Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Builders: Middle Ages

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

The Builders: Middle Ages is a simple card game in which players race to build 17 victory points worth of buildings. On your turn you have three actions points to spend, and there are only three possible action types, each of which can be repeated if desired. Firstly, you may pick a worker card from among the five available on the table and put it in your hand. Secondly, you may pick a building site from the five at the centre of the table and place it in front of you. Thirdly, you may assign a worker from your hand to one of your work sites. Every building requires specific skill points to complete, and will award money and/or victory points upon completion. Each worker has specific skills which can be applied to building construction. When you assign him to a site, you must pay up front. He stays at the site until the building is completed, after which he can be sent to work at another site (and of course must be paid again because that's a different job).

Five workers and five building sites are available at the centre of the table. The next cards from the draw decks are also visible, so you can plan ahead a little.

This is how you send a worker to a building site to work. You want to fully utilise his skills. This particular worker is a very good match for this building. I am only one roof-tile skill point away from completing this building. When I complete it I will earn $12 (top left of building card) and 3 victory points (crown icon).

Some workers. The numbers at the top right corners are their wages.

If you want to send more than one worker to the same work site within the same turn, sending the second worker requires 2 action points. The 3rd worker costs 3 action points, and so on. It is costly when you rush-build. You may purchase actions points at $5 each, which is expensive, but sometimes necessary.

The game ends at the end of the round in which one player achieves 17VP.

The Play

Kareem taught Jeff, Ivan and I to play. The game is straight-forward and intuitive. It is actually quite evocative. I image running a construction business will be just like this. You need to start with humble projects. After you've built up some capital, you can afford to employ more workers, to take on bigger projects, and to run parallel projects. Cash flow management is important (sigh... trust a gamer to use such big words for such a simple family game...). The game is a race to 17VP, and although there is some competition in grabbing cards you want, I think it is more important to manage your own business efficiently than to hate-draft to deny your opponent cards (unless those cards are useful to you too). Action points are precious and must not be wasted.

Everyone starts with one random apprentice, with only two skill points.

Those two on the left are my completed buildings, worth 5VP in total. I only have one ongoing construction at the moment. It is possible to have multiple projects running.

This is supposed to be a brisk, casual, 30-minute game, but we four hardcore gamers turned it into a thinky, full-hour-plus game. Analysis Paralysis! The game is all about picking workers and buildings that match up well, but it's not possible to arrange perfect matches all the time. We were trying to squeeze out every little bit of savings and efficiency that we could, thinking and rethinking our moves. I don't think normal, sane and healthy families would play like this.

Kareem and I aimed for the minimum requirement of 17VP, and we managed to achieve that in the same round. We also spent money to buy actions in order to build some more smaller buildings for points. He managed to build more than I did, and won the game. Ivan was very close behind. Jeff was further behind because he could not complete his big cathedral in time. It he had completed it, he would have outscored Kareem and I. So it was right for us to rush to trigger the game end.

At game end, I had 7 completed buildings, and 5 workers in my pool.

The Thoughts

The Builders: Middle Ages is a light, appealing family game and casual game. It is easy to teach, and the beautiful artwork will help when introducing it to non gamers or casual gamers. There is some strategy - the pacing, the cash flow management, how to assemble your team of workers, and how to pick buildings. Just don't overthink it!

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