Architects of the West Kingdom is a 2-5 player worker placement game designed by Shem Phillips and published by Garphill Games. You are a royal architect tasked with planning and constructing buildings to add to the bustling kingdom in order to acquire the king's favour.
Throughout the game your morals will be tested: Can you remain virtuous and stick to the plan of building the Archbishop's Cathedral or monuments to the king's greatness, or will you take the path of skullduggery, dodging taxes, forming gambling dens and acquiring goods from the black market? Whatever path you choose, the victor will be the one who earns the most victory points by constructing the most glorious buildings.
Set-up & Gameplay
Each player takes a player board and a set of workers in their colour, placing all 20 onto their board. They may then place their two trackers on the main game board, one on space seven of the Virtue track, and the other underneath the Cathedral spaces. Place two reward cards per player plus one in the space next to the Cathedral, and four Silver into the 'Tax Stand' box. Shuffle the Apprentice deck and deal one card into every space on the board, leaving the remaining cards and the Debt cards near the board.
Finally, shuffle the Building Plans deck and deal four cards to each player. Players draft from these, taking one card from among them and passing the remainder to their left. Repeat this until all players have selected three cards, placing the remaining cards under the Building Plans deck.
Architects of the West Kingdom begins with the first player placing one of their workers onto any space on the board, taking the requisite action. The main placement spots have large circles, indicating that any number of workers can go there turn by turn. As you commit more workers to a space, the action gets exponentially more powerful. For example, the first worker placed on the Forest gathers one wood, but the third time you place a worker on the Forest they will collect three wood. This concept carries out throughout the game, allowing you to accrue massive amounts of wealth and building materials.
Players may also hire Apprentices or acquire new Building Plans at the Workshop, granting them additional abilities when visiting certain spaces, as well as the prerequisites to build certain types of building later in the game. Hiring certain Apprentices may also shift your position on the Virtue track depending on how righteous or sinful they are.
Continued monopolisation of spaces comes with its own pitfalls, leading into the second key concept: The ability to capture workers from these spaces. Going to the Town Centre allows a player to capture other players' workers, or return their own workers before being captured themselves. Captured workers belonging to other players are held on your player board, either until you turn them at the Gatehouse for a reward, or until the owning players pay to release them. In this way, players can control their opponent's supply of workers, forcing them either to pay to get their workers back, or limit their options significantly until you hand them over at the Guardhouse.
There are, fortunately, spaces where workers cannot be captured from. One such set of spaces exist in the Black Market. These represent shady dealings that offer you resources for a loss in Virtue, the third concept of the game. As you gain and lose Virtue your standing shifts, allowing you to dodge taxes if you're disingenuous, or write off debts if you are more pious. Such shifts represent a large potential outlay in victory points at the game's end, but do come with limiting factors. Be too disingenuous and you will be refused access to building the cathedral, while too much piety will leave you unable to access the resources of the Black Market.
The final worker placement spot in Architects of the West Kingdom is the building track. A worker sent to build allows the player to work either on the Cathedral or build one of their own building plans, giving them either an instantaneous effect or another way to score points or virtue at game's end, as well as an amount of VP for building it. Certain buildings may also require specific skills to construct them, represented by the Masonry, Carpentry and Tiling symbols at the top of each Apprentice, meaning you must hire Apprentices of those types first in order to build them.
In any case, sending a worker to work either on the Cathedral or a private building never returns, instead gradually filling the track. When the track fills completely, the players commence one final round before the game concludes. The winner is the player who acquires the most victory points from a combination of buildings, Cathedral progress, their position on the Virtue track, any unpaid debts, and any game-end VP conditions among their buildings.
Final Thoughts on Architects of the West Kingdom
It is clear to see that Architects of the West Kingdom shares similar aesthetic ties to one of Shem Phillips' other popular game series, the North Sea Trilogy. There is a clear sharing of concept between the way Apprentices in Architects and how Crew in Raiders of the North Sea work, allowing for the same team-building mechanics that made Raiders such a hit.
However, Architects also carves its own niche in the worker placement genre with its unique implementation of the genre's mechanics. The exponential power growth as you place workers allows you to plan ahead, and the limited blocking of spaces means most actions are constantly available to be taken advantage of. Pushing your luck to grab three or four of a particular resource isn't unheard of, and if nobody feels the need to capture your workers you can often press the advantage enough to not need that spot for the rest of the game. Architects of the West Kingdom offers plenty of ways to get resources, especially silver which is plentiful between the Tax Stand, Silversmith and dropping off captured workers at the Gatehouse. The game gives you enough to think about to keep it interesting, but turns commence so quickly that you'll often have another turn within a minute of your last turn concluding... even in the worst case.
You may feel like 20 workers is an obscene amount at the beginning of the game, but even the inverse of the above is a possible challenge: If nobody captures your workers, you may have to waste turns freeing them yourself, from spots that are no longer useful or risk running out of workers altogether. There are even ways to mitigate an embarrassment of riches with the King's Storehouse, and its related Apprentices offer multiple ways to trade resources to gain points.
The constant assessment of how many workers you need, how many you can realistically recall, and how much to press your advantages presents a constant maelstrom of activity within the game, and the permanent commitment of sending a worker to build represents a significant outlay, one in which you need to ensure to take every possible advantage in order to not waste valuable workers. Building plans are also completely unique, which breeds more creativity in solving the problem of which combination of buildings to focus their efforts on. If the building plans don't entice the player, the Cathedral mechanics offer an alternative way to accrue a potential slew of points, as well as blocking others from achieving the same heights.
Component quality is of a high standard, as we've come to expect from Garphill Games. The cards and game board are awash with a richness of theme, and the custom-shaped meeples and point trackers only add to the experience. Phillips has thought of every eventuality, from double-sided player boards to aid replay-ability, down to multiplier cards for mid-game resource scarcity. The insert is perfectly serviceable, and the box is perfectly adequate, even for adding extras from the Kickstarter. I'm slightly disappointed by the chosen card size as it is difficult to find good-fitting sleeves for them currently, but this is only a minor concern for me, and should be no concern at all for people who do not sleeve their cards. I will however mention that some of my cards have scuffed more easily than I would have liked, so this is something to watch out for if you shuffle more aggressively than the average person.
All in all I found Architects of the West Kingdom to be a much more rewarding experience than I initially gave it credit for. The game offers the same fulfilling choices as Raiders of the North Sea, while upping the stakes with implementation of the Virtue track. With proper exploitation, you can float near the bottom to ignore the taxation cost on certain spaces, then press your advantage by using the King's Storehouse to buy back your honour, or use a lofty position to constantly write off debts while buying back workers every time they are captured.
Architects of the West Kingdom offers theme, form and substance in a concise package that offers not only decision making, but also adds impact to your decisions with plenty of ways for players to interact with one another. There is a genuine give and take with your choices, any of which could be the difference between victory and defeat. It is neither the most in-depth nor the most gateway worker placement I've ever played, but it sits in a nice spot balancing a 90-120 minute playtime with a large amount of decision making and player interaction.