Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Pillars of the Earth Expansion Set

After a mini saga getting my hands on The Pillars of the Earth Expansion Set (the online store I ordered it from originally sent me the base game instead of the expansion), it finally arrived earlier this week.

Last night, we put it to the test.

This game is, of course, an expansion for The Pillars of the Earth which I blogged about back in March.

Essentially it increases the maximum number of players from 4 to 6 by adding two sets of pieces and an extra board with more options for worker and master builder placement. In addition, it adds some new privilege, event and craftsmen cards.

The new craftsmen cards in particular give extra options when deciding what you wish to do. For example, the Brickmaker converts 1 sand into 1 stone, the Apprentice increases the capacity of another craftsman by 1, the Beggar gives you a free resource from the market, and the Day Laborer converts any resource (except metal) into 1 victory point.

All those new craftsmen I described were taken in the game we played last night, but none by me. I'll get to the session report in a bit.

Before that though, here's a quick description of the new board. Actually, let's take a look:

The King's Court extends onto the new board, with the Tax Collector spot available that not only gives a tax exemption but gives you gold equal to the roll of the die. This also means there are only 5 tax exemption places, so with 6 players someone will miss out.

The Crusades give extra options for workers, earning victory points depending how many workers are placed there. As you'll see in the session recap below, these were instrumental in giving Tim victory in our game.

The master builder spot in France gives you the "Inspiration in Saint-Denis" card for that round - very handy when someone else takes a craftsman you want, as the card allows you to re-use any craftsman card in play when it comes time to convert your resources into victory points. The capacity of the craftsman you choose to use is reduced by one, but it's still handy.

For example, in our game last night I took the Saint-Denis card in Round 2. Paul had earlier taken a mason that I had my eye on. The mason could convert 1 stone to 1 victory point up to 3 times. When it came time to use my craftsmen, I utilised Paul's mason to convert 2 of my stone into 2 VPs.

That leaves two master builder placements on the new board. The first of those is the Coast, which allows you to sell (but not buy) resources at a higher price than the market on the main board.

The final spot is an extra place in Shiring where you get to take a privilege card.

The expansion also adds a master builder track on the new board. This is designed to help balance things because only two master builders per player go into the bag during Phase II. Each player's third master builder sits next to the track on the new board, and is placed there as soon as you place your first builder. This means that the player to place his or her first master builder first, places his or her third builder last. Clear?

OK, so that wasn't the world's greatest desciption of a game, but I really can't be bothered going into too great a detail. Heck, if you're reading this to learn about the game then, well, you really need to learn to use the internet better. :-)

So, without further ado it's time for the session report from last night's game.

The Giggling One and I took the game around to Paul & Narelle's house. We were joined there by Tim and Brian.

Giggles and I have played the game half a dozen times or so, including games with 2, 3 and 4 players. I've won every time. Paul & Narelle have played just once - a 4 player game with us a few weeks ago. Tim and Brian are complete newbies to the game - a fact that served Tim very well as it turned out.

You see, with no preconceptions about how to play, Tim took a completely different strategy to the rest of us.

I, on the other hand, played the game exactly like I had the last few times. I employed the stone strategy and totally ignored the gravel pit and forest. I focused on getting stone and then buying/obtaining masons and sculptors to convert them to victory points. I also intended to utilise the Bellmaker if possible.

And that's where I fell down. With 6 players, it's a lot harder to get hold of the cards you want. Throughout the entire game I stuck stubbornly to my strategy, ignoring opportunities to obtain other craftsmen, and watching other players take the masons and sculptors that I wanted. My back-up plan of obtaining the "Inspiration in Saint-Denis" card so I could use someone else's sculptor fell through as well, because after Round 2, The Giggling One nabbed the card every time.

Nor could I get metal, for Narelle monopolised the metal placement at the King's Court almost every round.

So it's a bit of a "poor me" sob story, but it's really my own fault. Yes I missed out on the cards I wanted, but I never adapted to my situation. Basically, I was playing a 4 player game in a 6 player world.

As I mentioned earlier, Tim had none of this "must get resources" mind-set that the rest of us had. He eschewed taking resource cards, and instead placed his workers in the Crusades at every opportunity he got. He coupled this with master builder placements in the Priory (earning 5 victory points in each of the last two rounds with the added bonus of Prior Philip) to keep his VP income flowing through the game at a rate that the rest of us were unable to match.

Tim complemented this direct method of obtaining victory points with the Architect (1 VP per round), the Beggar (1 free resource per round) and a Carpenter to convert wood to VPs after taking whatever forest cards were left over in phase I.

It was a steady stream of VPs for Tim and he pulled away throughout the game, and not even the traditional high scoring 6th round of resource production could catch him. He finished on 53 points, 10 or so ahead of Paul who came second.

Paul also employed what I thought was a clever strategy. Utilising the Apprentice, Brickmaker and Stonecutter (1 brick to 5 gold once) he focused on obtaining sand from the gravel pit, converting it into stone with his Brickmaker, and then either converting the stone to gold for a tidy profit or using it with his Mason/Sculptor. This was a lucrative combo, especially when he obtained the privilege card "Sally" meaning he could ignore the craftsmen requirements.

Narelle finished third, courtesy of the Bellmaker. Brian and I tied for fourth, though Brian moved briefly ahead of me in the last round before we realised that his (rather authoritative) claim for 2 points for his "wizard card" was a wee fabrication! Finally, 1 point further back in last place was The Giggling One.

Overall I enjoyed the game a lot but found it more frustrating than the 4 player game. With only 4 more master builder places on the new board, but 6 more master builders, competition for the spots is high. In fact it was very rare to pass on a master builder placement, regardless of the cost. There were only about half a dozen passes during the game, and most of those were due to a shortage of gold.

If I've learned anything from the experience, it's that adaptation is your best friend. Next time - and there will most certainly be a next time - I'll be looking at the game with more experienced, yet fresher eyes.

No comments: