Building Up the Franchise: Architects of the West Kingdom
Building Up the Franchise
Architects of the West Kingdom
Review by Shane Barnick
Hey everybody, Shane Barnick here with an As Per My Ability review.
Today, I’ll be taking a look at the 1-5 player worker placement game entitled, Architects of the West Kingdom. Architects, designed by the fantastic duo of Shem Phillips and S J Macdonald, published by Garphill Games, and illustrated by the ever-busy Mihajlo Dimitrievski AKA The Mico. Architects is the first chapter in the West Kingdom trilogy that includes Paladins of the West Kingdom as the second edition and will be completed later this year by Viscounts of the West Kingdom. In Architects, you play as royal architects of the Carolingian Empire around 850 AD competing against other architects of the realm to win the approval of the king by constructing an assortment of buildings, including the all-important cathedral.
Players use their available workforce of 20 meeple workers to traverse into the kingdom and collect various resources, which include coins, clay, wood, stone, gold, and marble. The majority of the locations on the board can have an infinite number of workers placed by all players, so unlike most worker placement games, there is no blocking of other players. The more workers you send to a placement space, the better the reward will be as the actions ramp up depending on how many of your workers are currently on the spot. For example, if you send one worker to the quarry, it will gather one stone. If on your next turn, you send another worker back to the quarry, you will receive two stones instead (since you have two workers there now).
With most things in life, though, there is no such thing as a reward without risk. Other players can capture a group of your workers on a particular spot if they see that action is growing too powerful to ignore. In such a case, your adversary sends your workers they capture to the guardhouse for a handsomely reward—jails love to pay to keep their cells full. Not to fret though, you just send one of your workers to the guardhouse location to free your friends. It takes a turn, but why not flash your “get out of jail free” card; besides, if you gather them back quickly, you might just skip out on debt cards. If you would like to avoid this situation altogether, you can always gather up your workers before someone else has a chance to capture them.
There is a dark side to this empire: the notorious black-market region. If you are sick of getting resources slowly and want to reap some significant rewards immediately, you can head on down to the back alley. These black-market spots are a great way to have a shortcut to rare resources like marble and gold. These black-market locations are the only spots on the board where a single worker can be placed. There is also the tax stand that you can go to and collect all the taxes players deposit throughout the game. Be warned, though, these spots will bump you down on the mighty virtue track, which at the end of the game will either add or detract points to your final score.
Now that you have resources at your disposal, it is time to decide on how to spend them. To build, you will need to place a worker at the guildhall, which you will never get back, and determine to either construct one of the building cards you’ve been hoarding in your hand or work on the cathedral which will bump you up the cathedral and virtue track. Each of these options will give you some kind of bonus, whether it is instant resources or end game bonuses for achieving different feats. If you construct one of your building cards, you may need the help of a specialized apprentice, which you’ll have to go to the workshop to hire. These apprentices will also give you specific boosts to different locations on the board, so it is not a bad idea to hire them early on and take full advantage of their unique abilities.
The end game is triggered when the limited number of guildhall spots are full. Each player receives one final turn and then have to make peace with what he or she has or has not accomplished during the game. Players will add up all the victory points for a complete total. Just as we judge architects in real life, the architect with the most VPs is considered the most successful and winner of the game.
For the solo enthusiasts, Architects includes an automa for solo gameplay. The solo game is yourself vs. either Constantine (Easy) or Helena (Hard). You take your turn as normal and then draw cards from a scheme deck, which instructs which actions the automa AI takes. The whole system runs rather smoothly, and if you know how to play the game, it is quite a smooth transition to learning the automa mode. I do not consider myself a solo gamer; however, I do enjoy the solo game—even though playing against Helena has proven to be rather taxing.
In the end, is this game worth your hard-earned cash? And maybe the more important question, worth space on your ever-shrinking game shelf? Let me break down the game with my rating system.
Strategy- This game has a fair amount of strategy, but not enough to infest players with any kind of analysis paralysis. You have exciting and viable choices to make throughout the game, along with picking between a few different strategies or a combination of a few mixed. If you play this game and are craving an extra layer of depth, add the Age of Artisans expansion. Grade- B+
Theme- The theme makes sense for the game; you are gathering up resources you need to construct your buildings. I enjoy the Medieval European setting, though this theme is not particularly uncommon in the board game world, so, unfortunately, it does not separate itself from the competition in that aspect. Grade- B-
Unique- Is this game distinctive enough in an oversaturated market of worker placement games to add to a collection? Yes, I believe so. Action ramping by adding more workers to a spot is noteworthy in its use of the mechanic. The ability to capture your opponent’s workforce is another stand-out reason Architects separates itself from other worker placement games currently on the market. Grade- A
Aesthetics- When I bought Architects, I knew nothing about the game. I loved the artwork on the cover—which solidified my purchase. The component quality is great; from the resources to the cards to the board itself. The game will catch onlooker’s attention, no doubt about it. I have upgraded the cardboard coins that come with the base game to metal just for the satisfying clinking noises. Grade- A+
Replayability- What gives Architects replayability is apprentices who have different and unique special abilities. You have several routes to victory, whether it’s going the less moral route and using the black market frequently or concentrating on the cathedral and virtue track. Good games give their players a different feeling each time played, and Architects does just that. Grade- A
Game Length- Does this game overstay its welcome at the table? No, not at all; in fact, this game almost always ends earlier than players want. Turns are very rapid and fast for the most part; some turns can take only ten seconds. You can take this game out, play it, and put back in the box in around 90 minutes. Not too shabby. Grade- A+
Rulebook and Ease of Play- The rulebook is an easy read and well laid out. The game uses a lot of iconographies, which make sense after a few plays. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to reference the rulebook to find an answer to your question. If you are a fan of any of the occupations of the direction board games, you will have zero trouble deciphering the iconography as they use similar icons throughout the franchise. I would rate this game somewhere between a light to medium weight game. Grade- B+
Enjoyment- The big question is the game enjoyable? After all, that is why we play any game, to have a good time. I don’t enjoy take-that elements in games, and Architects represents it with the capturing of other workers. It is easy to get your workers back, so it does not detract from my enjoyment at all. I have played this game close to 20 times now, and have never had a bad experience with it. Each time I put this game away, I hope it won’t be long before I can take it off my shelf once again. Grade- A
Now time for my overall rating....
Architects of the West Kingdom: 9/10 Top Shelf Worthy
Final Thoughts: Architects of the West Kingdom is an excellent game, in my opinion, and will always have a spot available on my shelf. I like the twist on the worker placement genre Shem and S J have pulled off. It is quite a bit lighter than my usual wheelhouse of games I enjoy, but I think that speaks to the solid work put into the mechanisms and overall production value as a complete project. I would recommend this game any day of the week.