Paladins of the West Kingdom is a worker placement board game from publishers Garphill Games and Renegade Game Studios – released in 2019. Designed by Shem Phillips and S J Macdonald, featuring artwork by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, the game sees 1 – 4 players build fortifications, commission monks, utilize Paladin powers and more. However, will players want to grow their faith, strength and influence? Let’s find out!
Paladins of the West Kingdom isn’t like most worker placement games, as players don’t have their own worker colour. Instead, actions require specific coloured meeples – with the colours being different types. For example, the green meeples are supposed to be scouts. Sending the wrong workers is not an option, and for the most part you’ll only be placing workers on your own board to trigger things – only blocking yourself from worker spaces.
Players start the game almost identically; with outposts, workshops, monks and jars placed onto their player board. With 3 coins and 1 provision to their name, players will also have an identical deck, albeit shuffled, of 12 paladin cards. To add a slight asymmetry from the offset each player, in reverse turn order, claims a townsfolk card. Townsfolk cards come with on-going abilities when earnt this way – with more townsfolk available during the game.
The central board, which starts rather empty, has a market of these townsfolk cards and another for outsider cards. It also has denoted spaces to place all of the other types of cards that are used during play. Some of the most important cards are the King’s Order and King’s Favour cards. Randomly drawn from the deck, three order cards are placed onto the round tracker along with 5 favour cards. For the first three rounds an order card is revealed – which are bonus scoring objectives. From the third round onwards a favour card is revealed – opening up a central special worker placement space.
Played out over seven rounds, at the start of each round players draw three paladins – choosing one to use, one to place back on top of their paladin deck and one to place at the bottom. Paladins give bonus abilities for the round, such as reducing the cost of an action, and come with two coloured meeples printed at the top. Importantly, Paladins also give the player a temporary boost to their attributes, useful for being able to perform certain actions. Each player then chooses an available tavern card, used only at the start of the rounds, which gives them 4 additional workers of various colours.
On a turn players will place a worker or workers to a space on their board. The left hand side of the board features actions more angled towards building up resources or an engine. Here players can use workers to perform actions like gain silver/provisions or recruit new townsfolk. Two of the left actions stand out. Conspire sees the player spend a worker to receive a wild purple coloured worker. While they can be used as any colour these criminal workers come with a suspicion card. Too many of these when the tax pool runs out of funds can see debts earnt by players. Develop is also interesting as, while it isn’t cheap, sees the player build a workshop over a meeple cost on the right side of their board, cheapening a specific action.
The right side of the board is all to do with earning points and boosting faith, strength and influence. Fully overlapping these actions see one attribute boosted due to another, with faith able to boost either strength or influence – and vice versa. Each works slightly differently but effectively sees three workers being spent to perform actions such as fortifying, commissioning monks to venture out to the central board or even see outsiders converted to your cause.
Performing one action at a time players can keep going until they run out of workers, or decide to pass. At the end of each round players discard all of their spent workers, and are only able to carry over up to three to the next round. Passing on the first player marker a new round begins with paladins being picked and new workers gained. Over the course of the game players will build up their attributes allowing them to build garrisons or send monks further out on the central board, build more walls and defeat stronger outsiders. Each path has points available from it if progressed far enough, with bonuses available via the King’s Orders. At the end of the seventh round whomever has the most points, from all of the various methods, wins.
There is a lot going on in Paladins of the West Kingdom. Each action in some way opens up another, with them all being interlinked through the faith, strength and influence attributes. Some players have loved this linked nature, still it does take a lot to get your head around in the first few games. Players will need to hunt and trade for resources to be able to do the other actions. Those actions can then see provisions or silver earnt – allowing a future action to be taken. It is all about planning out turns to snowball one move into the next. There is an analysis paralysis concern here. Players could get stuck in a loop of working out what could trigger what. Easing this concern is the point salad nature of the experience. Points are earnt from cards, the trackers, bonus objectives and more – so players never feel like they haven’t achieved anything.
It does mean there are many routes to victory, despite often the majority of points coming from the three main attribute trackers. The routes available are more how to build a small engine with townsfolk or outsiders to help a cause along, rather than solely gain game winning points from. Nevertheless, the choice is in players hands and plenty of choices are thrust on players from the get go.
There is no slowly stepping players into the experience, even the choice of townsfolk card before the game begins can be important – not great on a first playthrough when you have little understanding on exactly how elements will play out. There is more to specific choices than meets the eye, like choosing a paladin. Putting a paladin to the bottom of your deck in the first round is as much about making sure it will turn up in a later round than getting rid of it. In the first play this isn’t instantly obvious causing players to easily miss out on maximising the effect of a paladin’s ability.
The temptation of suspicion cards is strong, and much like in Architects of the West Kingdom there are opportunities to make being on the shady side of things a lucrative endeavor. Getting them alongside a wild worker often allows that otherwise undoable action to be possible. On top of that, suspicion cards frequently give gold from the tax pool. Whenever this pool hits zero the player with the most suspicion gets a debt. Debts are work -3 points but it isn’t completely bad. These can be paid and then are worth 1 point, plus there are dodgy townsfolk that will allow players to benefit from having suspension cards. It’s a very different and interesting way to play that become available based on what townsfolk come out of the deck.
Having ample choices is a great aspect of Paladins of the West Kingdom but there are areas that let the game down. After a player has finished using all of their workers it can still be a few minutes before the round ends – with very little to keep players’ attention after passing. Aside from taking up slots on the central board, which might slightly alter future plans, the low player interaction creates these moments of disconnect. There is limited reason to care what is occurring, as the solitaire gameplay style results in you only focusing on what you are doing on your player board.
The King’s favour action spaces do help lift players’ heads from their player boards slightly. Depending on the actions that become available however there can be a first player advantage – especially obvious in a 2 player game. If one of the most sought after actions comes out then it gets instantly snapped up in round 3 by whomever is first. Ebbing away, as more become available, in a two player game the starting player will still get first pick 3 times – once more than the other player. In some playthroughs a “poor” action has presented itself first and gone unused, leading to the advantage being less apparent but the choice for the first player is always there.
The series has a distinct art style and Paladins of the West Kingdom is no different. Full of quirky details it wraps the game in stunning artwork, with every card, board and token having a consistent look – helping the otherwise loose theme take some hold. Having one long central board is unusual and certainly gives the game a distinctive look. Alas, it makes the game harder to fit onto the table and could certainly have been designed into a normal shaped board, without the artwork being massively distrubed. The slightly odd choices don’t stop there, with the green colour chosen for the meeples making them blend with the background of the player boards. These are minor issues but given the high quality of the components these stand out.
Despite being part of the same series of games, with the same symbology and gameplay logic, Paladins of the West Kingdom is rather different from Architects of the West Kingdom. This could allow players to own both without them feeling like they overlap too much in a collection. Despite enjoying Paladins there isn’t quite the same level of uniqueness nor player interaction that is found in Architects. There are still ample choices to be made, with a compelling core gameplay of building up attributes – though these never feel like faith, strength and influence referred to simply by colour. Given the choice of only one I’d keep Architects not Paladins on my gaming shelf. It is easier to teach and get to the table, with the additional complexity of Paladins not making it a better experience.
(Editor’s Note: Paladins of the West Kingdom was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, some of which are running dropoff services, find your local store here.)