Publisher: Asmodee Games
Game Designer: Frédéric Henry
Artwork: Sabrina Miramon
Ages: 10 & up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $17.99
It seems like the hottest trend in board gaming right now are microgames, compact, fast playing games that are inexpensive and offer great value for your gaming dollar in many cases. Being compact, microgames are easy to carry anywhere and fast playing means they’re generally less complex allowing exposure to a wider audience.
Microgames are also generally less expensive to manufacture due to fewer components which leads to lower cost and more impulse buying for the gaming consumer. I’ve become a huge fan of microgames for all of the above reasons and you’ll always find at least 3-5 of these little buggers in my gaming go-bag to satisfy various needs and audiences.
One of these games I recently picked up at my FLGS is The Builders: Middle Ages, a small worker placement/set collection game that is right on the outermost limit of what I’d consider a micro due to its component count and fairly significant footprint but it still fits the bill of being compact, quick and easy to play while accessible to everyone.
Asmodee Games released this in the States this past February and being a fan of their games I snatched it up in an impulse buy. The Builders: Middle Ages is a clever take on worker placement, using set collection to build a stable of contractors that match the resources necessary to construct buildings and machines that you draft from a row of available projects. It’s a fun, cute little game and I enjoy it quite a bit, just not as much as I’d hoped because it has no player interaction, so games end up being a multiplayer solitaire race to the finish. Even without this important facet of multiplayer gaming, I still recommend it as a gateway game for those unfamiliar with worker placement or set collection and it makes for a good, quick filler game, so this is not one to overlook.
The Builders: Middle Ages comes in a small but sturdy embossed tin box adorned with colorful art that sets the tone, the mix of bright and earthy colors give a warm and enjoyable feel, welcoming you to the game when you pop open the box. Most micro’s seem to be doing this as another way of attracting newer gamers to their products and I must say us older gamers like it too.
As I mentioned before, The Builders: Middle Ages is right at the limit of what I’d consider a microgame having 84 cards, 40 plastic coins and one rule book which leads to a larger footprint on the table than you’d expect from a microgame. The cards are broken into two categories, buildings and workers. The building cards are good-sized 3 ½” squares, while the worker cards are standard 2 ½” x 3 ½” and all are linen finish which I’ve always liked. The only problems with the cards are that they are a bit thinner than I wish they were, which means you’ll want to take care when handling the cards or to go right ahead and sleeve them if you choose, to protect them from getting folded corners.
The plastic coins are fantastic and one of the biggest draws to this game for passers-by at my local game nights, everyone wants to come up and pick them up and play with them. They’re made of embossed plastic with distinct markings you’d expect to be on ancient currency and they make a nice plink when you shuffle them in your hand. It’s funny how the little things matter.
The goal of the game is to be the first player to reach 17 victory points; these points are acquired by completion of different buildings and tools. The tools you build such as Survey Tools or the Tile Oven for example, give extra value in that they also double as workers along with providing victory points. Once built, you can use them for free in place of a worker whom you must pay a cost to use.
To complete the construction of the buildings you need workers and there are four classes of workers in The Builders: Middle Ages, Novice, Laborer, Craftsman and Master. Each worker card has unique artwork fitting to their class and varied abilities to work the four main resources used in the game as well as the workers associated cost. The four resources used are Stone, Wood, Knowledge and Tile. The abilities to using each resource are different from within the same class as well, meaning each worker is different even from the same class so you will need to recruit a varied assortment of workers to complete the building tasks.
The Building cards are nicely illustrated with an incomplete building on one side and a completed building on the other, once complete you can flip the card over to show it is done and add the victory points to your total. The Building card also lists the resources needed for its completion and the cost that you will receive when it is done along with its victory point value at the top of the card.
Setup is quick and easy, you simply lay out a row of five random building cards and another row of five random workers. Then deal out one Novice worker to each player and one gold and five silver coins (10 total value) to give each player their starting funds.
Each player then has three actions that they may take from four possible actions available. The available actions are: start construction, recruit a worker, send a worker to work and take coins.
Start Construction is where you choose a building card from the row of five available buildings. As one is removed it is filled in from the stack of building cards set to the side of the row and you are not limited to the amount of buildings you can construct at the same time. Taking a building card is one action point.
Recruiting a worker is similar to starting construction; you choose as many worker cards as your action points allow. Each worker taken from the row is one action point from your pool of three.
Send a worker to work is where those coins come into play. Once you’ve selected a building and workers, you send the workers that match up to the resources necessary to finish the job. When you lay them down next to the building card, you pay the workers cost into the bank. Once the building construction is complete, you receive the payout listed on the building card and your workers go back into your pool of available labor.
Take coins allows you to take one coin from the bank for one action, three coins for two actions and six coins for all three actions. You can also use coins to pay for extra actions at the cost of five coins for one extra action beyond the three you are granted each turn.
To win, you’ll need to be efficient with the worker and building cards you choose by taking only what is necessary to complete the job. You will need to scan the cards in the builder’s row and match up the resources needed as denoted by the resource meters on each card, with those of the available workers in your head so you will know what to grab when it’s your turn. Grabbing too many buildings or workers will cause you to fall behind quickly and in a short game like this, you will be hard pressed to catch back up.
I’ve played The Builders: Middle Ages with two through four players and the games move quickly even for first timers. Games are quick, finishing in about 20-25 minutes with four players and shorter with two players. That’s it; it’s as simple as that.
I’ve had a lot of fun with this game but the one thing it is really missing is some form of player interaction. Even without the interaction I still enjoy it quite a bit and it’s always in my gaming bag. I do think if there was some form of adversarial play, however slight, it would increase the enjoyment as it would get everyone more involved.
Company Website: Asmodee
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Asmodee-game-News/269642758448
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/Asmodee_USA
Note: A review copy of this game was purchased by me.