My wife and I played #Architects of the West Kingdom for the first time on Saturday night. And... it took several days for me to process my feelings toward this game! It definitely was not a love at first sight type of experience I had expected, but here's what you should know beforehand:
With that said, let's get right into this! And again, please keep in mind that these are just my first impressions. I feel like it's more important than ever to remind this as it's my first time feeling so mixed about a game that I wholly expected to love (and since there were several factors that made it an incomplete experience).
(+) Unboxing experience - Small box with a lot of game inside. Seems characteristic of the these trilogies and I really like that. There isn't much of an insert, but this game doesn't need a whole lot of organization.
(+) Friendly rulebook - Rulebook with modern sensibilities was the first thought I had. I like it when rulebooks run longer for the sake of making it easier to read. Important sections are spaced out well and includes plenty of helpful examples and graphics. Reading the rules actually got me excited about the game's potential.
(+) Aesthetics - I know some people don't like Mihajlo's art, but it works for me. It packs a punch in terms of personality and I've been wanting a game in my collection that has a bit of that oomph, in comparison to many of my games that have a more "quiet" personality where the art is more of a backdrop (e.g. Viticulture, Clans of Caledonia, Marco Polo).
(+) Smart graphic design - The iconography in this game is fantastic. Intuitive and hard to forget.
Now let's get into gameplay. But first, here's a quick summary of what Architects is about:
In Architects, the primary way in which you earn VP's is by contributing to the construction of the cathedral or by building individual structures. You need to acquire resources in order to build, and you can hire apprentices to help your cause.
(+) Unique twist to the typical worker placement mechanic - A worker's action becomes more powerful the more workers you have in that space (e.g. the first worker you place at the quarry will give you 1 stone. If you place another worker in the same space in another turn, you will get 2 stones because you have two workers in that location). There's benefit in investing in fewer action spaces, especially if you can combo off of your apprentices' abilities to add even more power behind your actions, but you also run the risk of getting many of your workers captured and having to build up your actions' power again.
(+) Drafting apprentices - This works similarly to games like #Century: Golem Edition. In order to hire apprentices further down the column, you either need to have more workers in the action space, or pay silver for each column you want to skip. There are various abilities present and it's fun to pick and choose which apprentices you want to try and build your combos/engine.
(+) Virtue track - I love the idea of this. Your character's virtue increases or decreases in value depending on his/her choices throughout the game--hiring shady apprentices, visiting the black market, stealing tax money, racking up debt or paying off debt, etc.--this is important because if you're too virtuous, you can't take advantage of the black market for quick rewards, or heading too far into the dark side will prevent you from contributing to the cathedral but will help you avoid taxes! From the moment I read about the virtue track in the rulebook, I had already decided I'm going deep into the dark alley haha.
(-) Little tension - As the first point suggests, many of the action spaces have no limit on the number of workers you can place. This takes out the tension present in typical worker placement games where you compete for desirable action spaces. Architects introduces a different form of tension by allowing players to capture their opponents' workers, and even rewarding them for doing so. I like the innovation of this idea but personally feel that this makes 2p games too loose. We tried throwing in a bot for the first half of the game but it was too discouraging for my wife because the bot ended up capturing quite frequently and essentially made her "reset" again and again. I can easily imagine this game being much more fun and chaotic when played at higher player counts.
(+/-) It's a race - I feel like the heart of this game is a race. And this seems quite intentional considering all of the design elements. There isn't a whole lot of tension. There's no concept of a "round" or a "phase" in this game. Instead, it's an everflowing gameplay where you're quickly acquiring resources by building up combos and advancing your building amidst the chaos of getting your workers captured and freeing them. And don't get me wrong, it does this really well. In fact, it feels like #Century: Golem Edition "but much more," and I like that. Quick turns, relatively quick gameplay (under 1.5 hrs), satisfying combos. In the end, when thinking about this game for 2p only (with the bot too), I think it'll come down to how often I'll be in the mood for a race vs. 1-2 hours of deeper strategy games. My gut feeling is that I'll typically prefer the latter, but let's see whether future plays will change my mind.