Rating: * * * * *
Type: Card game/strategy/bluffing
# Players: 2-5
Recommended # players: 3+
Play time: 1-2 hours
Summary: Condottiere is a strategic card game. Players fight battles to capture provinces in renaissance Italy. Condottiere is fast-paced, easy to pick up, and plays well. Games don’t usually take too long (provided careful players don’t take forever to contemplate each move – always a risk with games of bluff!), and the game retains interest over multiple plays, and regardless of whether you’ve been dealt a strong hand or a weak one. It is complex enough to be an interesting strategy game but simple and elegant enough to avoid bamboozling new players or requiring constant rules look-up.
Gameplay: In Condottiere, players take turns to play numbered Mercenary cards representing the forces they deploy in battle. The player with the highest total wins each battle; win enough battles and you win the game. So far, so simple. What makes the game fun – and replayable – is the other cards in the deck which interplay with the mercenaries in a variety of ways, transforming a simple slug-fest into a game of bluff and cunning.
Most of the other cards modify mercenary cards in some way. These cards consist of the Drummer, the Bishop, Spring and Winter. They make mercenaries stronger or weaker, remove them from play altogether, or allow you to withdraw them to your hand. The effect of these cards on play can be dramatic, taking a player from clear loser to clear winner in seconds, or allowing a player to withdraw and keep their powder dry for a future battle.
Other cards can have equally dramatic effects. The Surrender card, perhaps the most feared card in the game, ends a battle where it stands, with whoever happens to be in front declared the winner. The Maiden provides a powerful mercenary-like card but which is immune to all the special cards mentioned earlier. The Courtesan allows players to fight to control where the next battle will be fought.
Because of all this, every move in Condottiere is a calculated risk. Cards like the Bishop and the Surrender card can totally change the outcome of a battle, and players will be keen to assess whether their opponents might possess either card. Battles can turn on a dime, and in turn the tide of the war can shift through clever play, enabling even players dealt a weaker hand to potentially win. Equally, cunning players can bluff their way through a battle, keeping their opponents from knowing their true strength right until the end. And even if you think you’re winning the current battle it is always worth trying to convince your opponents to extend themselves so that you can go on to win more.
Components: Condottiere comes with 110 glossy playing-card size cards, with pleasant enough illustrations. The small game board showing the map the players are competing to dominate has the slight drawback that it never seems to want to completely unfold, so it tends not to sit completely flush with the playing surface – a minor irritation. Players’ conquests are marked using small coloured wooden counters. The game rulebook is a small 20-page booklet. Like most of FFG’s game rulebooks, it’s quite pretty but uncharacteristically, it’s reasonably well-structured so you don’t have to hunt around for rules as with some of FFG’s other products.