Gray Eminence, a Game of Political Intrigue

Hello Amazing Board Gamers!

Welcome to my review of Gray Eminence, a game of political intrigue for 3-6 players by Dragon Dawn Productions.

I have previously reviewed three other awesome games by Dragon Dawn which you can read here:

Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift, an innovative, dice-less dungeon crawler,

Maeshowe – An Orkney Saga, a solo or 2-player cooperative card game,

Dwarf, a 1-3 player, card-based worker placement game.

A big shout-out and thank-you to Dragon Dawn for sending me Gray Eminence to review and without further ado, let’s get stuck in! is reader-supported – When you purchase through the links in my posts I may earn a small commission at no extra charge to you. Posts are not sponsored. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Gray Eminence

Ages: 12+

No. of players: 3-6

Designer: Ren Multamaki

Artist: Lars Munck

Publisher: Dragon Dawn Productions

Time: 60-90 mins

Best Price: £44.95 – Total Cards – Use Promo-code: BGBren at checkout for your discount!

Gray Eminence is an ingenious game of political maneuvering where the players take on the roles of global influencers attempting to resolve geopolitical events for both the common good and personal gain. There is a great combination of tongue-in-cheek political comment and fun interactive game mechanics which makes it feel topical, current and engaging.

Who is the Gray Eminence?

The term Gray Eminence comes from a french phrase éminence grise used in reference to a person who wields political influence and power from the shadows without holding an official position or having been elected. The original éminence grise was a friar by the name of François Leclerc du Tremblay, also known as Father Joseph who was very influential during the reign of King Louis VIII in the early 17th Century France.

For an indepth account of Father Joseph and his shady back-room dealings, including his running of a spy-network and fomenting war across Europe, look no further than the excellent biography by none other than Audlous Huxley, author of Brave New World. Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics was written in 1941 and explores the life of contradiction that the supposedly devout Christian and mystic, Father John, lived as he exercised his ruthless political agenda wreaking havoc across a war-torn continent.

The Game

So this sets the scene for your game of Gray Eminence. Each of you will take on the role of the head of a Secret Society, working in the shadows, attempting to bend the course of world events to suit your personal agendas.

There is a great selection of characters to choose from. You can play as Green Greta, Queenie, Spaceman Jeff or a host of other caricatures of famous personalities. Each character will have their personal missions which their players will work towards during the game in order to achieve Victory Points.

Set Up

At set-up, players take a Player Board, their Secret Society meeple, a matching Box of Secrets and their character card which determines your starting resources of Money, Power and Influence. As well as your character’s individual Missions, you will receive two randomly assigned Secret Objectives.

Players may also start the game with influence over a certain number of political factions such as the Bilberburg Group, the CIA or Wikileaks. Factions allow the player certain actions during the game and some Missions or Secret Objectives involve gaining control of specific Factions.

The Power Struggle

Play centers around a main board, called the Power Struggle Board, representing the United States and its current relationships with other key international players such as the EU, NATO, and Africa, amongst others. There are five states of relations available: Conflict, Cold War, Neutral, Friendly and Allied.

The Power Struggle Board also holds the Bidding Pool of resources which Gray Eminences contribute to in order to resolve global events. Action cards, Faction cards and Tweet cards can also affect the balance of resources in the Bidding Pool.

Global Events

Each round begins with the drawing of an Event card which sets the global agenda for that round. It may be that the Amazon is burning, a coup is taking place in Latin America or North Korea is flexing its missile capabilities. It is this event which the players must (on the surface at least!) work together to resolve.

The Event card is read out along with the options for resolving it. Events are resolved using a combination of Money, Power and Influence.

For example, the Event Card, ‘Coal Power’, has three possible resolutions:

Clean Up Act: “Establish a national standard for coal pollution levels and pretend to enforce it”. This costs 2 Power and all players except the one in the Public Eye loses 1 Money.

Clean Coal: “Pass legislation for carbon capture technology”. This costs 2 Power, 1 Influence and 1 Money, moves the UN and the EU one step along the Relationship Chart towards Allied and all players lose 1 Money.

Clean Energy: “Fill [the outback] with solar farms and we need never worry about our energy needs again”. This costs 8 Influence and moves the EU +1 on the Relationship Chart. The player in the Public Eye gains 1 Power and 2 Influence and all players gain 1 Influence.

If the players are unable, or unwilling, to resolve an event there are consequences! In this case, all Power and Money in the Bidding Pool are converted into Influence.

The Events are resolved, if possible, using the resources in the Bidding Pool and depending on the individual Missions and Secret Objectives of the players, they will be competing to resolve Events (or not!) in ways which benefit them. This is such a great mechanic in the game as there is a cooperative element as players usually want to resolve Events, but the tension comes in as they attempt to influence the outcomes according to their own agendas.


As soon as the Event is revealed, players bid to see how publicly visible their characters are for that round. Players bid resources in a secret auction and the highest bidder takes the limelight in the ‘Public Eye’. The lowest bidder is working ‘In the Shadows’ and all other players are the Gray Eminences. All bids are placed in the Bidding Pool on the Power Struggle Board and contribute to the resolution of Events.

Each Turn Order position has its separate conditions. Being in the Public Eye brings the allegiance of Factions but causes you to reveal a Secret Objective. Gray Eminences gain a free action later in the round and whoever is In the Shadows is able to blackmail another player into giving up a Faction they control or revealing a Secret Objective.

When bidding, then, players have two incentives. The first is to bid just the right amount to gain their optimal position on the Turn Order and the second is to attempt to influence the type of resources available in the Bidding Pool so they can resolve an Event in a way that benefits themselves.


The next stage involves players ‘Programming’ or preparing the action cards they want to use later in the round. Each player chooses a card to contribute towards the Greater Good and the resolution of the current Event, one card to use for Personal Gain and a third card to discard. Gray Eminences get a free fourth card to play for either the Common Good or Personal Gain whilst the Public Eye and the In the Shadows players must pay one resource to play a fourth card.

Presidential Response

This stage of the game is really fun as Tweet cards are drawn representing the verbal diarrhea of the US president as they respond to the current Event. Each Tweet card will affect the Bidding Pool resources or change US relations with other entities on the Relationship Chart.

What is great about this aspect of the game is that the tweets on the Tweet cards are real tweets sent by Donal Trump whilst he was president! They are both hilarious and cringe worthy!


Following the pontifications of the President, the players play their Action cards in turn order. Each player will be affecting the Common Good and making some Personal Gain.

The Action cards are split into three sections, the top third is flavor text, the middle third is its action if played to the Common Good and the last third is its action if played for personal gain.

At this stage, players may also ‘Exhaust’ their Faction cards in order to enlist their support for the Common Good.


Once all the Common Good cards are played and all resources allocated to, or removed from the Bidding Pool, the resources are compared to the requirements of the Event card. If the Bidding Pool does not have enough resources of the correct types then the Event is Unresolved leading to negative consequences.

If there is more than one possible Resolution, then the players vote for their desired outcome. This is another great mechanic as it involves lots of player interaction and dirty back-stabbing!


The penultimate act of each round is the trading stage where all Action cards, Faction cards, Secret Objectives, Resources, and Victory Points are available to be traded for any deal agreed by the parties. Deals can even involve promises to vote a certain way in the future or load the Bidding Pool with certain resources next round.


After trading, each player may cash in completed Objectives or Mission Summaries for Victory Points and then the whole process starts over with 4 new Action cards dealt to each player and an opportunity to pay the Refresh cost on Faction cards so they are available later on.

The Mechanics

As you can see there are a whole host of mechanics going on in Gray Eminence! You have a unique Common Goal mechanic with the Event cards, a Bidding process which not only determines Turn Order each round but accrues certain benefits to each position on the Turn Order track. There is hand-management, card-deployment, resource management, personal objectives, voting and trading all at play at different times during the game!

There is a lot going on! But the rules are very concise with a really handy Glossary up front so you know all the terms used and the player mats have the sequence of phases laid out really clearly and neatly so all players can follow along the process each round.


The artwork is limited to a few elements as the cards are too small on the whole for much artwork. The caricatures of the Gray Eminences, however, is both stylized and funky and the box art is very evocative of the shady world that you are entering to play the game. The symbols used are very clear which makes it easy to see what effects are taking place or what requirements are needed for each Resolution.

This is a very different style of art from Lars Munck and he is really showing his versatility here as an artist to conjure up a very different style of game to the others that I have reviewed from Dragon Dawn.

Game Play

Gray Eminence is definitely on the more complicated end of the spectrum of games. Once you become familiar with all the different cards, symbols and codes, set up is relatively straight forward as each scenario outlines the combination of cards you need for the game.

There are nine phases per round but the player mats are really helpful in guiding you through each stage. There are however a few aspects that caused confusion during play. There were a small number of typos or errors on the cards which we had to interpret and there were one or two interactions which weren’t clear from the rules.

The first omission from the rules is the Mission Summaries. Each Gray Eminence has three Mission Summaries which are not really mentioned in the rules but we worked out that they can be cashed in for victory points during phase 9 in a similar fashion to Secret Objectives.

There were also a few cards for which the action was ambiguous. For example, the rules state that all Action Cards submitted to the Common Good should be collected and shuffled, but some of the cards affect the player of the card differently to the other players. To overcome this we decided that the Common Good cards be played in Turn Order which is closer to the description on the Player Mats.

One mechanic that I was a bit disappointed by was the bidding for turn order. I was hoping that this would be more interactive, but we found from the second round onward, most people continued to bid zero and the turn order didn’t change. I think it would be good to force the players in the Public Eye and the In the Shadows to move in the event of a bidding round that leads to no changes.

I did really like voting for the Event Resolution, however, as this is a very tactical moment in the game with everyone weighing up the costs and benefits to both themselves and the other players at the table. We also really enjoyed the Tweets from the US President which made us laugh and cringe in equal measure!


Our group had a few suggestions for Dragon Dawn if they ever make a new version of the game or update it. The first being that the Mission Summary statements on the Gray Eminence cards be made more prominent. These are a key tactical feature of the game and it is really useful to be able to see the other players’ Mission Summaries. Currently they are printed quite small on the cards so it is difficult to see what the other players are aiming for.

Likewise, the Event cards have really small text on, we would love to see the symbols for the Resolutions much bigger so everyone can see at a glance the Resolution requirements and consequences. And the final suggestion is to provide more resource tokens. We found we had to substitute pistachio nuts, pretzels and crisps for resources as we ran out!

One last suggestion is increase the contrast on the Gray Eminence cards as black on gray was not super easy for everyone to read – especially with the poor lighting in my kitchen!

The Year of Chaos

Dragon Dawn were generous enough to send me an expansion pack called Year of Chaos with two up-to-date scenarios: COVID and the Year of Chaos. It also comes with over a dozen new events, new Action cards, Faction cards, Tweet cards and two new Gray Eminence characters. They have also issued two replacement Scenario cards from the base game with errors fixed.

The expansion also includes two Mission Summary cards which go some way to fixing the suggestion we had, above, of making each player’s Mission Summaries more visible. I think one of these per player would be fab!

Final Thoughts

I really love Gray Eminence! The game is very well-designed and after you play a couple of rounds, the sequence becomes second nature and the Player Mats are designed to reference this superbly. I love the concept of working in the shadows to influence global events and I think designer Ren Multamaki has brought this to life in a convincing and fun way!

It is definitely a game which benefits from more than one play. The first time you play you will just be getting your head around the Turn Order and the sequence of Phases as well as the more detailed mechanics of the Gray Eminence Mission Summaries and the specific Action and Faction cards. Subsequent plays would allow you to get deeper with your strategy.

There is a lot going on and with all the different scenarios available, you will get a lot of replayability out of the game. I love how the tables can turn quickly and the Bidding Pool can go from being fully stocked in every resource to empty in a matter of moments. It’s fun to see players attempting to influence things for their own ends and being usurped by events outside their control at the last minute!

Gray Eminence is a game that keeps giving and I hope that Ren Multamaki and Dragon Dawn continue to update it with new scenarios. I can see the Ukraine getting its own expansion next; world events never fail to present new material.

I am also thinking some historical events could be the inspiration for some scenarios, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead of Trump’s tweets, the headlines of the New York Times or the BBC World Service could be used. The possibilities are endless!

If you like a political game and are into careful strategising, then Gray Eminence is definitely a game that you should check out!

Buy Gray Eminence here at Total Cards – Use promo code: BGBren at checkout for your discount!

Let me know in the comments below if you like the look of Gray Eminence or if you’ve played it and what you think of it. Also, tell us you favorite political games so we can check them out!

Find my other Dragon Dawn reviews here:

Perdition’s Mouth: Abyssal Rift, an innovative, dice-less dungeon crawler,

Maeshowe – An Orkney Saga, a solo or 2-player cooperative card game,

Dwarf, a 1-3 player, card-based worker placement game.

And as always, thanks for reading!


2 thoughts on “Gray Eminence, a Game of Political Intrigue”

  1. I’ve always liked board games, but the only ones I knew about were the same ones everyone knew about: Monopoly, Scrabble, etc. I found some random ones in some garage sales before a decade ago: Trump Tales, and some Harry Potter game. But GOD, Gray Eminence seems to blow them all out of the water! I wish I knew about it much sooner!

    • Hiya, Thanks for the comment!

      I think a lot of people are in the same boat as you! Many people’s experience of board games is limited to a few well known games which, while they can be fun, are nothing compared to modern games!

      Gaming technology has come a long way in the last couple of decades, take a look around my site and you might find some other games that pique your interest!




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