Mercenaries Gather on the Plains

By Guest, in News

Condottiere box cover This month we’re highlighting Condottiere , one of our Silver Line Games and the FFG Staff Favorite of Evan Hall, Direct Sales Manager at Fantasy Flight Games. Although I have noticed the box sitting on our game library shelves a number of times, I haven’t had an opportunity to play it. Little did I know that within its compact container would be a hidden gem.
Evan had put a call out for players and found a total of six in short order. He had already unboxed the components and was shuffling the deck of cards as we walked up for our short pre-game tutorial. When I first spied the Condottiere board in the center of the table I was shocked and couldn’t understand how six of us could conceivably play in an area that small. The artwork is a beautiful, warmly rendered map of Renaissance Italy with 17 regions and cities on display, but it’s a scant 7 by 10 inches. Little did I know that it’s really a very clever way both to keep track of score, and of offering two alternate win scenarios. Each of us received a set of six colored wooden cubes to mark our conquered territories, and there were two pawn like tokens. “The black Condottiere token is used to show which region is being fought over by the players, and the white Favor of the Pope token will be used after a Bishop card is played. You’ll learn more about that later,” he assured me.
Condottiere board artwork
In a nutshell, Condottiere is a card game played in rounds where each player attempts to build the strongest battle line possible, one card at a time. The basic value of any given battle line, which is the visible collection of cards face up in front of a single player, is the sum total of all Mercenary cards in play. The player with the highest total value will win the round, then place a marker of their color on the newly conquered region and often they’ll declare which region will be fought over in the next round. The winner is the player who first conquers either 5 regions in a 2-3 player game, or 6 regions in a 4-6 player game. Additionally, if your regions are adjacent you can win with fewer conquered regions.
“The game may be super compact but it uses simple mechanics and is very exciting to play. The only thing you’ll need as a new player is a quick overview of the cards in your hand.” Each of us were dealt ten cards and a glance at my hand found a number of Mercenaries, but also a few red bordered cards that had either a 1 or a 10 displayed, one with a Drummer pictured, and finally a single card that looked like a straw-filled suit of armor on a wooden post.
Evan continued, “Within the deck of 110 cards most of what you’ll find are Mercenary cards, which have a picture of a soldier and a value between 1 and 10. Almost half the deck however are Special cards that will allow you to pursue different strategies in each round.”
“Many of these Special cards aren’t played into your battle line, but have an effect on the round. For example, that straw-filled armor is a Scarecrow, in other words an empty suit of armor, which enables the player to return any single Mercenary card from their battle line back into their hand. This is really effective when you’re tempting another player into committing resources to a battle.” I fell for this tactic a number of times, looking aghast as I realized too late that I should’ve held back vital resources for a more important battle later in the game. We talked through a practice round or two in review and were ready for action. After dealing out a fresh hand of cards, the game was on!
Condottiere example cards
It was all over in about forty minutes, and it left me excited for more. I spoke with Evan after we finished to hear more about why he enjoys the game. “For starters, there aren’t all too many games that play just as well with 2 players than they play with 6 players. It’s also perfectly accessible for both new or long-time gamers. It’s a fun, light game that is very exciting, and offers wild swings of fortune each round, especially as players discover how to use the Special cards strategically.
When you start a round, you really have very little idea of how everything will eventually pan out, so you bluff and try to get other players to reveal what their intentions are. Until the round is almost over, you’re really jockeying for position without letting the other players know what you’ve got planned before you’re ready to commit your cards. Sometimes it’s more advantageous to lose the battle, but play Special cards that will allow you to place the Condottiere in an inconvenient position for another player who might be close to winning.”
Condottiere game in progress

I have to agree with Evan. There are many reasons to love Condottiere , not the least of which is that it supports 2 - 6 players and takes all of a few minutes to set up. The game moves at a fast clip, is simple to explain to new players, and really captures the feel of the winds of change on the field of battle. For me, the moment-to-moment shifts were really great, along with the groans and excited yelling that come with a particularly surprising card play. It was an energetic and fantastic lunch break that caused me to pick up my own copy the very next day. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to enjoy it for yourself.

Condottiere is a game of intrigue and battle set in the Renaissance age, where armies of mercenaries fight to conquer and unite the most famous city-states of Italy.