Review – Architects of the West Kingdom

History is my bag.

I was “hist” online for a long time before I realized that I would never be found by search engines with that title. Hence, “whovian223” was born (ok, not much better, but at least it’s findable!)

Western European history is even more my area of interest, so how could I turn down a chance to own Architects of the West Kingdom which takes place in France in 850 AD?

pic3781944

It helps that it’s designed by the brilliant (if I do say so myself) Shem Philips and S J MacDonald, with art by the incomparable The Mico. It’s published by Garphill Games and Renegade Game Studios, it came out in 2018 for 1-5 players.

It also hit #4 on my top games played of all time list. Pretty good for a 2018 game, eh?

What is the point? (Editor – what are you, a philosophy major?)

I mean what are you trying to do?

In Architects of the West Kingdom, you are…well, architects (I want a game where the architects are actually the enemy that you’re fighting) who are trying to impress the king of the Carolingean Empire by building awesome buildings as well as contributing to the construction of the Cathedral in the city. You are competing for raw materials, constructing your buildings, and maybe getting in the way of your opposing architects by turning their workers into the cops!

You can lead the virtuous path or you can be a scumbag and deal a lot with the black market to get your stuff and apprentices (or even rob the tax stand!)

How does it work?

Let’s take a look.

The board shows you the kingdom where you’re working: the cathedral, all of the resource spots, basically everything that you can do.

(This description is mostly being taken from my New to Me: November 2018 post, because it’s more efficient (Editor – And Dave’s lazy))

architects-board

Each player starts with a character card. You can either play the basic game or you can play with variable player powers.

Lothaire
Love that moustache!

It has a rather unique worker placement mechanism that I really like.

Each player starts with 20 workers. On your turn, you will play one of them somewhere (shocking, I know!).

Architects - closer Board
What a beautiful town…

The resource spaces will give you some of that resource, the number determined by how many workers you have there. So the first time, you will get one of that resource (or two, if it’s the clay mines or the Silversmith which give you one plus the number of workers you have there). The second time, you will get two of that resource (or three for the Silversmith and clay mines).

Other spaces allow you to take an action, and the number of actions you can take there is determined by how many workers you have already placed there.

One of the main mechanisms in the game, and a good way to get money (along with preventing somebody from getting tons of a resource), is to capture other players’ workers at the Town Center. You place them on the top left corner of your character sheet in that box.

The Guardhouse
Morgan Freeman not included…

You can then go to the Guardhouse and turn them in for silver. What a deal! You’re cleaning up the town *and* making money.

If you need to return your workers from the Guardhouse, you can do that too by placing a worker there (he’s the guy who has the bribe for the guards…or who has the letter from the King stating that they really did nothing wrong).

Another important aspect of the game is hiring Apprentices.

Architects - Apprentices
I wouldn’t want to cross the Enforcer there…

Each apprentice will give you a benefit in one of the areas, either in resource production, another action at the King’s Storehouse, or perhaps giving you a gold when you sell your prisoners to the Guardhouse (sorry, turn them in for the reward).

In addition, each one has one or more of three symbols in the top left corner of the card. This becomes important when you’re constructing the buildings in your hand (more on that in a moment)

Architects - Guildhall
That’s a lot of chalk outlines. How many people die here?

The main source of points in Architects of the West Kingdom is your building cards and building in the cathedral. No matter which you want to do, you have to place one of your workers in the Guildhall. The worker you place there will never come back (I guess the parties are just that good in the Guildhall…who would ever want to leave?)

Building part of the cathedral requires the discarding of a building card and the resource matching the level you’re moving to. So moving to the first level will cost a gold and a card. The number in the yellow flag is the number of victory points you’ll receive at the end of the game, depending on what level your marker is at.

The other option in the Guildhall is building one of your buildings.

Architects - Buildings
Four buildings! It’s almost a city!

The resources required to build them are on the left side of the card. What’s the symbol on the top left of the Monument? Those are the symbols that are on the top left of the Apprentice cards. You have to have an apprentice with each symbol or you can’t build the building.

I don’t want this to go on too long (Editor – Too late!), but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Black Market and the Virtue track.

Architects - Black Market
Even the artwork looks shady…

The Black Market is the shady part of the city where you can get resources or hire new apprentices for cheap. However, no virtuous soul would ever be seen going there, so taking a spot there results in a loss of virtue.

For one silver and a loss of virtue, you can get the resources on the left. For two silver and virtue loss, you can hire any apprentice or get a new building blueprint (draw five building cards and keep one). For three silver and a virtue loss, you can get the resources on the right (a lot more!).

Once all three spaces are full (only a single worker can go in each space), the market resets. All three workers go to the prison and new resources are available, as well as potential virtue loss and accumulation of debt. Also, any apprentices with Black Market reset actions take effect too.

Architects - Virtue track
If you get too virtuous, you can’t go to the Black Market. And why would you want to? You’re a saint!

Virtue is an interesting part of the game. If you are extremely virtuous, then you can’t go to the Black Market but you will get a decent amount of victory points at the end of the game.

If you go shady and lose virtue, then eventually you can’t build into the Cathedral and if you’re still there at the end of the game, you will lose points.

On the other hand, while you live the shady life, you end up not having to pay some of the taxes! Any time a silver cost for an action is shown in red rather than grey, that cost is a tax that will go to the Tax Stand rather than to the bank (you can also lose virtue by going to the Tax Stand and stealing all the money! Which can be quite lucrative).

If you’re not virtuous, you’re certainly not going to pay taxes. So you may get a one or two silver discount by not having to pay the tax cost of an action.

There is a lot more, but them’s the basics. (Editor – your mastery of slang is very impressive).

The game end is triggered when the Guildhall is full. Once somebody places the last worker there, everybody (including the player who triggered it) gets one more action. Even though the Guildhall is full, your action can be to build something or in the Cathedral.

Total up your victory points and whoever has the most wins!

(Whew!!! All that copying and pasting was quite taxing. I’ll be back after I take a nap)

Is Architects of the West Kingdom a masterpiece from Frank Lloyd Wright or is it something built by Bob the Wannabee who lives next door to you?

Gee, if being #4 on my top-played list wasn’t an indication, Architects of the West Kingdom is a phenomenal game. I really love Raiders of the North Sea but this one is just so much better.

The worker placement mechanic is once again a unique (or at least extremely rare) one, this time with 20 workers and the whole prison thing.

Let’s go in order, though.

The rulebook is fairly well-done, well-laid out with everything in proper order. It details the locations, the specific rules for how to capture workers and turn them in for money, and it progresses well from your actions to the endgame and then scoring.

It’s fairly easy to look up something if you’re not sure. You won’t be hunting around, and there is a nice progression from beginning to the end of the game.

There’s also a supplement that explains the apprentices and buildings, and this is where my first minor niggle is.

The apprentices are fine because each one is named and it’s just some of their abilities that are different (one swindler will give you clay, one will give you wood, etc)

It’s the buildings where the problem lies a bit, though once you look closer and get a feel for it, it’s easier to find where the buildings are (though by that time you might not need the reference!)

Architects reference

It sorts the buildings by type rather than name. That’s great as long as you realize exactly what the symbology on the cards mean.

But if you’re not sure (that’s why you’re looking it up in the first place), then you may have trouble finding the building you’re looking for.

The symbology in the game makes a lot of sense once you know it, but it does take a while to get used to and questions are always popping up. “What does this card do again?”

Once you have it down, though, it’s a breeze to get through and you know at a glance what everything does. It moves smooth as silk after that.

The components are really nice, chunky wood for the most part. Metal coins are available for purchase but the coins that come with the game are cardboard and are of decent quality.

The cards are nice as well. I’ve played my copy of the game twice but no signs of wear on them. I haven’t even sleeved them.

The Tax Stand that came with the Kickstarter is pretty sturdy, which is also cool.

One other miss, I think, is the lack of scoresheets (or at least *a* scoresheet that you can photocopy).

All points are totaled at the end of the game, so having a score sheet (or a scoring app, hint hint) is a necessity.

There is one available on somewhere (maybe the Kickstarter page?) and there’s a pretty good one on BGG, but still. One in the box would have been nice!

Architects - character & cards
Ada is so virtuous, and she apparently likes clay!

I know it’s redundant when talking about a game with the Mico as the artist, but the artwork is wonderful. The characters are very stylized, so if you don’t like that style, that will of course be a problem. I, however, love it.

Architects - End board
Blue didn’t build much, I see…

The board is amazing! Everything clearly laid out and obvious, the artwork for the buildings (on the board and also the cards) is so good. You have the Town Centre (both the building as well as the square in the middle) as well as the environs around the town. I love how the Guardhouse is along the river and behind the woods outside of town.

There’s a place for everything and everything in its place.

How’s the gameplay, you ask?

Philips and Macdonald give us yet another interesting take on worker placement.

Sure, other games have had “the more workers you apply to an action, the better it is,” but none in my experience (ok, kind of limited, but still…) have had the slow buildup of power like Architects does.

You put one worker in a spot and can get one resource (or maybe two), or maybe you can do an action there once. You put another one so you have two? You get more resources, or can do more actions. And it keeps building until somebody says “Wait a minute!” and arrests all of them.

This “take that” mechanism doesn’t feel like an attack, really, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a way to get money. It’s hard to resist all that filthy lucre you get by turning them in to the local constabulary.

Second, you’re doing it because somebody’s getting too powerful in that spot. If you don’t do something, they’ll be getting three gold next time they place there!

You’re not doing it because you don’t like that Joe turned you down for a date, so let’s get him.

I love this aspect of worker placement.

You start with 20 workers, so it will be a long time before you’re forced to retake your own workers since nobody’s capturing yours.

Architects - Buildings and Apprentices

The building mechanic is also quite interesting, forcing you to make some decisions.

When you build, you lose that worker, so you’ll get down to 19, then 18, etc the more you build.

Do you go for a large building strategy? A high-virtue, Cathedral building one? Maybe take advantage of the Black Market and get lots of marble and gold (each one is worth a point at the end of the game)?

The various strategies all seem fairly equal if pulled off by players with equal skill. Your play can also be determined by what apprentices you manage to get.

If you like to use the Black Market, why not get an apprentice who helps with the Black Market, and then another one who frees two of your guys from the Guard House every time the Black Market resets?

The options are legion!

The game never outstays its welcome. It took almost 2 hours when we were first learning the game, but it’s really a 60-90 minute game (maybe a touch over 90 minutes) once you know what you’re doing.

It’s fun to play, makes you think, makes you try to coordinate your strategy based on what’s available, and turns are so quick (usually, until the final turn where you’re trying to maximize that one or two points you want to get at the end) that there’s very little downtime.

Other than the reference issue (and how long it may take to learn the varied iconography), I can’t think of anything that I would say is a criticism of this game.

It’s not for everyone, if you don’t like to adapt strategies based on what cards come out (if you’re going high-virtue, it really helps to get apprentices/buildings that give you stuff when you are a do-gooder), then this isn’t the game for you.

It’s medium-weight may turn off the heavy gamers out there, and I would definitely not use it as an introduction to worker placement. I think the 2.75 complexity rating on BGG is fairly accurate.

But you owe it to yourself to give this a chance if you are able to.

The mechanisms are great, the artwork is gorgeous to look at, and the game is a blast to play.

What could be better? (Ok, three other games on my list since it’s #4, but hush!)

(This review was written after 3 plays)

 

 

 

10 Comments on “Review – Architects of the West Kingdom

    • Thank you! That means so much to me. 🙂

      I’ve only played one of the North Sea trilogy (Raiders), but I’m all in for the West Kingdom ones. Paladins is already backed. But this one just hits that sweet spot for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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