I love Condottiere for two reasons, it is relatively simple to teach and comes in a lovely small box. So it fits into my favorite genre of board games, games you can play in the pub.
You and up to 5 of your friends will be mercenary captains, marauding your way across a tiny map of Italy that cuts off the best part, the toe kicking Sicily out into the Mediterranean. The aim of the game is to control regions via obligatory wooden cubes, many if they are spread out but fewer if you can make a connected kingdom.
Condottiere is fundamentally a game about hand management, carefully husbanding your resources to win only the important fights. While the game is also about map control and bluffing, these aspects are facilitated by your hand of cards. Each round a battle will be fought in a region and the winner will be the player with the most strength in their battle line at the end. Players take it in turns to either add a card to their battle line or pass, but once you pass you may not play further cards. It might seem good to put down one or two strong cards and then retire early, however you might see your lead either broken down or surpassed by other players willing to put in more cards. This means your hammer blows want to be delivered late so you have to decide what cards to sacrifice so you can stay in the round longer. The juggling act is made even harder by the fact that you do not draw cards unless all but one player has no cards, so in a 6 player game you could burn out quick then be unable to fight for quite a while.
The intense brinksmanship is what makes Condottiere not just a game of playing all the cards in your hand. You could throw down some strong mercenaries to intimidate other players into giving up then pull them back to your hand with other cards, or you could drop some tiny dudes until other players feel secure enough to stop then power out some bigger cards unopposed, ultimately all your hard plans can be undone by a player making it winter and reducing your mercenaries all to 1 strength so beware over committing. The map control adds an extra element of strategy, picking fights in areas you don’t need to win but others will expend their cards on so that you will be fresh for the next battle.
Condottiere is a game you should definitely own, it’s super portable and games only last around an hour, leaving you wanting to go again almost immediately. It works just as well as a casual 6 player affair, with deals being made and broken almost in the same instant, as an intense one on one duel. And most importantly it can be enjoyed with a pint.