Reaping the Rewards: ‘Queen’s Architect’

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Queen's Architect

In Reaping the Rewards, I take a closer look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Today’s title is Queen’s Architect, which funded in March 2015 and was shipped to backers in May.

The queen is watching. As you construct buildings in villages and towns across the kingdom or help with repairs, you earn not only gold but the queen’s appreciation. Gain the most appreciation, and you will become the Queen’s Architect.

At a glance: Queen’s Architect is a game by Volker Schächtele for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about an hour to play. It retails for $59.99. The age range seems about right for the level of complexity, though there isn’t anything inappropriate for younger players (other than, perhaps, the idea of sending workers to the tavern).

Components:

  • 1 double-sided game board
  • 28 Demand tiles (9 villages, 10 monasteries, 9 towns)
  • 12 Appreciation tokens
  • 1 price marker (wooden cube)
  • 50 coins (30 1-taler, 20 3-taler)
  • 54 craftsman tiles (9 each in 6 guilds)
  • 28 bond tokens
  • 4 sets of player pieces:
    • 3 figures
    • 1 carriage
    • 8 building cubes
    • 1 tavern board
    • 1 action star
    • 6 quitting time tiles (1 per guild)

The components are very nice, as you’d expect from Queen Games: nice sturdy cardboard that punches out easily, with artwork and iconography that will fit nicely with the rest of your Eurogame collection.

The game board itself is double-sided: one side is for 2 or 3 players, and the other side is for 4 players, with more locations.

Queen's Architect
Six different guilds: glaziers, stonemasons, lumberjacks, bricklayers, blacksmiths, and tailors. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each craftsman tile is a hexagon showing a craftsman portrait in the center, a guild icon at the top, and six numbers on the corners. There’s also a small appreciation scroll number below the portrait, and some also include a small bag of gold icon indicating that they are excellent day laborers. The numbers on the corners indicate the amount of appreciation that worker will earn, and each time it works, the tile will rotate to the next position. When it reaches the last position (indicated by a drop-out arrow), the worker will leave and have to be replaced.

The craftsman tiles fit into the player’s action star, which is a six-pointed star. It serves both as a place to keep track of your workers, but also a rondel for choosing your actions each turn. The tavern board keeps track of which of your guilds have gotten to take a break at the tavern, and also the confidence of your moneychanger. Even though the cardboard components for each player don’t need to be color-coded (as everyone keeps their own area), they do have color coding on the backs and some on the front–I guess that makes it easier to make sure everyone has a full set.

Queen's Architect
The backs of the cardboard player components are colored to match the wooden bits. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Because each player will have a tavern board and an action star with up to 6 craftsmen around it, you’ll need a good amount of table space to play a 4-player game.

Queen's Architect box
The box divider is pretty minimal, but pretty. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The box divider isn’t anything special–just some cardboard that divides the box into two wells–but the size is pretty good and doesn’t leave too much empty space. You’ll probably want to use plastic baggies for the components, though.

How to Play

The rules are available in this Kickstarter update.

The goal of the game is to be the first to reach the top of the appreciation track–or, if multiple players reach it, to earn the most appreciation while working on the Queen’s palace.

Queen's Architect
All set up for a 3-player game. (Chips optional.) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

To set up the game, each player gets one set of player components, plus 2 bonds. The board is set up in the center of the table, with demand tokens randomly placed on each location (according to size). The appreciation tokens are also mixed up and randomly placed face up on the scrolls on the left side of the board. The price marker cube is placed on the “6” space at the top of the billboard (the right side of the game board). Coins and bonds are placed in a supply next to the board.

Find the starting craftsmen (marked with an exclamation point on the back) and place twice as many of them as there are players, next to the board. Then reveal 6 more craftsmen, placing them on the billboard area on the right side of the board, rotated so the guild icon is at the top. The rest of the craftsmen are shuffled, forming a draw pile (with any leftover starting craftsmen at the top of the stack).

To set up your own player area, you put your carriage in the center of the board in the capital. One figure goes on the board at the bottom of the appreciation track, one goes at the lowest space on the tavern board (next to the bond icons), and one goes at the top of your action star.

At the beginning of the game, each player will get to choose some starting workers. In player order, each player chooses one worker from the starting craftsmen next to the board and places it on their action star. The corner to the left of the guild icon should be placed facing the star (so that it lines up with the hammer icon on the star). Then, the player may optionally rotate the tile any number of spaces clockwise to gain that many talers from the supply. Then each player will take a second worker, in reverse player order. Now you’re ready to begin playing.

Queen's Architect
My player area a few rounds in–I’ve increased my moneychanger’s confidence, but still haven’t built any buildings or made any money. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

On each turn, you must move your architect (the figure on your action star) 1 to 3 spaces clockwise and then you may take the associated action with that space. The available actions, going around in a circle, are:

  • Day laborer
  • Hire
  • Gain confidence/Redeem bonds
  • Travel
  • Tavern
  • Construct

Day laborer: Your craftsmen do some farm work. You earn coins equal to half the number of workers (rounded up). You may also rotate any of your workers who have a day laborer icon to earn an additional 2 talers per rotated worker.

Queen's Architect
The “billboard” on the right side of the board is where you can hire new workers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Hire: You may hire one craftsman from the billboard area for the indicated price. It is added to your action star. Note that each billboard space has a hammer icon on one corner of the tile–that corner is the one that is placed in the action star. The cheaper craftsmen will work fewer times before leaving. If nobody hires the top craftsman, the price cube is moved to the right. If it was already at the cheapest spot and nobody hires it, it is removed from the game and the price resets to “6.” All craftsmen move up and empty spots are refilled from the draw pile. (Note: you may never have two identical craftsmen, though you may have multiple workers of the same guild as long as they are different workers.)

Travel: Move your carriage along the roads to a different location, paying talers according to the chart on the board.

Gain confidence/Redeem bonds: You either increase your moneychanger’s confidence or redeem bonds, but not both. Increasing confidence means moving your moneychanger figure up one space on the tavern board. Redeem bonds by turning in bonds for 2 talers each–the number of bonds you may exchange in a single turn depends on how much confidence your moneychanger has.

Queen's Architect
Paying for my Bricklayer and Tailor to go to the tavern will help increase the appreciation value of my next building. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Tavern: The tavern is used to refresh your workers so they will work a little longer. When you take this action, first you move all quitting time tiles in the dorm area to the entrance. Then, you move all tiles in the tavern to the dormitory. Finally, you may pay to move any of the tiles from the entrance into the tavern according to the price chart shown on the tavern. For each of the tiles you pay to put into the tavern, you may rotate craftsmen of that guild in your action star counterclockwise one space.

Queen's Architect
Since the yellow player already built in this town, the green player takes a 2 point penalty when building. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Construct: This is the action that can move you up on the appreciation track toward victory. You choose either to do repairs or construct a building. For a repair, you choose up to 3 workers of different guilds and rotate each of them clockwise one space. You earn appreciation points according to the appreciation icons below their portraits.

Constructing a building is a little more complex: first, you must check your current location to see if you meet the requirements. You must have at least one worker from each guild pictured on your location’s demand tile. You can only construct a building if you have not already constructed at this location. Place a building cube on the best building spot (the one with the smallest penalty) at your location. Add up the appreciation values of all of your workers–the numbers on the corners currently facing your action star, and then subtract the penalty shown for your building spot. Add any bonus appreciation points from that location’s demand tile, if any. Finally, compare this to the maximum appreciation value for your location–smaller locations have lower maximums. Your appreciation score is the lower of the total and the maximum. You must then rotate all of your workers (even the ones not required by the demand tile) one space.

When you earn appreciation, you move up the appreciation track by spending the value shown on the tokens. Any remainder is converted into bonds at a 1:1 ratio. You may, if you choose, forfeit moving up the track and collect bonds instead.

Queen's Architect
The goal is to reach the top of the appreciation track (seen in the foreground). Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The game ends after a round in which any players have contributed to the queen’s palace.

If you reach the top of the appreciation track, then you must move your carriage back to the capital at the center of the board, and then take the “Construct” action on your turn. You must earn at least 15 appreciation points on this last Construct action. Your workers are not rotated on this last action.

The round is played out (so every player has the same number of turns). If more than one player was able to contribute to the queen’s palace, then the player with the higher appreciation on the last turn wins.

The Verdict

I missed the Kickstarter for Queen’s Architect but I was provided with a review copy of the finished game, and I’m really glad I’ve gotten to try it. It’s definitely a Eurogame, with a lot of indirect competition built into the game but no real head-to-head confrontation.

Unlike many Eurogames, there aren’t a pile of resources to manage: you don’t have to worry about bricks or wood (or sheep!). You have money (talers) and bonds, which are essentially I.O.U.s that can only be cashed in at certain times. Instead of the usual building materials, you’re managing the workers themselves. And, let me tell you, workers can be a pain. Playing Queen’s Architect may make you feel like a contractor–in a Eurogame sort of way.

Queen's Architect
Players are making their way up the appreciation track (left) and have more workers at their disposal. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

First, you have to hire them, and you’ll find that hiring the least expensive person from the billboard may get you a needed guild cheaply but they won’t stick around long. So then you spend a little more cash to hire somebody who can work a few jobs–only to find that the quality of their work is inconsistent. For that house you built at the last village, Tom the Bricklayer did a bang-up job earning 5 appreciation. But today you want him to work on the schoolhouse in this town, and he’s complaining about a sore back–only 1 appreciation. Meanwhile, what’s up with Joe Blacksmith? He’s calling in sick! You might as well send him out do to some farmwork instead–at least he’ll bring in a few talers.

A lot of the strategy of the game is figuring out how to manipulate your workers so that you can line them up for a good day at work when it matters the most. Some workers will be better off spent as day laborers for the money. Others are worth sending to the tavern so you can get one more use out of the high-scoring slot. Of course, all of this is for naught if you construct a really valuable building in a tiny village, where your score maxes out at 10. Better to make sure you save your best output for the bigger towns.

Choosing those workers is also important: some workers are better at repair jobs than others; some make great day laborers but aren’t much help in construction. When you hire, you have to consider not only how many times you’ll be able to use the worker, but how much appreciation they will be worth. And, of course, whether you’ll have the right requirements to build in a particular location.

Queen's Architect
On this turn, I can hire new workers, redeem bonds, or travel. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The action star is a fun feature. There are other games with rondels, where you go around in a circle and take actions, so that’s not totally new. In this case, the fact that each person has their own rondel means that, to some extent, it doesn’t matter where other players are–you always have the next three actions available to you. However, it also means that it takes at least two turns to repeat an action–and that’s if you don’t stop anywhere in between.

The money and bonds are a cool mechanic, too, and one that I haven’t seen before. When you earn bonds, they’re worth 2 talers each. But you have to use a turn to cash them in. And not only that, but at the start of the game you can only cash in 1 bond at a time. You could use that turn to increase your moneychangers confidence, but that means going at least another two turns before you can cash anything in. In my experience it’s worth it to increase your confidence to be able to cash in the maximum of 4 bonds at a time, but those three turns when you’re increasing confidence instead of getting cash can be painful. Sometimes, you just need the cash right away.

Travel around the board feels like a minor part of the game, but it can still be important. You get the most points for being the first to build at a given location, so you don’t want to follow somebody around if you can help it. Traveling one space at a time is free–but any travel at all costs you a turn. Early in the game you may stop your architect on the “Travel” space each time, figuring that you might as well move one space for free. But what you realize later is that those lost turns may be more valuable than the money it would have cost to move more spaces at a time.

That’s an aspect that took me by surprise the first time I played. Since each person has their own rondel and you can (theoretically) move at whatever pace you choose, it doesn’t seem like there’s any benefit or cost to moving one spaces versus three. But the opportunity costs can add up–each player gets the same number of turns total, so it’s up to you to figure out how to get the biggest benefit on each turn you take. When the game nears its end, some players will realize that they won’t be able to move around on the rondel fast enough to do all of the actions they need to do to catch up.

Expect Queen’s Architect to take a little longer the first time you play–but once everyone is familiar with the different actions, you can often move very quickly. For most actions, as soon as somebody has declared their choice, the next player can go ahead and choose while the first player is resolving the action. For instance, Day Laborer, Moneychanging, and Tavern actions can all be resolved while the next player is taking a turn. Most of the turns can be quite short, with Construct Building taking the most time–and even that is not such a long term if you have everything prepared by your turn.

Overall, I really enjoyed Queen’s Architect and I look forward to playing it more. I think it’s an excellent mix of different mechanics that I haven’t seen often, and I like the aspect of managing workers and trying to get them all to give their best performance when it counts. Queen’s Architect is available now from online retailers like Amazon, or check your local game store.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this game.

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