Age of Artisans is the first expansion for Architects of the West Kingdom. Co-designed by Shem Phillips and S J Macdonald, it’s part of the hallowed ‘West Kingdom’ trilogy. (The other two being Paladins and Viscounts.) Architects sees you construct buildings that make up the West Kingdom.
The other Garphill Games trilogy – North Sea – provided us with plenty of expansions. (Hall of Heroes/Fields of Fame, for Raiders of the North Sea, for example.) These add-ons provided further intriguing angles into the base game. They also accommodated for a higher player count. So what does Age of Artisans inject into Architects? Does it mess with the foundations? Or does it slap another storey on top of the blueprint?
I’m going to assume you know how to play Architects of the West Kingdom, and what’s in the base game. But if not, check out my How To Play guide, here!
Straight Outta Shrink: What’s In The Box?
Let’s start with what’s new. There’s 12 new Building Cards and 12 new Apprentice cards. There are two board overlays, which correlate to the all-new deck of 24 Craft Cards. You get 20 Workers in orange, along with two orange Player Markers (for Virtue and the Cathedral). This means that now six players can play Architects! (Appropriate, then, that there’s six Player Aids, too.) There are two double-sided Player Boards for the orange player and a score pad. Last of all, there are six Artisan meeples, one of each colour (including orange, of course).
The game starts with one major difference to set-up. In reverse turn order, each player gets to take one Apprentice (from the public flop of eight) for free. Once everyone’s taken one, they get refilled back up to eight. This is a feel-good factor, getting you off to a quicker start than regular Architects. Apprentices provide a bonus each time you send a Worker to their associated location.
The Bigger Boys – Artisans
Each player starts with an Artisan alongside their 20 Workers. This isn’t a bog-standard twenty-first Worker, though. Your Artisan has two important traits. This makes it stand literal head and shoulders above the rest…
When you place your Artisan, it acts as if it were two Workers. Your Artisan only counts as a Double-Worker on the turn you place it, though. If you send regular Workers to your Artisan’s location, later on, it reverts back to counting as a single Worker. If you send your Artisan to, say, the Quarry, it gets you two stone. Sending a standard Worker to the Quarry, alongside your previous-placed Artisan? That also gets you two stone.
The other benefit you gain when placing your Artisan is they get to ignore one Virtue loss. Sending your Artisan to the Tax Stand to snaffle up the Silver there? It only costs one loss on the Virtue Track, not the normal two. Placing your Artisan at the Workshop to hire an Apprentice? Does the card you want comes with an immediate Virtue loss? Ignore it. (Plus, remember the Artisan counts as two workers. If you send it to the Workshop, you have access to an extra row of Apprentices without having to pay the difference.)
Get Rich Quick Or A Double-Action Diva?
Artisans are all about timing. You can use them as a ‘get rich quick’ option, when it comes to gaining extra resources, quicker. In theory, you could send yours to the Mines on your first turn and use it to get one gold. Or you can use them later to get a ‘double-action’ in half the time it’d take you to send two Workers. But beware: your Artisans live a dangerous life. Due to their extra abilities, it paints a target on their back. Opponents might have extra incentive to grab them at the Town Centre!
Artisans still count as a single-Silver-reward-per-Worker when sending captives to jail. But savvy players might not like you benefitting from your Artisan too often. Does this make any other Workers you send to your Artisan’s location sitting ducks, too? This adds a wonderful sense of decision-making into the mix. Picking the opportune moment when and where you place your Artisan is a delight.
One thing you cannot do is treat your Artisan as a regular Worker with regards to the Guildhall. You lie Workers down on their backs in the Guildhall, remember? And the Artisans are too big to fit here. Yes, because their silhouette is too chunky, but because the Guildhall has a new overlay. And this time it’s dual-layered…
Now The Guildhall Grows… Taller!
You visit the Guildhall to construct a Building Card from your hand, or to contribute towards the Cathedral. But there are changes afoot. You can come here with a Worker to earn Craft Cards. There’s always a public flop of four Craft Cards to pick between. They’re all dual-purpose; when you claim one you can pick to use it as either an Adornment or as a Tool.
There’s a clever catch, though. To get one of these amazing cards, you need to overlay one of your Workers already in the Guildhall. The Guildhall doesn’t fill up quicker, as a result. Instead, it grows… taller! This is incredible. You’re investing even more of your 20 Workers into the Guildhall in a permanent state. Towards the end of the game, you might have a mere handful remaining! This means claiming your few Workers left via the Town Centre becomes a lot more commonplace. (Or you’ll suck it up and pay the fee to rescue them from another player’s mat.)
Adornments: Like A Fancy Yellow Conservatory
Adornments sit at the top of a Craft Card. They have a yellow banner and award end-game points (ranging 1-6VP). They also provide an immediate reward. (Such as free resources or an action you’d otherwise get by visiting a location.) Some let you capture Workers (à la the Town Centre), or release captured Workers from a player’s mat. Others let you wipe all eight of the Apprentices, replace them, and hire any one for free. One allows you to trigger a Building’s immediate benefit a second time. Some provide penalties, such as losing Virtue. Can you counter-balance that blow later on in the game? Or are the points it provides too good to pass up?
If you want an Adornment, once you’ve overpaid, you pay five Silver (two to Tax, three to the supply). Then you pick one of the four Craft Cards and slip it underneath a Building that you’ve already constructed. Don’t have any Buildings (or Buildings without an Adornment)? Then you can’t claim an Adornment. You can take the Tool option instead, though.
Apprentices: Tool Up! It’s Combo-Time
Tools sit on the bottom half of the Craft Cards, on a red banner. These aren’t worth direct points, but they are worth incremental points at the end of the game. The more you collect, the more you score. You can claim (at most) five Tools – one per Apprentice. (Note: Shem has confirmed this is still the case when playing as Rudolf, whose asymmetrical power is to hire a sixth Apprentice.) Taking a Craft Card as a Tool is free! You slip it underneath an Apprentice that you’ve hired. Don’t have Apprentices available right now? Then you can’t claim a Tool.
When you apply a Tool to your Apprentice, it provides a bonus effect. This acts as an extra benefit that triggers when you send a Worker to a location stated on the Apprentice. For example, one Tool might provide a +1 Silver bonus. Let’s say you place this on an Apprentice that gains you +1 brick when you visit the Mines. When you visit the Mines, you get both bonuses. So +1 brick, and +1 Silver. You can activate the effect of the Tool to pay for the action itself if you want.
Deciding which Tools to allocate onto which Apprentices will create some amazing combos! Some work better than others, but that’s for you to discover. Depending on what you combine, you’ll want to trigger some on a more frequent basis than others. This has the power to dictate your strategy in wild directions. Some Tools provide more complex benefits than mere +1 resources, though…
Some let you capture two Workers of the same colour (but not an Artisan). Some let you take a Worker out of Prison. Some let you lose a Virtue to gain a Marble. Others don’t provide a benefit as such, but instead, have all three Skills on them. You could take this for two reasons. One: it acts as that Apprentice having all three Skills, which frees you up to construct any Building Card. And two: some Buildings reward end-game points for having multiples of certain Skills. This, then, is a set collection incentive.
Recruiting Contraband Tools Down The Black Market
Tools are cool, then, but you need to hire Apprentices and hammer the Guildhall. Because you can only overlay Workers (and have as many Craft Cards) as you have Workers in the Guildhall. But shhh… There is another way. A more nefarious way. Come with me down to the Black Market…
The centre space in the Black Market (pay two coins and lose one Virtue) has a playing card overlay. This offers you a new action to take here – get a Tool. This is a fascinating decision. By going here, you aren’t throwing that Worker away into the Guildhall, never to return. You’ll get it back – albeit, via the Prison, of course. (After a Black Market reset, Workers that visited the Black Market go to Prison.) This is a viable strategy.
Gisela & Walaric – The Next Big Eurovision Pop Duo
The two new orange player mats provide further asymmetrical strategies. Walaric’s Artisan counts as three Workers each time you place it, instead of two. This is a mighty action, but paints an even bigger target on it, for capture. Most interesting of all is that Walaric begins with a Tool Card (from the opening public flop of four). Considering all players start with an Apprentice, this gets Walaric off to a flying start. He starts with 12 Virtue, which encourages a moral strategy.
Gisela also starts with high Virtue (13). Her benefit is that every time she takes a Tool, she also gets the one-time Adornment bonus on the top. Usually, you pick which of the two you want. This drives Gisela to hire five Apprentices, and getting five Tools. They both feel balanced – and fun – in parallel with Architect’s other asymmetrical player powers. I’m unsure of orange as a player colour, though. It’s identical to the Gold pieces, which is a mild irritant, at-a-glance.
The Art Of Artisans
The artwork is more of the same by Mihajlo Dimitrievski. The new Buildings and Apprentices have a small Artisan logo on them, so you can separate them from the main deck. The Craft cards have stark colour contrasts of red and yellow on them. The character and architecture art again shows of The Mico’s love affair with caricatures.
As with other Garphill Games titles, the iconography’s going to split opinion. In some cases, it’s logical. In others, it could be overwhelming for casual or even intermediate gamers. You’ll need the rule book to hand to check some of it. There are, at least, examples of it throughout the pages. Players also get a mini Player Aid with reminders on it. You won’t forget your hand limit, how Artisans work, Craft Card scoring, and so on.
The scorepad is a welcome addition. It’s double-sided too, so you’re not going to run out any time soon. The dual-layered Guildhall sits neat and tidy as an overlay. The first tier of Workers fit in a manner that isn’t too snug. Placing second workers on top can become a bit hairy if you have larger fingers. Like any board game, the warning’s there for all to see – don’t nudge it!
Final Thoughts On… Age Of Artisans
You cannot afford to ignore the Craft Cards when playing Age of Artisans. Not only for their obvious potential end-game points. One could argue that the game-long bonuses they provide are even more important to a winning strategy.
One thing’s for certain with Age of Artisans. This expansion makes earning money all the more essential. You’ll need it to buy those Adornments. You’ll need it to hire five Apprentices, so you can add five Tools. I love base-game Architects, but sometimes I felt like I’d only ever hire three Apprentices. One for each Skill type, which freed me up to construct any Building I wanted. In Age of Artisans, Apprentices with Tools unlock major moves.
It might seem appealing to go for the bigger points that the Adornments provide. But if you invest in the right Tools, you can become efficient to the highest degree. That extra +1 wood each time you visit the [insert your Apprentice’s location here]? You might never need to visit the Forest at all. And if you’ve played Architects before, you know how slow it can be to accumulate wood…
The addition of orange player pieces means six people can now play. Is six players an ideal number, though? While turns are, in essence, micro – they’re quick – that’s still too much down-time between turns for me. It does mean a lot more interaction with players capturing each other. Also, it means the potential for a quicker turnaround with Black Market resets, which is a good thing. I’m also wary of Artisan’s price, considering the main content you get here is a deck of cards (albeit superb ones).
Some expansions I can take or leave. Some bloat the experience in an unnecessary fashion. Not Age of Artisans. I adore the way I can construct a new strategy each time, thanks to equipping funky Tools to my Apprentices. The decisions to chase Adornments or Tools is superb. They remind me a little of the horses and eagles in Raiders of Scythia, another Garphill title. The Artisans add further excellent pinches of Euro-style spice into the mix. I’m going to find it tough to go back to base-game Architects after this.