Council of 4 review

13 November 2018
council-of-4-99036.jpg Council of 4
Don’t get too comfortable, councillor...

Really, a council of four isn’t a great idea: you’re all but guaranteed a split 50-50 vote on any divisive issues. Handily, in Council of 4, you can just kick anyone that doesn’t agree with you out of the club.

Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini (of Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar fame) make a strong first impression with their abstracted take on the corruption and manipulation of an anonymous empire’s controlling committees.

The councils are represented in this revamped edition by four rows of four pastel miniatures, in place of the 2015 original’s primary-colour meeples. The rows operate almost like vending machines: an action allows a player to insert a new member, selected from each of the six ruling families, into one end, which amusingly forces the member at the opposite end out of the group and back to unimportance at the edge of the board.

The correlation between theme and gameplay is about as fleeting as a position on one of the councils, but that doesn’t stop the act of constantly nudging nobles out of their position of power like political Play-Doh being superbly entertaining – especially as you watch your opponents silently fume about seeing their own choice pick relegated from the line-up.

Turnover is so high because you need the right combination of nobles to cash in a matching hand of cards and buy a business permit tile, granting permission to install a merchant in one of the towns on the map under that council’s control and ultimately propelling you towards earning that sweet VP. Imagine Ticket to Ride, but with the colour of each route to your destination changing every few turns as everyone races to make them match their particular cards, and you have an idea of what’s happening here.

You’ll want to place those merchants quickly, too, because Council of 4’s greatest hook is the way in which it makes building a network feel valuable. When a new merchant is placed, it triggers the effect of both its home town and the towns connected to it that host merchants of the same colour – and they spark off merchants connected to them, and so on. Over the course of the game, this leads to crescendos that churn up points, coins and servants in increasingly bigger totals with every placement.

It’s extremely satisfying to watch your web of carefully-linked merchants activate like electricity conducting across a circuit board, knowing that you’ve set up your custom wiring in a way that will suddenly accelerate you ahead of the current leader with a windfall of points.

At the same time, as the interweaving network of merchants grows, each fresh placement leads to a longer time spent calculating exactly what you’ll receive. The game’s solid set of relatively simple actions keep the action rolling on with little downtime otherwise – working out what a board-sweeping combo will bring in is like having to get off the ride for a minute or two before it carries on, and detracts from the otherwise rewarding act of benefitting from a game’s worth of strategic placement.

Council of 4 is easy to recommend and pick up, but it’s not necessarily as relaxed as its approachable gameplay suggests: the cascading effect of a well-built web of merchants and big rewards for limited objectives means that one player can potentially run away with the victory, punishing those who fail to get their network up and running fast enough.

The highs massively outweigh the lows, though; Council of 4 is a game that simply feels good to play, whether you’re kicking nobles from their perches or watching your investments in merchants pay off. Four, it turns out, is a number with magic all of its own.


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Not as easy and simple as it appears, Council of 4 offers huge satisfaction through its pursuit of shifting goals and the immense joy of seeing a well-built network rake in points and coins galore. Don’t be surprised if you suffer for small mistakes during your first few games, though.

Buy your copy here.

Designer: Simone Luciani, Daniele Tascini 

Time: 40-75 minutes

Players: 2-4

Age: 14+

Price: £55

This review originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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