I love a good map game, mostly because I just love maps. As a kid, I was fascinated by all kinds of maps, but especially historical maps that showed the expansions of empires, the path of colonization (I was blissfully unaware of the human costs), or the redrawing of boundaries. But map games nearly always fall short of the mark; Navegador, for example, has a beautiful map and solid theme of exploration and trade, but gameplay is slow and the scoring overcomplicated. Risk, the canonical map game, is the boardgame equivalent of smashmouth football—you roll your dice and try to run roughshod over your opponents and hope you don’t get left with Madagascar.
Concordia is the rare map game that features gameplay to match the look and feel of the board. One of the runners-up for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres (connoisseur’s game of the year, won by Istanbul), Concordia places players in Ancient Rome and focuses only on trade and economic growth, with no combat or even direct conflict between players. Designed for two to four players, it’s best with four and too simple with two, bringing relatively simple mechanics and scoring once players get up the steep initial learning curve.
Each player begins in Rome with two colonists, one for land (a human-shaped meeple) and one for sea (a ship meeple), a little bit of money, and six goods—one of each of the five types used in the game plus an extra food token. Players also each begin with a full hand of seven cards in six different types, each of which permits a specific type of action, from moving colonists and building new houses in cities to producing goods in a specific province to using the game’s marketplace for buying and/or selling goods. The good news is that other than the final scoring, that’s the game in a nutshell—you play a card, you take the associated action, and your turn ends, with no complicated actions or difficult reckoning on each turn.
Your choices on each turn are quite numerous, and will be increasingly affected by the choices of other players. Placing the first house in any city costs one or two goods plus 1-5 sesterii (the coins used in the game, one of a few spots where the designers got overly cute); placing the second house there doubles the monetary cost, placing the third triples it, and so on. When a city in which you have a house produces goods, you get one of that city’s specific good type (which changes each game). The board is split up into eleven or twelve provinces on its two sides, each with two or three cities in it, so when producing goods in a specific province, you may also be helping one or more of your competitors.
Each player also has a storehouse with twelve spots in it, holding his/her four remaining colonists until they’re deployed plus the player’s goods—and once all twelve spots are full, the player can’t take any more goods until s/he creates more space by selling or using one. Goods come and go quickly, however, as you’ll need them to build houses (typically a brick and a good of that city’s type, or just one food token for a house in a brick-producing city), new colonists (one food and one tool), to buy and sell in the marketplace, or to buy more cards for your hand.
Those cards are the key to improving your final score, as each card has a god or goddess type listed at the bottom that grants bonuses for certain achievements. Those include earning a point for each province in which you have a house; earning two points for each colonist you have on the board; earning two points for each type of good you can produce with your houses; or earning three to five points for each city you have that produces a specific good type. If you have multiple cards with the same god on it, you earn double or triple or more points. So, for example, if you place thirteen of the fifteen houses you have on the board before the game ends, and you have two of the Jupiter cards that grant one point per each house placed, you’ll get 26 points in the final scoring.
The game ends either when one player has placed his fifteenth house or when the supply of cards available for purchase has been exhausted; the player to thus trigger endgame gets a seven-point bonus as well, after which the round is completed and players tally their scores. The box promises games of about 90 minutes, but for four players two hours is a better estimate. There’s nothing in the game’s concept or mechanics that a nine- or ten-year-old couldn’t handle, but I don’t think my daughter (aged 8) would appreciate the game’s length. I appreciated its elegance—simple mechanics that encourage complex decisions, good design, and attractive components—and would only criticize its length and some of those cute design choices, like including two sesterii tokens or making the province production tokens so small. Someone behind this game shares my love of maps, and I’m glad we have a trade/exploration game that lives up to the board on which it’s played.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.