Architects of the West Kingdom is what you get when a designer takes a very good game and makes it even better.
I reviewed Shem Phillips’ Raiders of the North Sea earlier this year after absolutely loving it. A simple worker placement title, it took a couple of very strong mechanics, layered an appropriate theme over the top, added some amazing art and left us with one of the games of the year (well, of 2017 since I was a bit late to it).
Architects is his follow-up, designed this time with fellow Kiwi Sam Macdonald. It’s once again all about worker placement, only this time around instead of raiding coastal villages as a Viking, you’re building cathedrals as a 9th century French architect.
With the same artist onboard (Mihajlo Dimitrievski), the same emphasis on gathering and assigning resources and even the same kind of board design, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of glorified expansion to Raiders, a semi-sequel of sorts.
There are a number of key differences here beyond the superficial, though. There’s no more raiding, for a start, as here your resources are being put into construction, not destruction.
The bigger difference is the way that your workers are placed. Raiders was built on a one-two punch where you had to assign one worker then take another away, a great idea where single moves would allow you to claim something for yourself while denying it to a rival.
Wait, what’s “worker placement”?
It’s a board game mechanic that’s basically also a genre. It involves placing “one or more pawns on a play surface to claim the right to do a specific action.”
- DEFINITION: CLEVER MOVE
In Architects, you only get one move per turn. You drop your guy, claim your stuff/perform your action and that’s it, your turn is over and the game moves on. What’s lost in immediate tactical options is made up for by the increase in the game’s speed, which might be my favourite thing about this. Turns just fly around the table once everyone knows how to play, which helps keep downtime to the barest of minimums.
It’s not like this is sacrificing decision-making depth, either. You’re just offsetting it. You can stack your workers on a single location, allowing you to extract more resources or perform additional actions, but those workers aren’t in infinite supply. As your stocks start to run low, you’ve got to wonder whether it’s worth spending a worker to recall some others, in effect forfeiting a turn in the short-term since you’re not getting any resources, in favour of giving more options a few turns down the line? Or do you push your luck and keep squeezing more wood and stone out at the risk of making things even harder as the game drags on?
The object of Architects is to claim victory points, and the player with the most of them at the end wins. There’s a multitude of ways to get hold of them, so you can approach each game—and each unfolding situation within—in a ton of different ways. Contributing to the construction of a giant medieval cathedral will provide all kinds of big bonuses at great expense, but you can also score lots of points from constructing smaller buildings like trading posts, hoarding valuable resources like gold and marble and becoming virtuous through good deeds.
Yes, being a 9th century game means the church plays its part. Gaining virtue will provide the player with rewards, but its presence in the game implies that you can be a prick as well. There’s a black market you can use to score resources at a good price, while you can also take advantage of the game’s tax system, which sees a percentage of all the money paid by players put in a communal area. If you’re willing to take the virtue hit, you can raid this and just...take all the money.
So far all of this talk has been of solo play and strategies, but there is one very cool means of interaction with other players: you’re able to round up and capture rival workers, imprisoning them on your own player card or transferring them to the local dungeon for a cash reward. With workers so valuable to everyone’s cause, and with the bonuses that can be had from stacking large numbers of them in a single space over time, wrecking someone else’s shit never ceases to be one of the highlights of the game.
Architects of the West Kingdom is great. It’s a fresh take on worker placement, building further on Raiders’ already stellar offering, and is able to boast the same elegance in design as its predecessor but with a snappier speed.
It’s the perfect game for a table that wants to go head-to-head for a couple hours but not have to get bogged down with tons of rules or excessive downtime. Or, if that doesn’t appeal, it’s for anyone who wants to steal everyone else’s tax money and blow the cash on a giant cathedral.