Pillars of the Earth – An Introduction

July 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

Builders and Cathedrals – Carcassonne This Is Not

Author – Tristan Angeles

It is the middle of the 12th century, and England is in anarchy, brigands prowl the countryside waiting for undefended travelers to victimize, while in the towns and villages, greedy lords rule over their subjects for their own gain. It is also a time of religion. Europe is in great upheaval as another crusade is sent to the holy lands to retake it in the name of God, while monuments are built for his glory. This is the setting for Mayfair games’ Pillars of the Earth board game, based on the book of the same title by acclaimed author Ken Follett.

Although the story is set in a bloody period of history, the Pillars of the Earth board game downplays the battles, and instead opted for another form of conflict. The game puts the players in the role of master builders looking for favor by contributing to the construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral. The players do this several ways, but it all comes down to efficient management of resources.

Is it a game or Is it Art?

Upon opening the box, you can say both of Pillars of the Earth. Inside is a beautiful board that can probably be mistaken for a painting ( and hey if you get tired of the game why not frame it!), by Michael Menzel. There are also a lot wooden blocks, which is the trademark of German games, for you to use as resources and player pieces. The game also includes cards for craftsmen, resources, events, and privileges etc. The included rulebook is well written, you can understand it easily, and beginners can get into the game by following the rulebook from cover to cover. Lastly, the game includes a six piece wooden cathedral you use as a turn marker.

The Politics of Scarcity

Pillars of the Earth is an easy game you can play upon set up while following the rulebook.  At the beginning, play time will most likely last two hours, but this will be cut short once you and the other players learn the game. Also due to the theme of the game, the game is suitable as a gateway game for friends, and family members who are new to gaming.

Players win the game through efficient resource management and strategically placeing builders through the course of the game. Planning moves is extremely important since a mistake in one turn may set back a player and haunt him for the following turns.

Phases of Play

A turn in Pillars of the Earth basically follows three phases.

In the first phase, players take turns choosing resource cards set up near the board. There are only a few resources, and they are: wood (brown), stone (gray), sand (cream), and metal. Only the first three resources are available in this phase of the turn. You can acquire metal, which is important in the last few turns, later on through builder placement. Aside from the resource cards, there are two random craftsmen cards available for the players choosing. To get a resource, you must allocate a number of workers equal to the number indicated on the card in the forest, quarry, and gravel pit parts of the board. In this part of the game, especially during the first turn, the players must have an idea of what resources and craftsmen they will be using.

The second phase of the turn gives the players the chance to place builders on the board to get several advantages. This is a bit complicated since the turn order is determined by drawing the player’s builders from a bag, which adds a bit of randomness to the game. When a player’s builder is drawn, he may either play it, in which case he/she will pay a cost, or pass and put down the builder on the board and wait for its turn to come up.

In the last phase of the turn, the player’s builders and workers are resolved in order of the numbers in the board. Depending on where the player has placed his builder, he may get several advantages. Placing a builder on the king’s court for example, will exempt him from taxes, and if he is the first player there will also reward him with one metal. On the other hand, placing a builder in Shiring gives the player whichever craftsman card is on the space. At the end of the turn, players have the option of converting the resources they have gathered to points by using their craftsmen.

Rinse and Repeat!

Place a piece of the cathedral on the board after the last phase of the turn. This signifies the end of the turn and the beginning of a new one. Shuffle and randomly place the resource cards on the board and the builders are placed inside the bag. At the end of the sixth turn, the player with the most points wins the game.

Conclusion

Pillars of the Earth is a great game for two to four players, although there has been reviews that say it plays well with two, and some with four. We think the game plays best with three. With four persons, there are not enough spaces on the board and is a little bit crowded, while for two persons there is not enough conflict. Get this game if you want a light strategy, with a little bit of randomness, and short game play.

Check out Pillars of the Earth

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