Frederic Henry, creator of the multi-million copy selling Timeline series, strikes again with The Builders: Middle Ages, a brilliantly simple card game with a strong theme. You play as... well... builders, with the unsurprising goal of completing buildings to earn victory points. The first player to reach 17 points triggers the end of the game, and the builder with the most points wins. Simple.
The game is made up of three different components: buildings of different sizes, workers of varying skill levels and ecu, the game’s currency. Buildings and workers are defined by scores in 4 different characteristics: carpentry, masonry, architecture and tilery, and players must pay to assign appropriately skilled workers to their construction sites to complete them. Finishing a building will earn you points and game currency, with rewards increasing with build complexity.
Some building cards called machines are special structures that once completed get added to a player’s workforce and can be assigned—for free—to other building sites. Typically, machines will focus on one of the four characteristics and help players choose which structures to build.
Setup and Gameplay
Setting up The Builders: Middle Ages is fast and simple, with minimal time between opening the box and the beginning of the game. What’s more, the game is easy to explain and understand, meaning casual players, younger audiences and those who are new to board games will have no trouble picking up the rules.
Two decks are formed on the table: one for buildings and the other for workers. Much like in Ticket to Ride, 5 cards are drawn from each deck and these are the cards builders can choose from.
Each player receives 10 ecus and one random apprentice card—the lowest tier of worker—to get them started.
From here and in turn, players have 3 action points to spend per round and can choose to:
- Open a construction site by choosing one of the five buildings cards on offer.
- Recruit a worker by choosing one of the five available workers,
- Assign one of your workers (or machines) to a site. Assigning a second worker to the same site will cost two actions, assigning a third worker 3 actions, etc.
- Spend one or several actions to get coins from the bank.
Each action is repeatable, and players have the option of buying extra actions at 5 ecu apiece.
Starting with easier structures, players will gradually be aiming for more complex builds, increasing their income and their workforce as they go. Workers have varied skill levels and are more or less specialised in the 4 different characteristics, but cost more to assign to sites the more competent they are. So, players will need to be vigilant throughout the game to employ workers suited to the buildings they are aiming for, while looking out for buildings that match their workers’ combined skills.
The Builders: Middle Ages is easy to play but surprisingly strategic. The game is completely transparent, with no hand management involved or special cards to play. This along with the minimal player interaction means you’ll be mostly focused on your own progression, while keeping an eye on your opponents’ boards.
The core mechanic of matching your workers to your buildings is pretty smooth and effortless. Thanks to the nifty illustrated (and colour-coded) characteristics system, you can clearly read each building’s requirements and know which workers to assign to them.
Gameplay is oddly similar to engine building games like Wingspan or Race For The Galaxy, where you’ll find yourself planning ahead and thinking carefully before picking cards to add to your board. But the general rule is: as long as you continue to make a profit from your builds, then you are going in the right direction.
Turns are played quite swiftly, but you always need to put some thought into your actions. Although this is a rather simple game, you find wanting to create the best board possible and be as thrifty as you can possibly be with your coins and workers—an accurate simulation of real world building sites, it seems!
Where The Builders: Middle Ages struggles a bit is balancing. While not game-breaking, some worker cards are clearly more interesting than others. Buildings, however, all seem well-balanced in terms of their effort to reward ratio.
The Builders: Middle Ages - Final Thoughts
The Builders: Middle Ages has a lot going for it. The simple yet addictive gameplay will leave you wanting more after each game. Its size and length make it a portable game you can slip into your pocket or luggage to bring with you on holiday, or simply to play with friends of an evening. It is extremely family-friendly and can be enjoyed with many different types of players. Games with 2 players are remarkably smooth and enjoyable too.
The game art is simply gorgeous. Finishing a building site is immensely satisfying, not only for the rewards it brings, but also because you get to flip over your card and reveal the beautiful fruits of your labour.
While a strategy game at heart, it may not be strategic enough for the more enthusiastic players. That said, this isn’t the type of game The Builders: Middle Ages is trying to be. It aims to be a light to mid-weight, fast and portable strategy game, and you know what? It excels at it! More engaged players may be pleasantly surprised at the level of competitiveness the game can offer. Sure, you are aiming for 17 victory points to win, but after a few games you’ll be aiming for more and trying to figure out ways of beating your high scores.
All-in-all The Builders: Middle Ages has strong foundations, a decent amount of complexity and is a well put together game for when you fancy something a bit easier to play after a hard day’s work. Perfect with a nice cup of tea and a choccy biccy.