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Viscounts of the West Kingdom is the final instalment of the West Kingdom trilogy (Architects, Paladins and now Viscounts). A series which I...

Viscounts of the West Kingdom by Garphil Games Viscounts of the West Kingdom by Garphil Games

Viscounts of the West Kingdom by Garphil Games

Viscounts of the West Kingdom by Garphil Games


Viscounts of the West Kingdom is the final instalment of the West Kingdom trilogy (Architects, Paladins and now Viscounts). A series which I have immensely enjoyed and if I tell you that my biggest gripe with the series is that I can’t get my head around the thematic link between the game titles and what you’re actually doing in the games themselves, it might give you a clue a to how this review is going to do down…(spoiler I like it).


Viscounts is the most visually appealing of the three games coming with a central circular board and eye-catching 3-tiered castle in the centre of the board through which 1-4 players will be moving their single Viscount figure around the action spaces of the circular board, constructing buildings from their individual player board i.e. ‘building their engine’. As you build you’ll derive immediate and ongoing benefits on both the central board and your individual player board.

Gameplay

Each turn you’ll complete 6 distinct phases, however, the meat and potatoes, if you will, comes as you try to complement your Viscount’s new action space with the ever-shifting cards on your player board. Being able to optimise cards and actions across the boards describes a standard level of competence. What seems to be beyond me, certainly during the later stages of the game, is calculating the effects of your workers as they infest the castle – essentially only 3 workers are allowed in any section and the surplus is pushed into adjacent sections triggering further effects.



Once you’re familiar with the iconography (which is largely shared with other games in the series) your player boards lay out the phases in your turn which repeat in player order until the Kingdom descends into Poverty, achieved by players rinsing the Debt cards and revealing the Poverty card; or by being virtuous and fulfilling Deeds until the Prosperity Card is revealed. However, the Poverty card will reward the players with the most Deeds, and the Prosperity card rewards the player with the most debts so there is a nice see-saw effect of players collectively taking debts and deeds until the game ends.

You’ll start the game with three Townsfolk in your hand and each turn you’ll have to add one to your player board. This will then push the existing Townsfolk to the right until there are at most three on your board. What’s nice, or crunchy – depending on your point of view, is that some cards have immediate bonuses, some have drop-off bonuses, and whilst they are on your board they all provide extra icons for your primary actions. There’s an element of deck building as well as you add cards to your discard pile and discard cards later in the game.

Your primary actions are determined by the icons which are present on the Townsfolk cards on your player board and constitute the meat and potatoes of the game. You can Trade, Build, Mess around in the cool castle or Do Some Churchey stuff. Trade is where you get the resources required to do the other actions all of which give you victory points which is ultimately what we’re trying to do here, as ever.

There are three different types of resources for which you’re trading, Gold (okay), Stone (okay) and Ink Wells (wait – what?). Which allow you to take the VP-rewarding actions. The first, Build, requires hammer icons to build either workshops, trading posts or a guildhall. Each building type has its own unique piece (beeple?) and provides permanent bonuses as well as victory points - “So far, so Euro”.




The third action is to Place Workers in the castle. This is the centrepiece of the game and arguably what makes this game stand out to a passer-by (what’s one of those?). Each section of the castle has an effect to resolve as you place your workers and you will also bump other players workers (or your own) off the castle. As more workers litter the castle the combos you can build (i.e. free actions) is nice. In fact, I think it’s one of my favourite aspects of this game – my brain can’t work out what’s going to happen when I place 4 workers on the 1st tier but it’s always a nice surprise when I’m the active player and get to resolve the second tier and third tiers as well as bumping a few other players off the castle. However, these types of combos are only possible when there are a number of your workers (as well as others) already in the castle and won't happen much before the last 30 minutes or so.


The fourth and final action is writing a manuscript…which I’ll admit is a bit of a departure from typical worker placement games action spaces. These manuscripts often have an immediate bonus and endgame scoring points as well as having some very important bonuses for set collecting.

Finally, for the purposes of this gameplay overview, there is a virtue track. Criminals, as in the other ‘West Kingdom’ games are considered wild cards and their icons can be anything but using them does give you some Corruption. Corruption and Virtue are tracked separately on the virtue track and can give lots of Deeds and Debt cards. The castle and this virtue track are the two elements that make this game stand out, not just from the other West Kingdom games, but as a "it’s different from anything else and deserves a place in my collection"-type game.

I’ve not tried to describe every rule, there’s a plethora of other actions and rules I’m not going to cover but hopefully what I have done is given you a flavour of the game and why I like it. I’ve not even touched on strategies, that’s for another person to give but suffice to say I don’t think there’s any particular dominant strategy and you’ll do well by dabbling in a little bit of everything.

Components


The game comes in my newly-favourite sized box – i.e. one that fits the components perfectly with no extra space. I 3d-printed an organiser which did free things up a little bit but there is a massive amount of game in this deceptively small box.



The cards all have a lovely linen finish making them buttery smooth to handle. The wooden components are fantastic and the plastic castle is a nice touch. In an ideal world, the castle and board slot together easily and stay together but that was not my experience. However, this is a very minor gripe about some rather unique components.

Criticisms


The only criticism I have of this game is my lack of awareness of what a Viscount is. An architect designs buildings, Paladins are fighting monks, Viscounts – not sure, do they write manuscripts…? I just don’t have the familiarity with the term or the ability to link my in-game actions with a particular purpose of a Viscount. Maybe the designers’ adherence to the ‘West Kingdom’ trilogy (North, South and East as well) is providing too many constraints. I just don’t feel like I’m being a Viscount or my actions are anything to do with Viscounting…but that doesn't really detract from the excellent gameplay.

Conclusion


So with all that said, what do I think? The initial set up and cards provide a large number of variables and create a highly replayable game. I definitely want to play this again and again, however, as the UK is tentatively eyeing the easing of Lockdown in the next few months I expect that my groups' demands and appetites will be very wide and varied. Replaying the same title month on month or week on week is just not going to happen any time soon.




There is a lovely balance in lots of different aspects of the game and make it feels like it is in a constant state of flux. Any strategy you decide upon will likely have to be adapted turn by turn, in order to do well but any strategy (as long as you’ve got one will probably do alright). This is a testament to the balance of the game. I was initially enamoured of the castle strategy to win, and then the manuscript strategy and I’ve dabbled with the Building strategy (although not successfully). It is clear that the mechanics integrate together perfectly and there are multiple paths to victory.

In terms of the trilogy, I have liked each game more than the previous. And I started out liking Architects a lot. Maybe I suffer from a bit of cult of the new, but Viscounts is my standout game of the series.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store; which need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designers: Shem Phillips, S J Macdonald
Bgg page:  https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/296151/viscounts-west-kingdom
Playtime: 60 mins - 90 mins
Players: 1 - 4




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