Benjami Schwer's CROWN of EMARA is a 1-4 player game for players aged 12+ though I presume to assume that not many 12 year olds would put their phones or Tablets down long enough to play a boardgame against themselves, that's more for an older gamer (like me) or someone who wishes to familiarise themselves with the game mechanics and rules prior to playing with friends (like me). The artwork by Dennis Lohausen (known for a good number of other games) is perfect for the game, creating the look and atmosphere required of a medieval Township.
When we started playing we took little notice of the game's components, Brown shaped Logs were wood, Sheaf shaped pieces were Grain, etc etc. It wasn't until the back page (Rulesbook) credits did we read (and then the penny dropped) that these are indeed the same pieces from the same moulds as found in games by Hans im Glück, Lookout Games and Hall Games - these prestigious companies had allowed their pieces to be used. One can only think that this was to help Pegasus Spiele keep the production costs down and allow a great game onto store shelves at a price players would appreciate. As a game designer I often use pieces from old games to create my prototypes, as indeed do many other designers, but then the publishing company generally has the cost of creating specific pieces for the finished copy. Companies sharing components or allowing other companies access to them saves on production and thus makes so much sense, and in the end it is the game players who benefit the most. Let us hope we see more of this friendliness amongst publishers.
The two boards are each made of 4 diamond shapes, all 8 pieces being double side printed. When slid together so that the 'pointy' ends meet each 4 pieces make a City board and a Countryside board that are placed next to, but not touching, each other, placing the Nobility Board and the Scoring Track Board within easy viewing of all players - anyone, on request, can move the markers on the Score Track (they're not heavy!). The flip-sides of the City/Country boards are of a much lighter and less complex (I call a board like the main side 'busy') colour and detail. Using these takes away the beauty of the visual aspect but easily clarifies the specific action spaces. There is a rarity in the rules book which is, apart from small changes during setup, the rules remain the same no matter how many players are involved and that includes solo play.
Players each have two large human-shaped Craftsmeeples and 4 smaller ones in their chosen colour. One of the Large ones is positioned on the City board and the other Large one in the Countryside - the section of the board they end their movement in (during their owner's turn) is part of what determines that player's actions. The City is a bustling mini-metropolis with one specific main building/place in each of its sections; Castle, Cathedral, Construction Site and Market Place. Likewise the Countryside's four sections are locations for gathering specific resources; Cloth, Grain, Stone and Wood. On each section there are three craftsmen huts and by visiting these huts and paying the Craftsman's cost in Resources you can move one of the smaller Craftsmeeples from your personal stock and place it on the hut, for this you also receive the Citizen points associated with that meeple; starting with 1 point for the first up to 4 for the 4th - these points are marked on the long score track.
Building points are also scored on this track but with the Building marker beginning at a different starting point from the Citizen point marker - this Track can be used to adjust the difficulty of winning as well as part of your final score; the closer to each other the Citizen and Builder markers are the better you score. Having workers in the countryside huts is a means to gaining the resource associated with that board section, plus you get to select one of two bonus actions available there.
The player boards all have the same information on them, on both sides, only the character portraits are different. We assumed that one side were female and the other male, for no other reason than male players and female players often like to control characters of their own gender, even in a game where it is of no consequence, though to be honest the artwork, good as it is, doesn't actually make either gender perfectly clear.
Player boards have slots, 1, 2 & 3, into which Action cards are played. The numbers of these slots determine the number of steps you can Move one of your Large pieces in City or Countryside, the card determines the Card Action and then you may perform the Bonus Actions (detailed in the rules) if you can pay to do so. Games last just 6 Rounds of three turns per Round with each Round beginning with the flipping and activating of an Event card and then all players playing one card and performing all associated Actions including optional bonus actions, and then the next player takes their turn and so on until all players have each played and activated three cards.
With all the player's pieces on the boards it is easy to understand why the designers decided to create a less busy board layout on the flip sides. Aesthetically it is much nicer to view the colourfully detailed side but for playable practicality the lighter side is an easier way to learn the basics and to teach the game should you have players unused to games where so much goes on.
Exactly which of the board game genres to place CROWN of EMARA into is a matter of personal/player choice. There are aspects of Building, Worker Placement, Resource Management, Worker Recruitment and Decision Making, the latter mainly being the actions and bonus actions the players take in their Turns, but not enough of one element to be specifically definitive; even the couple of variants on the back page do not provide exacting proof as to allow a genre to be so decided.
I have already mentioned the components and seeing as many of them come from games such as Marco Polo and Caverna their quality cannot be questioned. Likewise the cards, counters, tokens and in fact all pieces cardboard (of sorts) and/or wooden, are of a durability required for the amount of playability this game offers and promises. I have played several times and never have a problem getting players - as soon as this game is brought to the table the places fill immediately.
Online I have found it available on sale for between £30.00 - €50.00 which is more than a fair price for the quality of the game and the quantity of the pieces. I haven't played it as a solo game, but then I am not particularly keen on solo board games (for me solo games are on a game console or home computer) and each time when gamers are around for a session they are pleased to be able to entertain themselves with the CROWN of EMARA. The split-board isn't an actual innovation but it does add to the visual complexity and entertainment value.