Tabletop Review – Crimson Company

There’s something so alluring about a small box game. The convenience and compactness that potentially hides something much larger than the sum of its parts. It’s almost a palpable and intense desire of discovering the perfect blend of mechanics and surgically precise components that are elegantly placed into a package I can hold in one hand. When I look at a small game, I open it with the anticipation of being blinded by its genius simplicity. I consider myself a treasure hunter, delving into the deepest of shelves pushing myself to find that buried gem. But, like many would-be adventurers discover, not everything that shines is a diamond. Usually my excitement is met with an equal measure of disappointment. Normally, a small box game is exactly that…a small game with as much depth as the box it came in. But, when you find that diamond in the dozen the feeling is exhilarating. Once you discover that one little game, all you’ll want to do is play it and talk about it wherever you go. Speaking of, have you heard of a little game called Crimson Company

Crimson Company is a card dueling game for two players designed and self-published by Fabian Fischer and Dario Reinhardt, that plays in 15 minutes. In the game, players take on the roles of noblemen determined to rule three forgotten kingdoms. They will recruit merciless warriors, terrifying creatures and fantastical characters to aid them in their quest for power. Yet this seemingly massive conflict is more akin to chess. Instead of fighting in the trenches, you are situated high above the action tactically sending your troops to gain control of the battlefield. You must use your wits and cunning to out-maneuver your opponents and amass the most strength in 2 kingdoms to win the game.

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The three out of the two kingdoms you’ll need to conquer.

The game starts innocuously enough with each player acquiring three and four coins respectively. Every round a player will generally follow the same structure: gain 3 coins, recruit a card, deploy a card and see if they score a row. This pattern is repeated until either player takes dominion of two of the three main areas on the table. Now, I know what you might be thinking: “Well, that all sounds pretty standard. Actually, it kind of reminds me of Omen.” Yes, you’d be right. Omen, another great two player strategic card game, does in essence have everything Crimson Company features and then some. But, what makes Crimson Company so compelling and so addictive is that I get the same high I feel when playing Omen with less rules, less bits, less fiddly and in a quarter of the time. 

What makes Crimson Company different is that instead of having a hand of cards, players usually have no hands at all. Every turn you are forced to make decisions based on the state of the field and what’s in the Offer. The Offer is the games main marketplace and is comprised of four cards. None of these cards have any printed value and it’s up to the players to determine how much they are worth. This is one of the few ways players will be able to acquire cards to play. Every-time a player wishes to purchase a card, they instead put that card out to bid. Now, the opposing player has two options, either they match the bid and take the card themselves at the expense of giving their opponent the sum of both bids or they let the opponent take the card. After acquiring a card a player is required to play everything in their hand on their turn. Once the third card is played on any row on one side, that row scores. Players will always end their actions with no cards in hand. This small and simple deviation from the Omen formula is what skyrockets this game into one of my all-time favorite two-player experiences. The tension is present from the very first turn. There’s a feeling of pull and push that energetically guides players towards a resounding conclusion. You’ll feel like every turn is crucial to achieving victory, and that’s because it is.

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Coins will be changing hands constantly throughout the game.

For everything that the mechanics do right, they wouldn’t be enough to sustain the game. What elevates an interesting bidding and drafting romp into a two-player powerhouse is the deck of 30 totally unique cards. As the title suggests, your company is what decides this battle. All the cards bring an interesting power or a one time effect that can completely change the landscape of the table in a single turn. There’s a range of abilities from: additional income, flipping cards, being able to take previously inaccessible cards from the offer to completely destroying your enemies lane. There’s always something a player can do to turn the tide in their favor. However, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely apparent. Veterans will consistently be able to overcome fledglings lords, because this game celebrates a deep understanding of every card and how they influence the field. I wouldn’t be surprised if some players have already memorized each card and have mathematically figured out the chances of getting what they need to conquer a kingdom. The systems in play here lend themselves to become part of that unconscious pool of knowledge people store in the unexplored corners of their brains, like still being able to recall the first generation’s 151 Pokémon, to be unleashed at a moments notice to once again reap delicious victory over another bloodied soul. Count me in for seconds.

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There’s a lot to consider when choosing a card.

What makes this particular package so alluring is how accessible it is. Sure, a player with more experience will surely come out on top, but the game is so quick and easy to pick up that whoever lost will be aching to go once more. There’s a very real sense of satisfaction when a new player figures out that perfect synergy to take control of a lane/row. The polite thing to do will be to smirk and quietly pass their turn, but I can guarantee that deep down they are shouting from the top of their imaginary lungs singing their own praises. It also doesn’t hurt that you can start a new game in less than 10 seconds flat. Everything here is constantly begging to be played again and again. Oh baby, don’t you worry because I will.

So yes, the gameplay is sound and rewarding, but what about the components and its overall presentation? Everything feels ok. There’s nothing particularly stellar about this production. The art is well done and generally focuses on typical fantasy archetypes. Each card has personality and its graphic design was done intelligently. For example, both players will be able to read a card ability, regardless of their vantage point on the table. However, the theme is secondary here. There’s nothing particularly thematic about acquiring a card and playing it to one side of the table. Through further scrutiny why would an orc or genie be interested in being paid off or even hired for a humans feeble squabble. The bigger question here though is: why would you even focus on a theme in the first place in a small box card dueling game? Moving on, the card quality is standard linen that I would suggest sleeving if this is going into heavy rotation in your home. Spoiler: it will.  Finally the coins are cardboard, nothing that you’ll be writing home about. Sure, the publisher could have added metal coins, thicker card stock and some unnecessary miniatures,but why would they? What’s here is a package that is accessible, fairly priced and wonderfully easy to acquire. It’s feels appropriate for what it is, and in an age of overproduction that is DEEPLY appreciated.

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Small box, small price and bigger-than-box gameplay. Sounds like a steal to me.

If there’s anything I would critique is that particularly devoted gamers might be able to “game” the game after enough plays. Based solely on the fact that a small deck card game will eventually run its course. But, this is merely speculation. I suspect that getting to this point will be after 30 or more games. And in all honesty, that’s the biggest compliment a small filler card game can get. In addition, I would have preferred the rules had more visual examples attached to the description of each mechanic versus all the illustrations being tacked on to the end of the rulebook. Thankfully, the rules are pretty straightforward, this is only a minor inconvenience.

Overall, I highly recommend Crimson Company if you’re searching for a quickfire two-player dueling card game. The tug-of-war affair in this small box is engrossing and definitely feels larger than the sum of its parts. You’ll be groaning and celebrating in equal measure all in the span of 20-30 minutes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some kingdoms to conquer.

Player Count: 

2 Players

Play Time:

15-30 Minutes

Core Mechanics: 

Card Dueling, drafting and lane control

Accessibility: 

Low barrier of entry with high skill ceiling

Artwork/Components: 

Great artwork with standard card quality, everything feels appropriate for the scale of the game

Replay Value: 

High, the game offers excellent strategies that players will need to adapt to on the fly. Keep in mind that experienced players will (obviously) have an advantage

Crimson Company is available now directly from the publisher.
A copy of Crimson Company was provided by the publisher.

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