One of the hottest games of last year was none other than Paladins of the West Kingdom. Shem Phillips of Garphill Games is really on a roll. After finishing up his North Sea trilogy, highlighted by the beloved Raider of the North Sea, he set to work on a more medieval setting. The West Kingdom trilogy got off to a fantastic start with Architects of the West Kingdom, a worker placement game with compounding rewards and a good dose of player interaction. Paladins of the West Kingdom, the second game in the this trilogy, is by far the heaviest and most complex of all of Shem’s games. It would appear this was well received with the game getting the honor of finding its way onto a good number of Top Ten lists for 2019, including my own. With that said, how does the game stack up against one of my favorite games, Orleans?
Paladins of the West Kingdom –
It’s pretty tough to sum up what type of game Paladins is into a couple sentences. Some might call it a hand management game, others a tableau builder. The game also features a fair amount of worker placement, while somehow remaining a fairly solitaire experience. It is this ambiguity that might make some hesitant to give the game a try. While there are a fair number of moving parts within the game, when broken down individually each one is fairly simplistic.
Each round players will be choosing one paladin to represent them. Each player draws three paladin cards, choosing one to keep for the round, returning one to the top of their deck to possible be used next round, and placing another at the bottom of the deck likely to never be seen again. Each paladin provides players with attribute bonuses (more on those later), a number of workers, and a special ability. Players will then gain additional workers from open draft of a tavern card. These workers are important as they will be the driving force for the main phase of the game.
Players will then take turns placing these workers on various spots on their player boards, each requiring a specific combination of workers. Once full players can remove the workers to take the associated action. There are a good number of possible actions, some help build an engine, some score points, and others merely help prepare for future rounds. The main thing to keep in mind is the required attribute value each action. Each of the primary actions will require one of the three attributes, but in turn increase a different attribute.
There is more going on, including shared worker placement spots, avoiding intrigue, and end game objectives. The game is an interesting mix of forward planning and round to round improvisation. Knowing on of the three paladin choices will provide you with some insight as to what you may want to pursue each round, especially when coupled with end game objectives. Not knowing 100% what your workforce will include make the game entirely unpredictable. You will be forced to get clever to accomplish as much as you can, especially with the added restrictions of the the three attribute tracks.
Maybe it’s not the hottest new game, but Orleans has a very good pedigree to back it up. At its release the game was constantly in and out of print, receiving a deluxified edition by Tasty Minstrel Games, and now sits comfortable at number 26 on Board Game Geek. I can’t confirm whether or not it was the first game to feature this particular mechanic, but was definitely the game that brought “bag building” to the forefront of the gaming industry. At least to me, the bag building is more an ends to a means. The game definitely has a lot more going for it.
Players each start with same limited number of citizen tiles, but by game’s end will have drastically different options. Similarly to Paladins, each round players will be placing workers to various spots on their player board to trigger different actions. The biggest difference is you have a little more control over your work force. You see, many of the actions players can take will move them up various tracks, no unlike Paladins, but these tracks will reward players with additional workers of the different types. This allows players to build out their bags, giving them more predictable results each round when drawing character tiles.
Players will also have the ability, as the game progresses, to acquire building tiles that will provide you with specific worker locations and actions that only you have access to. This goes a long ways to allow players to specialize and create a game experience that they want to play, with other players unable to get in their way. This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t feature any player interaction. Each track is limited in the number of character tiles it can provide, once empty the action is no longer available to anyone else. Also, the map.
The game features a map of France, on which players will be racing around to collect the most valuable resources and building their guildhalls. Each city can only house a single guildhall, so don’t wait too long or you may be limited in not just where but how many you can build. Did I mention the citizen tiles? Certain tracks will provide citizen tiles to the first player to reach them, and these will be used to multiply your score. The best part is that despite the added player interaction, so much of the game can be resolved simultaneously. Players can plan and resolve their actions at the same time as each other, and only resort to turn order when the players actions directly impact each other.
I’m betting by now you’ve picked up on which game I recommend. To me, Orleans features a more robust and enjoyable gaming experience while keeping playtime and complexity on the lower end of the spectrum. It also has some very good expansions already available, one of which turns the game into a cooperative experience. Yes, a fully cooperative euro-game. Paladins, does have a solo mode that is very good, and feels like an actually competitive experience. It also features not just more art, but arguable some of the best in the industry thanks to the Miko. In the end both games are good, and I don’t doubt you’ll enjoy both experiences, but if you wanted to add one to your collection…I’d say Orleans.