A Card Game for 2-6 Players Aged 8+ Pubnlished by MAGE COMPANY Designed by Jeremie Kletzkine
The COHORT is the second game in the new Family Range from the Mage Company that I have played. The first game "Carrotia" received a lot of criticism from our gaming groups with nobody wanting to play it again. That's a bit harsh as it wasn't as bad as some of them said, but it was hard to find anything good in it. Unfortunately there is a human trait and thinking which is "guilty by association" and I have seen and heard that adage used often in gaming circles. For example at Spiel Essen in my experience from the late 1990s through to the mid 2000's the majority of boardgamers attending were excited to find the new game from Reiner Knizia. Not because it, whatever "it" was, had been given good previews or reviews but simply because it was designed by Reiner Knizia; in those cases it was "good by association". Using that analogy with The COHORT if players had bought and played CARROTIA (there are revised rules available for this game. We will be playing using them and revising the review if necessary so please check back on the Carrotia review in a week or so) they may well be wary of buying The COHORT simply because it is boxed and presented in the same way, an 8 inch square box 2.5 inches deep, ("guilty or in this case "poor" by association). Now I am not in anyway suggesting that this is a good way to judge whether a game is going to be good or not I am simply mentioning it because I know from experience that this is how a fair number of players think. In the past I myself have been guilty of pre-judging a game by the box art. By pre-judging I mean that because the box art hasn't been visually pleasing to my eye I have put off playing the game while other more attractive (for whatever reason) games have been available to me. In many (most) cases I was pleasantly surprised by the game in the poorly designed box and thus I now try not to let such thoughts burden or affect my wanting to play. The COHORT has great artwork on its box cover (Carrotia's artwork was also good which in a way disproves any theory that the game is good/bad because of the box art).
So let's have a look at what is wrong with the COHORT. The first thing is that the box contains just a deck of cards and the one piece of glossy blue paper folded in half for the entire Rules. This could easily have been published as a dual card deck in a pocketable box. It would have cost a little less to produce, been less expensive retail and would have been easily portable; unfortunately it would also have been unlikely to have been seen on game store shelves whereas an 8" square facing takes up reasonable shelf space and immediately hits the visual sense. The other problem, as such, is the way the Rules pamphlet has been organised. It is a single piece of paper folded along its centre so that it opens in the normal Western fashion. The front is a repeat of the box cover art, but when opened/unfolded confusion sets in because the double-page spread begins with "Additional Rules" (note that there haven't been any rules yet) then "End of Game" followed by "Effects Summary" (of the cards) with a (continued on next pg) at the bottom of the page which is pretty obvious as the "next pg" is the second part of the dual spread and the usual way we would read a leaflet/pamphlet/book etc. so the "continued on next pg" note wasn't needed. Turning to the back page we find the beginning of the Rules, though they are on the right side of this page under the header "Set Up". If this book was designed to confuse, it worked! News recently in from Mage Company is that the box was deliberately designed to be this size because there are new card decks coming through via Kickstarter and that the box is designed to allow you to keep all your COHORT cards together safely once you have collected them all. There has not been any update on why the rules sheet was delivered in such a higgledy-piggledy manner but one hopes that Kickstarter will also be putting this right in the near future as well.
Having decided to play despite the crazy rules setout the cards are all shuffled together and collected face down into a single large face down draw pile and the First Player is determined. You can decide who plays first (there is a minor disadvantage from going first on the first round of play) by whatever means you are happy with though the rules suggest that the player who last saw a peplum movie (a Sword & Sandal film) goes first.
A Player's Turn consists of taking two cards from the deck, looking at them and passing one to another player (any player capable of receiving it). There is then an option to place a card, either the one remaining from the pair just drawn or one from the hand, to play a card face up in front of you. The cards represent Units that combine to form a Cohort. A varying number of Units form a Cohort and three different Cohorts form a Legion, the player who first forms a Legion wins the game. Once played out in front of Players the abilities of the Units are constantly in play and activated on the owning player's turn.
Each Unit has a number on its card; Praetorian, Catapult and Centurion for example all have a "3". This means you need 3 of this Unit type to form a Cohort. Players can have multiple Cohorts started in front of them but they can never have 2 of the same Cohort. Completed Cohorts are put to one side. Each Unit has its own special ability which may be a hazard or a boon depending on your strategy. One card, Primus Pilus, is a Joker and has two abilities, of which only one can be used when the card is put into play. All card text is easily understandable but, just in case, there is a complete glossary of all cards in the Effects Summary.
The Unit's abilities are what make the game enjoyable. They have been cleverly thought through so that they work well together and in opposition. As you only have to collect three Cohorts to form a Legion and three of the Units only require 3 cards to form their Cohort it at first appears that this is the obvious and easiest way to win. However when you think that the players draw 2 cards and give one away, meaning the basic turn only gives them one card to play off, and for example the Praetorian Unit's ability is to prevent you from ever being given cards by the other players, collecting the necessary cards for the Praetorian Cohort isn't as easy as it sounds. The Catapult and the Centurion Units also have abilities that are slightly detrimental to their player.
The artwork is excellent, the game mechanic is simple but effective and the rules are confusing, but only at first. After one clockwise round of play the rules pamphlet is virtually unnecessary - just the occasional glance at the card glossary may be required. Andy Warhol (who would have been proud of the (almost) Pop Art rules pamphlet) once said that everyone would get their 15 minutes of fame, well The COHORT is 15 minutes of fun.