Gray Eminence: Pulling the string from the shadow [Review]

After totally stealing my love with their Dwarf, Dragon Dawn Productions is ready to repeat their success through the Gray Eminence. Well, I know it’s a tight time-frame, but Gray Eminence’s first expansion, Year of Chaos, is on Kickstarter! This article will indulge the core set first. Hopefully, it can encourage you in this limited time to back them.

There are a lot of visual and written how to play explanation for Gray Eminence out there. Some of them can be found on their website, too. Therefore, I will leave you to do the due diligence. Do keep in mind that this game is inspired by the current geopolitical situation around the globe. And nothing is more appealing than bringing up the great power that pulls the strings beneath the shadow.

The greatest power is not money power, but political power

Walter Annenberg

Gray Eminence (French: “éminence grise”) is a term describing someone who makes the final powerful decision behind the scene. After François Leclerc du Tremblay who inspired the first usage of this term in the Roman Catholic Church, we also have witnessed some other figures who operated behind closed doors.

The female-duo Empress and Empress Dowager Jia and Cixi, for example. By positioning their male relatives as their puppets, they successfully bypassed the law forbidding women to ascend the throne, and reigned in the Jin Empire for 9 years.

A short disclaimer before you read my board game analysis

As an avid euro gamer and hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player, my reviews may reflect a preference for these styles, and I may not cover solo games/variants extensively. Please note that my personal remarks are based on my gaming experiences, and I aim to provide honest insights within the scope of my preferences.


The politic issues brought in Gray Eminence can be adequate to attract players. While playing, we discussed a bit about other recent issues happening around the globe which were not covered by this game. Not only it pushed us to engage in a serious conversation during the gameplay, we think this is the reason Gray Eminence can thrive: its next expansion can always take the latest news on TV and newspapers! Just like their latest expansion on Kickstarter.

It is interesting to know how Timo Multamäki envisioned the real-life situation into the game’s theme. The depictions appearing in this game were rather uncanny, and I was definitely intrigued. Timo is unafraid to bring out real people and real events on the board. We don’t have to think twice to notice Green Greta’s last name is Thunberg, or that Reborn Gyatzo must be that friendly Dalai Lama, no?


The vagueness shrouding around the political events is depicted through the artwork as well. Gray Eminence does not try to prove a point, nor it pushes an agenda to support a political movement. It is there to be an entertaining game with all the ambiguity of the current worldwide occurrences. Albeit my preference for a more vibrant illustration, Lars Munck has conveyed Timo’s core concept that Gray Eminence is a serious political game beautifully.


The nine phases for five or eight rounds may sound terrifying (but what’s so friendly about politic, anyway?) for the first timer. Gray Eminence had a steep learning curve, so taking the five rounds for a tutorial session is necessary. That way, all players can grasp the concept first, making the next game become smoother.

As I mentioned, Gray Eminence can be intimidating at first. First, the heavy reliance on cards and text printed on them means we need to read them thoroughly to understand what’s going on. The second noteworthy thing is the involvement of negotiation in the Event and Trading phases. The latter one is my favourite sport in board games, but you may not like Gray Eminence if you are not a fan of games with high player interactions.

Pulling the strings behind the shadow is easy if you are the sole mastermind. In this game, sadly you sometimes have the shared goals which should be fulfilled to gain things. This aspect makes Gray Eminence like a semi-coop game. We share the strings to pull, but at the end, only one can be the supreme power who orchestrates the whole world. Although the result of negotiation is always binding, backstabbing is inevitable.

That small box to store your resources

The concept to have a treasury to store the resources in Gray Eminence is smart. While keeping secret all the resources you have during the game is important, it can be necessary to show what you have inside this box to other players during the negotiation. Just like in every political situation, whatever you have can be used as leverage. You can intimidate your opponents by showing the enormous assets you have, or you can approach them in another way: convince them to ally with you because you have the meaning to achieve the goal.

Scoring points in Gray Eminence

On the ninth phase, players may score Victory Point by fulfilling the condition. The conditions are stated and visible on their character card (public goal), and the others are kept in secret from the Victory cards. We can only meet each condition once, unless the card states otherwise. This system is another reason why I love Gray Eminence. Managing all your victory conditions while tracking what’s happening on the board is necessary.


Gray Eminence is a serious game with a serious theme. The learning curve is steep, but when you have reached the top, the game becomes easy to understand. There are a lot of text printed on cards, mostly its only flavours, but it contributes to the immersive experience on the game. With high player interaction, small wonder we need at least three players to play it.

Should you buy it? Most definitely. Do you need the expansion? Of course! Who does not want to get up to date with the recent world development while backstabbing fellow Gray Eminence candidates?

For our Indonesian audiences, you can acquire a copy of Gray Eminence’s core from Invaders Board Game Station and Sini Duduk.

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