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This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more...

Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games Merchants Cove by Final Frontier Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Worker Placement

This bumper box holds a smorgasbord of interesting game design, high production values, engaging artwork, a cacophony of components and more plastic and carboard than any game should rightfully have.

Merchants Cove sees 1-4 players become a Merchant (*gasp*) flogging their wares to visiting adventurers that have bottomless pockets.  As the shops are in a cove (*shock*), the adventurers always arrive by boat, some stay and some leave to return by boat again, for more gear.

The way in which you craft items in each shop is utterly different and arguably each player is actually playing two games.  The first is played out on the central board and the second mini-game is done on your own shops’ action board.  In terms of mechanics, it’s got a bit of everything, but for me this is simply an engine builder with lots of added chrome.


In the game you play as either a blacksmith, an alchemist, a sea captain, or chronomancer (I must admit I have no idea what one of them is – something to do with using time).  The blacksmith and alchemist sell typical goods and potions; the captain sells fish, shells and treasure, the chronomancer sells artefacts from time travelling … as you can probably tell the theme is stretched a bit thin throughout the game but it just about manages to keep it all together.

This is the board the Chronomancer has to play with

The game will end after three market phases, the player with the most money wins.  Each shop crafts coloured (red, blue yellow and green) small and large items that can only be sold to the same-coloured adventurers on the relevant (small or large goods) pier.  The game end feels like it comes relatively quickly and I’ve not been at a table where this has outstayed its welcome yet.  

The meta-game, played out on the central board is where you’ll get the only player interaction.  This comes primarily from loading boats with adventurers that either help you or hinder your opponents.  Hopefully a bit of both!  However, what interaction there is does feel mean (that’s a good thing), sending a boat full of blue adventurers to the small goods pier when your opponent only has large blue goods is a good feeling. 

Large red goods are in high demand (far boat, all red adventurers at the large pier)

 However, in my experience, it is probably better to optimise for your own play, as there is nearly always a way to mitigate the damage you could cause to an opponent.  For example, your opponent doesn’t have to sell any goods during the market phase and can keep them all for a more favourable market phase. 

The smaller games are played out on each shops’ activity board and are completely different from each other.  Despite their uniqueness, each shop does feel balanced and can score as easily (or not) as each other.  These mini games are the unique selling point for this game and each time I’ve played with a new shop I’ve appreciated small nuances that weren’t immediately apparent at first glance.  I’m sure that some clever game designers could make a big-box game just out of the mechanisms on each shops’ board.

The Alchemist's board.  The marble filled decanter is the mini-game here.

Due to each shop’s uniqueness they have their own rule pamphlet.  This can make for quite a lengthy teach to what is quite a simple game.  If you’re comfortable with your shop the main game is on a par with Catan for complexity and approachability.  This asymmetry has drawn comparisons with Root which although more complex overall, has less asymmetry than Merchants Cove. 

Every single action you take on your turn will have a time cost and potentially a penalty corruption card as well.  This moves your time tracker one or two spaces around a clockface which acts as the game’s timer.  Passing certain points on the clock with your tracker will cause the boats to fill up and eventually trigger the market phase.  Player turn order is variable and dictated by whichever time tracker is furthest back on the clock.  This may allow you to plan a double turn which if timed right could allow you to choose which boats dock at two of the three piers in the cove.

There's mice, because there are...(actually useful but just more stuff)

Shuffling round the clock face or racing to the next market phase is deceptively simple. Invariably I am always looking to get another turn in after the market phase has been triggered.  Which shows that this game has been well balanced and I’m always immersed in the act of optimising my goods production and finding selling opportunities during the market phase.

During the market phase the base value of each of your sold goods (small and large is the same for every player) is multiplied by the number of similarly-coloured adventurers om the pier for your score.  For example, if you’re selling 2 large goods to 3 adventurers you’ll be looking at 48 points. (value 8 gold x 2 goods x 3 adventurers).  There will be some small bonuses for the number of adventurers in the guilds and penalties for corruption cards which definitely should not be ignored.  

Clamouring for small goods

Due to the large scores that are possible and each players hidden corruption cards it is not possible to determine who is winning or losing until the final scoring has been completed.  During my first real play with actual people (!!!) I thought I was down and out going into the last round and there was no way to catch up to my opponent who seemed to have a shelfful of goods.   However, come the final scoring I snuck ahead and the supposed winner actually came last (in a 3 player game).

The reason why I call this an engine builder is due to the set of upgrades and powerups each shop can do.  Each shop has a staff of four actions which can be done when villagers are hired onto your staff.  If you’ve only got one hire then your staff action is fairly weak.  If you’ve filled all four positions you’ll be wanting to do it every turn…although you can never take the same action twice in a row.  Similarly, there’s an element of set collection you’ll be doing which could also provide a massive point swing in final scoring.

Fully employed staff

If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points.  I certainly don’t feel like I’ve explored everything the games got to offer and there is a good deal of replayability.  I am keen to keep playing it although it is not without its flaws.


I think it’s fair to say this game is less than the sum of its parts. However, it has got an impressive array of parts that certainly doesn’t mean this is a bad game. It’s not even a ‘meh game it’s an interesting game.  It’s as if the designer(s) had so many ideas and tried to put them all into a game.  The fact that I want to keep playing it means that it’s a success (it works), I’m just not sure if its excellent, good or just interesting… I don’t feel like there’s anything like it in my collection.

Blacksmith forging dice.

The uniqueness of each shop and their mini-game is impressive but could be bewildering for new players.  I shudder at the thought of teaching this to 3 new players because the teach can easily go on for 20 minutes if you have to explain each shop.  Thankfully the individual shop’s rules pamphlets are fairly concise and could be read by each player during setup and after the main rules have been digested…questions will still come.  I’ve not found an optimised way to teach it yet.

Unfortunately, due to the completely asymmetric shops each one has got their own sizable board to play on as well as the large central board.  Not to mention the unique bits each shop has and the components, this game takes a bit of time to set up.  This is helped by some of the best inserts I’ve ever seen in a game, but it will still take some time, unless everybody is familiar and can help out.  Similarly, this game is a table-hog, you will definitely need a large playing area for this monster.

The Captain's board.


Needless to say, this was successfully funded on Kickstarter.  The components are singularly of excellent quality, the designer is making cardboard do things which it was never designed to do.  It really does look impressive on the table thanks to the light-hearted fantasy art that is dripping off every component.  You don’t get any square / boring edges here everything is shaped, moulded, drawn upon to make everything interesting to look at.

The final mini-game...

There are probably too many components provided for each shop as I’ve never come close to using even half of any shop’s goods.  I still find it difficult to pack it all away despite the excellent insert and the essential packing instructions.  Lose those and you’ll be storing it all across two boxes and will have a lot of broken carboard.  It’s almost a game in itself to pack it all way!


If you’ve got this far you can tell that this game has a lot of things going on and decision points all wrapped up in a really unique game of games.  Sometimes the theme feels quite loose but it’s a testament to the designer, and this game, that so many different moving (metaphorical) pieces comes together as neatly as they do.  All the different merchants feel balanced and everyone is in with a chance of winning right until the end.  I can easily recommend it to any gamer to at least try a few times to see what hyper-modern games can deliver.  

Unlike this review, I have never felt that this game has outstayed its welcome it always seems to finish just in time… 

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store.

Designers: Carl Van Ostrand with Jonny Pac & Drake Villareal
Playtime: 90 minutes
Players: 1 - 4

Hallertau brings us Uwe Rosenberg’s 36th iteration of managing crops and your animeeples (who knows if that’s right - but it’s a lot). How...

Hallertau by Uwe Rosenberg Hallertau by Uwe Rosenberg

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Worker Placement

Hallertau brings us Uwe Rosenberg’s 36th iteration of managing crops and your animeeples (who knows if that’s right - but it’s a lot). However, I’ve only played half a dozen or so of his designs but this one is as good as they come, assuming you like minimal player interaction and lots of mechanisms that integrate seamlessly with each other.

During the game of 6 rounds, you’ll develop your farm and manage your crops (and sheep) to build your typical ‘Uwe-Engine’ and a smorgasbord of points to claim victory. If you don’t have enough friends to invite over (even if that’s allowed now) and ultimately ignore whilst you crunch through the actions and work out your optimum moves, the game features a solo mode that plays exactly like the friend-version.


Each of the 6 rounds has 10 phases … there are a standard few phases of round prep, and necessary round-tear down-phases at the beginning and end of a round. These are all nearly dealt with simultaneously by all players, so don’t let 10 phases put you off. What separates my experience of this and other games of this ilk is that the worker placement phase (i.e. the Actions in Hallertau) is far from the only phase in which your Analysis Paralysis can be freely exercised.

That extra AP-inducing phase is Progress in which you’ll be clearing the ground (by picking rocks) and improving buildings surrounding your farm/community centre. This will ultimately give you more workers with which to use next round.

Your workers/blue cubes will be interacting with 13 different resources, 4 different types of cards and five buildings all in an effort to get (more workers, because that’s always a good thing) and get the most victory points.

Ten phases, 13 resources, so far so Uwe… but it really is far simpler than it would appear at first glance. The mechanisms are obviously the result of a seasoned and expert designer to the point where even in your first game the rules will quickly disappear and you’ll properly be playing the game instead of the rule book. I’ve got some games where I’m still constantly referring to the rules (here’s looking at your Fields of Fire).

The only real interaction you’ll have with other players is by denying action spaces to your opponents or more accurately making action spaces more expensive for them. This game is the epitome of multiplayer solitaire, and I consider that a good thing. So much of your brain is engaged optimising your choices that any extra randomness would be unwelcome i.e. having your opponents actively trying to subvert your plans would serve to lessen the experience.

There is a little bit of randomness (driven by 4 decks of cards) and quite a bit of setup variability due to having 8 decks of the cards from which you only need to draw 2. That amount of entropy is just about perfect for this ‘Expert’-level game. Just leaving you reacting to the game state and not the other players (for the most part). You only really have two decisions: whether the cost per action is worth it and how best to optimise your building improvements cost. Despite the cornucopia of resources you need to factor into those two decisions, you’re left with what I think is quite a simple game and why you can quickly ditch the rule book.

During the Actions phase in turn order players will place their supply or workers onto the board and immediately resolve the effect. This continues until every player has exhausted their worker pool or passed. The Action board has 20 spaces and they can be chosen at most 3 times each. If one worker has already been placed on the action space, you’ll need to send two workers to take that action again. (Can you guess how many workers will need to activate the space a 3rd time?) The downtime between your turns is no more than a couple of minutes and the game moves along at a fair clip. For such a thinky, four-player game that is an achievement.

Each round the top row of workers will be removed which creates a mini-supply and demand economy for action spaces. The most popular spaces (i.e. Land Sale/Town Hall) will rarely have fewer than 2 workers on and should be taken (IMHO) at every possible opportunity. They are the only space which grants you Jewels, which are often necessary to save your bacon towards the end of the game.

Another brilliant mechanism that keeps you involved even when it’s not your turn is the ability to play a card from your hand at any time. Most cards will either require you to spend resources or just have a number of resources in order to use them. After a game or two, you’ll start to appreciate how important the cards are...if you want to do well you’ll need to optimise your card play. The most important cards are the bonus cards which give you a welcome boost during the income phase. The earlier you can play them, the more decisive their impact. Towards the end of the game, your focus will likely shift to the Point cards but these are often such a high cost to play (they give large numbers of victory points) that in order to use them you’ll have had to have a strategy throughout the game.

Many cards will also allow you to draw another card when you play them, and having the ability to play cards at any time can lead to playing a 2 or 3 card combo even when it’s not your turn from cards that you’ve just picked up - beautiful. Fulfilling the requirements to play cards is the primary tactical game here. You’ll be choosing action spaces based on the cards in your hand and not necessarily what gives you the most resources.

The other primary tactical consideration is how to most effectively improve your Community Center. This is done in the other AP-inducing phase Progress. During the Progress phase, you’ll slide your community centre as far right as your five community buildings allow. You slide those right by paying their improvement costs - which are each different and are increasingly expensive. By the end of the game, you’ll be paying effectively 6 times what you paid in the first round.

As you improve your community buildings and slide your community centre to the right you’ll unlock more workers (your thriving community can support more workers), allowing you to do more actions. You start the game with 6 workers and this can increase by one per community centre shift up to a maximum of twelve. But the primary purpose of moving your community centre is to get those sweet victory points, the vast majority of which will come from improving your buildings i.e. shifting your buildings right.

There are many other mechanisms that I won’t elaborate on here, suffice to say that Uwe’s expert hand is very visible throughout the game and the different interactions and combos that can be done is rewarding.


The best component is arguably the player aid and the design of the game itself. With the player aid, which is relatively small any player should be able to walk through the entire round with no recourse to the rulebook. This is only achievable because the game, despite the amount of stuff (and phases) you’re dealing with is fundamentally simple … I’m prepared to defend that position too, despite it being contrary to most other reviews I’ve seen.

As ever with a pure Euro we’ve got fantastic wooden bits. I love me some wooden bits and these don’t disappoint. The workers are abstracted to a nice chunky cube and the resources are different shapes and colours and they’re certainly satisfying to move up and down your resource track. They are quite thin, but if they were any thicker then the box would be even deeper than it currently is.

The rules are excellent and should you need them, provide a comprehensive card index (and summary explanation) of every card in the game, of which there are well over 300! The rules also provide a detailed overview of the game which is often lacking in other ‘Expert’ games and I found it helpful to understand the core game before reading the rules properly. I would like to see more rules written like this.


As can be applied to many ‘Euros’ the theme never really grabbed me. I never felt like I was farming hops in Southwest Germany. The names of the resources, Rye, Barley, Flax, Hops were quickly reduced to, ‘the blue one’ or the ‘green one’ for example.

The game is also a bit of a table hog, each player area has got 6 boards in it! However, with so much going on, it’s not really a criticism, more of a ‘be prepared'. I would also like to have bigger cards as they’re the small Euro size but I shudder to think of the required tablespace if they were any larger.

I 3d-printed an organiser for this game which nicely fills up all of the space in the box, (there is still a massive amount of unused space) however even with baggies I found the box to be unnecessarily deep. Unless there’s a plan for lots of expansion content and I don’t really think this needs or could have any, I would love to have a smaller box.


This game has got Uwe stamped all over it. If you like Agricola, Ora et Labora, Fields of Arle et al I am sure that this will be right up your street. I like the seemingly endless amount of resources and different rules at first glance which fundamentally boil down to some simple interactions and easy to grasp rules.

I love the fact that the solo mode is almost identical to the main game. As much as I appreciate a solo mode to many games, I’m not so keen if I have to learn a whole new game (running the AI) in order to play solo. Obviously, we’ve all been a bit constrained with our playing partners but my game groups are back up and running and I can’t wait to play with a few more players. I know this will be a hit.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store, which need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designers: Uwe Rosenberg
Bgg page:
Playtime: 50 - 140 mins
Players: 1 - 4

Cooper Island pits one to four players against each other to reclaim and settle their own peninsula in the Island of Cooper…  It is a heavy-...

Cooper Island by Frosted Games and Capstone Games Cooper Island by Frosted Games and Capstone Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Worker Placement

Cooper Island pits one to four players against each other to reclaim and settle their own peninsula in the Island of Cooper…  It is a heavy-weight Euro-smorgasbord of mechanisms: worker placement,  tile placement, engine builder and rondel with intricate interplay between how you score points and how the $*&# do you score points? (At least for your first few plays.)


The game plays out in punishingly-few-five turns.  Each turn consists of 3 phases, the Income Phase, the Worker Phase and the Clean-Up Phase.  Two of which are simultaneous and which give the game a surprisingly low downtime per player when you consider how much stuff you’ve got to think about on your turn.

The Harbour Master in the Second Round

There are only 8 action spaces for your workers to be placed onto, but you can also perform an almost unlimited number of five Anytime actions.  As your peninsula develops new spaces will be revealed on your player board giving additional bonuses and sometimes extra stuff for you to do.  I don’t think I’ve ever been as bewildered by a game on the first play as I have this one.  Working out how to score points was not even on my radar on my first playthroughs of this.

I came away from my first game (with a terrible score) with a numb brain and I had only just realised that my anytime actions were pivotal for any type of success in this game.  On my second play through my brain was hurting even more because I was trying to optimise my choice of actions spaces with the anytime actions that I had at my disposal.  However, I was still trying to do a little bit of everything and consequently didn’t receive too many points. 

A really close game - not my first

It wasn’t until the third play-through that I even considered trying to score points (instead of them just happening as a result of my actions) and actually have a strategy; which currently looks like - optimise to get more workers as soon as possible (by fulfilling Milestone Tokens) and then Settle and Build at the highest level possible… This could be utterly wrong, maybe exploring your peninsula or building statues is better… I still don’t really know how to do well.

The earlier you can get more workers the more benefit they will provide over the course of the game is an age-old, (well at least Agricola-old) strategy of building your engine.  However, you need to fuel that engine and your workers will need feeding, however, there isn’t the same level of jeopardy that you feel when you can’t feed you Agricola-family.  In this, you just receive an anchor token which prevents your ships moving around the peninsula.

2 Normal and 1 Special worker need feeding

So with 5 Anytime Actions, 8 worker Actions (each with their own bonus actions), 4 terrain types, 6 resource types, 18 unexplored hexes to fill, 8 sandbanks to visit, 5 ruins to explore/statues to build, 3 different types of buildings to construct and two different types of workers, 6 boats to build and a player-dependent number of Bay Water and Harbour spaces to visit; you’ll hopefully begin to understand how wide the decision tree you are faced with is at the start of the game.  However, finding good combos and synergies between your anytime actions and your workers’ actions is what makes this game tick.

The pace of this game is perfectly balanced. The first one or two rounds are much simpler, (you’ve unlocked fewer bonus actions) which helps new players to become familiar with the core actions and flow of the game and during the fourth and fifth round, your combos can be magnificent and convoluted.  Keeping track of a resource as it moves from a fourth level hex to pay for an action which gets additional bonuses and more market stock to pay for further bonus actions can almost feel like you’re doing the work, but it’s damn rewarding.

The end of a solo game - not too shabby  

The Income Phase is a simultaneous affair where you quickly take the income (shown by Terra Mystica hands) revealed on your player board.  Additional hands can be in play by building one of your Income Boats.  The standard income actions allow you to draw a double hex tile from the bag into your personal reserve and place a double hex tile onto your peninsula from your personal reserve.  The important thing to understand that any time you have actions to do (including your anytime actions) is that you choose the order of them, which adds another wrinkle to your brow when you’re trying to optimise actions.

Double hex landscape tiles and islet tiles form the core of your peninsula and they build up to an attractive looking board with nice, chunky card being placed on top of each other.  You can shim a mismatched terrain height by using one of your Anytime Cartographer actions (assuming you’ve got the necessary amount of Cartographer points).  Each time you place a landscape tile you’ll place matching resource cubes onto that tile. The height at which the resource cubes are placed determines their value.  However, once a hex is a Meadow hex, for example, it is always a Meadow hex you can’t change its hex type (unless you decide to place a settlement tile onto it). Building your landscape in this fashion (following all the tile placement rules) is like a 3d puzzle and could be a challenging game in its own right.

This looks great on the table

The Worker Phase is the core of the game and you only start with two workers to place onto the board.  Those two workers have a choice of 8 spots in the central island board to occupy.  Four of the actions will let you place additional landscape tiles into your peninsula (following the placement rules) and which gives resources.  The other four actions require you to pay resources you’ve just gained to build buildings, statues, boats, or supply some cargo which all have their own specific benefit and most importantly answer the first question of ‘how the $*&# do you score points?’.

Traditionally in worker placement games, a worker on a spot will prevent other players from taking that action.  Here, you just have to pay the player 1 resource to go on top of their worker.  This adds an unexpected boost often at opportune times.  I suppose it would be possible to determine the board state of another player to work out where they are going to place their workers, to maxims this boost to you, but my gameplay is so far from this level – I’m just gripping on to my ships pennants keeping up with my own game.  I just consider it a nice and often welcome surprise if it does happen to me.

The worker actions spaces / central island board

You can unlock special workers (the ‘square’ discs…) which provide a more powerful version of their action space.  However, to get these new workers, you’ll need to remove a normal worker but also unlocking additional victory points.  Deciding the optimum strategy of whether the new worker should be normal or special is well beyond the processing power of my brain.

The Clean-Up Phase is a blessed relief on the grey-matter, even though you have to start by feeding your workers.  It is another simultaneous affair in which you may get points and you reset your workers and market and move the round tracker.  There is a decision to be made to pay or not to reactivate an asset, however, in my experience, you only have one maybe two assets that even need reactivating and it’s nearly always worth it.  This is the easiest decision in the game.

A clear and easy to follow rulebook

This game plays in about 90 minutes to two hours.  If you all know the game 4 players can complete the game in under 2 hours which is a huge achievement for such a dense, crunchy (in a good sense) game.  Few games can provide the same level of challenge for four players in the same length of time as this does.


Some of the components deserve special praise. The landscape hex tiles are deliciously thick and create a good-looking peninsula after the game.  The player colours are standard red, green, blue and black pieces and the resources are contrasting shades of brown – wood, purple – cloth, grey – stone, pink – food, and yellow – gold.  These pieces, resources, workers and buildings are all made of wood – which I prefer.

All good here

The rulebook does a tremendous job of conveying how the game plays.  Each section is colour coded to relate to the actions. This colour coding exists throughout the game i.e. on the player board so after reading the rules, you’ve got a good idea of how the game will play.  This is an amazing achievement for such a dense game.  The rules are contained in 27 pages of very well written text and copious examples littered throughout.  Although I did find one non-game affecting typo relating to page number references.

The player boards and central island board, at first glance, contain a dizzying array of icons, but as is the case with most heavy Euros, once you’re familiar with the actions themselves, the icons provide a non-textual and intuitive prompt for what is going on, and what you should be doing.  I thought the player board with its colour-coded sections, and icon design allows a returning player to pick the game flow back up very quickly.

A bit of a table-hog.  2 Player game

I was disappointed that there is no insert of any type in the box and similarly the two-piece player boards are made from quite a thin card stock.  However, these are just minor quibbles for me as I’ll end up 3d printing an insert for this and I understand that another 3 or sheets of board stock with different die cuts would have been much more expensive.


The only criticism I have is not really fair to level at Cooper Island, as it was designed to be a complex worker placement, is that it's a complex worker placement game.  You’re not going to have a good time introducing this to gamers more comfortable with Splendor and Ticket to Ride.  However, there is a place in the market and my collection for complex Euros like this.  If you buy this I am confident that you’ve already done your research and you’ll know exactly if this game is for you or not.


I really like this game, the huge amount of actions you have over five short rounds is impressive.  I appreciate the design and all its complexities coming in under 2 hours.  However, I don’t think it will see the light of day (or game night) at the moment – I don’t think I can face continually teaching it to lots of new players.  Maybe when life is a bit more settled and less crazy I’ll feel a need to train my brain after another relaxing day in the office (/s) and I’ll pull this out for some stimulation.  However, 2020 is not that year, my work has been manic of late and I just don’t feel up to Cooper Island but I look forward to the time when life is a bit more peaceful and normal and this will become a regular on my table.

P.S. The solo mode is fun and challenging (I’ve only beat the first difficulty level) but I feel less pressure when playing this solo and not teaching the game.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. This is in stock in many stores and you can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store who need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designer:  Andreas "ode." Odendahl

Bgg page:

Play time:  90 minutes

Players:  1-4

These are interesting times we’re living in. As a gamer you may think that our options to play games are limited but in my experience no...

Caylus 1303 Caylus 1303

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Worker Placement

These are interesting times we’re living in. As a gamer you may think that our options to play games are limited but in my experience nothing has been further from the truth. Not only are there fantastic online resources to help us connect virtually to one another, there is also a growing demand from non-gamers to connect, for contact, conversation and to alleviate the monotony of whatever situation they find themselves locked down in.  We’re perfectly placed as a community to help many people in our own small way.

Prior to the lockdown in the UK I was sent a copy of Caylus 1303 to review. I am writing this as part review and part-a list of resources (at the end of the review) I’ve used to play games online.

Caylus 1303 is a revamp of the eponymous and genre-defining worker placement classic Caylus.  If you’re not familiar with the original, it has spawned a sub-culture within the gaming community of bland-euro art, mean-looking dudes on boxes and arguably the most infamous character in gaming – the Provost! I’ve only played the original a handful of times but it still sparks memories of being screwed over, or inflicting the same screwage onto my friends… I’m pleased to say all this is still present in the new streamlined version of the game.


Caylus 1303 is played over 9 rounds, in which players are trying to get the most prestige points (i.e. victory points) by contributing to building the town of Caylus and constructing the castle.  Thematically this makes perfect sense as the town of the same name in France is famous for its castle.  However, in the game, this theme feels loosely tacked on as a mechanism to place workers and screw with your opponents.
Initial setup for 4 player game.
The game has a randomised setup and a variable turn order, two features that are a must for me when it comes to theme-light euros.  The setup is relatively quick and aided by excellent graphic design throughout the game.  After your first game, you’ll be able to setup the board in a matter of minutes.

One huge benefit of virtual gaming is that the chore of setting up any game is largely removed from the players. I am very experienced in using both Vassal and Table Top simulator both of which have free modules for nearly every board game you can imagine (at least ones you’d want to play!). TTS is much newer than vassal and has a much larger user-base and I’m constantly amazed at how quickly game modules are available in the workshop. Vassal caters more to the typical GMT-crowd
Table Top Simulator - opening splash
Caylus 1303 (a relatively new game has an unofficial port on TTS but only with lower resolution scans. I still managed to convince a few gaming buddies to give it a try and I found it perfectly playable through the TTS module. The easiest (and best) solution I have found to talk to my opponents is through Discord. This enables multi-player comms and text chat if you’re so inclined.  If you’re just playing 2 player games then Zoom is free to use and has a useful screen-sharing option.

During the lockdown I have played online with gaming opponents, Caylus 1303, Mage Knight, War of the Ring, Pendragon, Undaunted Normandy, Combat Commander Europe.  However, what has surprised me most is how up for games ‘non-gamers’ are during these times. I have had countless family and social group quizzes, I have had success playing Scattegories, played a Fake Artist Goes to New York, hosting a murder mystery evening, pub quizzes and even a scavenger hunt for kids.  I have used Zoom for a lot of these but also Kahoot and Quizziz to run the quiz nights.
Some of the Characters
Each player in Caylus 1303 will also have a character with bonus abilities on certain actions. This, however, is not guaranteed to stay with you long.  There is no text anywhere on the board or components so I couldn’t tell what the characters are (without referring to the rule book) but once again the icons are brilliantly designed and intuitive.  I know it’s cheaper to translate a game with no text (just the rulebook) but I would have liked a characters name on their cards at least…

Each round of the game consists of 4 phases.  Planning, Activation, Delivery and Stewardship.
Each player places out their workers on free spaces containing a building during the Planning Phase. Trying to plan out your actions based on resources you get later in the round shouldn’t be difficult…but I have not played any game where I didn’t mess this up at least once. The number of workers you have each round will also change allowing you to do more actions or saving them to move the Provost even more...
First Round Planning Completed
Activation resolves each worker’s action space (building) from the beginning of the road to the space just before the Provost.  The first four buildings are fixed in each game and provide their specific effect.  An additional 10 buildings are placed on the road at the beginning of the game.  These comprise 8 starter buildings, 1 wood building and 1 stone building. The road will have 13 empty spaces in which players can build. All buildings provide also provide prestige points as well as their effect.

The best thing about Activation, and really what makes this game Caylus is moving the Provost.  Any workers on buildings after the Provost will not get their effect.  Each player will get the opportunity to move the Provost in player order up to 3 spaces, forward or back. There is also a building that can move the Provost and also one of the Character’s abilities moves the Provost as well. Buildings later on the road, will generally have more powerful effects but their use is not guaranteed. Placing your workers on them is a risky but rewarding business.
A small selection of the Starting, Wood and Stone Buildings and Monuments
Moving the Provost in front of your opponents is a delicious feeling, unfortunately it’s going to happen to you too. But this is where the fun is, if you don’t like confrontation in your games then this is not for you.

The Delivery Phase allows players to sacrifice their resources to build the castle gaining 5 prestige points and a favour.  In order to go here, each worker will generally need three different resources so it won’t be used too much in the early game, but it is a powerful way to gain lots of prestige points later on.

During the Stewardship Phase owned buildings can be changed to residences, thereby removing the effect, and residences can be changed into Monuments (lots of Prestige points).  However, one side-effect of this is that there are fewer spaces on the road for workers to go.  This combines with generally more workers being available to players later in the game.  This surplus is tailor-made to spend on moving the Provost.  However, in order to gain the most points you will need to pivot away from Residences (gaining more workers) and into Monuments (gaining more points).
4 Players in the 8th (penultimate) round
The winner of the game is the player with the most Prestige points at the end of the ninth round.


Once again I have nothing but praise for the physical components.  The card is lovely and thick and punched out cleaner than almost any other punchboard I can remember.  The wooden components are nice and chunky and their shape represents the resources.  The art and graphic design is clean, consistent and nice to look, but the stand out feature for me is the iconography. They are largely intuitive and once a player is familiar with the rules, sufficiently describe the actions.
Fantastic insert
The insert is a rare example of a publisher actually providing something that I’m not going to chuck out straight away.  It even handles vertical storage without plastic bags which I’m particularly grateful for.


I don’t think I can recommend the two-player game.  At two players, the take-that decision and screwage gets a bit samey.  The designer has compensated the more empty board by starting with more workers but this doesn’t really compensate and it feels quite a different game.  At three players the board isn’t quite as busy but still quite fun.  At five it runs a little long but is still fun – I wouldn’t recommend a 5 player game for your first time out.
A clean and short rulebook


This is a beautiful game and one I’m glad to play and introduce to anybody. I would even recommend this as a gateway game to a non-gamer if they’re not going to be too precious about being attacked (albeit indirectly by the Provost) at every opportunity.  After the first round, the rules are easily remembered and the only repeated questions were around the construction site and favours, neither of which I’ve detailed here but they’re not hard to grasp.

Waiting to play IRL
I like the randomised setup and variable turn order in this game.  These elements are only possible with finely tuned mechanics, else the game will break more often than it’s fun.  That is definitely not the case here, with over 30 years of playtesting (the original Caylus) this revamp has streamlined the original and maintained the essence of what made Caylus, Caylus.  The mechanics and gameplay are rock solid and it will be a welcome addition to my next game night.  Fingers crossed it comes soon.

Stay safe and see you on the other side

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending this review copy.  Many local game stores will still have this in stock although they may not be open currently, their online shopping portals may still be open. You can use this link to find and support them during this difficult time.

Designer: William Attia
Play time: 60-90 minutes.
Players: 2 – 5 players

Online gaming resources

BGGs distance gaming guide (a comprehensive how- to)
Vassal Engine (program to run board game modules)
Vassal Mods (repository of many board games)
Table Top Simulator (cross platform application that has many users) and it’s workshop where all the games are:
Tabletopia (browser based alternative to TTS)

Chat and Comms

Discord (gaming focused communication platform)
Viber (Open source secure comms and video calling)
Zoom (Easy to use software with unlimited calls for 1 to 1 video-conferencing i.e. wargaming)

"Paladins of the West Kingdom is set at a turbulent time of West Francia’s story, circa 900AD.  Despite recent efforts to develop ...

Paladins of the West Kingdom Paladins of the West Kingdom

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Worker Placement

"Paladins of the West Kingdom is set at a turbulent time of West Francia’s story, circa 900AD.  Despite recent efforts to develop the city, outlying townships are still under threat from outsiders. Saracens scout the borders, while Vikings plunder wealth and livestock. Even the Byzantines from the east have shown their darker side. As noble men and women, players must gather workers from the city to defend against enemies, build fortifications and spread faith throughout the land.  Fortunately you are not alone. In his great wisdom the King has sent his finest knights to help aid in our efforts. So ready the horses and sharpen the swords. The Paladins are approaching."
Rule book introduction


Paladins of the West Kingdom is not your typical worker placement game. Normally you’re denying action spaces to other players on a shared board.  Paladins gives each player their own board on which to place their own supply of workers.  A criticism often levelled against worker-placement games is one of being multiplayer solitaire, and that is definitely the case here.  However, the game is that crunchy, that I feel increasing the interaction between players would actually lessen the overall game and I am happy that my opponents aren’t able to thwart my well-considered plans (too much).  

The game is played over seven rounds in which all players will be taking multiple actions with their supply of workers.  Each player will take as many actions as their workers permit and there are often clever ways to combine effects and abilities to increase the amount of workers during your round.  If you don’t mind a bit of analysis paralysis, then you will be able to work out an optimum round. However, this game continues to reward my impulsive play; I often realise possible combinations half-way through my turn and I have been able to exploit it immediately.

Player board at the start
Aside from the player boards, there is an elongated main board which holds a variety of King’s Orders and King’s Favour cards.  Each game will consist of 3 Orders and 6 Favours and there is twice this number provided in the box.  This means that the focus and overall objectives of each game will be different.  I have played this a number of times now and in each play, the different cards and sometimes order in which they’re revealed, significantly change the game and keep it feeling fresh.

Each player has their own deck of Paladin cards from which you’ll select one to be your Paladin for the round.  The selection mechanism is quite clever as you’ll know one of the Paladins which will be available in the next round (from a choice of 3).  I’ve tried to plan current turns to optimise my next turns’ Paladin but for some reason, either lack of brainpower, or just getting sidetracked by the number of options, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to exploit this.  However, I like the mechanism and look forward to trying again.

Main Board at the Start
There is also a shared pool of Tavern Cards which are chosen individually by each player.  These combine with the chosen Paladin card to give players the workers shown on both cards to use for the round.  This will normally be 6 workers of various colours unless you passed in the previous round and kept workers to use the next round; I have started a round with 9 workers. There are a few spaces on your board which only require one worker per action, but most require 2 or more workers.  You can feel like you’re burning through workers quite quickly, particularly at the beginning of the game.

One of the best aspects of this game is that you’re able to change the requirements for some spaces through the use of Workshops.  If you take the time to Develop your board you can reduce some 3-worker spaces down to 1-worker spaces.  This is crucial to stretching your turn and giving you more actions each round.  However, you won’t get very far by just building workshops, the most Victory Points come from focusing on the attribute tracks at the side of the player boards.

Green Workshops (being ignored)
Three attributes (Faith, Strength and Influence) are measured per player and drive the whole game.  Most spaces require a certain amount of one of these attributes in order to place a worker there, however, there is usually a reward in another attribute. For example, if you wanted to attack an Outsider I would need to have a specific amount of strength and I would be rewarded with Influence.  Although this is a pure-worker placement game, the game and its actions do make sense thematically, if it is a little loose.  I still can’t quite work out why, when I pay tax I am taking money from the Tax Supply.

Not only are there attribute requirements but there are also worker requirements, for example, a red space requires a red worker.  There are 6 different types of worker in the game and the right colour must be used on a coloured space.  An outlined space can take any colour worker. However, the purple worker (a criminal) breaks this rule and can go on any space, coloured or not (apropos yes?).  These colours are defined as red-fighter, black-cleric, green-scout, blue-merchant, purple-criminal and white which is a generic labourer.  These colours also are linked thematically to their corresponding action spaces, for example, the Pray action requires a cleric, (arguably the only space that you should definitely use each round).

Absolve, close-up 2 Clerics and a Merchant.
There is very little downtime for any player unless you’re the first player to pass early in a round and your opponents still have a handful of workers left.  If so, you’re likely doing something wrong and that is probably only your fault.  However, this downtime could only be 5 minutes at the absolute most.  Normally I would expect your turn in a four-player game to come round within a minute or two.  You will be involved and thinking about your turns or taking your turns right to the end of this game.   Your success and failures of the consequences of your actions alone and that is something which I like. 

The are several mechanisms through which you can affect other players games however none do so significantly.  You’re limited to just denying certain cards or spaces from your opponents, but there will usually be other cards (and spaces) still available.  I don’t think you would be competitive if you were playing to hurt your opponents instead of playing to benefit yourself.

End-game main board - there are still open spaces.
It is quite difficult to determine which player is ahead until the end-game scoring through which there is a veritable point salad available to players.  I found that games where I thought I was romping home and clearly ahead (in points) were actually much tighter.  Even if you think you’re well behind on scoring, I’ve found that the scores have been tight and I’ve not been able to deduce from glancing at all the player boards who the leader is.  Players score points from a wide variety of cards and board spaces which can really only be calculated at the end.   This keeps all players involved in the game right to the end.


The art design throughout the game shares the same distinctive style used in Architects of the West Kingdom and the third game in this trilogy, Viscounts of the West Kingdom.  The wooden components are great and there are approximately 200 of them in six different sculpts and seven different colours. There are also approximately 100 cardboard components which weren’t just standard circles and squares and they all punched cleanly.

A perfect fit
Once you’re familiar with the rules and actions there was/is little need to refer back to the rulebook. The iconography on the board is intuitive and consistent throughout the game.  Each action space is sufficiently described on the board to allow new players to grasp the rules within about 20 minutes.

What is great (in terms of components) about this game is the box size.  I have seen negative comments about the box size and some people finding it difficult to get all the components back into the box.  When the game is all bagged there is literally no free space left in the box, to my mind that is a perfect box size. However, I can understand if you’ve sleeved your cards then you would struggle.


The biggest criticism I have is one of table space.  Although the box is deceptively small, what comes out of it is ravenous in terms of its appetite for tablespace.  The mainboard is long, (but thin) and around that there will be at least six different areas for card decks and tableaus.  Each player board is a more typical size of player board but again you’ll need space around the sides to place recruited Townsfolk cards, converted Outsiders and any successful attacks in their own face-down deck.  That's without storing your workers, provisions and money. I can’t recommend this game if you’re table is on the small side.

A deceptive table-hog.


This game ticks a lot of boxes for me; it’s fairly crunchy with lots of interactions between your own resources and attributes.  Affecting them in positive ways and the decision to focus your efforts on one over the other is a nice decision space.  Fortunately, other players aren’t really able to affect your own path to victory too much and in this game, that is a good thing.  It would be intensely frustrating to have your plans ruined by another player's actions purely by chance, and in this game, I feel that you’re not able to play to hurt your opponents; there’s too much going on, on your own board to be concerned with your opponents. 

There is very little downtime throughout the whole course of the game and after two hours you do feel as if you’re brain has had a good work out.  Of course, you could just go along for the ride and select actions with no clear purpose, just to see how the game works, but I guarantee that you’ll do terribly when it comes to scoring.  This game rewards, clever play and finding combinations to extend your turn, getting additional workers is critical for success. 

Set up takes about 10 minutes.
There are a finite number of components that will fit in any box and I’ll admit I’m amazed at how much they’ve managed to cram into this box.  But due to the King’s Orders and Favours changing each game, the tactics and strategy that were successful in your previous play won't necessarily be successful in your next.  After your first game, which will just be a learning game, you’ll have a wide array of tactics to consider each turn which will be different each game.  This game has high replay value. 

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending this review copy.  Many local game stores will still have this in stock and you can use this link to support your FLGS or use their online shopping web store. 

Publisher: Garphill Games
BGG Page:
Players: 1-4
Designer: Shem Phillips, S J Macdonald
Length: 90-120 minutes