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Subject: A first game of Die Säulen der Erde rss

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David Reed
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Note: This session report is one of the first I have written. I began with the report I wrote for National Games Week and expanded it. I would be interested to hear any comments or suggestions.

Die Säulen der Erde is a Kosmos game that will be published by Mayfair as Pillars of the Earth. The game's theme is taken from a Ken Follett novel about building a cathedral in the middle ages. Having read the book several years ago, the announcement that Kosmos was releasing a game based on the novel at Essen 2006 interested me. When I heard that the game was being perceived as a good game, I moved it to my list of games to try out at BGG.con. Unfortunately, the list of games that Derk brought back from Essen didn't include it. Luckily, Mercury Games Online got a couple of copies in a week after Essen (Marena, the owner, had the foresight to order them in before Essen), and I decided to go ahead and order it and place it in the BGG.con library. I hoped that I would get a chance to play it during the weekend. sadly, this was not to be. The first time I saw it in the library after I gave it to them was when I picked it up with my other lenders to take it home.

A week later, Zac and I got together to try it out. I had planned ahead and used Melissa Rogerson's excellent rules translation and some of the other play aids that have appeared on BGG. After a quick rules explanation, we were set to play.

The game has been compared to Caylus, and I can see why. Both games have building as a major theme and worker allocation and resource management are key elements of both. But, in the end, Die Säulen der Erde is not a Caylus clone or even Caylus done right - it is an enjoyable game in its own right.

The game is played in six turns (each of which is noted by a wooden segment of the cathedral being placed on the board - when the cathedral had been built (all pieces are on the board), the game is done). Each turn has three phases:
1) buy raw materials, place workers and hire craftsmen - seven of nine possible goods cards are placed for purchase (a cheap/small, medium and expensive/large for each of sand, wood and stone - the small will give two, the medium gives three and the large gives four - larger cards will require more workers), any excess workers are sent to the wool mill to generate more gold to finance your building, while there are two crafsman available to hire.
2) draw the master builders out of sack and place them in order for going on the board, then placing them in the many possible locations on the board. These locations include:
- a way to avoid the event (if it is bad) or get a free good from the market
- a choice of one of two advantage cards that either help for the rest of the game, immediately or once at your choice in the game
- a couple of places that add victory points
- a spot that gives immunity to taxes (and possibly a shot at the rarest raw material, metal (if you are the first to go to this place with a master builder, you will get metal in addition to the tax relief)
- a choice of one of two craftsman that will work for you for free
- a spot to get two free workers for the next turn
- a chance to use the market to buy raw materials (all except metal) and sell raw materials (any of them, including metal) - the price is fixed and there is no difference between buying and selling
- a spot to be the first player on the next turn
3) resolving each location on the board. This begins with an event card, then works its way through the locations I mentioned above, the wool mill, the various places that produce raw materials, taxes being set and paid, and, finally, set the craftsmen to work on the cathedral (and produce victory points or gold)

Once you have a feel for this sequence, the game flows very easily and quickly. Even for a first time play of a game in a foreign language, we were able to complete it in a bit over an hour. Both of enjoyed the game - the components (especially the board) are beautiful, the rules (as translated) are clear and the game itself is a lot of fun. There are difficult choices to make and it is a lot of fun. Zac began to work towards using the mason as a way of generating victory points, while I got the tool maker and some metal. It became obvious to me that the mason/stone cutter combination was going to tie up two of the five available craftsman slots (an advantage card can raise this to six), especially given the much higher relative cost of stone, when compared to wood. I got the Aliena advantage card on the first turn (an extra wood resource fr free each turn), and so turned to using carpenters (which convert wood to victory points in varying levels of efficiency). Zac managed to get the special carpenter (which converts wood to gold), and was able to keep his money supply up. I, on the other hand, found money to be tight, and hand to balance my expenditures very carefully. As the better craftsmen made their appearance, we both managed to improve our production. Zac decided that I was right about the mason/stone cutter combo and shifted his craftsmen to other choices. In the end, my early advantage was enough to seal the win, but Zac came very, very close, with a mere three points separating us.

With two players, the game was pretty leisurely - there were enough things for our master builders to do without really stepping on each other too frequently. sure, there were things that both of wanted to do - grabbing the advantage cards, the metal and the better craftsmen, but it never got too nasty. With more players, I can see things getting very tight and nasty.

We were both very impressed with the game. Zac expressed interest in buying the Mayfair edition if the graphic quality was preserved. I was very happy with how the theme of the book was preserved in the game in addition to the beauty of the components, especially the board.
 
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