World Without End
English language edition of Die Tore der Welt
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Journey to Knightsbridge, England, where 200 years ago Prior Phillip oversaw the building of the cathedral renowned as "The Pillars of the Earth". Now farmers, wool dealers, and builders seek wealth and prestige amidst a rivalry between the priory and merchants. As the plague reaches town, nothing remains as it once was.
World Without End is based on Ken Follett's best-selling novel. Strive to navigate turbulent events, ensuring and balancing your food supply, income, and prestige. Piety and loyalty remain vital, for you must cater to the upper classes. And precious medical knowledge is your greatest weapon against the Black Death. So, gather your power and spirit and rise above your rivals into legend!
Sequels are fairly common in the book and movie world. They are not so common in the gaming industry. There have been a few, but these are the exceptions rather than the norm. One of the few has been the games based on Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth book series. The first in the series was appropriately named Pillars of the Earth, which concentrated on the construction of the massive cathedral central to the novel. The same design team of Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler continue the story in World Without End.
In this sequel, players represent farmers, merchants and builders striving to achieve wealth and prestige in 14th century England. Players earn victory points by living a pious and loyal life, as well as participating in various building projects. Caring for one's fellow citizens stricken by the plague is also rewarded. Through it all, though, players must gather the resources and food needed to participate in the various building projects and feed their families. Unforeseen events, however, can thwart even the best laid plans. There are lots of factors to consider and balance, making for a tense and challenging game.
The board depicts the village of Kinsbridge, with numerous houses scattered about the town. There are also several construction sites, where buildings will be erected as the game progresses, as well as sites in the suburbs where players may construct houses. There are also several other areas, including the city council space where the event cards will be placed and oriented, and the favor track, which conveys advantages to the active player.
In addition to a starting supply of houses, donation seals, a wool resource and a few gold coins, each player receives twelve action cards. These action cards are at the heart of the game, and determine the actions a player can take each turn. The method in which they are used is extremely clever and often angst-inducing. More on this in a bit.
The game is played over the course of four chapters, each with six rounds. Each rounds consists of the several phases, including:
Event Phase. The event cards are divided into four decks, one for each chapter. Event cards not only trigger events – some of which can be quite detrimental to the players’ plans – but they also depict a resource or benefit on each of the card’s four sides. The top card of the appropriate chapter is revealed, and any immediate event is resolved. Some events remain in effect for the entire chapter. The active player then places the card onto the city council space and orients it in the direction he desires. Each player will receive the resource or benefit pointing towards them. So, a player must not only consider the benefit he will receive, but what will be awarded to his opponents as well.
The placement of event cards not only determines the resource the active player will receive, but also the number of spaces (0 – 3) the favor marker moves along the favor track. The location of the marker on the favor track will also convey a benefit – or possibly a detriment – to the active player. So, not only must a player decide which resource or benefit he desires most, but he must also consider the benefit or penalty he will receive from the favor track.
Receive Personal Income. Players receive the benefit depicted on the side of the event card that is pointing in their direction. This income can be a resource (stone, grain, wood or wool), victory point, piety, loyalty, medical knowledge or gold. The active player advances the favor marker a number of spaces as indicated by the placement of the event card. He then receives the benefit listed on the space on which the marker rests. The favor track gives the active player various benefits, including piety, resources and victory points. Beware the outlaw space, however, as they will steal a gold from you!
Play Action Card. Players play one card from their hand and discard another. The action on the card played is executed, while the action conveyed by the discarded card is lost for the entire turn. Every time a player plays a card, one must be discarded. Believe me, choosing which card to discard is often a very tough decision.
So just what do the actions cards do? Some, as you would expect, give the player a resource, grain or piety. Others allow the player to contribute resources to a building project or sell wool and/or cloth at the market. Others allow a player to construct houses, receive rent from previously constructed houses, care for plague- stricken residents, donate to a building project (which will yield rewards if the project is completed), or move the favor marker. There are literally a dozen choices, and wisely deciding which cards to play and which to discard is critical to one's success. This card play phase continues for six rounds, at which point all players will have depleted their hand of cards.
The ultimate goal is to earn victory points. These are earned in several ways, including building projects. Five projects will become available during the course of the game, each specifying the number and type of building materials (stone and/or wood) that must be contributed. Players contribute to the projects by playing the appropriate building action card and placing the required resources onto a project. Three victory points are earned for each building space filled. Contributing to the construction of projects is essential to victory, so players cannot ignore this aspect of the game.
Players can also donate to projects by playing their donation card. They pay one gold piece and place one of their two donation markers on a project. If that project is completed – not a guarantee – the player receives the indicated rewards, which are similar to the rewards mentioned above. A player only has two donation seals, so he must choose the projects who which he will donate carefully.
When the game enters Chapter 3, plague rears its ugly head and begins infecting the townsfolk. Each event card lists a number that matches one of home locations depicted on the board. When a home is infected, that home's token is inverted, revealing a number. To treat the people in that location, a player must play their medicine action card and have accumulated an amount of medical knowledge at least equal to the token's value. The player then earns two victory points as well as any additional reward depicted by that location. The player does not lose his medical knowledge, so can treat additional buildings on the current or future turns. However, the location treated is now healed, and cannot be treated by another player. A significant number of victory points and benefits can be earned by treating plague-stricken villagers, so it is important to acquire a sufficient amount of medical knowledge.
At the conclusion of a chapter, players have duties they must pay. They must demonstrate they have led a pious life by paying two piety. They must feed their people by paying two grain, and must pay 2 – 5 gold in taxes, the amount determined by a die roll. Failure to meet any or all of these requirements results in the loss of victory points, and subjects the player to further penalties. These penalties are harsh: randomly discarding an action card at the beginning of the next chapter, forgoing personal income on the first round of the next chapter, and/or only having five actions in the next chapter. The lesson: meet your mandatory duties so you don't lose those victory points and have to pay penalties. This requires players to balance their actions and acquisitions to insure they can not only meet their goals, but pay their duties as well. Fortunately, players can acquire loyalty markers during the turn, which can be spent to protect them against the penalties, although not the loss of victory points.
Four chapters are played, each using a new event deck that brings forth new events and challenges to overcome or utilize. At the conclusion of the fourth chapter, after paying any mandatory duties, players receive additional victory points for stone, wood and gold. The player with the most cumulative points rises to prominence in Kingsbridge and wins the game.
While I’ve never read Ken Follett’s books, I have become quite a fan of the games. I thoroughly enjoy Pillars of the Earth, but generally approach sequels – be they movies or games –with some trepidation. I heard early complaints that the game was brutal, with some harsh events that could really stagger the players. I also heard complaints about the game’s length. So, I entered my first game with apprehension. Fortunately, the apprehension dissipated quickly as I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I found the decisions to be tough and the game quite competitive and tense. The events certainly could sidetrack one’s plans, but they never devastated anyone. Further, the game played to conclusion in about two hours, which is perfectly acceptable to me for a game with this degree of depth and strategy.
All subsequent playing have reinforced my initial opinion. World Without End is a tight, tense and challenging game that forces players to balance numerous factors and adapt to unexpected situations caused by events and the actions of one’s opponents. The card play mechanism of having to discard an action card each time you play one causes quite a bit of angst, and requires advance planning that may ultimately be blindsided by an unexpected event or occurrence. It seems that you always wish you had one or two of those discarded cards back in your hand. Such tension and angst generally makes for a good gaming experience, and these elements permeate World Without End. This is one sequel that actually has me looking forward to the next installment in the saga!