Previously I have told you about my favorite book of all time, The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. Awhile back I heard that there was a board game version of it, which of course intrigued me. But would it be any good? Or just a shameless product tie-in?
It turns out the adaptation was handled well – I guess taking nearly 20 years to make a game meant it wasn’t rushed! The game itself is very good and has become pretty popular in the gaming community (it’s ranked in the top 100 by the folks at BoardGameGeek).
In this game, players are building the Kingsbridge cathedral. Each will employ various craftsmen and artisans to help, but must also get the requisite wood, sand, stone and metal. That sounds simple enough, but along the way you must maintain a delicate balance of gold, workers and resources while paying the royal tax and dodging bad situations – just like in the book!
Each turn begins with players selecting which resources they will choose to collect with their workers, and if they want to hire a new craftsman. After that, a player’s 3 master builder tokens are placed in a bag and pulled out one at a time. The player whose token is selected must decide to either place his master builder on a board space and pay 7 gold, or pass. Each pass starts reducing the price, until placements become free.
Once all master builders are placed, the players move through a series of actions around the board. This ranges from a random event card to rewarding those that work at the priory, to paying the royal tax, to trading resources in the market. Once this run of actions is complete, then the players produce their work on the cathedral and take the corresponding victory points they are entitled to. More resources means greater production, but better craftsman are able to produce their work faster. There will be 6 full turns before the game ends, and the player with the most victory points wins (the player with the most gold wins a tie).
Throughout the game, players must plan out their actions carefully while tip-toeing around other players. What do you need more in the short-term – more resources? A better craftsman? Protection from negative events? But you can’t ignore your opponents. Notice Suzie over there on your left? That Bellmaker artisan she has working for her is getting her big time victory points while you’re piddling around with an entry-level Mason. Time to hire better help!
The Pillars of the Earth is a good match for players with moderate to advanced experience in gaming. It takes awhile to explain the first time, but with repeated game play, the sequence of events moves rapid-fire. It is designed for 2-4 players, but is definitely best for 4. I understand there is also now an expansion to allow play for up to 6. This is a longer game, which can take up to 2 hours. The Pillars of the Earth is published by Mayfair Games, and was the 2008 Game of the Year by Games Magazine.
If you are ready for a new engrossing game to add to your library, I heartily recommend this one. It’s a favorite we come back to time and again. When you place that roof on the cathedral – it’s a feeling of accomplishment!