The monarch in Crown of Emara is not a clichéd puppet king, nor a snivelling coward. He’s an all-round good egg, and has overseen a reign of peace. And he’d like to keep it that way. That’s where you step in: you (and up to three other players) are competing nobles, all vying to take the crown.
But to increase your chances, the king wants to see you take care of his citizens. He wants you to construct houses for the people. And then to fill said houses with keen immigrants who, in turn, will maintain Emara’s status quo. The theme is one of optimism. The mechanisms are ones of optimisation. Crown of Emara features two rondels, which synchronise with clever hand use of management.
Question: What’s A Rondel?
A rondel is a mechanism you'll often see in Euro-style efficiency games. It’s a circle, split into segments. Each segment of a typical rondel provides a different action. Your turn involves moving your pawn a certain number of spaces around the rondel. Usually, you then execute the action which corresponds to the space you've landed on.
Coexisting alongside the theme, there are two scoring categories in Crown of Emara. You’ll aim to score points for Building, as well as points for Citizens. At the end of six rounds, the lower of these two is your final score. So it’s no good chasing only one – you’ll need to have a finger in every pie! You’ll do this by collecting resources in the Countryside rondel. Then you’ll convert them towards constructing Buildings or welcoming Citizens on the Town rondel.
This mid-weight Euro from Pegasus Spiele flew a little under the radar upon its release in 2018. Did the thought of the double-rondel scare some people away? Regardless, fear not, board game fans! I’m here to help you out. Start polishing that throne room: it’s time to learn how to play Crown of Emara…
Set Up The Countryside/Town Rondels
There are eight triangular Locations. Fit the four green ones together like a jigsaw to form ‘the Countryside’. Connect the four urban ones together to form ‘the Town’. Place the wooden resources – grain, wood, stone, and cloth – on their corresponding quadrants on the Countryside. The bread tokens sit alongside the grain.
In the Town rondel, put the signet rings on the castle (the quadrant with the crown icon). Place red Gift Markers above the four different resource symbols here, so the black ‘1’ sits above it. Do the same in the cathedral (the cross symbol quadrant), with the beige Donation Markers. Make sure markers sit the right way up according to your player count. Also in the cathedral area, shuffle and place the Favour Tokens face-down. Put the book tokens next to them too.
The gold coin tokens sit in the market (the red pouch symbol quadrant). Locate the Bread Marker and the Stone Marker for the construction site (the tools symbol). Rotate these markers so the black (highest) number sits next to their matching arrows. The Bread Marker is a hexagon; the Stone Marker’s an octagon.
Separate the Advisor cards into their A and B piles. Shuffle the A Advisor cards and deal out two, face-up, into each Town quadrant. Discard the excess, but keep the B Advisor cards in a face-up stack nearby. Separate the Nobility cards into their ranks: Baron, Count, Prince, Marquess, and Duke. Stack each rank in descending point value and sit them on the Nobility board.
Players Pick Colours And Set Up
Everyone takes a player board that matches their coloured components, which are:
- Four small craftsmeeple
- Two larger Councillors
- A Citizen token and a Building token
- Nine Action cards
Connect the two-part score track. Everybody places their citizen on zero points. If it’s your first time playing Crown of Emara, everyone places their building on 35 points. Not your first Emara rodeo? Shuffle the Event deck and draw one card. See the number above ‘THIS ROUND’? Place your building on that number of points, instead.
Pick a female or male side of your player board. Place your craftmeeples on the top-left corner (covering the 1-4 Citizen point icons). Then give the first player the statue First Player token and have them check the Event card. On it will be a symbol for each rondel: the Countryside and the Town. Have them place their Councillors on these matching quadrants. They start with a Countryside resource according to this starting spot. Players then place their Councillors on the next clockwise spots of each rondel. They too take one matching Countryside resource.
Everyone shuffles their nine Action card deck and draws the top three. Phew, we got there. Now you’re ready to play Crown of Emara!
The Flow Of Emara
A game of Crown of Emara lasts for six rounds. In each round, you’re going to play three Action cards, then draw three more. This means you’re going to run through your own deck twice, playing eighteen cards in total.
First, all players heed the Event card, which is applicable for the round’s duration. The majority of these are positive – free resources, or bonuses given out for this round, only. Then, the first player picks one of their three Action cards to play. You need to consider a few things when doing this, and herein lies the wonderful strategy crunch. Your deck consists of nine unique Action cards. When you play one, you perform that action. But hold that thought…
On your player board, you'll see the numbers 1, 2, and 3. Pick one of these slots to place this card. This number relates to the exact spaces you move one of your Councillors around their rondel. Wherever that Councillor ends their movement, you get to perform the Location action depicted there. Over the course of three turns, then, you’ll play one card into the 1 spot, one in the 2, and one in the 3. As you can already appreciate, clever movement actions set you up for future turns. Smart planning allows you to pull off some awesome combo moves!
You can perform bonus actions at any time during your turn. It’s important to note that there’s no set order you have to perform your (card/movement/bonus) actions, either. Once you’ve finished those actions, the next clockwise player plays a card, and so on. But I’m racing along at break-neck speed. One thing at a time! First, let’s look at Action cards in a bit more detail.
Pick A Card, Any Card
There are nine different Action cards in Crown of Emara. Four of them provide one of the different specific resources: wood, stone, grain, and cloth. Gaining resources is essential for affording actions on the Town rondel – but more about that later.
Talking of the Town, one Action card lets you perform any Town Location action. This is regardless of where your Councillor sits, which grants lots of flexibility! Another Action card bestows an extra +1 movement for your Councillor. Fantastic – it means you get to move your Councillor twice this turn. (One space clockwise and doing the action. Then you’ll move it again, x many spaces, according to whichever 1, 2 or 3 spot you allocated the card. Then you perform the action associated there. Or, you can do this vice versa – remember, there’s no set order you have to trigger these actions.)
Another card lets you convert resources into coins. These help you to afford climbing ranks in nobility. And then there’s a card that gets you a signet ring. Again, rings help with nobility, but I’ll explain that further down too, I promise! The final card offers you a one-resource discount off the price of performing a bonus action.
Countryside Locations: Rake In The Resources
The Countryside is the easier of the two rondels to explain. The primary function here is to gather resources. This triggers when you place your card into either your 1, 2 or 3 slot of your player board. You move your Councillor that many spaces clockwise around the rondel of your choice. (In this example, the Countryside.) You gain one resource depicted on the spot you end on. More than one Councillor can share a space.
The Town is, as you’d expect, the more ‘business’ end of the game. Each Location provides ways to spend your hard-earned resources. This is where you convert them into Building or Citizen points. Again, you activate them by playing a card into a 1, 2, or 3 spot in your player mat, then moving your Town Councillor.
Town Locations: The Fruits Of Your Labour
End up on the cathedral spot and you can donate resources. The quantity required is the number on the beige Donation Marker. Then rotate this marker so the next donation requirement increases. This earns you a book token and three Favour tokens. Pick one of the three Favours you want and discard the other two. You can cash in Favour tokens if, later on, you land on a specific Town Location (declared on the Favour). You’ll earn the stated reward: Citizen or Building points, a book, a signet ring or a coin. This gives you a future incentive to relocate your Councillor there!
The castle works in a similar manner. Treat the king with required resources shown on the corresponding beige Gift Marker. Then rotate it to heighten future gift requirements for that resource. This earns you a signet ring. Also, if you want, you may cash in a book to earn five Building Points.
Over at the construction site, you have three actions available. Pay one stone to earn five Building points, plus Citizen points equal to the Stone Marker’s number. Again, rotate this one notch (this time decreasing the number) after every ‘delivery’. You may also pay 1-3 bread to earn Citizen points, multiplied by the number on the Bread Marker. (This can score you bucket-loads early on!) Rotate it afterwards, like the others. Plus, you may pay one wood to earn five Building points, or three wood to earn ten Building points.
Last of all, at the market, you can trade a resource to earn a coin. Then, you may cash in 1-5 books for ever-escalating Citizen Points. If you’re still keeping up with me, congratulations! I appreciate that you might be wondering: “That’s all well and good, but what am I supposed to do with the coins and rings?” Fear not and read on.
Climbing The Noble Ladder, And Other Bonus Goodies
You may also partake in three different bonus actions on your turn. If you pay the stated cost (rings, coins or both), you can rise in Nobility. Take the lowest-rank Noble card and upon payment, earn the Citizen points shown. These sit stacked in a manner where the earlier you acquire them, the more points they’re worth. So don’t dawdle!
Another bonus action is to hire a craftsman. (You start with four, remember?) Is there a hut vacant in your Councillor’s current Countryside quadrant? (Try saying that five times as fast as you can…) Pay the cost shown to hire a permanent craftsman here. Now, on future turns when your Councillor lands here, you can take one extra resource as a bonus. Or, you can convert one grain into tasty bread. Every craftsman you hire nets you Citizen points. They trigger once you remove them off your player board.
Last of all: during set-up, you placed two Advisor cards out in each Town Location. You can recruit one in the Location where your Town Councillor’s situated. (Replenish it with one from the deck afterwards.) Advisors have cost resources, and they come in different forms. Some yield a one-off reward. Others have traits or bonuses that kick in once per turn. Others again provide permanent benefits.
Feeling Brave? Introducing The ‘Full Selection’ Variant
So, to reiterate: in Crown of Emara, you play one card per turn. You perform the card action, a movement action, and (if you want) bonus actions. Then it’s the next player’s turn to play one card. You’ll continue like this until everyone’s played their three cards. This ends the round. Everybody discards their three cards, and draws another hand of three. Pass the First Player statue token clockwise, and reveal a new Event card for the new round. In round four, you shuffle your discard deck (of nine cards) and draw yourself three, again. After six rounds, the game ends and the king’s successor gets announced!
Now you know all the plates you need to spin to play Crown of Emara! Keen for more flexibility? Try the ‘Full Selection’ variant. This allows players to pick which three cards (from their starting nine) they want to play for the round. (This is rather than the random three-card draw.) This offers optimum strategy, but a word of warning. Too much choice could overwhelm newer (or even experienced) players. ‘Analysis Paralysis’ can kick in with this variant…