An Even Weirder Review: The Builders – Middle Ages

Okay, so this is kind of a microgame. I’ve heard it described as a Euro distilled into a card game, which I can sort of understand. I’ve also heard it described as worker-placement which is totally bunk, the game has nothing to do with worker-placement even though you are “placing” “workers”. So for those people looking for pocket Agricola keep looking (at Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small).

The basic structure of the game is this: You’ve got a row of buildings, each of which is worth some amount of money and points, and which requires some number of units of various types of resource to complete. You may take one of these cards in front of you as a job site. You also have a row of workers you can hire, which provide some combination of those resources. You may take these workers into your hand. You may also pay to place these workers on building sites. An apprentice provides only a few resources, but is cheap to place, while better workers will cost more. On your turn, you can take three actions from among these, or you can forfeit actions to take gold from the bank. When the game ends, the player with the most points is the winner.

And… that’s it. Player interaction is limited to taking cards other people might have wanted, but the cards themselves are generally pretty similar and they feel balanced. I haven’t felt “screwed over” by not being able to pick a particular card, I just have to take a minute on my turn to re-assess my possibilities. On my turn, I basically try to calculate the money, resources, and actions I will need to spend to try and complete a building, and do whatever is the most bang for my buck, and repeat. Apart from the action to take gold (which goes from used sparingly to almost never used as the game continues) it’s usually reasonably simple (albeit time consuming for those who aren’t swift at mental arithmetic) to figure out your most optimal actions.

The game plays smoothly and swiftly, and you have a pleasant sense of getting things done, the same satisfaction one gets from checking things off of their to-do list… but just like those errands, the tasks themselves aren’t particularly engaging, they just NEED TO BE DONE. You need to get somewhere near the threshold for ending the game, then take a big point building and use it to throw yourself way over the top In order to do that, you must churn workers around, building a bunch of indistinguishable buildings for money and points. It’s almost meditative in its simplicity and directness, not entirely unpleasant, but ultimately it’s not very engaging.

There is a glimmer of what could have been in the “machine” buildings, buildings whose reward is that they turn into a free worker. If the buildings had powers on them, no matter how simple, that would at least differentiate them enough to make me upset when one is stolen, as well as let me feel like I have a direction other than forward, a real sub-goal. However, the machines aren’t that interesting themselves, and I’m not certain that they do enough to distract from the relentless charge towards the end game.

Don’t get me wrong, the game is functional, it’s just very bland and doesn’t have much to attract the player’s interest. Despite the building theme, there’s never really a sense of “building up” and never a decision of why to finish one over the other or take one card over another, other than “well it’s more efficient.” This game didn’t particularly hit for me, but it is one of those games that I think with just one more mechanism could have hit on something really interesting. Here’s hoping the next game in this series has a bit more meat on its bones (or would that be a bit more gravy on its meat?)


About anevenweirdermove
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