’re eventually able to place craftsmen on these spaces, which help you gather an extra resource when you land on that spot, or turn grain into bread.

Over on the town board, things get a lot more complicated. These spots all have multiple functions that can be used when you land on them. Many let you trade basic resources for another, more scarce type, such as books or signet rings. Some let you exchange resources for citizens (points) or housing (sorta-points – more on that shortly), or collect special tiles that give you bonuses. One of the most interesting things about these city spots is that they feature several shifting markets. When you turn in basic goods at one of these places, the cost of doing the same thing again increases for the next player. Thus, there’s a big benefit in cashing out your resource-chips before an opponent, as you’ll get a better value for your goods.

We found Crown of Emara’s most interesting design element to be how you move your pieces around these two rondel-like boards. Each player is given a deck of nine cards, each of which allows you to take a specific, tiny action. (For the most part these simpler than the actions on the boards, and entail things like taking a single good, moving an extra space, or converting resources into gold coins.) You’ll shuffle it and draw a hand of three cards. Each player also has a small player board with three windows cut out of it, numbered one through three. On your turn, you’ll play one of the cards from your hand into one of the three slots; whichever you place a card in will determine how many spaces (one, two, or three) you’ll be able to move one of your two meeples. Once all three spots are full, you wipe this board clean of cards and draw three new ones from your deck.

The sheer number of decision Crown of Emara asks players to make on a single turn can be a challenge to wrap your head around. You’ll need to decide which card you’ll play from your hand, and into which spot, and then which board you’ll move on, and in many of those cases which action(s) you’ll take. Because of the way goods are used to purchase the next level goods and/or increase your scoring capability, you not only have to think all of these decisions through, but you’ll need to do it several turns ahead. (Trust me: blocking yourself because of something you did on an earlier turn is very frustrating.) Some players will freeze up when given this much to think about, while others will be smitten with how smoothly all of these layers of strategy flow into one another. Crown of Emara is a feat of design, but it’s certainly not for everybody.

Did I mention there are two scoring tracks that need to be minded, as well as a variety of advisors and events that can shake up a player’s best-laid plans? Considering how much we’ve glossed over in this description of the game, we can’t help but understate just how much is going on in this game.

The best comparison I can draw for Crown of Emara may unfortunately only resonate with American sports fans. Playing the game reminded me of watching American football at a sports bar with NFL Sunday Ticket and a Red Zone subscription. At a given, there’s going to be one game you have full, real-world investment in – you’ll be rooting for your team, with their results trumping all else and occupying the most of your attention. But, you’re there with friends, any maybe they’re invested in another team, playing another game on a different screen. At the same time, you find yourself glancing around the bar, at other televisions, checking the scores on other games, likely because you have some sort of small, fantasy football-type investment in someone on almost every team in the entire league. It’s a lot going on at once. The only time everyone’s attention is focused on the same thing at the same time is when Red Zone cuts to a big-play highlight from around the league, demanding everyone in the bar to tune in to one piece of fleeting, exhilarating action.

That’s a lot like what playing Crown of Emara can feel like at times. Everyone is so fully absorbed in their own game-planning and the mental math that goes along with it, it’s easy to forget there are multiple opponents at the table with you. Yet, what you do may affect your opponents’ plans, whether that’s raising the price of an action or taking an advisor they wanted for themselves. The interaction in this game is mostly indirect, but it’s there.

Crown of Emara may play out in around an hour, yet it’s one of the crunchiest games we’ve covered here on PLAYlist. If you’re the sort of gamer who loves planning out your turns in advance, and then doesn’t mind doing it all over again when opponent knocks a hole in your plans by the time it’s your turn again, Crown of Emara is an interesting challenge. If you want heavy decisions but with less mental bookkeeping and a faster pace, we’d steer you towards something like Imhotep instead.

Crown of Emara is available from Pegasus Spiele for an SRP of $49.99.

This column’s playlist is dedicated to kings of all kinds, from the King of Rock to the King of Carrot Flowers. Have a “king” song we left out? Let us know in the comments!


Previous PLAYlist columns: Mini RailsTribes: Dawn of HumanityGates of DeliriumTerror BelowThe Estates, NobjectsMemoir '44 & New Flight Plan, Bubble TeaUndoGizmosImhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.


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