I have to be honest; when I first saw Crown of Emara, I wasn’t particularly interested. It was recommended by a friend who knows my taste in games, but everything I had seen about the game said “nothing new here,” which left me feeling uninspired.
However, I decided to bite the bullet, and I’m glad I did. There is a lot to like about Crown of Emara - resource management, efficiency planning, with just a tiny bit of getting in the way of other players, and a dual rondel mechanic which makes the action selection/programming just that bit more interesting than it sounds.
One of the reasons I hesitated over Crown of Emara was its presentation. Components are of a good quality, but it doesn’t look striking. I like Dennis Lohausen’s artwork/design, but it does look unfortunately dated. That aside, there are no issues with the iconography in the game, and everything is clear and sufficiently distinct.
Crown of Emara is an action programming game, with two rondels driving the actions. Players each have a deck of nine identical cards, from which they draw three cards at the start of each round. There are six rounds, so each card is used exactly twice.
Cards, which typically provide a resource, or a discount of a resource on a specific action, are played onto the player board. The player board has three spots for cards to be played, corresponding to one, two or three moves on one (player’s choice) of the rondels.
So, on a turn, each player gets to take two actions - the one depicted on the card, and the action of the space that they move to on the rondel. Making sure that the right card accompanies the optimal rondel move each turn - and in fact all three turns of the round - is key to success in Crown of Emara.
Each rondel has a distinct function in the game.
The countryside rondel is a resource collection rondel, where the four base resources - stone, wood, wheat and cloth - can be collected, one from each space. Each of the four spaces of the rondel can be upgraded at a cost, which allows players to either gather additional resources or to convert any wheat they may have into bread. This is the only way to produce bread, although bread has only one function in the game.
The spaces on the town rondel are for either generating advanced resources, or for spending the resources to gather points on the points track. For instance, on the cathedral location, specific resources can be donated in worship, which will provide the player with books and single use bonus tiles. Spending resources (including bread) on the construction site, however, will provide points.
There are a number of floating markers on the city locations, which are rotated when resources are spent. For instance, at the beginning of the game, when a player spends up to three loaves of bread on the construction site, they earn six points for each loaf. Then they rotate the marker, indicating that the next time a player converts bread to points in this way, they only earn five points. In this way, players need to balance the demands of generating several loaves of bread (to maximise the benefit of visiting the construction site) with getting there before anyone else (to get the most points for each loaf).
There are three bonus actions available in Crown of Emara. Two of these are determined by your position on each of the two rondels. The first is to place a craftsman on the countryside rondel. This then acts as the aforementioned upgrade to the action on the countryside rondel. The second possible bonus action is to hire an adviser. These are cards available on each of the locations on the city rondel. They provide either immediate bonuses (typically points) or ongoing benefits - for instance a discount or a bonus when a specific location is actioned.
The third bonus action is to increase your noble rank. This involves spending rings and gold coins (which are earned from specific city locations). Increasing your rank will provide Citizen Points - although the earlier you achieve each new rank the more points you will earn (so it is beneficial to progress through the nobility ranks before the other players).
One of the more unusual mechanics in Crown of Emara is the points scoring. There are two types of points available in the game - Building Points and Citizen Points. Most of the points scored in the game will be citizen points, but it is important to keep a balance between the two types, since it is the lowest scoring marker which determines your final score in the game.
The Building Points marker starts much higher on the score track, but it is easy to neglect Building Points, resulting in a mad rush at the end the address the imbalance.
Final Thoughts on Crown of Emara
Crown of Emara doesn’t do anything new. It has a fairly generic pseudo-medieval setting which, frankly, could be anything. There are no game elements which feel like you haven’t seen them already several times before (indeed, there is an acknowledgement at the end of the rules booklet thanking other publishers for allowing them to use the game piece-shapes).
However, it brings together several game elements in a really robust way, resulting in a game which feels more original than its constituent parts.
The rules are easy to read through and understand. I have played a few games of Crown of Emara and have yet to come across anything which was problematic or difficult to interpret. Most of the depth of the game comes as a result of the agonising decisions to be made at the start of each round - it is, after all, a programming game. But it is a good programming game, and one I would happily recommend.