Paladins of the West Kingdom is the second game in The West Kingdom series of games. This series, like the North Sea trilogy, is designed by Shem Phillips. Paladins, as with the other West Kingdom games, take the well known and loved mechanism of worker placement and add an interesting twist.
Very rarely in my board gaming journey, have I found a game that I have fallen for by turn three. Yes, this might be a spoiler for the rest of my review, but Paladins is such a game for me!
The Paladins Approach
In Paladins of the West Kingdom, players are noble men and women, trying to fortify their city. They are seeking to defend it against enemies and spread faith throughout the land. But they are not alone in this quest, for the King has sent his Paladins to assist. Each Paladin has a special ability that will help players throughout the game.
At the start of each round, players draw three paladin cards and select one to help them that round. The paladin card gives a player three things. Firstly, it sets out your special ability for the round. Secondly, it shows two workers which the player should acquire. Finally, it gives you bonuses to one or two of your attributes (strength, faith, and influence). The bonus lasts for that round only, although there are ways to permanently boost your stats.
The game is played over seven rounds. In each of the first three rounds, a King's Order card is revealed. If players manage to take five of the depicted actions they will gain victory points at the end of the game. In the last five rounds, a King's Favour card is revealed. This gives players an extra action they can take. These actions are open to all the players and are often one use only. This can lead to some blocking between the players.
So Far So Ordinary...
In traditional worker placement games, each player starts the round with a set number of workers in their colour. Over the course of the round, these are placed on different spaces. Players are then able to take the action associated with that space. Some games (such as Viticulture) have workers with special abilities.
Paladins of the West Kingdom treats workers in a different way. For a start, whilst there are different coloured workers, these are not linked to a player colour. Instead, the various colours represent different specialisms of workers. For example, the blue workers are merchants, whereas the black workers are clerics. Some spaces on your board can only be occupied by workers of a specific colour. This is often the case where the action is a more specialised task. Other spaces have no colour. You can place workers of any colour, including the white labourers, on these spots.
As well as the workers gained from their paladin card, players can also take workers from the tavern. At the start of each round, tavern cards are drawn equal to the number of players plus one. Each card shows four workers of varying colours. Players then, in turn order, choose a tavern card and draw the workers shown.
This is where, for me, Paladins shines. Instead of having to worry about whether a spot is free for your worker, you now have to make sure you have the right colour workers. Many spots need two or even three workers. Players therefore also need to make sure they have enough workers left to do what they want.
Fighting For Space?
I will accept, you do have to worry less about a space being available than in other worker placement games. Each player has their own board with action spaces on it. The King's Favour cards do offer contestable spots. However, in the main, players will be making use of action spots on their own board.
Some people may find this leads the game towards feeling like multiplayer solitaire, and there is some element of this. But, there are other interaction opportunities. Players can take townsfolk or outsiders, removing them from the game for other players. There are also opportunities to block your opponent on the main board, preventing them from gaining the bonus they wanted. Whilst you focus on your own board in the main, there are opportunities for interaction.
Defending Your City
The player board is broadly split into two sides. One where the actions are focused on acquiring goods or workers. The other side is focused on the main actions which gain you points.
The actions are split into two rows of three. To carry out each action requires a certain score in one of the three attributes. There also might be a resource cost to pay. When you carry out an action you will get rewarded with an increase in a different attribute. The top and bottom actions in a column are linked. For example, the top may require influence of a certain level and reward you with strength; whilst the bottom action requires a number of strength, and rewards you with influence.
In the first few playthroughs, I found I had to fight an urge to do a little bit of everything. The problem with this approach is then you end up doing nothing well. In many euro games you are rewarded in a point salad style, with points for doing everything. Not so in Paladins. Here you have to get several buildings out, or actions completed to even get one point.
Instead, Paladins of the West Kingdom requires a focus. I tend to find that for most of the game I am focused on one column of actions alongside gathering resources. It is also important to make sure to develop. This reduces the cost of your actions from three workers down to one. This, in turn, means you can do more actions each turn. I am not saying you can only focus on two main actions throughout the whole of the game. You can focus on a broader range, but I have found this is the best way to score points.
One thing that some people may not enjoy is the low scoring nature of Paladins of the West Kingdom. It can feel like you have to do a lot to get a few points. Even if you manage to get all your garrison buildings out, you still only get nine points. This can seem like a minor reward for the many parts needed to get those seven garrison buildings out in the first place.
Yes, this can seem disheartening at first, when often games can score points in the hundreds. You are not in any danger of getting close to a hundred points in a game of Paladins! But, once you accept that your opponent is not going to be getting huge scores either, you can take it more at face value. With Paladins, as with many games, some of the challenge of the first few games is actually finding out what a good score is.
The Final Score
As I mentioned at the start of my review, Paladins of the West Kingdom is a game I was in love with by turn three. I am a huge fan of puzzley, engine builder games. So Paladins ticked all my boxes. I enjoy trying to plan moves to make the best combos possible. It is satisfying to chain together turns where you take an action, to gain workers, so you can take more actions.
One word of warning would be that this game can induce analysis paralysis. Because you are trying to optimise your turns, and chain things together, it can take a little time to plan your moves. Especially the first few times you play the game, the number of choices can seem overwhelming. I do think that if you focus and specialise a little more the game does seem a little easier. Although, of course, some analysis paralysis will remain given the nature of the game.
And yes, if you are looking for a thematic game Paladins is not it. Whilst the theme is cool, ultimately, the game just boils down to a puzzle. As with many euro-style games, moving a red or blue marker isn't hugely thematic. But that doesn't take away from the enjoyment or the immersion of the game. I might not be immersed in a medieval theme, but I definitely do find myself getting lost in the enjoyment of the puzzle the game presents.
If you are looking for a twist on worker placement, or if you enjoy games with an efficiency puzzle, you will enjoy Paladins. I know I'm biased but, if you enjoy any of the other Garphil games, check Paladins of the West Kingdom out.