A Blueprint for Success
Architects of the West Kingdom is the first title in the West Kingdom trilogy, a follow up to Garphill Games previously released North Sea trilogy. Players take on the role of a noble Architect, tasked with constructing various buildings in a new land. Chief among these being the giant cathedral that will surely become the centerpiece of this burgeoning city. Using your large group of workers, players have to outwit and out-build their rivals to earn the king‘s favor, even if that means having to make a few back-alley deals to get it done. Is Architects a work of beauty, or is it simply a house of cards? Let‘s take a look!
Building the Foundation
At the beginning of a game of Architects, players choose a double-sided player board and the handful of twenty (20!) workers of that color. The player boards have a variable setup side, which I’d recommend playing with as long as you’re comfortable with it. This gives each player different starting supplies and cash, varying starting positions on the “virtue” track on the side of the board, as well as a player power exclusive to them. It spices up the gameplay and actually gives players a little bit of direction on what strategy to take.
After this, each player is dealt four building cards for an opening draft. These cards are the main focus of the game. Your main objective is to try and build these cards by gaining the resources shown on the left side of each one. Once you build them those constructions will give you not only points, but extra power, resources, and end game goals. If your starting hand isn’t the greatest, don’t fret, there will be plenty of opportunities to gather more during the game.
With all that set up business out of the way the main game begins. As stated earlier each player has a sizable army worth of workers to use. By placing them on various action spaces on the board players can do things like gather resources, hire apprentices, earn new building cards, gather money, construct their building blueprints or the cathedral, or even arrest other players workers (this will be explained more later.).
Sounds straightforward so far? The catch in this game is that many locations are not limited to just one worker. Any number of players and workers can occupy some spaces, and by sending more of your workers to those locations players will earn bigger and bigger rewards. For example, sending a worker to the quarry will at first only earn you one stone, however sending a second worker there earns you two stones, one for each of your workers in that space. It’s a neat twist and feels incredibly satisfying as your workforce on a space grows, earning you a small fortune in stone, bricks, or gold.
If you are desperate for resources, you can choose to visit the black market as long as your virtue isn’t too high. These spaces allow you to gather a good number of resources including some very valuable ones, such as gold and marble, or drawing five building cards and keeping one. While these spaces are very helpful, especially when you‘re in a pinch when the black market “resets” all workers caught here are sent to jail, and the players who own those workers will lose virtue when this happens. While this may sound scary, you shouldn’t be afraid to make use of these spots when needed.
Before you can put some of those resources to good use you may need to hire some apprentices. These characters give you various powers such as earning more through resource spaces, as well as being required to build certain buildings. There are three different classes of apprentices, and once you acquire them they’ll allow you to build constructions that require that class.
When a player is ready to build, they place a worker on one of the open “build” spaces at the top of the board. There’s a limited number of these spaces based on the player count, and when all of these are filled the end game is triggered. You should be aware that when you place a worker on one of these build spaced it will be locked there permanently for the remainder of the game. Not a huge deal by any means, but something to keep in mind. Once you place your worker, you discard the resources needed for whatever your project is.
Then you either place the building card face up in front of you, performing any instant actions on that card, or if you‘re building onto the cathedral, move your player marker up on the cathedral track, discarding a building card and then taking a “reward” card. These are random, but often earn you virtue as well as some resources. The cathedral is essentially a race, as the spaces that earn you the most points are limited as you climb higher and higher on the track, the final and most valuable spot only accommodating one player, earning them a whopping 20 points.
You may be wondering.“How do I get my workers back?” Where many worker placements give you your workers back at the end of a phase or round, here your pieces stay in place until another player activates the town center action. Here players can capture groups of other players’ workers to both weaken their positioning on certain spaces, and to dump them into “jail” on a future turn to receive a payment for their arrest. Players can take their workers back by going to the jail space and gaining their workers back either from the prison space or by taking them back from a fellow player’s board by paying a fee.
Play continues until all build spaces are full. When the game ends the players, add up the points earned from constructed buildings, points earned from constructing the cathedral, as well as negative points from things like debt and captured workers, and the player with the most points is the winner.
A Masterfully Constructed Kingdom
Architects is not an overly complex game, but it certainly gives you a lot to think about. The key mechanic revolves around the multi stacking of workers that lets you gain better and better rewards. There’s a lot of little decisions to make based around that one mechanism. Do you swarm one spot as much as you can to maximize that space and risk missing out on other resources or do you spread out, growing evenly over time which gives you fewer rewards, but greater variety?
The capturing of workers mechanic is one I’ve never seen before, but it gives the game another unique element. It‘s a way to earn money, which is precious, for doing various things like hiring new workers, as well as freeing your own workers when they‘re captured. It‘s also important to clear your opponent‘s workers from spots where they‘re becoming overly strong to try and prevent them from earning a glut of resources, however letting your opponent spread themselves thin can also be a viable strategy, because when they run out of workers they can only pick up one worker from a space, wasting precious turns in the process.
There’s a sense of timing in Architects that feels very rhythmic in nature. Finding the right time to arrest your opponents, the right time to build, the right time to construct or build the cathedral. It feels amazing when you get that rhythm down that you may not fully figure out during your first play. While the medium weight nature of the game means you‘re not going to be rubbing your temples each and every turn wondering what to do, there’s still a cadence that needs to be figured out, and when you do the game runs like a well-oiled machine.
It‘s a relatively easy game to teach, however, it does contain a good deal of symbology, resulting in a ton of questions and rule book consulting during your first play or two. The main culprit is the worker cards who all contain a large variety of hieroglyphics like symbols to describe their actions with pretty much zero text to help you along. Luckily the game comes with a second book that describes in-depth what each and every card does, and you’re very likely to find your group rummaging for this book often at the beginning of the game.
While Architects is the first game in this line that I‘ve played, I‘ve always been attracted to its unique art style. It‘s very eye-catching and so unique that it instantly lets you know what series it‘s a part of. Artist Mihajlo Dimitrievski does an amazing job, making for a product that’s pleasing to look at and to play. The components are of good quality as well. All the resources are made of wood and pretty easily identifiable, with the exception of the marble pieces which look a bit like Linus‘ blanket from Peanuts. The card stock is fantastic, making the deck very easy to shuffle and it feels like it‘s going to hold up very well over time if you’re a savage like myself who doesn’t sleeve their cards.
Architects of the West Kingdom is a game built on a rock-solid foundation. It‘s a worker placement that throws just enough original aspects your way to make it stand out from the crowd. From the stacking worker mechanic to the risk/reward nature of the black market and the race like nature of the cathedral. There’s a great deal to enjoy here as long as a hefty amount of symbology doesn’t get you down. It’s a rock-solid introduction into this new trilogy.
Final Score: 8/10