Dale Yu: Architects of the West Kingdom

Architects of the West Kingdom

  • Designers: Shem Phillips, SJ MacDonald
  • Publisher: Renegade Games
  • Players: 1-5
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 75-90 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Renegade Games

Architects of the West Kingdom is a new game released by Renegade at SPIEL 2018.  Originally coming from New Zealand from the designer of Raiders of the North Sea. I had a nice demo with the press contact at SPIEL, and all four of the games presented to me sounded great.  I have been playing a lot of worker placement games lately, and this one appealed to me for that reason. In this game, which is set in the 9th century, players are working to be the best at constructing buildings and the cathedral.

The board which depicts the town and the multiple locations therein is placed on the board.  There is a virtue track found on the left edge of the board as well as a market for apprentices in the bottom right.  Each player gets his own player mat and the 20 workers of his color. There is a small draft of building cards, and each player will end up with 3 Building cards to start the game.   

The Virtue track is an interesting part of the game.  Each player starts in a neutral position, and their Virtue can rise or fall based on their actions in the game.  There is a victory point score associated with your position on the track at the end of the game… but there are also in-game benefits/penalties for your current position.  If you are too virtuous, you cannot be sneaky and use the black market; on the other hand, if you are non-virtuous, you skip paying taxes because you’re so dastardly.

The game is played over a number of rounds until the round where the Guildhall in the upper right is completely filled.  Each round itself is quite simple. On a player’s turn, a player must place one of his workers from his player mat onto a location on the board, and then he must execute the action associated with that location.  In the rare event that a player has no workers left on his player mat, his whole turn is spent by returning one worker from the board to the player mat. There are a number of different possible locations where you can place your worker:

Production areas (Quarry, Forest, Mines, Silversmith) – When you place your worker here, you get an amount of stuff based on how many workers you have there (the formula for each is printed right under the title of the space).  There is no limit to how many workers you can have in these spaces. In general, the more workers you have, the more stuff you get.

Storehouse – This allows to you to trade certain resources for either Virtue or Marble.  Again, the more workers you have there, the more actions you can take at the location.

Workshop – Here you can either hire a new apprentice by paying coins (some of these coins are red on the board, and this means they are tax!) OR you can gain new building cards.  You have access to more possible apprentices if you have more workers here.

Tax Stand – there are a number of spaces where you have to pay a cost in coins.  If any of these coins are red on the board, those are tax, and those coins are placed in the Tax Stand.  When you place a worker here, you collect all the coins in the Tax Stand but then you must lose 2 Virtue.

Guardhouse – This is located just below the prison – there are a number of different options here.  You can release your own workers from prison and return them to your board. You can send all the captured opponent’s workers from your board to prison.  You can pay 2 tax + 3 silver to retrieve all your workers that are captured on opponent’s player boards to your supply. You can pay 3 tax + 3 silver to pay off a debt marker.

Town Centre – This is a weird location where you may spend 1 coin per worker you have in the Town Centre to then collect all the workers of one color from a single board location mentioned thus far. The very first coin spent this turn is tax.  If you have multiple workers and pay multiple coins, you can choose multiple groups, but they must all be from the same single board location. Opponent workers are placed on your player board in holding. Your own workers can be placed in your supply again to be used on a later turn.

Black Market – there are three options here, each can only be occupied by a single worker.  Two of the options are delineated on cards while one is fixed and printed on the board. All have some cost in coins as well as a loss of 1 Virtue.  Again, remember that if you are currently too virtuous, you cannot go to the Black Market at all! The Black Market will reset each time that all 3 spaces are filled OR one of the two Guildhall spaces which signals a Black Market reset is filled.  All current Black Market workers are thrown in prison. Then all players with 3+ workers in Prison lose a virtue. Additionally, the player(s) with the most Prisoners take a Debt marker. The Black market cards are cycled so that there are new offers in the Black Market.

Guildhall – In the upper right hand corner of the board, there are a bunch of meeple outlines in a grid – place your meeple on the next available space (based on player count). You can then either construct a Building card from your hand OR help to build the cathedral.  Building cards have their cost and prerequisites in the upper left corner. Once they are built, place them next to your player board. You will get an immediate benefit and/or game end bonus. If you choose to build part of the Cathedral, pay the costs for the next step as shown on the board and then move your marker into a free space at that level.  IF there is not an available space, you cannot build in the cathedral until a space frees up. Also remember that if you are not virtuous enough, you can’t help build the Cathedral… because you wouldn’t be the sort of person found in a church anyways.

The game ends at the end of the round when the Guildhall has all of its spaces filled.  Note that in that final round, players can still take the Guildhall action even though all the spaces are filled.  Then there is some end game scoring.

  • ? VP for each Building card as printed in the upper right
  • ? VP for end game bonuses granted by finished Building cards
  • ? VP based on your current Cathedral level
  • ? VP based on your current standing on the Virtue track
  • -2 VP for each unpaid Debt marker
  • 1 VP per Gold and Marble on your player board
  • 1 VP per 10 silver left at end of game
  • -1 VP per every 2 workers in Prison at the end of the game

Ties go to the player with the highest virtue at the end of the game

My thoughts on the game

Architects of the West Kingdom was part of my last Essen demo meeting as I couldn’t get together with Danni from Renegade until Saturday.  However, it was one of the first games that I played once we got the group together upon my return. I have always liked the Worker Placement genre, and this game looked like it would hit a lot of my buttons.

The basic actions are simple and easy to understand.  Additionally, I am a huge fan of the iconographic explanation of each action above the space.  It makes it much easier to remember what you get to do at each spot. There are a few twists to the game which I found quite interesting.  First, the concept of getting more at a spot as you have more workers there is a nice change from the norm. Second, the action of the Town Centre where you can capture groups of meeples is a nice addition.  You can use this to stop the momentum of your opponents because they will have to start over from ground zero at a particular location. You can also usually convert those captured workers in to gold – assuming you are able to get them into the prison at some point.

There is a bit of meeple management that needs to occur in the game – it is possible to have all of your meeples tied up at action spots, jail and on other player’s boards.  I don’t think I’ve seen anyone actually run out; but I have seen players collect up their own meeples from the board OR pay the hefty cost to retrieve their workers from other player’s boards.

Otherwise, you’ll mostly be using your workers to collect goods and then use them to build cards or build portions of the Cathedral. The Black Market can be super helpful here to quickly get the goods that you need; but this can negatively affect your virtue (which may then make it impossible for you to build part of the cathedral!).   I have also been known to go to the Black Market to take the last spot in order to nail one (or more) opponents with a Debt Marker given the current status of the Prison…

The spots in the Guildhall are not filled quickly at the start of the game as players are working to collect resources and build an engine of sorts to maximize their actions.  However, once players start having enough things to build cards and Cathedral sections, you’ll find that the end game can really sneak up fast on you. Don’t get caught with too many things left to do at the end!

The production is well done. The custom wood bits are nice.  The artwork is a bit too angular and caricature-like for me – the people look a little weird – but I have found that I’m in the minority here.  Most of the other people that I have played the game with have loved the art. As I mentioned above, I really do like the way the icons are used effectively in the game. I find that the help keep the game moving along as it is clear to all what actions can be done at what place.

Architects is a new entrant in the Worker Placement genre, and it brings a few new ideas to the table which I have found interesting to explore.  The ability to capture workers adds depth to the game as does the Virtue balancing act (both for VP at the end of the game as well as the ability to do certain actions in-game).  Renegade has done a good job with this one, and this one has me looking forward to the next directional game from them after this and Raiders of the North Sea series.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Jonathan F.: I like Raiders and was ok with Explorers.  Architects felt ok to me, but I did not take advantage of several of the spaces that make the game special, so I don’t feel equipped to judge it.  One play and minimal capturing of other players means the game’s true flavor did not come through. At the same time, I always enjoy seeing how Shem develops new games with familiar mechanisms.

Alan H.: I bought Explorers ages ago and thought it was just ok, so I passed on trying Raiders, but encouraged by good press bought it and the first expansion. I think this was a decent step up from Explorers so I decided to acquire Architects. The game clearly has its roots in the earlier games both graphically and with the game systems. But a bit like the Key series of games, if you like one there is tendency to like the next one. Architects provided some interesting choices and timing of those choices. How many times do you need to visit the same resource location before you have enough or someone might capture your workers? Do you cash in captured workers or grab some more and seek to put them in prison just before the black market is resolved? It’s satisfying when things go as planned. You need specific workers to build your helpful buildings, but are there more important than other options? I liked the speed of play, but the breadth of choices and the acceleration of the game. As Dale says it can sneak up on you. So far, so good and the game has been well received by all the groups that I have tried it with. So I’m looking forward to the next game in the series.

Lorna: I thought the game was a pleasant and easy to learn worker placement game. I wasn’t wowed by it and nothing really felt novel about it. But it seems like it would make a good gateway game if the new people weren’t put off by having their meeples go to jail…

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Alan H.
  • I like it. Dale Y, Lorna (neutral leaning)
  • Neutral. Nathan Beeler, Jonathan
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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5 Responses to Dale Yu: Architects of the West Kingdom

  1. ianthecool says:

    Thanks for the article. How similar does this game feel to Raiders of the North Sea? Visually it is obviously quite similar.

  2. @mangozoid says:

    Hi Dale, I’ve played a couple of times now, and must say that it’s an enjoyable romp, and the need to balance your Virtue score to maximise your board opportunities is an interesting puzzle… I haven’t yet seen a player go ‘all-virtuous’ or vice-versa (all-black), and the constantly changing board makes for an interesting game every time. Capturing other player’s workers and throwing them in prison can also be used to your advantage, especially if you can match it with an upcoming Black Market Reset — this keeps all players on their toes, and generally means getting your workers out of prison asap is almost essential… A good, fun game, that we’ve enjoyed every time so far…

  3. @mangozoid says:

    I’m with Alan on this… Calculating when to make your move with regards to capturing your own and other players ‘ meeples, sending those to prison for money and then triggering a Black Market Reset is part and parcel of the fun here… That said, with higher player numbers the building count can go up very quickly, meaning it feels like the game has stopped too soon and the interplay of prison interaction never really gets a chance to do more than scratch a surface itch.

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