Argent: The Consortium
The time has come for the selection of a new Chancellor at Argent University of Magic, and you are among the likely candidates for the job. Gather your apprentices, ready your spellbook, and build your influence, while secretly discovering and competing over the votes of a limited Consortium of influential board members. (Boardgamegeek)
Area Control / Area Influence
Deck / Pool Building
Variable Player Powers
Designer: Trey Chambers
Artists: Jennifer Easley, Eunice Abigael Tiu
Publisher: Level 99 Games
Category: Fantasy, Political
Price: $60 Late Pledge of Kickstarter (Includes Festival of Masks Expansion)
Argent: The Consortium is a cutthroat worker placement game from designer Trey Chambers. Argent is one of Trey’s first published designs, with more releasing this and next year, including Empyreal: Spells & Steam (Level 99 Games) and Harvest (Tasty Minstrel Games).
Argent was originally funded on Kickstarter in 2015, and just finished a 2017 Kickstarter at the end of August. The 2nd edition of Argent included colored bases for miniatures (to resolve confusion of ownership) and various rules errata from the 1st edition. Two expansions exist for Argent—Summer Break, and ‘Mancers of the University.
Level 99 Games has also published a slew of games, typically themed with anime-style artwork, including: Millennium Blades, NOIR: Deductive Mystery Game, Sellswords, RESISTOR_, EXCEED: Red Horizon, and many more. Level 99 Games has a podcast titled Level Cap Podcast, where listeners can hear about Level 99 Games upcoming releases and interesting recent developments with the company, as well as banter and discussion on games. Level 99 Games is also working on online versions of both BattleCON and Pixel Tactics.
Argent: The Consortium is similar to Harry Potter in terms of theme. Players connive to become the new chancellor of a Hogwarts-like university of magic. Players are quite literally mages, and will cast attack spells and damage each other in this cutthroat world of wizardry and mayhem.
Similar to Millennium Blades, most characters are illustrated to further define their personalities and flesh out characteristics. Some artwork is suggestive, however, with some women being scantily clad and sexualized though this is not the overall case for women in the world of Argent University.
Argent: The Consortium takes players to the faraway world of Indines, a land of chaos, magic, and brilliance. Many titles from Level 99 Games exist in this fantastic world, and each game takes time to not only be from practically an entirely different genre (see: BattleCON or Pixel Tactics) but also breeds countless pages of lore which flesh out the fantasy universe of Indines.
In Argent, the current chancellor of a Hogwarts-esque school has decided to step down. Players choose one of 10-12 prominent mages from the university, and vye for control of the school of magic by swaying the votes of the Consortium. Each Consortium member hides in daylight, and will ultimately decide who will take control. Some voters want an influential mage, while another only wants the second most influential mage. Consortium voters also care about mages who have gained the support and favor of one of the five schools of magic, while others are interested in mages who have many treasures or lots of mana potions.
After drafting mages from various schools of magic, players will send their lackey mage students off to run errands all over the university. Each tile of Argent University contains 2-5 possible actions for mages to take. Actions don’t actually take place until the round has ended and the bell tower has finished chiming, but will give a plethora of resources and cards, including: supporters for actions and department control, gold to purchase items or bribe supporters, research to access spells and proceed along a spell tier track, mana to cast spells, receive marks and learn identities of the Consortium, and much more.
Argent is a huge game and, without question, has become one of the most variable and replayable games to ever grace my table. Many tiles and cards in the game are double-sided, with one face simpler, and the backside a more advanced version of the card or tile. The game contains 15 double-sided university tiles, which are mostly randomly dispersed, 12 characters with different powers, 6 mage types with two types of powers, and a slew of spells, items, consortium voters, and supporters. I’d wager it accurate to say you’ll never play the same game of Argent twice. This level of variability means players can make the game easier for new players, or into a crazy brain burner for those looking for a hefty game night.
Each mage, or worker, placed will not only grant an action if they can hold their space, but has a special ability. Red mages can wound opponent’s mages and take their spot. Green mages are immune to wounding. Purple mages can be placed before taking a regular action, sometimes meaning a player can place three mages in a single turn. Argent provides countless chain reaction opportunities. Engine building is astonishing. Players learn to chain spells together, with some spells causing furious chaos on the board, locking rooms or even sending 5-6 mages to the infirmary in a single bout.
Because university tiles don’t resolve until after all bell tower cards have been taken, the payoff of worker placement is delayed. You might shadow an opponent’s mage (giving you the action immediately after he take his) just because you fear getting blasted by a red mage. You might even purposefully take a lower spot on a tile out of fear of being displaced by an aggressive opponent.
Players will barely have time to take a breath after finishing actions as interstices between rounds are very short. Since they’ve already collected their mages and resolved tiles, players will just flip over a few new cards and suddenly the next round has begun.
Argent not only creates a tense atmosphere because of hurtful actions players take, but also because the game doesn’t have much down time. Each mage placement can have adverse effects for everyone at the table. Luckily the abundance of tiles allow for wiggle room if one gets shut out of the resources he needs. Still though, rivalries between players will form, and I promise you’ll not soon forget when the Xal player chose to burn up your gray mage from the council chambers.
Anyone who knows my taste in games knows I am outspoken in my distaste for games focusing and relying on “take that” mechanics. Most of what I’ve described in Argent indeed puts focus on “take that,” but in the most beautiful twist on “take that” I’ve yet to see until now—Argent gives players a way to revoke the pain of this nasty genre of tabletop gaming.
Here’s some examples: Wounded mages are sent to the infirmary. Upon arriving in the infirmary, the wounded player receives an abundance of gold, or maybe mana. The more wounded mages that make their way to recover, the more resources get doled out. Some spells and powers actually use wounded mages to their advantage. It’s entirely possible to have 2-3 of your mages displaced, only to get the gold from their wounds, then play a spell that lets you move your mages out of the infirmary and back onto the board.
I properly commend designer Trey Chambers because this is masterful handling of mucking over opponents in a board game. Sure, you can hurt people, but you need to spend time thinking about how much it’s actually going to help them out. This needs to be studied because far too many board games make people mess with each other for no reason to no real advantage, only gaining the title of “Jerk” for themselves.
Of course, the massive scope of Argent is one contributor to what allows for this twist on “take that.” With so many mages, available spaces, cards, and ways to victory, Argent can take more chances, and it does so brilliantly.
Another unique design choice employed by Argent is not revealing the path to victory initially. Players must acquire marks to place onto Consortium cards to learn how to focus their gameplay and goals. Only by placing a mark can a player look underneath the Consortium card and see this member’s true identity. Sure, one could just try to acquire lots of gold, mana, and divinity school cards, but if none of those Consortium members are present, this player is destined to lose the game horrifically.
The scope of Argent might be a boon to some, but for others, a permanent deterrent. Argent is a beast to set up. Different player counts require different tiles to be available. There will be lots of shuffling and lots of giving out starting resources. Players need to draft mages and need to be within arm’s reach of tokens and goodies. With so much on the table, the game is unforgivingly overwhelming. Players are guaranteed 2-3 games to get a good enough grasp on how to play their turns and formulate strategies. Because the Consortium is changing from game to game, it’s never any good to stockpile resources, but instead, to wisely distribute actions to have just one or two more resources or cards than the runner up player. In fact, influence points break ties, so this is at least one area of focus players must prepare for during each game.
The world of Argent University is uniquely illustrated with seemingly hundreds of illustrations and many new faces to meet. Each school of magic has many supporters that deviate clearly in their characteristics of their school. Many items lie dormant in the vault to be dug up and glamorized. University tiles differentiate from each other. Each player character has a cool backstory on their motivations to become chancellor over Argent University. Players can choose a man or woman as their characters, so Argent plays well with giving choices.
Overall, Argent: The Consortium is a heavy, heavy game that rewards multiple plays, and I do mean a dozen plus. The disadvantage for myself is how little time I get to spend revisiting old games because of being a board game reviewer. Argent makes clear its intentions: play me five times, then flip over my tiles and try new powers, and you’ll find you can play me another 25 times or more before you get bored.
This is the excellence of Argent—it will become increasingly interesting and unmistakably awesome the more you play it. There is far too much in the box to not overstate the point here. If you want a long, complex game, with varying goals and tons of interaction between players, look no further.
One final note: Argent has just wrapped its second edition Kickstarter. I do have issues with remembering which mages belong to who, but the new edition features colored bases for miniatures, which makes differentiating them so much easier. I’ve chosen to neglect this in my review because I know the new edition fixes my gripe.
A review copy of Argent: The Consortium was provided by Level 99 Games.
+ Reveals how beautifully dynamic and complex it is by rewarding multiple plays
+ Countless hours of replayability with each game guaranteed to be different from the last
+ Amazing artwork, presentation, and high quality components
+ Puts an ingenious twist on "take that" by making it palatable and sometimes good to be hurt
+ Highly thematic, with mages and characters playing into their thematic dispositions
- Games are long, sometimes 2.5-3 hours plus
- Steep learning curve
- Needs a big table because of so many components
- Some silly sexualization of a few characters