I am a big fan of Condottiere, for me it sits in a magical sweet spot. It’s quick and portable, while still being a cutthroat strategy game, which makes it perfect for me to play with friends if we’re out and about.
In Condottiere, designed by Dominique Ehrhard and Duccio Vitale, up to six of you will be mercenary captains in renaissance Italy, on an adorable little map of the country that sadly misses the best part, the toe booting Sicily out to sea. By proving yourself the beefiest bunch around you’ll win the contract to defend a particular city via classic board game wooden cubes. Do that in a certain number of cities, fewer if they are connected, and you’ll be victorious.
In order to win a province you need to be the player with the highest strength in the battle, and you’ll get this done by playing cards from your hand. Generic mercenary cards will have a number on them and provide that much strength, others can give boosts and modifiers and some will do both.
Each player plays cards in turn until they pass with a battle stopping when all players have passed. Once you pass you can’t come back in, so if you pop down a big fat 10 strength guy you might intimidate your opponents into passing, however if they stay in the round you’ll have to keep expending resources you want for later to stay in. Alternatively, you can pass if you feel confident, but your opponents will know the strength they need to match. In addition, any battleline is vulnerable to a sudden cold snap via a winter card, reducing the strength of all mercenaries to one.
This means battles are always on a knife edge, pulling ahead early is nice, but means you need to tread water until your opponents give up. Similarly if your behind, you can play out your worse cards to bleed out your opponents so they stay in the game, before finally bowing out anyway to win other battles later.
Condottiere strings together a series of these battles into a game of territory control, and this wider concern will affect your tactics in battle. Firstly it’s important to know that the higher level of Condottiere is about resource management. Players don’t draw up until all but one player runs out of cards. This is especially relevant in larger player counts as some players might be completely tapped out for several rounds and unable to contest territory.
Since you can’t really win every fight that happens the next thing to consider is where to fight, territories connected to one’s you already own are much more important so that will direct where you spend most of your cards.
Control of where battles take place is driven by two tokens, the black condottiere token chooses where the next battle will be, and control is gained by playing courtesan cards, which otherwise have little effect in battle. The other important token is captain no fun, the pope, sitting in a territory with his silly pope hat and preventing people from fighting in it. The pope works through his fun police, the bishop cards, when the bishop arrives he tells all copies of the highest strength mercenary to go home, and moves the pope token and his no fighting policy to a new region.
This combination of building strength in battle while managing your resources for future turns is very reminiscent of the card game Gwent. While Gwent is a fully fleshed out collectable card game and is more than 20 years younger so does have more going on, the same bones are definitely there and Condottiere does capture the same feeling of ebb and flow as players fight hard in some rounds and concede others.
Art and Components
The cards in Condottiere feature a variety of good quality renaissance people, and while the art isn’t particularly stylised and the colours are quite muted they all come together for a good cohesive appearance. Along with the cards is the very nice map and some rather generic coloured wooden cubes. All together, Condottiere creates a serviceable visual style that works as a whole.
Final Thoughts on Condottiere
Condottiere manages to be different in the small game space. Usually you can expect something light and slightly silly from a game this compact, but Condottiere delivers a rich tactical experience in very few components and rules while still being quick to pick up and play. And while it is getting on a bit, Condottiere deserves to be part of your collection.