Architects of The West Kingdom
Play time: Approximately 60 – 120 minutes.
Game Type: City Building, Medieval
Mechanics: Worker Placement, Drafting
Designed by Shem Phillips & S.J. MacDonald.
Art by Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Published by Garphill Games
With Shem Phillips and Garphill Games third title in The West Kingdom series of games – Viscounts of The West Kingdom – having once again had a successful Kickstarter outcome, we thought we would take the opportunity to review one of our favourite worker placement games – Architects of The West Kingdom. Easy to learn and fun to play, it is plain to see why it is such a popular game. Indeed, fans of Garphill games will immediately recognise the artwork styling of Mihajlo Dimitrievski and the gameplay is reminiscent of the Raiders of the North Sea series as both are worker placement games, but that is where the similarities end.
Architects of The West Kingdom is set towards the end of the Carolingian Empire, circa 850A.D. where players take on the role of Royal Architects with the objective of planning and constructing various landmarks and maintaining their noble status to impress their King throughout his newly appointed domain. Players use their turns to place their workers in order to collect the raw materials required, hire apprentices and keep a close eye on the workforce under their command. However, these are treacherous times, and rival architects will stop at nothing to slow your progress. Will you remain virtuous, or be found in the company of thieves and black marketeers?
Throughout the game, players gain points by constructing various buildings and advancing work on the Archbishop’s cathedral using the gathered resources. Players need to make a number of moral decisions but only at game’s end will their virtue be judged. Whilst a few underhanded deals here and there might not seem like much, fall too far and you will be punished. The game ends once a set number of constructions has been achieved and the player with the most Victory Points wins.
In the majority of games with a worker placement mechanic, players take turns placing a single worker in a space on the board that has enough room for only their worker. The space in which you place your piece grants a certain action, and you take it. Once everyone has placed all their workers, everyone collects them back from the board and starts the next round of play. In Architects of the West Kingdom however, while players still take turns placing workers and taking actions, the majority of the spaces\Buildings are large, and can hold as many workers as players want to send there. The more workers present at a space or Building, the more return the player gets out of that action. Areas available for you obtain resources from are:
Forest – Wood
Mine – Clay And\or Gold
Quarry – Stone
Silver Smith – Silver coins
The first time a worker is sent to any of these spaces on the board, a small amount of the specified resource is collected, but each time a worker is placed there after that, the return increases. Speaking of workers, in Architects each player gets a whopping 20 workers each, which allows players to potentially place an almost unlimited number of their available workers in a single location. This would mean that the game board would fill up fast with players’ workers as they take more and more powerful actions…, which is where the Town Centre mechanic comes into to play.
The Town Centre allows the player to gather opponents’ pieces from an area or areas depending on how many workers are committed to the action and number of players of their choosing. So, when your opponent is getting far too many resources mining gold or harvesting wood, etc., and you want to reign them in, you can pay a silver coin to send your worker out to capture their workers and place them on your player mat. Once they are there, the player has a couple of options; you could choose in a future turn to send the collected workers to the Guardhouse. For this action, you would get one silver coin for each of their workers you send there. In order for your opponent\s to get them back, they would then have to spend a turn to visit the Guardhouse with one of their workers and release them. Should you choose to not collect their bounty and send them to the Guardhouse, but instead keep them on your player mat to hinder the moves of your opponent, they could visit the Guardhouse and instead pay a massive 5 coins or take a debt to take their workers back.
We mentioned earlier about virtue. Several other locations on the board; the Workshop, Black Market, and Tax Stand, offer you the opportunity to test your moral compass. Should you take the virtuous path, your virtue increases and is noted on the virtue track on the left of the board. The higher you move up the Virtue track, the more end game victory points you earn. However, good decent virtuous people don’t deal with shady characters, so you will lose the ability to access the Black Market. If you choose the other end of the spectrum and go lower on the virtue track you lose end game VP, but you also start paying less for actions as you start avoiding taxes like the scoundrel you are. You will also lose the ability to help build the cathedral, which is the kind of selfless community-building project in which the most virtuous members of society are allowed to participate in and which can provide significant Victory Points to achieve the End Game goal.
Visit the Workshop and you can hire apprentices to help you build your buildings or gain more building cards. The majority of apprentice cards have an icon at the top left corner that shows what skill that particular apprentice specialises in. Several skills you will see here including Carpentry, tiling, and masonry also appear on many of the building cards. In order to construct a building, not only do you have to get the required resources to build, you also must have apprentices with the corresponding skill icons. These workers all have their special abilities they bring to make your game easier, and if paired well, certain actions will become much easier for you. Apprentices such as the Labourer, and the Woodcutter are honest workers and help you get your job done easier, such as getting you extra wood in the forest, or offering skills that help you build.
Should you choose to hire less reputable people however, they will help you in the game, but tarnish your reputation taking you lower of the virtue track. The simple act of hiring the Swindler or the Pickpocket immediately makes your marker take a step down on the virtue track, while hiring the virtuous Acolyte or Squire has the opposite effect. When a player places a worker at the Workshop, players may hire from the first of four columns of workers, each with 2 cards in it. When more workers are placed, Players then gain access to the other 3 columns, one at a time for each worker. If a player want an apprentice card on an out of reach column sooner than they have workers placed for that, they must pay coins for each column skipped; leaving it on the cards they skipped over. Anyone hiring the apprentices with these coins on them later gets to keep the coins as well as take the card.
The only spaces on the board that are setup more like a traditional worker placement game are the three spaces in the Black market. If a player chooses to send a worker to the Black Market, they will then pay 1, 2, or 3 coins and move down the virtue track for taking part in these illicit dealings. This section of the board can be very profitable by giving you valuable and/or rare resources, workers, or building cards much quicker and easier than you can get them elsewhere in game, but it is up to you to determine whether the reduction in virtue is worth it. Once all three spots here are occupied, everyone in them is shuffled off to jail (The Guardhouse) and penalised depending on how many workers they have there. If you do this too often, you will be riddled with debt and end up having several of your precious VP taken from you at the games end. You can buy back virtue at the King’s Storehouse, but that takes time and resources that can be used elsewhere.
Many of the actions discussed cost money, and wherever money is involved you can be sure that the King wants his share of everything spent in the form of taxes. When there is a silver cost, any red coin icon in that payment method indicates that you must pay that portion of the cost to the Tax Stand space on the board. Players can send a worker to take all of the collected taxes as their own, but to do so players will pay a hefty virtue fee to pay for this. Players should make sure the risk is worth it as a pile of shiny coins can be very tempting as they build up, but this needs to be measured against the loss of virtue and where you are in the game.
Finally, the Guildhall. This is the only location on the game board that your workers remain for the rest of the game once placed. The Guildhall gives you two options; place a worker and build a building card from your hand or help build the cathedral. Both options assist with your total VP score, but remember, only the virtuous can help with the cathedral. Anyone who does is immediately rewarded with precious resources and virtue. This action costs a building card to be discarded and various resources depending on the level of the cathedral. The higher the level built on the cathedral, the more VP that can be earned. Something that Players should note, however, is that there are only so many spots available on each level, and only one on the final level of the cathedrals build. As a result, the fastest acting players will get the most points from this action and can quickly push aside the competition.
Regardless of what action is taken at the Guildhall, the permanently placed worker acts as a countdown timer and once all of the spaces are taken, the game ends, and everyone totals up their points. Building the Cathedral is by far the biggest points grab, and the quicker this happens, the quicker the game is over. Players should do their best to keep track of how many points their opponents have before pushing this too far and do their best to obstruct the other players whilst attempting to achieve the cathedral themselves.
Garphill Games have taken the best bits of their previous hit – Raiders of the North Sea, especially the “Place a worker and retrieve a worker one back” mechanic and have taken a step back and looked at how they could approach this game differently. When you initially get your twenty workers, you think it seems like too many at first and you will never need them all, but if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll run out of workers quickly. Unlike many other worker placement games, the fact that there isn’t an end of round action where all players take their workers back forces you to make recovering your workers a big part of your strategy throughout the game. If opponents see that you are getting a lot done in a certain area and they decide to capture your workers, they probably will not send them to the Guardhouse, but instead hold on to them in order to hinder your progress in the game. Particularly if they have plenty of coins, there is no reason why they should give them all back to you essentially free of charge. Players are best off where possible to use the capture action on themselves to reassign their workers. While this can be slow and certainly not ideal, but must be done if opponents play well to force you into it. A desperate player with no workers at all could end up spending their entire turn recovering just one worker from the board. If this occurs, you have most definitely painted yourself into a corner. We’d recommend trying to not get below three workers in order to almost always allowing yourself to retrieve captured workers.
Architects of the West Kingdom is a beautiful and well thought out game and trying to find anything negative is very hard. Some people may not enjoy the “take that” aspect of the capturing of the workers, so it may not be for all fans of worker placements titles as it can be frustrating at times. (Jamie on the other hand who doesn’t necessarily enjoy worker placement games will spend the whole game and go out of his way to do it to the rest of us 🙂 ) Particularly when you were planning on heading to the Town hall to get your workers back on your next planned turn and one of your opponents beats you to it and captures a heap of your workers.
Component quality is good but the thin player mats found in Architects leave a little to be desired and ideally would be made from thicker card stock. The mats are double-sided however, with one side where everyone has identical starting points and abilities and the flipside where each character starts with different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. This should encourage players to use the various strengths to assist in moulding their strategy and make the game play more interesting and varied.
The apprentice cards are a well thought out method to get what you need done put into action. When used well, these cards can really assist with your strategy and when paired up with your growing number of workers on the board, they can really boost your productivity.
Fans of Raiders of the North Sea will most likely also really like Architects of the West Kingdom, and like us, will look forward to seeing what the addition of Viscounts of The West Kingdom will bring to the series.
If you like Raiders of the North Sea, Architects is a worthy addition with enough interesting differences to keep you coming back for more.
How we rate it.
Quality of Components: 7/10
Simplicity of Game: 7/10
Did we enjoy playing it? 8/10
Final Score: 8 – A Hit!
All images used with permission from Garphill Games