[This session report originally appeared in my blog, "Man OverBoard."]
I ran the Pillars of the Earth tournament at PrezCon again this year. I had two heats totalling 14 different competitors in five games. Four of the five qualifying winners showed up for the final: Shane McBee, Philip Shea, Jeff Thornsen, and Tom Snyder (last year's champion). I have really come to enjoy watching tournament games, because I get to see some real high-level play. This year's final was no exception.
In the first round, Jeff sent most of his workers to the wool mill to max out at 30 gold. I was immediately reminded of last year's final, when players consistently went heavy on cash to pay for early master builder placement. Shane took both the gold-earning woodworker (which I think is a favorite tactic of his) and the tool maker. Tom sent two master builders to Knightsbridge Priory for a quick three points. Archbishop Thomas extended his protecting hand over Philip. After the first round, Tom had the early lead at five victory points, followed by Philip at four, and Shane and Jeff at two.
The second round saw Philip pick up the architect, Jeff the carpenter and the potter, and Tom the mason. Stone would figure heavily in Tom's strategy. Shane was favored by Pryor Phillip, who boosts the victory point benefit of Knightsbridge Priory - a big advantage to pick up so early in the game. Jeff's master builder in the Archbishop's Office saved him from having to pay William Hamleigh's tax increase, while selling wood and buying sand in the market to put his mortar mixer to work on the cathedral. Philip took the start player, and would continue to do so for three consecutive rounds (something I've never seen done before). The second round saw Philip take a narrow lead at nine points over Jeff and Tom at eight, with Shane trailing at four.
Jeff Thornsen (l.) and 2013 champion Tom Snyder
In the third round, it was Philip who recruited a potter, while Shane took both a sculptor and a carpenter. Jack persuaded the guilds to allow Shane a sixth craftsman in his emply. Tom brought the Crying Madonna to Knightsbridge for three points. Richard took control of the castle, distributing metal to all the builders. Philip, who had been accumulating metal every round, sold five of them for 25 gold in the market. Tom led at the halfway mark with 16 points, with Jeff right behind him at 15, Philip at 13, and Shane at 11.
The fourth round saw Philip pick up a carpenter, Shane another sculptor (going strong on stone-working talent), and Jeff a mason. Tom the Snyder recruited Tom the Builder to improve his stone accumulation, while Philip of the Sheas gained the help of Richard of the outlaws to improve his sand collection. A cold winter brought famine and reduced the productivity of everyone's workers except Tom, the beneficiary of the Archbishop's Office. Tom sold five stone for 20 gold in the market. Shane meanwhile sold his metal and bought three stone and two wood to make a tremendous contribution to the construction of the cathedral, more than doubling his score in one round and taking the lead at 23 points, well ahead of Philip and Jeff at 18. Having sold so much stone, Tom made no contribution to the cathedral and remained at 16 points.
In the fifth round, Philip picked up a sculptor and Jeff recruited the first glassblower. The King celebrated a great victory and awarded five gold to each player - except that Tom, who had sold stone in the market the previous turn, was already at the maximum of 30 gold. Tom took start player from Philip in anticipation of the final round. Philip bought sand to further the cathedral and gain the lead at 36 points. Shane bought wood and stone and closely followed him at 34 points, while Jeff lost ground at 28 and Tom fell significantly behind at 20 with just one round to go.
Shane McBee (l.) and Philip Shea
Tom started the final round by taking the goldsmith and the sculptor. Shane took the organ builder. Tragically, the cathedral roof collapsed during this final stage of construction and killed four craftsmen. Shane bought stone and wood in anticipation of a tight race for the finish with Philip.
The final scoring was the closest I've ever seen. Both Shane and Philip finished with 48 points and one gold. The rules don't provide for a second tie-breaker after gold, but the PrezCon tournament rules don't allow for a shared championship. As the GM, I looked at the final state of the players and decided that since Shane finished with five stone whereas Philip had no materials left, the victory and the plaque should go to Shane McBee. Jeff finished third with 41 points and 13 gold. Despite nearly doubling his score in the final round, Tom finished in fourth place with 39 points and one gold.
It was a real pleasure to run the Pillars tournament again this year. Shane, Philip, Jeff, and Tom played a terrific final, and it was really fun to watch.
I agree that you had to make a hard call - but one might argue that Philip played a more "efficient" game by not having as many resources left over (to rot) as Shane.
Either way, I'm sure both feel like winners.