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Top 5 Garphill Games


I’ve done a few of these publisher top fives in the last year or so, and usually I do this with the help of some friends. This time though, I decided that I wanted to take this one on my own. Why? Well because, frankly, I love this publisher. Garphill Games was launched in 2009 by Shem Phillips, running out of Waikanae, New Zealand. The early years saw some family-style games, primarily sold across New Zealand but in 2014, their first Kickstarter campaign launched Shipwrights of the North Sea and brought the company to the wider world. Every year since, a new game has come out and we’re going to have a look at five of my personal favourites.

Pass The Drafting Paper…

It’s late in the 9th century in Franca, and a new kingdom needs to be built. Of course, for that to happen, you need Architects (of the West Kingdom.) This game is the first of the West Kingdom trilogy and it really did something rarely seen. In Architects, players are placing a single worker out into action spots to gather resources, construct buildings and gather townsfolk to help with these actions.

What makes this different from a game like Viticulture is that the worker placement spots are completely open, with a couple of exceptions. For each worker in your colour at a spot, the better the action becomes, which can give you some really interesting engines. It can also paint a target on your back, as your opponents can report your workers to the local sheriff and arrest them, clearing them from a spot and eventually throwing them in jail. This interaction is key to the game and helps keep things from getting out of control. It also doubles as the method of reclaiming your workers which would stay out forever otherwise.

This is my favourite of Garphill Games products at the moment because it has such a simple mechanism of worker placement but has elevated it. Turns are incredibly quick, there’s a whole bunch of strategy available, a couple of expansions to throw more stuff in, and it made me fall in love within a few rounds. There’s even a very clever solo mode which works when included in a two-player game to increase the interactivity. Architects was an incredibly strong opening to the West Kingdom Trilogy and really brough high expectations from the company.

Can We Build It? Yes We Can!

In a bit of a pivot from the linked trilogies, this next entry is from the so-called “historic” trilogy. We’re going back even further in time to the Roman invasion of Britain in the time when the Picts were causing all sorts of issues for the Romans in the north. Hadrian’s Wall is a huge historical artifact but as a game, it’s a huge swap from the norm. You still have meeples and resources but there is no board for you to work from. Instead… Hadrian’s Wall is a flip-and-write game. And it is a biggie. In the game, you’ll gather resources and workers at the beginning of each of the six rounds, and then proceed to take actions.

The player who can accumulate the most renown, piety, valour and discipline, whilst avoiding disdain, will prove to the Emperor they are the model Roman citizen and be crowned Legatus Legionis! Some might find this game a big solo game because there is very little in player interaction, but I quite like being able to focus on my actions and economy, whilst occasionally getting a stone or a worker from my opponent as they use one of my discarded cards.

I love a crunchy little roll and write and I think Graphill Games Hadrian’s Wall often gets overlooked. There are so many satisfying combos for you to undertake and decisions you can make, which makes the game very replayable. Case in point, I’ve played this game four times in two months because I introduced it to a friend at my game group and she has persistently asked if we can play it. I may have to get her her own copy...

Don Your Armour

We’ve built this Garphill Games kingdom and now we must defend it. Fresh of the heels of Architects, Paladins of the West Kingdom rides in to save the day. Paladins is another worker placement game with a twist, where you will choose which workers you get by the Paladin you select at the beginning of each round and from the tavern cards available. You then set about building out your section of town to defend, taking actions like building walls, storehouses and garrisons, training monks, converting or defeating incoming outsiders and employing townsfolk. These actions usually require specific workers to maximise, but you can reduce the costs on spots on the right of the board by building over them. Whilst you’re taking these actions, you have to keep an eye on your attributes, Faith, Strength and Influence, because the right-hand actions require a certain level of one of the attributes and bump one of the others.

A series of different objectives, known as Kings Orders, will drive some of your scoring, but Kings Favour cards will give you some unique spots to get some powerful actions from. Ultimately, there’s a puzzle you have to solve but it’s deeply satisfying to make it work your way. My big tip here is don’t try and spread yourself too thin. Focus on two of the three attributes over the seven rounds. Architects introduced me to this world, and it sits at number 1 on my top games list but Paladins is making a push.

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away…

It’s probably fair to say this next game is the one that really unlocked Garphill and got people's attention. Raiders of the North Sea is a worker placement game with a twist, something a speciality at Garphill. This time, we are Norse Raiders (or Vikings, I suppose) attacking settlements and monasteries to gather goods and bolster our standing, whilst trying to avoid being drawn into Valhalla. In the game, players will put a worker out on the board and take the action. Where things change though is that they will also pick up a worker already on the board and do the action there. No-one has their own pool of workers, they just have the openly available choices on the board of black, white and grey workers to pick up. Each action is a choice and sets your opponent up for a future turn but can also block their turns in weird ways, always a delight if you can pull it off. The simplicity of worker placement with a subtle twist has stood Garphill Games in good stead for their future releases. There’s a lot of options, from going on raids, gathering resources, and bumping up various tracks. It may seem daunting at the beginning, but the overall actions is “do a thing, do another thing” and you get into a rhythm pretty easily.

So much love for Raiders seems to remain as the game was reimplemented in 2020 as Raiders of Scythia, which I’m yet to play but really want to take a look at some point.

A Sky Full Of Star

The last game of Garphill Games here is the newest publication, recently reaching the Kickstarter backers and kicking off a whole new trilogy. We are now in Baghdad, mapping out the stars and trying to measure the world in Wayfarers of the South Tigris. In Wayfarers, you will be rolling dice or place out workers to trigger actions, gathering cards with different tags to map out the land, sea and stars. You can buy upgrade tiles to make your dice more effective, providing you with tags that can allow you to acquire other cards. There are a lot of crunchy choices you can make, like which townsfolk to employ to improve your actions as you trigger them or do you take the one who increases your Rest action? The focus of your engine can lead you down different paths and it’s incredibly interesting to develop as you go. You have to have a bit of flexibility in case the cards you want come up, but the game itself is very elegant.

There is a lot to explore in this game, and I have barely scratched the surface of it. There has been a much fuller review of Wayfarers which gives a lot more detail of the game and I’m very excited to get a lot more into the game.