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How Architects of the West Kingdom Broke Me

V Updated
How Architects of the West Kingdom Broke Me
There Will Be Games

This is not quite a review.

Architects of the West Kingdom is a boring game. It's not good enough to be fun, it's not bad enough to be funny, and it's not innovative enough to be memorable. It commits the greatest sin a game can: irredeemable mediocrity. So instead of doing a traditional review where I break down mechanisms and where it fails, I'm going to use it as a springboard to talk about the modern euro and why I keep bouncing off them.

Architects of the West Kingdom is a nakedly athematic game. It's a box of mechanisms that admittedly mesh together rather well: worker placement, resource management, and an interesting action stacking/worker arresting angle that allows players to police each other. What it doesn't try to do is use these towards a greater purpose: the mechanisms are the purpose. The game wants you to operate your machine for the duration of its playtime, count up your points, and be satisfied with that. It offers nothing else. Victory isn't a reward, it's a conclusion to 4 people operating their point machines as someone just barely edges ahead because every game is kept artificially close. The lack of theming means this has no justification unless architecture is a far more boring career path than I've been led to believe.

Theme, however, isn't everything. I enjoy abstract games. Quite a bit, in fact. One of the upcoming Gen Con releases I'm most interested in is Shobu, which looks like someone made a game out of random bits from a home and garden store. But crucially these games tend to be very rules-light. Clear board states, short rules explanations, short play times, high interaction, and direct conflict. Modern euros offer none of these. They're bloated, complex beasts laden in iconography that run an hour long minimum, and often double that. To AotWK's credit it does come in right at the hour mark but so little changes during the course of a game that it hardly matters. There's no arc, no tension, no memorable moments. Just an optimization exercise with nice production while you occasionally inconvenience each other.

It's been said that what sets euro games apart is decisions. Impactful choices sending you down paths that eventually fork into more decisions, occasionally blocking each other's way and forcing a different route, until the arbitrary game end condition is met and you found out who took the best path. Architects has these, sure. But decisions don't belong to soulless euros. Plenty of other games can offer them, and offer them well. Micro-decisions from turn to turn may be impactful but are so individually insignificant so that no turn delivers excitement. Games like this inflict a state of malaise as everyone settles in to stare at the board and poke some wooden bits, slowly advancing towards finally completing a building for roughly the same number of points as their neighbor's building. I've realized that I don't care how important a decision is if it's spread out over 10 turns. Boring important decisions are still boring.

So there's no theme. There's no notable interaction. There's no climactic moments. Why should I play this more? The answer is I shouldn't, so I won't. No more derivative, dull as dishwater conversion puzzles for me. I've given these games enough chances. Give me an unfair, imbalanced, high downtime, brutal game that lets me enjoy the company of the people around the table over these any day.

There Will Be Games

Demetri "Vysetron" Ballas
Associate Writer

Demetri has an unhealthy obsession with cards and numbers. He gripes because he cares. You can read his less organized thoughts on his BGG blog or on Twitter.

Articles by Demetri Ballas

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Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300730 14 Aug 2019 09:41
I really like this game and I disagree with almost every word you wrote.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #300732 14 Aug 2019 10:04
Can you explain why it works for you? Genuinely curious. I think I see the appeal but I bounced off it so hard that I'm not sure.
Nate Hayden's Avatar
Nate Hayden replied the topic: #300733 14 Aug 2019 10:18
Haven't played this one, but had a similar experience with euros. I played one, or maybe a few, and the dry nature one day ruined them for me. I had a hard time playing any after that, which may be why I did not play this one.

I like abstract games, I even like innovative and smooth mechanics, but there was some overall aim to Euros that revolted me. I wish I could say it was a matter of surplus in the market, but the over all aim of most of them tired me out.

I very much liked the Euro at first, and the phase of enjoying them lasted awhile. What is interesting is that I seemed to turn entirely away from them at a certain point. While I will play some from time to time I over all avoid them. The totally turning away is an interesting phenomena. It implies that there may be a hinge, or a kind of realization. Maybe the mind figures out that there really isn't too much in being clever, novel or smooth? That depth is more than this?

I still enjoy what I'd call "classic" euros though.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300734 14 Aug 2019 10:28
I guess I should preface this with saying that I’m someone who enjoys:
-New takes on familiar mechanics
-Worker placement
-Push your luck
-The feeling of tension from not having enough time to do everything you want to
-Player interaction where/when appropriate

Architects does all of those things quite well. Yes, even the player interaction bit. I actually found it to be not only more confrontational than the typical WP game, but it’s a really interesting, important part of the puzzle. Recognizing just how much you can screw someone over when they’re just about to collect what they need is huge and benefits you more than any other WP game that tries to shoehorn in direct conflict (which, granted, there are not many others out there). Maybe it’s just the people I play with, folks like myself who love a good Euro as much as we love a good DOAM game, but it really hit us in all the right ways.

I’ve played it 6 times or so now and the one thing that does not work for me is the pacing. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t exclusive to this game, I think this is more of a trend in current game design that I kind of think we should be pushing more against than we are. There’s times in which one-action-per-turn is fine and there’s cases in which it somehow makes a game feel slower. I think the difference is what you’re one action leads up to and how many actions it takes to get there. I get that designers are trying to reduce downtime in order to keep the audience (new gamers? cell phone glancers?) engaged, but that shit just feels glacial to me. It put me off of Scythe only up until recently and it certainly made me less thrilled about Architects on my first play. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why my opinion of Scythe turned a corner, but with Architects it was the push your luck and interaction that really put it over for me.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #300735 14 Aug 2019 10:30

Nate Hayden wrote: Haven't played this one, but had a similar experience with euros. I played one, or maybe a few, and the dry nature one day ruined them for me. I had a hard time playing any after that, which may be why I did not play this one.

I like abstract games, I even like innovative and smooth mechanics, but there was some overall aim to Euros that revolted me. I wish I could say it was a matter of surplus in the market, but the over all aim of most of them tired me out.

I very much liked the Euro at first, and the phase of enjoying them lasted awhile. What is interesting is that I seemed to turn entirely away from them at a certain point. While I will play some from time to time I over all avoid them. The totally turning away is an interesting phenomena. It implies that there may be a hinge, or a kind of realization. Maybe the mind figures out that there really isn't too much in being clever, novel or smooth? That depth is more than this?

I still enjoy what I'd call "classic" euros though.


Oh hey Nate! I'm a fan.

I agree 100%. The euro fatigue/disgust hit pretty suddenly, but I assumed for a while that it was just what I had been playing recently. Turns out, no.

Abstracts and "classic" euros have similar qualities. Simplicity, clarity, conflict, etc. But it bears remembering that the games we make examples of are the ones that stood the test of time. I'm sure the vast majority that have been forgotten deserved to be.

Depth is more than a game's rulebook and mechanisms. It needs to emerge from play to have lasting appeal. And most new school euros are very much of the opposite design philosophy.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300736 14 Aug 2019 10:35
It’s funny, re-reading the article made me aware of the fact that there are certain types of game where I agree with this sentiment but Euros are not one of them. The classic “Ameritrash” game is a dead concept and what we have now is the hybrid, which I am all for, but I am by far more interested in the thematic game that tries new, weird things and may not be quite so “refined” than I am any of the alternatives.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #300737 14 Aug 2019 10:38

Josh Look wrote: I’ve played it 6 times or so now and the one thing that does not work for me is the pacing. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t exclusive to this game, I think this is more of a trend in current game design that I kind of think we should be pushing more against than we are. There’s times in which one-action-per-turn is fine and there’s cases in which it somehow makes a game feel slower. I think the difference is what you’re one action leads up to and how many actions it takes to get there. I get that designers are trying to reduce downtime in order to keep the audience (new gamers? cell phone glancers?) engaged, but that shit just feels glacial to me. It put me off of Scythe only up until recently and it certainly made me less thrilled about Architects on my first play. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why my opinion of Scythe turned a corner, but with Architects it was the push your luck and interaction that really put it over for me.


Thanks for clarifying. I want to focus in on this last bit because I think it's important: FUCK micro turns. When my wife read this piece before I submitted it she said that was the real takeaway. I could do an entire article on this topic alone.

Reducing downtime isn't worth it if none of your actions carry weight. Players need agency. They need the ability to make impactful, significant, game-state-altering moves. There's a reason so many older euros that people hold in high regard have action point systems, or allow for bonus actions, or have variable numbers of actions, etc. In games like Architects you effectively need to get collective permission from every other player to do anything cool. This newer trend towards forcing everyone into lockstep with no ability to deviate feels like playing with a straitjacket.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #300738 14 Aug 2019 11:02

Vysetron wrote: Thanks for clarifying. I want to focus in on this last bit because I think it's important: FUCK micro turns. When my wife read this piece before I submitted it she said that was the real takeaway. I could do an entire article on this topic alone.

Reducing downtime isn't worth it if none of your actions carry weight. Players need agency. They need the ability to make impactful, significant, game-state-altering moves. There's a reason so many older euros that people hold in high regard have action point systems, or allow for bonus actions, or have variable numbers of actions, etc. In games like Architects you effectively need to get collective permission from every other player to do anything cool. This newer trend towards forcing everyone into lockstep with no ability to deviate feels like playing with a straitjacket.


I'm of two minds on this because I sympathize to one degree, but can really see the point in "one action per turn" for many games. Take 51st State, for example, since I was just playing it the other day. It's an engine builder, so you're building up your engine bit by bit. I'm not sure how it would be impacted by being able to make several moves at once, but I think it would be detrimental when you involve Razing and the potential of a pile of resources that lets you play several cards at a time. One slight contrast is Wingspan, in which you can potentially make several moves at once depending on how your board is set up (i.e. 4 birds in grasslands, gain X eggs, then 4 other actions from your birds.) Since you don't directly interact with your opponents, that seems more appropriate. Cthulhu Wars is another interesting example. You can only do one action per turn, but you can potentially take sweeping turns just by moving 5 guys in 5 different directions on one Move action. But being able to take all your actions/use all your Power in one turn would destroy the game (and the world!)

I thought about this recently because I was teaching Star Trek: Ascendancy to a couple people and it hit me while I was explaining: "Holy shit! That's right! You do everything in one turn! Before the next person does anything!" I've been playing so many single action games that it was like having a new experience. So, I dunno. I can see the design benefits of both approaches and I don't think either is inherently superior.

Sorry to read that Architects didn't work for you. It's been on my want list for some time, since I enjoyed Raiders and like the theme of Architects even more.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300739 14 Aug 2019 11:15
Jackwraith, there are absolutely times in which one action per turn works. Chaos In the Old World is a fine example. When your one action really feels like it amounts to something, or at the very least will on your next action, it works. When your one action doesn’t pay off until 3+ actions later, that’s when it starts to get dicey. It feels slow and is prone to being derailed. I’ll admit that worker placement is inclined towards this by design.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #300740 14 Aug 2019 11:19
Yeah, I was gonna say. 51st State may only have you taking one action, but they can be huge. A raze takes out an engine piece, awards resources, and creates a foundation. If that was split over multiple actions it'd feel bad, but because it's powerful it works.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300741 14 Aug 2019 11:26
Star Trek: Ascendancy is my go-to defense of long turns. Wouldn’t work any other way.

I’m a big fan of the two action combo. Goddamn, that shit feels good. I like Architects, but Raiders is still the superior game because of that.
moofrank's Avatar
moofrank replied the topic: #300744 14 Aug 2019 12:31
Did you declare Ameritrash dead in a comment thread with Nate Hayden included?

Ameritrash isn't really that dead. Lots of the mechanics have been moved off CRTs into cards and apps, and moved so far into the mainstream that no one noticed. Enough that even GW is back on the scene with a vengeance.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300748 14 Aug 2019 13:59
I did and I stick to it. Any examples are exceptions, and by no means represent what is currently standard in thematic game design. No, the two sides have mingled enough now and that outcome is now influencing current design.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #300775 14 Aug 2019 20:20
Not sure which of Lords of Waterdeep and Castles of Burgundy broke me, but they were certainly contemporaries, and it has been awhile.

The "microturn" is one of the reasons I'm not a big fan of Imperial Settlers, which is essentially 51st State, I gather?
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #300777 14 Aug 2019 22:39

Josh Look wrote: I did and I stick to it. Any examples are exceptions, and by no means represent what is currently standard in thematic game design. No, the two sides have mingled enough now and that outcome is now influencing current design.


I think this is potentially interesting. What do you see as Euro traits, Ameritrash traits, and hybrids traits.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #300796 15 Aug 2019 09:56
I was going to post a reply, but I’ve been doing some digging into examples to support my claim and I think there’s a podcast here. I’m sure Al would love to argue with me.