Not quite fit for a king
In a game of generic Eurogame bingo, Crown of Emara easily scores a winning combination. Medieval setting? Tick. A smorgasbord of meeples of various shapes and sizes, and cardboard pieces galore? Tick. A theme so broad that you forget about it minutes into the gameplay? Tick. Various strategic paths to victory that overwhelm with their number but are actually fairly straightforward? Bingo!
While Crown of Emara might not give the best of first impressions, there are some diamonds in its circlet. Even though the game attempts to distract players with the pursuit of ancillary advisers and title cards, its crowning features mechanically and visually are the two boards representing countryside and town environments.
The top-down artwork of both areas is drawn in three dimensions and, once populated with meeples and tokens, they instantly come alive. It is easy to imagine the homeliness of the little villages next to the mines and the busy market street bustling with things to buy and exchange. It's a real shame that the box art of Crown of Emara is so generic and lacklustre when it has such a winning look inside. The boards deliver the entire story and premise of the game without the need for words.
Throughout the game, players will be moving the meeples clockwise around the two boards, picking up resources in the villages and exchanging them for victory points and cards in the town. While both locations are linked through gameplay and depend on one another, they also constantly compete for players’ attention. The village entices by offering players more resources to supplement future actions through a simple engine-building mechanic; the spaces needed to get that engine going are limited, so the players will need to occupy them fast to get decent returns.
There is also an urgency in visiting the town. The price at which resources are exchanged for victory points increases the more people visit different areas in the town – the earlier players get to a market or a cathedral, the more they stand to gain from it.
Deciding whether to move a meeple along the countryside or town track is the main strategic tension of Crown of Emara. There is the opportunity to plan several turns ahead, making every turn the most efficient it can be. The game creates a robust set of restrictions that prevent players from roaming the environments carefree, by restricting their movement and limiting the number of actions they can perform.
The decisions in Crown of Emara are not hard, but the sheer volume of things one can do leaves players a lot to think about. If that wasn’t enough, the game also has two different victory point systems. Whichever track, citizen or house, is the lowest at the end of the game is the one that determines the player’s overall position. While that creates competition for areas around the boards, as various places generate different types of victory points, overall it feels unnecessary. The two-track system mostly just confuses players and doesn’t contribute a satisfying crescendo towards the end of the game.
After six rounds, the game just ends. Except for some residual resources that players can exchange to push their victory point tracks up, there aren’t any other game-twisting elements that make the reveal of the winner more exciting. While there is nothing wrong with the tried and tested ‘most points wins’ conclusion, it’s hard to feel like you have progressed, as very little has changed on the beautiful boards. A satisfying conclusion is missing; the players could feasibly keep going for six more rounds and they would be doing exactly the same things as before.
Crown of Emara is extraordinary and generic at the same time. Some of its most interesting elements are in constant conflict with overused concepts and needlessly convoluted mechanics. It seemingly looks out too much for Eurogame lovers, underplaying its strongest elements in order to play it safe.
In certain respects, it succeeds; Eurogame fans will find plenty to enjoy. However, those looking for something that offers fresher ideas might not be satisfied with countryside vistas and townscapes alone.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Attempting but failing to break away from some of the more overused Eurogame staples, Crown of Emara is as beautiful as it is generic.
Designer: Benjamin Schwer
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
Time: 45-75 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2019 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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