Architects of the West Kingdom Review

For me, whenever someone mentions an architect, I get an image in my mind of a slender chap in a city centre studio apartment, wearing a rollneck top, rimless glasses, slicked back greying hair and a taste for jazz. Pretty much all the things that I am not, aside from my greying hair. Time, it seems, makes victims of us all.

Thankfully, Garphill Games had a different image in mind when they made Architects of the West Kingdom. Partly due to the very recognisable art from the now-prolific Mico. That and the entirely different setting. Architects is placed in a typically medieval time with knights, squires, chainmailed guards and all the other things Kevin Costner encountered in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

Architects - Main Board

At its core, Architects is a worker placement game with a slight twist. Ultimately, you're trying to score victory points by way of constructing buildings of various flavours. For any budding bricklayers amongst us, you'll no doubt be aware that such an endeavour requires materials and skills, which is where your workers come in. Place them down on the spots and get either your wanted stuff or necessary folk and away you go.

The twist here is that the workers remain on the board and are additive - that is to say that the more workers you have on a space when you put another one down, the more stuff you get in that action (or the more times you can do that action, think of it that way). This means that actions can escalate quite quickly. Good for you in some ways, but it might get you some unwanted attention once you get more than three or so workers there, so you really have to think about not only what you want, but whether it's worth the risk putting another worker on a spot and garner the attentions of your rivals.

Architects - Worker Spot

For you see, the fun bit is when you kidnap your opponent's workers and hold them hostage, denying them their usefulness and allowing you to grass them up to the local plod in exchange for piles of dosh. Or, you can do what I do and keep hold of them, thus winding up your opponent and providing endless amusement. I love this mechanic as it provides an active way to disrupt your opponents. One of the criticisms of many Euro-style games is the lack of interaction - Architects combats that here and integrates the idea of disruption into one of the major game actions.

The core of the game is the construction, for which you collect cards of two types; the buildings themselves which detail the required skills and materials and then the labourers who provide either one-time, on-going or end-game benefits as well as a particular skill needed to build a building. Once you've amassed the necessary stuff, you pop down a worker on the tracker and play the card. The clever thing here is the fact that in building something, you're ticking the game clock down a notch and bringing the end one step closer. The game starts to get pretty tense as you watch the available slots get taken slowly up by your opponents, causing your brain to go into a sort of "optimisation overdrive" as you desperately try to work out if you can achieve what you need to before the game ends.

Architects - Apprentices

Wrapped up in all of this is the Virtue system; being nice and wholesome is all well and good, but every now and again we all do something that some might consider a bit shady. Thankfully, Architects caters for the Del Boy demographic by allowing you to use the Black Market; you can get all manner of stuff for a bargain...but your virtue will take a knock. Cross too far to the Dark Side and you'll be denied access to things like the Cathedral, which could cost you big points.

Conversely, if you fancy yourself as a goody-two-shoes you'll get points for being generally nice, but consider yourself too good for things like the Black Market. This means that you won't be able get items that may or may not have been on the back of a goods vehicle, so there's a nice balance between short cuts and scoring points. Push your luck too far in the underworld and the regional constabulary will clap you in irons and make you their guest in the local tower for which debt, misery and a lack of workers will just be the start of your problems.

Architects - Guildhall

Architects has a lot going on, but it's ever so simple to play and teach. Plus the iconography is crystal clear and easy to follow. You can get through an entire game (2-5 players, which scales well) in about an hour and have a jolly good time doing so. It rattles along at a good pace and there's little downtime. Couple this with the fact that you as players dictate the game duration by building things, Architects never outstays its welcome and you're always left wanting more. In fact, if anything I wish it was just a little longer, but that's probably me being a little inefficient.

My critical nature is really struggling to think of any downsides to Architects of the West Kingdom, but honestly, the only one I can muster is that maybe the box isn't big enough. Which is the pettiest niggle I've ever indulged in and that genuinely speaks volumes.

Ok Garphill, I admit defeat. Architects is genuinely brilliant. 

This review is based on a full Kickstarter copy of the game.
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