Crown of Emara is a double rondel game with very few rules, but a surprisingly huge decision space.

(click to view transcript)

Hi! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and this is Crown of Emara, a 2-ring circus of a rondel game for 1-4 players. Let me show you how to play!

The benevolent King Thedorius the Wise is retiring … you know how kings retire? Like, that’s a thing that kings do? … and you and your friends are vying for his crown. But you’ll have to prove to the king that you can rally the support of enough citizens – and keep those citizens housed – before he’ll hand over his divine right to rule bestowed upon him by God – because kings do that. They just… pack it in one day. You have two markers on the score board: one to track the number of citizens you rule, and one to track the number of houses you’ve built for them. Your score at the end of the game is the lower of these two totals. So you’ll generally spend the first part of the game trying to catch your citizen marker up to your building marker, and the rest of the game trying to raise them more or less concurrently.

To do that, everyone gets the same deck of cards with various effects on them, and a little player board with three slots in it. There are two locations – the country and the city – and you get a councillor in each location. On your turn, you’ll play one of the three cards in your hand to one of the three slots on your board. The card gets you some kind of benefit, and you also get to move one of your two councillors clockwise around either the country circle… or the city circle…. as many spaces as the slot dictates, and then do stuff on the space where you land.

The countryside has you gathering resources, while the city has you spending those resources to gain citizen and construction points, or buying extra helpers and resources to buy points in bulk, or to curry extra favour with the king. There’s a pull-up-the-ladder effect on most of these city spaces: the first person to pay for an action generally gets the highest benefit, and then the law of diminishing returns applies for everyone who comes after.

You take turns placing your cards and moving your citizens until your board fills up with 3 cards. Then you flip the cards and place three more, and then flip those and play your final three cards. Then everyone scoops up their 9-card deck, shuffles it, and repeats that whole process again. The second time you reach the end of your deck, the game ends, and whoever has the highest score on the lowest-earning of their two markers, wins!

TOWN AND COUNTRY SPACES

These are the 9 cards you have in your deck. When you play one of these cards to a slot on your board, you get the resource depicted: either wood, stone, cloth, grain, or a signet ring. These other cards take a little more explaining, so let’s loop back around to them when we understand the game a bit better.

So you play one of these cards to one of these slots… and then move one of your two councillor pawns clockwise around the circle it’s on, as many spaces as the shoe on the slot depicts. You have to travel that exact number of spaces – no more, no less. When your pawn reaches a new space, you get to do something. All of the countryside spaces work the same – if you reach that spot, you get to take one of the resources associated with that area: stone up here wood here, grain here, and cloth here.

The city spaces let you do different things depending on where you land. In the cathedral, you pay a certain number of resources to gain a book. So if you decided to pay wood, the marker says you need to pay 1 wood for a book. Then, you rotate the marker so that the next person who visits the cathedral and wants to donate wood has to pay 2 wood instead of just 1. If you ever get to a point where the marker has rotated all the way around, or to the space with the player count symbols on it, discard the marker and go with the exchange rate printed on the board. In the cathedral, you also get to grab 3 favour tokens from this stack, keep one, and discard the others. These favour tokens get you extra stuff when you land on the space they depict and you cash them in. So they’re a one-use thing, at your discretion.

If you move to the castle, you pay resources in order to bribe the king for a signet ring, which represents how fondly the king thinks of you. Again, you turn the marker to pull up the ladder, so the next person will have to grovel a little harder. You can additionally, or alternatively, pay a book to gain 5 building points.

If you reach the market, there are two different things you can do: pay 1 of any resource to get a gold coin, or pay a certain number of books to get a certain number of citizen points on this sliding scale. So the more books you spend, the more citizen points you get, on a logarithmic curve.

And finally at the construction site, you can pay 1 stone to get both building points and citizen points in one shot – and as usual, you turn the dial to change the number so the next person to use this action gets less benefit from it. You can also, or alternatively, pay 1-3 loaves of bread to get citizen points according to what’s on the dial. So if the dial said 5, and you paid 3 loaves of bread, you’d get 15 citizen points before rotating the dial. We’ll see how to bake bread shortly. And finally, if you spend wood, you can get 5 building points for 1 wood, or 10 building points for 3 wood. As is the case with all of the city spaces, you can perform any, all, or none of the actions available when your councillor enters that quadrant.

BONUS ACTIONS

In addition to playing a card and moving a citizen, you get to take up to three bonus actions, once each. They are: hire a craftsman, increase your rank, or recruit an advisor. Let’s look at hiring a craftsman first.

You have 4 craftsmen at your disposal to sweeten up the spaces in the countryside. Look at where your countryside councillor is positioned: if you pay the two resources in one of the houses there… you can move a craftsman from your board… to that house. You get an increasing number of citizen points every time you hire a craftsman on successive turns. These houses can each hold one craftsman, so they’re first come, first served.

If your councillor lands on a countryside space with one or more of your craftsmen in a house, you can take that many extra resources. So moving to this space with two of your craftsmen on it means you get one cloth, plus two more – one for each of your craftsmen.

Alternatively, each craftsman lets you bake one of your grain resources into bread. So if you moved your councillor to this space and you had at least a couple of units of grain in your personal supply, you’d take 1 bundle of cloth, and then have the option of taking two more cloth, or baking your grain into one loaf of bread and taking a cloth, or baking two units of grain into two loaves of bread.

If you want to take the bonus action to improve your noble rank, you pay a certain combination of gold and signet rings to take the next available rank card. You have to start here as a baron, and eventually work your way up to the highest rank of duke, in this order. Pay the price, take the card, and put it behind your head on your player board to depict your fancy new crown. You’ll also get some citizen points for improving your rank. And it’s a bit of a race along this board, because after baron, each stack of rank cards has a depreciating number of citizen points on it.

The third bonus action you can take on your turn is to recruit an advisor. There are 2 advisor cards per section in the city, and when you take this bonus action, you’ll be buying a card from the section your councillor is currently on. The price for an advisor card is at the top, and the benefits are at the bottom. Most advisors give you an instant increase in citizen or building points, and then a secondary benefit. This symbol means the benefit is immediate, and once only. This one means you get that benefit once per turn. And this infinity symbol means the benefit is ongoing throughout the rest of the game. When you hire an advisor, replace the card with one of the new advisors waiting in the wings.

ACTIONS ORDER

The Rules Gremlin reminds me that there are a few picky points about the order of the things you can do on your turn. Watch.

There are up to 5 distinct actions you can take: playing a card, using the movement points and doing the thing at the section of country or city where your councillor arrives is one action, using the perk on the card is its own separate action, and then there are the 3 bonus actions you can take – hire a craftsman, recruit an advisor, or improve your rank. You can take these 5 discrete actions in any order you like.

That means that you can, for example, hire a craftsman in the countryside slot you’re on, then play your card and use the movement points to move your councillor and do the thing wherever you arrive, then take the action on the card, then pay to improve your rank.

But doing the thing at a location and moving your councillor are the same action, so what you can’t do is make a donation at the church before moving your city councillor on to another space. And you can’t move to a new countryside space, hire a craftsman, and then take extra resources, because then you would be splitting up the move/do the thing action.

ACTION CARDS

So now that we know how all of the moving pieces work together, let’s look at what those last few action cards can do for you.

This one lets you activate any city space – even one your councillor isn’t on. So you can, for example, play this card, move your councillor and activate a city space, and then activate a second city space without moving, which could be the same city space you just activated. Or, you could do that same sequence in reverse order. Or, you could play this card, move your countryside councillor and take the location perk, and then use the power on the card to activate any of the 4 city spaces. And of course, you could take any or all of the three bonus actions before, after, or between your card and movement actions.

The 1 boot card is similar, in that it allows you to activate two quadrants in one turn. So you play it to a space,v and th en either move a councillor that many spaces and do the thing, and then move either your country or your city councillor one more space and do the thing, or perform those actions in the reverse order: move either councillor one space and do the thing, and then move either councillor as mancy spaces as the slot you chose, and do the thing. And then, once again, take any or all of those three bonus actions before, between, or after those two actions.

This card lets you hire a craftsman or an advisor on this turn at a discount of 1 resource. You have to choose one or the other – you can’t vget two discounts if you hire both a craftsman and an advisor.

And finally, this card lets you pay 1 resource for 1 gold, or any 3 resources for 2 gold.

ENDGAME & SCORING

The final thing to know about the game before you’re ready to play is that each round begins with an event card.

The event card changes the circumstances of the round. It might reward, or punish, certain types of scoring, or it may just give everyone extra resources right off the bat. At the top of the round, you reveal a new event card, and resolve it whenever the card says you’re supposed to. Then everyone takes turns playing a card from their hand, and when everyone’s 3 slots are filled up, you flip those cards, draw 3 new ones, pass the start player horse clockwise, flip up a new event card, and carry on playing. When everyone has had 18 turns – in other words, when everyone has run through their entire 9-card deck twice – the game is over.

Once the game ends, your leftover resources give you some flex points that you can spend moving either your citizen or your building points marker up the track. Each leftover favour tile, book, coin, loaf of bread, or pair of resources gets you one flex point to spend, while each leftover signet ring gets you two flex points to spend as you see fit.

Look at where your lowest marker ended up on the score track, and whoever’s lowest score is highest, wins! If two or more players are tied, whoever’s other marker is highest on the scoring track wins. Still tied? Whoever has the highest noble rank wins. STILL tied? Whoever earned the highest number of citizen points on their highest nobility card wins – in other words, whoever reached that rank first is the winner. If you’re still tied after that, like… i don’t know what to tell you. i’ve got other stuff i’d rather be doing.

SETUP

To set up the game, randomly assemble the country and city locations. The boards are double-sided – one side has rich, saturated artwork, but it can be tough to see the relevant icons. The other side is desaturated with popped-out iconography. The desaturated side might be a better bet for your first game.

Put all of the four resources in their respective countryside quadrants, and stack the bread near the grain.

Put the counter tokens on their respective spots in the castle, cathedral, and construction site. These tokens are double-sided – make sure you use the side with your proper player count on it. In a 2-player game, rotate the stone and cloth counters in the castle to 2. In the Cathedral, rotate the wood and grain markers to 2. And in the construction site for a 2-player game, rotate both markers to the next number in sequence.

Separate the advisors into A and B decks, and shuffle them both. Deal 8 cards from the A deck out to the city – two advisors per quadrant, and then put the rest of the deck back in the box. Pop the B deck face up nearby.

Put the rank board on the table, and sort the ranks into separate decks with the lowest-scoring cards on the bottom, and then on up in ascending order. Place the decks on the board from Baron to Count to Prince to Marquess to Duke.

Everyone gets a player board and the wood pieces and card deck in their colour. Put your 4 craftsmen along here. Split out the reference card from your deck, shuffle the remaining 9 cards, and draw 3 of them for your starting hand. Shuffle and place the event deck nearby.

Randomly pick a starting player. That player’s two councillors start on the two spaces indicated on the event card, and everyone else in clockwise order places their two councillors on the next available space going clockwise around those circles. Everyone gets one starting resource according to wherever their country councillor begins the game. Assemble the score track, and put your citizen marker on zero. Put your building marker on the number indicated by the event card. The rulebook suggests putting your buildings on 35 for your first game, to make it a little easier. Alternatively, you can just start your buildings on the same mutually agreed-upon space.

The rulebook mentions two variants if you know the game inside out:
First, you can randomly mix up the country and city locations during setup.

The other variant has you playing with your full hand of 9 cards. After everyone plays three cards, those cards go back in your hand and you have the full selection of 9 cards again.

SOLO MODE

There are two different ways to play Crown of Emara solo, and in both modes, you compete against a dummy player named Victoria. You can play a one-off game against Victoria and try to beat your personal best high score, or you can play a campaign against her, where you’re trying to beat her from a starting position that gets more and more difficult with each game you play.

To set up for a solo game, choose a colour to represent Victoria and place her on the 0 citizen space. Victoria only scores points for citizens – her building points don’t matter.

Set up the Stone Marker and Bread Marker for a 4-player game like this, and the Donation and Gift markers for a 2-player game like this. Get rid of the Early Winter card from the event deck.

At the end of every round of three played cards except the first, Victoria gets citizen points as if she paid 1 stone and 1 bread at the construction site… and you rotate the markers to reflect that.
Her rank also goes up one level, from Baron in round 2, all the way up to Marquess in round 5. Her rank doesn’t go up at the end of round 6. But of course, she earns whatever Citizen Points she’s due every time her rank goes up.

At the end of the game, Victoria’s score is wherever her citizen points end up, and your score is the lower of your building and citizen scores, as usual.

If you’re playing a one-off game against Victoria, start off with your building points at 40 for an easy game, and anywhere between there and 15 building points to make it harder on yourself.

If you’re playing a campaign against Victoria, start your building marker on 40. If you beat her, play the next game starting on 35 points, and if you beat her again, start the next game at 30 building points, and so on. If you lose, you gain 2 building points from your last starting position. So if you played the 40 point game against her and lost, you start the next game on 42. You have to get more points than Victoria to win – if you tie her, it’s a loss. Keep facing off against Victoria to achieve your campaign high score!

And now, you’re ready to play Crown of Emara!

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[Music – Board Game Boogie by Ryan Henson Creighton]

Get Your Own Copy of Crown of Emara

After playing Crown of Emara, i was honestly surprised that it didn’t get more traction. Here’s a game with a small ruleset and not a lot of randomness, that nevertheless gets your neurons firing as you spin two rondel plates at the same time, all while trying to stay a step ahead of your opponents, lest you come too late and miss out on points.

i think it’s a worthy addition to your collection if you love midweight euros with boring themes! To shop for your own copy, use the Amazon link below. Your price will remain the same, and i’ll receive a small commission to help keep the channel going!

Crown of Emara

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