Condottiere is an abstracted war-type card game where players are attempting to gain control of regions on the board through tactical card play by besting opponents in match-ups. There are two different versions of the game that differ in contents as well as game-play. The first editions of Condottiere were made by Descartes and Eurogames, and the most-recent edition is made by Fantasy Flight. The Fantasy Flight edition adds some cards, changes some rules and goals, and I will discuss and contrast those changes in this review.
The goal of both games is very similar, but the Fantasy Flight edition changed somewhat from the Eurogames edition. In the Eurogames edition, players win when they gain control of 3 adjoining regions; in the 2-3 player game, when they gain control of 4 adjoining regions. If no player reaches the goal, the player who has gained control of the most regions wins. In the Fantasy Flight edition, players also win when they gain control of 3 adjoining regions (4 regions in the 2-3 player game), or gain control of 5 regions total (6 in a 2-3 player game). In both editions, the gameboard is a map of Italy, broken into 17 regions, each with a capital city. Between the two editions, the Eurogames version has a bi-fold board ~ 18″ x 12″; the Fantasy flight version has a tri-fold board ~ 11″ x 9″. The maps and regions are the same, except for artwork differences.
The editions differ on components, as the Fantasy Flight has a different card-deck than the Eurogames version because of changes in the later edition. The Eurogames edition has six sets of colored cylinders which serve as city-control markers, a deck of 96 cards measuring ~ 6″ x 2″, a wooden block depicting the Condottiere mounted on horseback, rule book. Game box is a bookshelf-size box approximately the size of Puerto Rico.
*63 Mercenary cards (15 x 1 strength, and 8 x each of 2,3,4,5,6, and 10 strength)
*15 Scarecrow cards
*6 Drum Cards
*3 Bishop Cards
*3 Surrender Cards
*3 Winter Cards
*3 Heroine Cards
The Fantasy Flight edition has six sets of wooden cubes which serve as city-control markers, a deck of 110 cards, close to standard playing card size, a black pawn for the Condottiere, a white pawn for the Pope, rule book. The Game box is a small box, approximately the size of a VHS cassette tape (Fantasy Flight Silver Line Box).
*58 Mercenary cards (10 x 1 strength, and 8 x each of 2,3,4,5,6, and 10 strength)
*16 Scarecrow cards
*6 Drum Cards
*6 Bishop Cards
*3 Surrender Cards
*3 Winter Cards
*3 Spring Cards
*3 Heroine Cards
*12 Courtesan Cards
The game begins by dealing 10 cards to each player. A start player is chosen (youngest player in both rule sets) to place the Condottiere for the first round.
Every round begins with a player choosing a region and placing the Condottiere marker in it. Play moves around the table and each player has the option of playing a cards from his hand or passing. When a player passes, that player may not play any more cards for the round, but it does not necessitate that the player will lose the round. The round ends when all players have passed. When the round is ended, the player who has played the highest combined value of cards wins the round, and places one of his markers in the region’s city. Afterward, all played army cards are discarded. The round-winning player then receives the Condottiere marker and may select the next region to contest (unless another player has played Courtesan cards in the Fantasy Flight edition, see version differences below).
If no players participate in a battle, or if two or more players tie for the victory in a battle for a city, or if the Eurogames version’s Bishop is played, the contest ends in a draw, and the Condottiere piece is removed from the board and passed to the player to the left of the player who last had control of it.
Players do not draw cards between rounds, but instead play continues until all players’ hands but one are completely depleted of cards. At the end of a round when all hands have been depleted, players receive a new hand of 10 or more cards from the deck (see version differences below). At the end of a round, a player may also discard his entire hand if he has no Mercenary cards in it, which can be used tactically to bring about the end of a round and a re-deal.
The game ends when one player has gained control of 3 adjoining regions (4 in 2-3 player game).
*Mercenaries (both versions) — Basic unit of the game. The strength of the army is the sum of the mercenary cards played, modified by other cards.
*Scarecrow (both versions) — when played, allows a player to return a played mercenary card to his hand. Scarecrows cannot be used on special cards (i.e. all non-Mercenary cards).
*Drum (both versions) — Doubles the strength of all of that player’s Mercenary cards in play. The effects of multiple Drums do not stack, i.e. 2+ drums has the same effect as 1 Drum.
*Surrender (both versions) — Ends the battle immediately, and the player with the current highest army strength takes the region.
*Winter (both versions) — Reduces the strength of all Mercenaries in play to 1. If a player has a Drum in play along with his Mercenaries, his Mercenaries have strength 2. Winter does not affect the Heroine. In the Fantasy Flight version, if Spring is in play when Winter is played, Spring is discarded.
*Heroine (both versions) — A 10 strength army card. Is not a Mercenary card, and therefore is not affected by Winter (or Spring), not doubled by a Drum, cannot be pulled back into the hand with a Scarecrow, and is not discarded by the (Fantasy Flight) Bishop.
*Bishop / Sue For Peace (Eurogames version) — When played, the Bishop immediately ends the round, and there is no victor. The Condottiere marker is passed to the left player of the player who last controlled it.
*Bishop (Fantasy Flight version) — When the Bishop is played, the highest-valued Mercenary card in play is discarded. If there are multiple Mercenary cards that are of the highest value in play, they are all discarded. The player who played the Bishop card may take the Pope marker and place it on any region’s city — that city cannot be contested by the Condottiere so long as the Pope marker remains there.
*Courtesan (Fantasy Flight version) — A 1 strength army card. Is not a Mercenary card, and therefore is not affected by Winter (or Spring), not doubled by a Drum, cannot be pulled back into the hand with a Scarecrow, and is not discarded by the (Fantasy Flight) Bishop. The player who finishes the round with the most Courtesans in play takes control of the Condottiere marker instead of the player who won the round, though the player who won the round still places his marker on the contested city.
*Spring (Fantasy Flight version) — Adds 3 to the strength to the highest-valued Mercenary in play. If multiple Mercenaries are tied for the highest value, all receive the 3-strength bonus. If Winter is in play when Spring is played, Winter is discarded. In the case of a player with a Drum in play, the 3 bonus is added after the doubling effect.
Play Differences Between Editions
By far, the biggest play difference between the editions is the change in the function of the Bishop card. The Eurogames’s Bishop card is a very powerful and useful card. This version allowed a player to counter another player who was working a Heroine-Winter strategy to strongarm a territory, as declaring the round null would remove those cards with no victor. Additionally, the Bishop had great tactical use in a heavily-contested territory, as a player could “string-along” forces and wait to see what big Mercenary cards would come out, and then just nix the whole round. It also functioned well as a bail-out strategy in a head-to-head contest where another player is bringing out high-value Mercenaries, and works as a means to cut losses and cut down the opponent’s troops.
The revised version of the Bishop in the Fantasy Flight game has had all of its power removed, and has a devastating and random effect that tends to foul up the round by removing cards from other players’ play areas. For example, if two players were contesting an area, and player A has two 5-strength Mercenaries and a Drum, and player B has two 6-strength Mercenaries, playing the Bishop would have the effect of knocking out the player who is already losing the battle (20 v. 12). Likewise, if in a tactical move one might play the Bishop to take out a player that is leading the round with a some 6-strength Mercenaries, and another player plays a single 10-strength Mercenary, then the intended target is completely lost, and only the 10-strength will be removed. And finally, the change in the effect of the Bishop seems to slant more power of the game into the favor of the Heroine, which is un-removable, and unaffected by Winter.
The last of the Fantasy Flight Bishop’s abilities is very minor, and almost does not seem worthwhile. The player playing the Bishop may move the Pope token to a region, and while the Pope remains there, the region cannot be contested by the Condottiere. This does have the minor effect of blocking a player from a critical third region, but the effect still seems very under-powered.
The Courtesan has a minor effect on the game, and seems to take away some of the incentive for attempting to win a battle, as the Courtesan snatches away the Condottiere marker. But the heavy mix (12!) of Courtesans seems to just make the Courtesan contests flaccid affairs, as it only takes two players to have played a Courtesan to call that portion of the contest a draw, or turns it into a very small-scale arms race for the power to choose the next contested territory. The Courtesans also add seven more 1-strength cards into the game than were previously present and replace five of the 1-strength mercenaries, but since the Courtesans are special cards they are not doubled by a drum and cannot be pulled back by a scarecrow.
Spring is an interesting addition to the mix, as it allows for a counter to Winter, though the addition to all the highest-numbered Mercenaries in play also seems a fundamental change from the Eurogames’s version. In perspective, in the Eurogames version, a player could only affect his own battle line’s strength himself, except when the Winter card came into play, which affected all players. Both the Spring and the Bishop cards have wider-reaching effects which impact all players’ armies, both good and bad, but also somewhat randomly.
The last item that changed between editions is a minor change in card-draw. In the Eurogames version, when all but one player is out of cards at the end of the round, that player shuffles all 96 cards and all players would receive a new hand of 10 cards, plus two additional cards for every region controlled. In the Fantasy Flight version, the player who is left with cards may select two cards from his hand to keep over into the next deal, all of the other cards are shuffled, and players receive a new hand of 10 cards, plus 1 card for each region controlled.
I enjoy Condottiere as a relatively short, tactical card game. The interesting mix of cards and play decisions make for a compelling and quick game. The bluff tactics of playing large-value cards and then snatching them back with Scarecrows, coupled with other modifiers and the mystery of what cards are in play make for a fun game.
After playing the Fantasy Flight version, I’m not on board with their changes. The re-work of the Bishop card has made the Heroine far too powerful, as a player who has both Winter and a Heroine can only be stopped if someone has Spring, or can get in a pre-emptive strike with a Surrender. With the functionality of the original Bishop, a player could short-cut this strategy by declaring the round void. I think that the Spring card is an interesting addition, as it allows a counter for Winter, but I think that the effect of boosting some troops that might not be yours is a little random — Spring is great to boost your 6-troops, but you lose the effect for yourself if someone plays a 10. I feel that the Courtesan is clunky, as it is only a 1-strength army, which and has replaced 5 of the removed 1-strength Mercenaries, but added an additional seven 1-strength cards into the mix. Also, its non-interaction with Drums, and effects of taking control of the Condottiere marker seem to make it an artificial add-on that conflicts with the focus of the game about winning battles for cities.
My suggestion and recommendation would be to get the Fantasy Flight version (for availability and price), dump the Courtesans (despite that it throws off the 1-strength Mercenary mix), and use 3 of the 6 Bishops and play with them with the Eurogames rules.
The Fantasy Flight edition of Condotteire had a retail price of $25, but has apparently gone out-of-print since I originally wrote this article. The Eurogames version of Condottiere was last produced in the early 2000s.