They say that the best things come in small packages. Personally, I’m always a little wary of games that come in small boxes. I appreciate travel-friendly games, but I also really like games with lots of components. So when I saw that Condottiere game came in a pretty tiny box with just a stack of cards and a handful of pieces, I wasn’t really sure.
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Suggested Age: 12+
Number of Players: 2-6
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Condottiere is an area-control game where players will aim to conquer four connected regions in Italy. One province will be selected for each battle and players will “bid” to occupy it by playing cards with varying strengths and abilities. Whoever comes out of the battle with the strongest army claims the province.
The strength of your army is determined by a numerical value listed on your Mercenary cards. Some cards have unique effects, such as doubling the value of your army or reducing the value of all Mercenaries to one.
While there is certainly a deal of luck involved when it comes to what cards you draw, there’s also a great degree of strategy built into the game. For example, if I see that I’m clearly going to lose a particular battle, I could play a Scarecrow card and immediately put one of my played Mercenary cards back into my hand (and thereby saving it for a future battle). Of course, if my opponent has a Scarecrow, he could also do the same thing.
Playing your high valued Mercenaries early on can scare off your opponents from engaging in the bidding war, but they can also be vulnerable to the Bishop (which, when played, results in the elimination of the highest-strength Mercenaries in play).
The gameplay is super simple. You’re essentially just trying to create an army with a higher value than your opponents. Since the game is turned-based and players can only play one card at a time, you can also think a turn (or several turns) ahead and plan out your strategy.
There’s a good mix of luck and strategy. Sometimes you’ll just be dealt a bum hand and there’s nothing you can do about it. But thought that means you might not be able to win every battle, it doesn’t mean you can’t win the war. I love how you can buff your army with cards like the Drummer and I love how you can really mess with your opponents by playing cards like the Bishop or the Winter cards.
It takes some time to learn how to play the special cards. This game would greatly benefit from having small reference cards to remind each player what each special card does. Though the Mercenary cards are easy to understand, it usually takes a few rounds before you’re familiar with all the different functions of the special cards. In a game where how you play cards is just as important as what you card you play, I feel that reference cards would be a greatly welcomed addition, especially for new players.
To me, Condottiere feels like a glorified version of one of my favorite childhood card games called War. But unlike War, Condotierre isn’t entirely luck-based. I appreciate the strategic element to this game, and I like how the area control aspect of the game influences where the battle takes place each round. This obviously is still a very light strategy game, but I think many people will enjoy it because of its simplicity.