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Subject: Review: "Säulen der Erde" by Kosmos rss

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Patrick Wilhelmi
Germany
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"Die Säulen der Erde" ist based on the book by Ken Follet.
Despite his success I consider Ken Follet to be a below average author and had to quit the book after a third.
Thankfully you do not need to know the book to enjoy the game.
When I unpacked the game I thought this might be a Caylus rip-off but I was wrong. Although the theme is similar in theme and mechanism at the first glance, the game plays and feels much different in the end.

Each player starts with some workers and three builders. The builders of all players are put in a bag and are only needed in Phase II of the game.
Each player also gets three craftsmen. These are cards needed to transform resources (sand, stone and wood) into victory points in Phase III. Al players start with the same set.
A starting player is determined randomly and gets one gold piece less then player two who also gets one gold piece less then player three etc.
This is supposed to even out any starting advantages.

The game is devided into six rounds. Each round is devided into three phases:
Phase I: Each round offers two new craftsmen (and they get better with the ongoing game) and seven out of nine resource cards - three for each resource, with two being unavailable each turn and thus causing shortages.
If it is your turn you are either allowed to take a card or pass. If you have passed once you are not allowed to take any further cards this phase. The phase ends if all cards were taken or more likely after all players have passed.
You are only allowed to keep five craftsmen. So if you take a new one you might have to let others go.
Each craftsman has a gold cost which has to be paid when taken in the Phase I. Two more can be taken in Phase II for free but more of that later. If you have not enough gold left you are not allowed to take the card.
As said before most craftsmen transform resources into victory points. Lets take the mason for example. You start the game with a low quality mason. He is able to change four stones into one victory point. He also has a limit of three, meaning his maximum of transforming is 12 stones into 3 victory points in Phase III. In later rounds better masons will turn up who might only need three or two stones for one victory point. There are also some special craftsmen who can do other things like producing money or transform money directly into victory points.
Resource cards on the other end provide you with important resources. Each card gives you 2,3 or 4 resources. The problem here is that the cards who offer more resources also need considerably more workers to be placed on.
Lets say that two workers are needed for two sands, four workers are needed for three sands and eight workers are needed for four sands. Since you ony have 12 or 13 works at your disposal getting all the good cards is impossible. You are not allowed to take a resource card you have no workers for!
Workers which cannot be put on resource cards are placed on the mill region of the game board instead and will provide the players with new gold, one piece for every worker.

Phase II: Now the builders come into play. They are placed on spots located in different regions of the game board. Each region does something else and mostly offers only a limited number of spots. There is for example only one spot for the first player. The player who puts his builder there will be the first player in the following round. There are spots who offer free craftsmen or certain advantage cards which might give you some valuable extra resources for the rest of the game, an extra income or instant victory points.
There are spots on the market who will give the players the opportunity to sell or buy valuable resources; you can also visit the king which will free you from taxes this round and might also provide you with the very valuable metal resource only available there and through some of the cards.
Getting the builders onto the spots is not for free most of the time. Each piece is drawn from the bag blindly by the starting player one at a time. The drawn builder is then placed on a special part of the game board showing how much bringing it into the game will cost. The first builder is seven gold pieces, the next six and so on. In a game of four players that means after the 7th builder has been drawn, the remaining pieces are for free. If you do not want to pay the fee the builder you are allowed to pass which means the builder is brought into the game after all the paid for or free pieces have been placed.
This setup puts the players into a big dilemma: Getting the best spots is expansive and gold is always scarce. So you are not always happy when your builders are drawn early.

Phase III: The last phase is of the game is mostly just executing every region of the board one at a time. First an event card is drawn. It is either good or bad for all players. Then the free cards can be taken (craftsmen + advantage cards), resources will be given out, taxes will be rolled for (2-5 gold pieces) and need to be paid by all players with no builder in the Kings region, some clever buying and selling on the market can be done etc. etc.
At the end everybody will distribute their resources on their craftsmen and get the vital victory points.
Repet this six times and the cathedral has been finished and the best "builder" determined.

CONCLUSION
My group really enjoyed "Säulen der Erde". The game can be explained very quickly and will be understood in the first round of game.
It has a very good flow and the 90 min. passed quickly.
The game looks nice and comes with the usual high quality Kosmos components.
There are more advantage and event cards available as needed, so all games should play very differently since they cards can have considerable influence on the game.
It takes some good planning and thinking to get the most out of every situation and the game will most likely end with a very tight victory.
BUT...
unlike Caylus a lot of luck is involved. Getting a good craftsman early might mean a headstart. It is also possible that all your builders are drawn last leaving you with a limited choice of what to do. If this happens more then once, the game might be over for you early.
I consider Caylus to be the far better game but have to admit that "Säulen.." has a much better game flow, especially when played with new gamers.
 
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Steve K
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Thanks for the review - its the first time I've seen a detailed description of how the game plays.

I see from the few photos available that there is some text on cards. Are there many cards with text? Are these cards held in your hand or are they seen by every player?

Basically, it looks like there is no English edition planned so far - how difficult would it be for non-German speakers to play the Kosmos edition?
 
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Matt Albritton
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You would need paste-ups for the special action cards and event cards as they are all German text. You can figure out the craftmen cards, though, because they have symbols on them.
 
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Harro Pahl
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Jep, really good review! Sounds very good, but because of the luck-factor I will not buy it -- I don't like if luck has too much influence in a bg. We will continue to play Caylos
 
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Werner Bär
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dr.morton wrote:
It is also possible that all your builders are drawn last leaving you with a limited choice of what to do. If this happens more then once, the game might be over for you early.

I disagree. I've only played one (3-player) game yet (online), and in the first 4 rounds, my builders have been drawn late.
But i don't think this was a disadvantage. One of the first builders might snap a good spot for a hefty price of 6-7 gold, but most of the first 4-5 builders 'passed' and got placed last. And mine, which were drawn near the end, had many good spots cheaply available.
In fact, it seemed to me that my win was because my builders were drawn late. (this might be different with 4 players)
 
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Eric Humrich
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Werbaer wrote:
dr.morton wrote:
It is also possible that all your builders are drawn last leaving you with a limited choice of what to do. If this happens more then once, the game might be over for you early.

I disagree. I've only played one (3-player) game yet (online), and in the first 4 rounds, my builders have been drawn late.
But i don't think this was a disadvantage. One of the first builders might snap a good spot for a hefty price of 6-7 gold, but most of the first 4-5 builders 'passed' and got placed last. And mine, which were drawn near the end, had many good spots cheaply available.
In fact, it seemed to me that my win was because my builders were drawn late. (this might be different with 4 players)


Where it does matter is in the last round. If you are not the start player and your builders are not drawn early you will miss the metal builders and so you will be out of the game...
 
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Tim Seitz
United States
Glen Allen
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Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him. 2 Sam 14:14
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That only matters if the players who got picked ahead of you had the gold to place their builders.
 
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Pieter
Netherlands
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out4blood wrote:
That only matters if the players who got picked ahead of you had the gold to place their builders.


True, but getting gold in this game is not at all hard. If you just make sure you get some in the fifth round, you have plenty available for the last round. Really, the game is all about the luck of the draw, especially for those who have played it more than once.
 
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