20th Mar2020

‘Paladins of the West Kingdom’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

paladins-west-box

When it comes to the various similarly themed games from Shem Phillips and Garphill Games, I have to admit to having had a mixed experience so far. I really enjoyed Raiders of the North Sea, but Shipwrights of the North Sea left me cold enough that I felt no inclination to return to the series. Since then, however, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Paladins of the West Kingdom, and I note that certain characters (including Tom Vasel) believe that this is the best game in the series so far. With that in mind, I felt I had to jump back in and find out for myself.

The first thing that you have to note about Paladins of the West Kingdom is that it contains a ridiculous amount of components into a smaller than average box. I’m all for reducing the carbon footprint produced by shipping games around the world, but I honestly cannot get the contents of this box back in without just ramming them into any gap. There’s no room for even a few cubic millimetres of air in each bag and you’ll need to squeeze them flat – that’s the margin of error we’re talking about here.

The amount of components is also a problem during setup, because each player has one of the most expansive individual setups that I’ve ever seen. Each player has four rows of wooden pieces to arrange in a set way (representing workshops, outposts, monks and jars) as well as a small hand of cards, a starting villager card, some coins and a few other bits and bobs like tracking markers. In addition, the central board contains a ton of other elements – villager and criminal cards, a load of meeples, a host of seal cards, some debt cards, the coin supply and more.

This, honestly, was overwhelming at first and it takes a number of games before Paladins of the West Kingdom becomes second nature to setup. Thankfully, in keeping with the other Garphill Games products that I’ve played, the instruction manual is clear and concise, with good images that assist in jogging the memory. On the up side, the components here are very nicely done, with the now classic Mihajlo Dimitrievski artwork that features in all games from this universe, and a component quality that is generally very high.

In general, you could summarise Paladins of the West Kingdom as being at the heavier end of the spectrum of games that have been produced by Garphill Games and at least compared to those I’ve played, it’s also more satisfying. It uses a system of deckbuilding and hand management that interlocks with its core worker placement mechanic, which in turn leads to kind of like a light engine building element. Whilst these things are mechanically fused, the points you’ll score for things like building fortifications or converting outsiders act as kind of like “consequences” of your engine, and so there’s a bit of point salad feel as well.

Whilst that all sounds complex in terms of there being a lot to take in, Paladins of the West Kingdom isn’t actually hard to learn, but it does come with a lot of complex and far reaching decisions once the game is underway. Each round begins with the players choosing one of the paladin cards from their hand, which is usually made up of three cards. This paladin card will be placed face down on the fountain space of each players board, and then all players simultaneously reveal their paladin.

Each paladin includes on it at least one action or bonus (such as a discount on developing your board, or converting an outsider) as well as a few meeple symbols. The first thing players do now is draw meeples in the colours shown on their own paladin, which (alongside the action or bonus) is the driving reason for choosing one paladin over another as I’ll explain in a moment. The second source of meeples is the village card, which is shared between all players and denotes the other workers that each player can take to add to their pool.

With these meeples in hand, players now take turns to activate one spot by placing meeples of the appropriate colour onto the space they wish to activate. Some spaces need more than one meeple, whilst other spaces need meeples of a certain colour as shown by the way they are printed. Purple meeples (criminals) can be used as a wild choice of meeple, but when one is added to your pool, you must also take a suspicion card that can have one of several negative effects later on in the game.

With this simple idea in mind, Paladins of the West Kingdom becomes a straightforward prospect to play, mostly. The players can invest in workshops and outposts to “pre-populate” some of the action spaces, which then allows those actions to be performed more cheaply in terms of the workers you need to invest. All of the things you’ll do when placing workers lead to one of several things, which include either gaining resources of one kind or another (including money, cards, workers or something else) and then investing those resources in King’s Orders, Fortifications, or Outsiders, each of which creates points.

King’s Orders are perhaps the most valuable way to obtain points, with a single demanding completion of a number of outposts, or that a set amount of monks be recruited, for example. If achieved, the player will score the number of points shown. Building fortifications is similar, with each addition to the fortification row that runs along the top of the player board adding more and more points. Outsiders are interesting, because they can either be fought and defeated for an immediate benefit, or converted and assimilated into your community, for end game points.

There are a few other things to consider as well, such as the recruitment of villager cards. These, whilst technically a resource that can be used immediately, will also allow the player to add passive effects to their engine. When combined with a similar paladin ability and a few workshops or outposts, the effect is that turns go a lot longer in the later rounds (of which there are seven) and the benefits generated tend to snowball towards the end of the game as the passive benefits mount up on top of the inherent capabilities of your engine.

Balancing all the available options and the stages of each round is what makes Paladins of the West Kingdom a fairly heavy game, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s easy enough to understand as long as you can get your head around the setup. Whilst I would likely agree that it is the “most complete eurogame in the series,” I can’t say I outright agree with Mr Vasel that it’s the best – I’d say that honour is now shared with Raiders of the North Sea, simply because that one is considerably more accessible. Still, that makes Paladins of the West Kingdom well worth checking out, especially if you want a very expansive, heavy game that takes up very little shelf space.

**** 4/5

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