The Pillars of the Earth
English language edition of Die Säulen der Erde
List Price: $49.00
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England at the beginning of the 12th century -- Prior Phillip of Kingsbridge has a glorious vision: to build the largest, most beautiful cathedral in England. To accomplish the task, Phillip recruits the most renowned builders in the country. However, the fate of the Cathedral is constantly threatened by all manner of catastrophes and oppositions.
Players join together to help build Kingsbridge Cathedral. Using your workmen and resources, you must wisely deploy assets to overcome unexpected difficulties and shortages to prove yourself the greatest builder of them all! Will your efforts be recognized when the Great Cathedral at Kingsbridge is complete? The Pillars of the Earth is based on Ken Follett's best-selling novel.
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Apr 24, 2007
The Pillars of the Earth is a light strategy game about gathering resources and employing craftsmen to turn those resources into parts of a cathedral.Watch the video!
Few games are directly based on books (Dune being the notable exception), so The Pillars of the Earth (Kosmos and Mayfair Games, 2007 – Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler) is an interesting game – based on a popular book by Ken Follett. I haven’t read the book (although I certainly would like to), yet the theme of building a cathedral certainly breaks through. After opening the box, I was impressed with the plethora of fantastic pieces and had positive anticipation of game play.
Few games blow me away with positive impressions as Pillars of the Earth did. Not only do I consider it one of the best games of 2007 – award worthy, even – but also it could easily become one of my favorite games. Playing well with two to four players, Pillars of the Earth has a building mechanic that takes place over six rounds, giving players choices similar to the smash hit Caylus, but in a quicker timeframe. I enjoy the escalating game play, and the games I’ve played have stayed close and tense throughout the entire game. Pillars of the Earth may look like a hodge podge of typical game components and mechanics, but it really is a special breakout, and I can see it becoming quite popular due to easy game play (enhanced by the theme) and tremendous interaction.
Let me explain the reasons I enjoy the game…
1.) Components: Mayfair games simply get better and better, and Pillars of the Earth is a testament to this. First of all, the board is simply gorgeous, with an overhead view of a village building a cathedral, yet still functional enough for game play. It gave off almost a “Where’s Waldo” vibe with how much is actually on the board, and I think this may be my favorite board design for any game I’ve ever played. The game also comes with six blocks that can be put together to make a nice miniature wooden cathedral. This cathedral has no function other than to show what round the game is in, but it still makes an excellent centerpiece for the game and adds to the theme. The rest of the pieces – small cards and wooden bits (little guys that remind one of “meeples”, four different colored cubes, scoring discs for each player) are standard fare for this type of gam, but look nice and add to the game’s overall presence. Once again, I have to congratulate Michael Menzel on the terrific graphics also available on these cards and box cover. The Pillars of the Earth looks fantastic when set up and will draw people in on presence alone.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is eight large full-color pages with a lot of examples and illustrations. Yet I understood the game immediately on reading the rules and was able to explain it to others in about ten minutes. The game’s theme is very helpful to new players as they attempt to understand how the game works, and everything flows in such a natural order that I can see this game becoming a smash family hit – based on ease of playing alone.
3.) Craftsmen: The game revolves around each player utilizing craftsmen that they control to build the cathedral and score victory points. At the beginning of the game, each player starts with three craftsmen: the Mortar Mixer, who can convert three sand cubes into a victory point three times a round; the Woodworker, who can convert two wood cubes into a victory point four times a round, and the Stonecutter, who can convert two stone cubes into a victory point four times a round. As the game progresses, players have the opportunity to purchase or acquire other craftsmen, who have better cube to point ratios. For example, the Carpenter – available in round four – allows a player to trade in one wood cube for a victory point four times per round; and the Sculptor – available in round three – allows a player to trade in one stone cube for two victory points once per round. Players must determine which craftsmen are the best for their strategies, and must also struggle with two things that make their decisions more difficult. First of all, a player may only have five craftsmen – meaning that as new ones are acquired, older ones have to be discarded. Secondly, if a player discards any of their initial three craftsmen, they lose a special ability. For example, getting rid of the Stonecutter bans the player from selling stone cubes at the market for the remainder of the game. A player has to weigh the loss of this special ability with the abilities of the replacing craftsman. The craftsmen are important, because they will most likely determine the direction a player goes when playing the game – which resource they will likely hoard, and competition for them can be fierce, especially in later rounds. It does seem a little possible that a player who has played the game several times may have a small advantage (as they know what craftsmen are coming up), but I usually explain the features of the best ones – especially those who can utilize metal (a scarce resource) to those who are new, and no one has complained yet.
4.) Workers: Each player has seven small workers and one large worker (equal to five smaller workers). At the beginning of each round, players in turn order place these workers on the forest, quarry, or gravel pit in order to procure an amount of cubes. The number of workers is determined by seven cards (out of a possible pool of nine), as well as the rewards – which give a better ratio when lower! This is a key part to the game, as players will get no where close to the resources they want, as either they don’t have enough workers or the other players manage to place their workers first. This is further complicated by the ability to snag one of two craftsmen instead of critical resources – another tough decision. Finally, a player can place any leftover workers in the mill, earning them gold – a way that a player can easily recoup their low income. I personally find the worker/resource ratio brilliant, as players have to decide if they want to expend all of their workers at one area, or spread them out for a variety of resources, or simply take money for them. It’s a clever, quick mechanic – and makes turn order of high importance.
5.) Master Builders: One of the most interesting features of the game are the master builders. Each player has three, and all of them are thrown into a cloth bag for each round. Once players have placed their workers, the starting player pulls one of the master builders out of the bag. The player who controls that color can place the master builder on the board for seven gold, or pass and place their pawn on a track. This continues, with the price for playing each builder decreasing by one gold until eventually there is no cost to placing a builder. After all builders are pulled from the bag, the master builders that passed can then be placed on the board for free. The player who draws the pawns may place the pawn back in the bag and redraw once per turn. This is a very interesting scenario, as players must weigh the chance to put their pawns in the best spots with the very hefty prices associated with going first or second. So, what spots do players have the option of placing their master builders in?
Here’s a list, in the order they are resolved.
- One can be placed in the Archbishop’s Office, which either provides that player with protection from a negative event, or allows them to take one free resource from the resource market.
- One can be placed under each of two different privilege cards, allowing the player to immediately take that card.
- Two can be placed in Kingsbridge Priory, one awarding its owner two victory points, the other one victory point.
- Up to four can be placed in the King’s Court, which exempts them from paying tax this turn (2-5 gold). The first player to place their pawn here also receives a metal resource.
- Two can be placed in the Shiring, each awarding its owner one of the two craftsmen available there.
- One can be placed in Shiring Castle, which gives the player two gray workers to add to their pool for the next round.
- Four can be placed in the Kingsbridge Resource Market, where players can buy and sell sand, wood, and gold; and sell metal cubes.
- One can be placed at the cathedral – making them the starting player in the following round (otherwise play passes clockwise.)
Some of these spots are certainly better than others – I’d rather get one in Kingsbridge Priory than the Resource Market – but this also changes with whatever privilege or craftsmen cards that are available. It certainly places a premium on being the first player, as getting to redraw one master builder can really come in handy during the game. I’m still not sure if it’s EVERY worth paying seven gold to place a master builder first, but that’s hard to gauge and offers yet another interesting, tough choice.
6.) Event Cards: There are ten event cards included with the game, and only six are used. One is turned over each round, affecting all players equally. When it’s a positive event (all players get one extra resource!), then everybody rejoices. The negative events are more devastating – which makes putting a master builder in the Archbishop’s office that much more important. When you avoid the event “lose two points”, and everybody else does lose those points – it can be a real treat! And getting a resource of your choice isn’t a bad consolation prize if the event happens to be good (or you don’t care about the negative effect).
7.) Privilege Cards: These cards, two of which are taken each turn, have a variety of effects that often differ depending on when they come into play during the game. Some give a free resource every turn, some offer immediate effects (gain eight gold, three victory points), and others give a special ability – like peeking at the top event card each round. They certainly aren’t all created equal, and this again affects the placement of the Master builders. They also add a bit of theme to the game – and having names, probably extra flavor to those who have read the book.
8.) Number of Players: I think that Pillars of the Earth plays equally well with two to four players, but because there are practically no rule changes – is a very different game. Four players is probably my favorite, because the resources are scarce, and two players is a “nicer” game. Still, the fact that the game plays two to four equally well is a nice plus, and the short time frame helps too – most games lasting just over an hour.
9.) Money: Money is an interesting factor in the game (measured by a counter – which is a little more annoying than actually having coins, I think), as players must maintain income somehow – which isn’t easy, while watching their spending (which is extremely easy – especially with the Master builders). Add the tax that comes into play each turn, and the decision to send workers to the mill, and money can really have an interesting effect on the game. What really makes money potent is that a couple craftsmen can convert money to points near the end of the game – giving a rich player a nice option.
10.) Caylus: If you peruse the internet at all, the moniker “Caylus-lite” is bestowed on this game, and I can certainly see why. After my first playing with my wife, she immediately recalled Caylus, and I was also reminded of it. They really are similar in theme and style – but I don’t have a problem owning either one of them. Caylus is a game that is geared towards the more serious gamer, and is one that can handle five players with complexity and great length. Pillars of the Earth is a simpler game, but no much the worse for it. There are fewer choices, to be sure, but it’s quicker and almost a streamlined version! I feel that it might actually replace Caylus in my personal rankings, simply because I feel that there is a wider range of people who will like it. Pillars is a “medium-weight” game, but it certainly commands a lot of respect in that category.
11.) Strategy and Fun Factor: Luck is evident in the game, as the draw of the cards and pull of the master builder tokens can certainly force one to change your plans. However, I didn’t feel that this luck at any point was too much to cause a player to lose, but at the same time keeps the game variable enough to be interesting and rather replayable. Each time that I’ve played I found myself pursuing a different strategy – often affected by how many opponents and the actions they took. Once can attempt to control their money supply, or get as many resources, or use special abilities, etc. But what I enjoy the most is just how naturally the game flows – both due to its theme and the intuitive mechanics.
People often say that I can find the good in any game – which is certainly not always true. But in Pillars of the Earth I struggle to find anything bad. It has the earmarks of a great game – one that is easy to play and teach, yet offers variety and options. The theme of building a cathedral is certainly realized throughout the entire game, and the wonderful visuals and engaging mechanics make this one of the best games of the year, a truly great game. For those seeking an enjoyable game with a nice theme, tremendous components, and varied and tactical game play – Pillars of the Earth is an excellent choice.
“Real men play board games”
Die Säulen der Erde, or Pillars of the Earth as it will be released in the English speaking part of the world is an impressive game that involves both luck and strategic positioning of your builders.
To start out each player is given three craftsmen, 1 carpenter, 1 stone worker, and 1 mortes makers (sp?). The idea of the game is to provide your craftsmen the resources or goods they need in order to make the cathedral. They need wood, stone, and sand. You will also encounter metal for advanced craftsmen.
As the game goes on (over six rounds) the craftsmen get more specialized and the goods become more valuable. Gold is scarce and victory points take some rearranging of goods to get.
In a bag are three master builders for each person and they get taken out randomly and placed on the board (for a price) You have almost 14 different options to choose from and each of them provide various bonuses.
I would highly recommend this game to anyone who wants to get into a meatier game. Some will compare it to Caylus, but Pillars has a bit more luck involved (because of pulling out things from bag and discarding in the beginning of the game some cards) but... don't let that be your decision! Try for yourself!
Good luck and good playing!
The Pillars of the Earth is a truly fantastic game. It's easy to learn, but like all great strategy games, the straightforward goals and rules lead to much "deeper" gameplay.
Each player is trying to contribute to the construction of a cathedral. Players send their workers to gather stone, wood and sand, then used their craftsmen to fashion these raw materials into something impressive that will contribute to the construction of the cathedral. The players' contributions are measured in victory points. Whoever has the most victory points wins.
I've played this game now with two very different groups of people, and both seemed to enjoy it. Pick up a copy of the Pillars of Earth. It's very deserving of the accolades it has received.