The Paladins are approaching so make sure you are ready!
Note: This game was gifted to us by Garphill Games for an unbiased review
Set in West Francia, 900 AD, the nearby towns are under constant threat from Saracens, Vikings and Byzantines. It is up to you to gather workers from the city to defend against these enemies by building fortifications and spreading the faith. The King’s Paladins are also coming to aid you!
In this epic worker placement game, you score victory points in a variety of ways, such as attacking outsiders (or converting them, depending on how merciful you are feeling), building fortifications and garrisoning outposts, and many more. Be careful of hiring criminals and arousing too much suspicion, as these will lead you to gain debts, which will hinder your score if not paid off at game’s end.
Each time Shem Phillips designs a game involving worker placement, the mechanics change slightly, and Paladins is no different (well, it is different…you know what I mean) because it mixes up the worker placement rules yet again!
How the game works
With an identical deck of Paladins per player, each round you draw three and select one to aid you for that round. Each one will grant you a special ability and two workers. Next you select a township card in player order which will contain four more workers of various types. Pick carefully as the types of worker you select will dictate the actions you’re able to take during the round.
Instead of having workers in your own colour, in Paladins there are many colours of worker that complete different tasks: Fighters (red) specialise in (take a wild guess) fighting, clerics (black) are for faith based tasks, scouts (green) are good at hunting, merchants (blue) are used for getting money whilst criminals (purple) are wild and can be used for any task! Why not just recruit criminals then? Well, each time you recruit a criminal you take a suspicion card which can lead to debts later on in the game so don’t go over board (I should really take note of this, SEVEN debts last time we played!).
After you’ve collected your workers you begin taking turns placing workers on your own player board. Gathering resources, engine building and building workshops on the left hand side, whilst the right hand side is more focused on scoring victory points and developing your attributes of faith, influence and strength.
Some spaces require more than one worker, some require specific types of workers, but some actions will result in you gaining extra workers to use, and building workshops will reduce the number of workers required for an action (absolutely essential you try to build at least one every round). As you take the point scoring actions on the right hand side, you have attribute requirements to meet before taking them. For example, as you build fortifications, you require more and more influence to do so, and to garrison outposts further and further away from the town you require greater strength. The six right-hand actions all require one attribute to perform them, and all reward you with another attribute.
It’s impossible to focus purely on one attribute (e.g. faith) to max out because you’ll need influence to perform the absolve action and strength to perform the garrison action, both of which reward you with the faith attribute. It forces you to spread your bets and not just rely on one tactic throughout, and I love that about the game. It always feels as though you have so much choice in the way that you go about your turn, how are you going to maximise it fully whilst also getting ready for the next round?
There are some end game objectives which gradually get revealed as the rounds go on, as well as some extra action spaces. It’s a really cool addition as it can change what you are working towards as the game progresses, and the extra action spaces can really put a cat amongst the pigeons with the decision making process. For example one came out in round four (of seven) which allowed you to gain two criminals. On the one hand, I can swap one worker of any colour to gain two wildcards, but at the cost of two suspicion cards. Is it worth it? Depends on your strategy, but I opted for this route twice and ended up with more debt cards than I could handle.
I won’t go into crazy detail about how it all fits together as it is a complicated game and a real brain burner, but we have had an amazing time playing it so far. It’s on the heavier side, so if you’re new to worker placement games then I would definitely recommend checking out Raiders of the North Sea first.
The rulebook is extremely clear and there was very little time spent going back over rules once play began. As with all Garphill games, the iconography is very obvious so once you’ve grasped the basics you can pretty much work out what every card does. It really helps with a heavy game to have a clear, well explained rulebook and this series never disappoints.
The gameplay itself is a brain puzzle that feels so satisfying to solve. The first time we played I focused on garrisoning outposts and commissioning monks, whilst Jess spent her time converting and attacking the outsiders and this tactic seemed to work really well for her. Converts sit underneath your board and each one offers you different end-game rewards, so if you manage to get a few early doors you can start to work towards some big rewards. Jess had one convert that offered 1 VP for each Saracen killed, so she then focused on killing Saracens (and to be fair I didn’t try and stop her). I made sure the second time we played I attempted to mix it up and get some converts, and I managed to get all three of my attribute markers up to high point scoring zones.
It may take a little time to get used to the mechanics, and sure there are a lot of options to analyse at the start of your turn, so many avenues you can take. But try not to let that burden you and just go with the flow. It did take us a full two hours to play and that was just with two players, so I would say the 90-120 minutes it says on the box is a tad optimistic, especially if you were to play with four players.
One other very slight criticism is that it can be quite easy to miss a rule, especially if you’ve hired townsfolk who’s benefits activate when you perform specific actions, you sometimes realise three turns later “oh I should have got a labourer after I attacked, because of my Defender”, but that’s only a minor gripe as I don’t know how they could’ve got around it, other than us not being so forgetful!
I suppose replayability could be an issue for Paladins as not that much changes from game to game- there’s only a handful of different Kings Orders objectives and everyone has the same Paladin deck so the only asymmetry is which order they come out in. But we aren’t bored of it yet!
As ever from Garphill Games it looks great, the artwork on the outsider, townsfolk and Paladin cards is excellent (although I would say the Paladins are quite difficult to tell apart from the other teams’), with well produced, weighty player and main boards.
In summary, if you enjoy a thinky game which rewards clever resource management and forward planning, with some excellent worker placement mechanics, then we would both definitely recommend Paladins of the West Kingdom to you, just make sure you have enough time to play it!
Get this game:
Check this game out on Board Game Geek: