Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Designers: Shem Philips & S.J. MacDonald
Duration: 90 – 120 mins
Your city has been flourishing, and you’ve worked hard to make it glorious. But… there is a threat coming. From the north, the east and the south, they are looming and whispers are saying they plan to invade. What are you going to do? Do you fortify and build strong walls? Do you all out go and attack them before they can even come close? Or are you a city of faith, trying to convert the newcomers and show them the true path? Either way… they are coming. But fear not, for the king knows that as well. And he has disaptched his strangers warriors: The Palladins are on their way to help you.
Paladins of the West Kingdom is the newest addition to West Kingdom Trilogy, a collection of games by a company called Garphill Games, which is brought over here by Renegade Game Studios. Their previous trilogy, The North Sea, has one of my favourite games of all time, Raiders of the North Sea (Which also has my favourite expansion of all time), and the first game of The West Kingdom, Architects of the West Kingdom, is also a personal favourite. So… theres a lot to live up to.
Paladins is different from the others, as it’s a fairly heavy-weight engine builder. It’s still a worker placement game, but you have your own unique board and while it seems theres a lot going on, the gameplay is fairly streamlined once you get going, and theres a lot of tough choices to make. But… it’s inevitably going to be compared to other games of this series… so does it keep up with some of my all time favourites? Read on and find out!
What’s in the box?
The box isn’t that big… but wow there is a lot of stuff crammed in there! There’s 112 worker maples (22 labourers and 18 of each scouts, merchants, fighters, clerics and criminals), 32 wokshops, 28 monks, outposts and jars, and 12 attribute tokens. There’s 50 silver tokens, 4 provision tokens, 1 start player marker and a token for solo play. As for cards… there’s 48 paladin cards, 32 townsfolk cards, 36 outsider cards, 24 debt, suspicion, tavern and wall cards, and 10 cards for king’s favour and 6 for king’s order. There are also 17 cards for solo play… whew that’s a lot of stuff!!!
The components themselves are good, nothing too flashy but solid and well designed. The cardboard is thick, the cards are good quality and the wooden pieces are well designed. The art is also great, especially the character designs. One thing is… the design (character and graphic) feel very similar to Architects of the West Kingdom. I know it’s a overarching series… but I wish it didn’t quite look so similar. Also… I know the boxes are designed so they all match in the series (and look great on the shelf), but it’s and extremely tight pack, and I had to add a lot of baggies. That being said… they’re minor things, and overall it’s a great production that looks great all set up.
So how do you play?
Paladins of the West is probably one of the deeper games I’ve ever reviewed, so I won’t go to deep into explaining all of the mechanics, but I’ll give a good overview. To begin the game, place the 2 parts of the main board together, and shuffle the townsfolk, wall, suspicion, tavern and outsider cards around it, and place the debt cards in their spot. Place the tax supply depending on the player count, and then place the king’s older and favour cards on the board. Then lastly, draw 5 townsfolk and 5 outsider cards and place them face up.
Determine the first player. Each player gets their own board, and places the workshops, monks, outpost and jars, as well as the 3 colour tribute makers at the zero space. They shuffle their paladin cards and place them on the spot, and get 3 silver and 1 province. Then, in reverse turn order, each player chooses a townsfolk card and places it next to the board (you don’t pay costs for it), and gets any instant bonuses if applicable. Now that we’ve set up the game… let’s get ready to play!
Paladins of the West Kingdom is played over 7 rounds. To begin each round, pass the first player marker (obviously ignoring this the first round), and reveal the king’s order or favour card for the round (in round 3, you will reveal one of each). The king’s orders are bonus scoring opportunities for all players, and the king’s favours will be special action spots. Then, reveal tavern cards equal to the number of players +1, (so if there’s 3 players you will reveal 4 cards).
Next, each player will draw the top 3 paladin cards from the top off their deck. They will keep one to use this round, put one back on top of their deck and put one on the bottom of their deck. Paladins will give you not only 2 of the 6 workers you receive that round but also some temporary attribute boosts for the round. When all players have chosen their paladins, they reveal them and then in turn order, draft a tavern card until each player has chosen one and there is one left. Now the action can begin!
Each turn, a player can choose either to take an action or pass. Since there’s a lot of actions on your player board, let’s see what they all do. The most important thing is looking at the colours of the workers required: translucent workers means that any worker may be placed there, but any solid colour requires the worker of that colour or a purple wild worker. So let’s see what each space does:
- Development requires any 2 workers, and when you activate the spot you will take the leftmost workshop and place it on one of the worker spaces on the right-side of your board that has a dotted box around it: when you use that action in future turns, you will require one less worker. You also immediately gain the worker shown under the workshop you just placed.
- Recruitment can be used with either one or 2 workers. Placing one worker (left side), will allow you to discard a townsfolk card and get it’s discard bonus on the top of it. If you choose to place both workers, you get to take a townsfolk card and keep it, using the bottom effect when applicable as a bonus. Note the cost on the main board under each townsfolk card, as you are required to pay the appropriate amount of silver to take the card, or a debt for the 2 cards farthest along the row. More on debts later. Note that if you choose to place one worker, you cannot place the 2nd worker here again that turn (unless you clear the space with prayer)
- Hunt and trade are similar actions. Hunt will give you provisions for one worker placed, or 3 for 2 workers placed. Trade is he same action expect it rewards you silver. Same rules apply as recruitment, in that if you place one worker you cannot place the 2nd one that turn unless you clear it. So effectively, you must choose wether to place one or 2 workers on your action.
- Prayer allows you to pay 2 silver and remove all workers from a action spot this round, effectively allowing you to use it again on the current round.
- Conspire will allow you to gain a purple (which is a criminal!), but you must also gain a suspicion card. More on shady dealings later.
The next 6 actions are much more complex, but ill give a brief overview for each. They all require 3 workers (unless you’ve placed workshops there), and attributes of the colour listed on the left of each acton name, but provide the attribute of the colour on the right of the name as well as bonuses and scoring. Let’s dive in and see what they’re all about:
- Commission requires an increasing amount of provisions the more you place out, as well as the black (faith) attribute. This will allow you to place your monks out on the main board, and gain the associated bonuses as well as score end game points.
- Fortify requires provisions and blue (influence) atributes. They reward you with drawing wall cards and building your wall on top of the player board, which gives you bonuses and end game scoring.
- Garrison is identical to commission, except it requires red (strenght) attributes and rewards faith
- Absolve requires silver and influence, and allows you to remove the jars off your board and place them on the spaces right of the jars, giving you bonuses and allowing you to remove a suspicion card every time.
- Attack allows you to attack outsiders. It requires strength, and if you don’t have it you may pay 1 silver for 2 strength. Attack the outsider card you choose to get the reward at the top of the card.
- Conversion is similar, but requires faith and you keep the outsider card instead of discarding, and it allows you to claim some end game scoring bonuses if you can do it.
If you choose to pass instead of take an action, you remove all the workers off your board and return them to the supply. If you have any unused workers, you may keep up to 3 of them and then return the rest to the supply. You cannot take any more actions this round once you have passed. Once everyone has passed, discard the left most card of the outsiders and townsfolk if applicable, then slide them all down and draw new cards until the rows are full. The new round begins!
The one other mechanic to mention is debts and suspicion. Whenever you take a suspicion card and it has coins on it, you must take the coins from the tax supply (any other card with a red coin on it also requires you to take tax money). Once the tax is emptied, the inquisition happens. The player(s) with the most suspicion cards must take a debt card, but can discard half of their suspicion cards rounded down. Then the tax supply is refilled.
The debt cards will lose you 3 points at the end of the game, but debts can be paid off with actions and give you a point, or destroyed which will remove the card.
At the end of the 7th round, scoring occurs. You will gain points for where you are on each attribute track, completed king’s orders, debts, silver and provisions (1 point for every 3), workshops removed, commissions removed, garrisons removed, absolves removed, fortifications removed as well as any points on cards, converts and debts (paid give you points, unpaid lose you points). Basically… anything with a yellow banner gives you points! Tally up your totals, and the player with the most points wins!
There is also a solo mode, but I haven’t had the chance to try it, and I’m not much of a solo gamer. But if you’re into it, it seems pretty deep and rewarding.
Is it any good?
As I’ve said before… Architects of the West Kingdom, as well as Raiders of the North Sea are amazing game, and both land in my Top 25 games of all time. So… now comes Paladins. At first glance… it’s a completely different design, a much heavier game than it’s predecessors. But… after quite a few plays, not only are there some really great mechanics in there, but while it is different, theres a really solid and great game to be found.
I normally always start with a positive, but I’ll get this out first: Paladins is a great example of solitaire multiplayer. Yes, you have to draft workers each round, and later in the game some action spaces come out on the main board, the outpost and monk spaces are shared, and the card row is shared… but at the end of the day, everyone is working on their player board and focusing on their stuff, and what other players are doing doesn’t matter too much. Now I really don’t mind that… but one of my favourite things about Architects was the player interaction, and at first the lack of it really threw me off. With each subsequent play, it’s been less of an issue, but if you’re looking for player interaction, don’t expect to find it here.
So now that we got that out of the way… there is A LOT to love about Paladins. I’ve already stated my love of engine building games, and this takes it the next level. The game really rewards optimizing. The first game I kind of sampled a lot and scored in the high teens, but the second game I really focused and scored in the high 40’s, and it really shows how planning ahead can really benefit you. Planning to get the right workers and putting the workshops in the right place are crucial, and moving up your correct attributes is key. Also, the round bonuses from the paladins are useful… I just love the optimization of this game!
I also love how each round starts. You get to choose your paladin, which gives you 2 workers and then draft the remaining 4. That really sets you up well, and I enjoy how you can keep up to 3 from the previous round (which is a really fair number). It keeps someone from tanking one round and then overpowering the next. There’s a lot of thought that went into the design of Paladins, and it really shows in the gameplay.
I also like that there’s quite a few strategies to choose from. You can fortify, fight off invaders, put out your monks or outposts… it’s all about choosing a strategy and sticking to it. And when you do… watching it all play out and the satisfaction from the combos and your engine working oh well just gives you such a sense of satisfaction! It is one of he best examples of an engine builder, and once you get it going and rev it up… you’re just racing to the finish line.
The suspicion cards are also great, and add some intrigue to the game. Yes, debts can be really negative and getting too many hurts, but you can work on paying them off and get some points.
But one of my favourite mechanics is the paladins. I like that you always draw 3: one you keep, and get the workers, bonus attributes AND a power that turn. One goes to the bottom of the deck, and the 3rd you put on top of your deck, knowing you’ll get it the next turn, which does give you some sort of preview of what could come and let’s you form a long term strategy. It’s a clever card mechanic, and something that really sets the game apart for me.
I find the game is awesome at 2 players, and expect about a realistic time of 30-40 minute per player. This makes a 4 player game drag to over 2 hours (my first 4 player game took over 2 and half hours, but that shaves down after everyone knows the rules). It’s on par with games of this genre, but it can really drag when everyone is just doing their thing and it’s got that multiplayer solitaire thing. I feel at 2 players the game shines, and can probably run an hour if you know what you’re doing. At 7 rounds, this game feels like you can’t do everything you want, but it also feels like it’s just the right length to keep it balanced.
Overall, my experience with Paladins of the West Kingdom has been great. It’s the kind of game I really love to play but don’t get to very often, because of the length or that they’re always harder to teach to newer gamers… but that’s ok, because then Paladins hits the table, it’s always a great experience. I love the planning and optimizing your moves, and if you’re doing bad, you really only have yourself to blame. It’s an amazingly well designed game. If you’re looking for the next Architects of the West Kingdom… you won’t find it here. But what you will find is a really great engine builder which rewards skill and great gameplay. Paladins of the West Kingdom is highly recommended!
- The paladin cards you draw at the beginning of each round (and what you do with the discarded ones) is just an awesome mechanic
- Great production design and art
- A really great design on the engine building mechanics
- Rewards efficient play, and there’s very minimal randomness to the game
- The drafting of the workers each round is a great mechanic
- Really great 2 player game!
- … but it’s REALLY long at 4 players
- It feels like solitaire multiplayer, and really lacks that player interaction
- Wish the box had a better system of organization
*Thank you to Renegade Game Studios for supplying a copy of Paladins of the West Kingdom for this review. You can find out more about them and their amazing games by clicking here*