Architects of the West Kingdom is a thematic worker placement game set in the faraway lands of the West Kingdom. Imagine you are an actual architect in a medieval town, hundreds of years ago, and you are trying to impress the king with your architectural skills. You have a team of workers at your disposal which you will send to gather resources or to do various stuff around the town for you. However, some buildings will require special skills to build them, so you’ll be looking to hire some apprentices, whose knowledge will also give you some bonuses.
You’ll pay taxes for various actions, but hey, that’s normal, right? The king’s treasury has to make money somehow. However, other architects are also trying to impress the king, and they’ll even resort to capturing your workers if you’ll get them angry. However, during medieval times, people were not always honorable. You know, every big town had some shady areas, such as a Black Market, where you could go and get cheap materials, gathered through unknown, probably less legal methods. If you feel poor, you can also send someone to steal money from the Tax Office. You will fall in the eyes of your king if you do these actions, but you can improve your reputation if you work hard.
How to play Architects of the West Kingdom
In Architects of the West Kingdom, the players are architects trying to impress the king by building landmarks, buildings, and by contributing to the Cathedral. They will send their workers to gather materials, they will hire apprentices to help, while also keeping an eye on their opponents. Players can also enroll in more shady actions such as trading at the Black Market, but they’ll have to take care to maintain a noble status by the end of the game, or else they’ll be punished by the king.
The players will start with 20 workers, which they will place on various spots on the map to gather resources, hire apprentices, construct buildings, capture other workers, or negotiate at the Black Market for cheaper resources. However, all these spots work differently than your usual worker-placement games. Every time you add a worker to a spot, you get resources or take actions based on how many workers you’ve got there.
For example, if you have a worker placed in the Forest and you place a second one, you’ll get two pieces of wood. Places such as the Guardhouse or the King’s Storehouse will allow you to take one action for each worker you’ve got there. However, having many workers in one spot will turn you into a target for the others, because your opponents can capture your workers and put them in jail, so don’t be too greedy or else it will cost you.
Once you’ve gathered enough resources, you can visit the Guildhall and build buildings from your hand by paying the necessary resources, or you can contribute to the Cathedral, which will earn you some points at the end of the game. Buildings will usually have an immediate effect, an end game effect, or even both. Many of them will also affect your noble status, by increasing or decreasing your Virtue. However, many buildings will require certain skills to be built, which can be achieved by hiring apprentices at the Workshop.
The Virtue track is an important part of the game. Depending on how much Virtue you have, some of the actions that you can take will be affected. For example, if your Virtue is 10 or higher, you won’t be able to use the Black Market. If you’re sitting at 4 or lower, you won’t be able to contribute to the Cathedral. However, having low Virtue can also benefit you, as it will allow you to skimp on some taxes.
The gameplay is pretty fast once you’ve got a good grasp of the rules. Place a worker, take the action, time for the next player to take his turn. Time flies fast and the game ends earlier than you’d expect. A 2 players game took us around 30-40 minutes, depending on how much we captured each other’s workers. At 3 players, it took around an hour, so I’d say the average time is about 20 minutes per player. The game ends when all the Guildhall spots for your player count have been occupied. Players will earn points from various sources, such as the Virtue track, the Cathedral, buildings, and even resources. Of course, the player with the most points is the winner.
My thoughts on being an architect
The Virtue track will make you feel like your decisions really have consequences. Playing dirty too much by stealing from the Tax Stand or visiting the Black Market will soon take you to the bottom of the track. It will question your morality as an architect and will punish you for trying to take the short route. At the same time, having high Virtue will keep you away from the great offers of the Black Market, so you’ll have to work harder for those resources that you need. I found out that keeping a balance between being good and bad is the best way to pass through the game. However, you should try and push your Virtue as high as possible if you feel that the end is near, so you will gain some points from the Virtue track when the game finishes.
At first, I didn’t think that it would be possible to be left without any workers on your turn since you start with 20 of them and that feels like a lot. However, that number will decrease faster than you think and you’ll soon end up with only 2 or 3 workers available, wondering how to retrieve some of the others from the board. You may even end in the terrible scenario of having no worker available so you’ll have to waste an entire turn to take one from a spot on the board. Try to avoid this, as you may fall behind greatly if this happens. Luckily, you can use the action at the Town Centre to capture your own workers from the map, so take advantage of this whenever you can.
There’s a lot of player interaction in Architects of the West Kingdom. People will often capture your workers if you’ve got many of them in the same spot, so try to spread your workers across the board evenly. Some players will send them to jail right after, while others will hold them on their board for as long as they can to force you to pay money to the Guardhouse to get them back. It can be a really cutthroat game sometimes, but we enjoyed this aspect.
There’s a constant race for people to contribute at the Cathedral, as that can award you many points at the end of the game. By doing so, you will also shorten the game’s duration. Why? because there’s only a limited number of times people can build or contribute to the Cathedral before the game ends. This means people can actually rush the end of the game if they gather enough resources to build multiple turns in a row. This happened to us once during a game when a certain player gathered tons of resources and built six times in a row. Only after the third time, we realized what they were doing and it was too late for us to finish our plans, so everyone else lost by a huge difference.
The solo mode of Architects is really fun. The setup is the same as for a 2-players game, but you’ll be playing against a bot. There are two difficulty levels, which I really enjoyed. The flow of the game is fast and easy to manage, you’ll take your turn and then you’ll turn a card from the bot’s deck and follow the instructions to play his turn. It’s a good way to train or learn the game before teaching it to others.
I admire Architects of the West Kingdom for its unique take on the worker placement mechanic. It feels much more interactive than other such games that I’ve tried, like Venice or Viticulture. You can intervene in your opponents’ plans and influence their game a lot. This is especially nice because your opponent’s personality will reflect into their playstyle a lot. Some people will be more aggressive and capture workers more often, others will be more passive and will stick to their plans, ignoring the others. There’s a lot going on in this little box and it’s a good step-up to medium games. Are you a fan of worker placement games? Then put this one on your list!
Designers: Shem Phillips & S J Macdonald
Publisher: Garphill Games
Time: 60-90 min
Times played: 7
Full disclosure: A copy of Architects of the West Kingdom was provided by the game publisher.
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