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Subject: Will The Real Cathedral-building Game Please Stand rss

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Chris
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We’ve only been a BGG member for about six months. During this time our collection has grown from a handful to more than sixty games, and we have become better educated in the ways of quality boardgaming. BGG has been a constant source of information. But, there is no better teacher than simply playing games of different kinds, in different genres, and by different designers. We are still in the midst of this education but we’ve learned some valuable things already which I have tried to share in the reviews I’ve written for BGG – a way of contributing to a community I’ve come to value and appreciate. We’ve recently learned that rankings do not a game make. We first learned this lesson with San Juan – it is not that great a game; good, but not great. A couple of months ago we purchased a bundle of games to kick our collection into gear in earnest. In this purchase were both Pillars of the Earth and Keythedral. Pillars of the Earth we picked up due to the very interesting concept and much hype around the game; Keythedral because of the mechanics and, to be honest, the endearing art design I had appreciated in actually holding the box while in a store once. Who could go wrong: Pillars a fast rising favorite; Keythedral seemingly a respected standard. As of this writing, Pillars stands at #45 on BGG while Keythedral is at #96. When considering that these are among thousands of games, the 50 point disparity is negligible, but I find it nonetheless telling that Pillars has gone so far so fast though I don’t consider it to be Keythedral’s equal. I acknowledge that game appreciation is subjective (though BGG does rank games), so this is not meant in the spirit of telling folks what they should like, but I write this to make my own case why Keythedral might be considered the better game objectively and it will surely be up to others to agree or disagree – that’s what community is all about. I also want to say that this comparison comes from a strictly 2-player view, though I’ll hold that I think the analysis holds up across other numbers of players, but this will be for others to tell me.

I might say, also, before I begin, that a direct comparison is not entirely fair. Yes, they both center on cathedral building but their mechanics are quite different: one is based on tile laying while the other relies on fixed properties of the board. However, they do share a theme and the win conditions center on collecting VP’s which in turn depend upon resource management and conversion. To this end, I find it fair to at least keep both games in sight. Ultimately, I throw these games in the ring more because it is provocative to do so and, to be honest, fun. We have a deep appreciation for BOTH of these games – I just personally enjoy picking battles against the big guy in the name of the little or forgotten guy. Oh, and I do like Keythedral better. Rather than retell the mechanics of the game, I’ll proceed to draw up a few points of comparison which will themselves disclose aspects of the game. Last, I won’t re-explain much of Pillars as readers can refer to my own or one of the many reviews of that game for more information.


theme
In Pillars, the townspeople must build a cathedral; likewise in Keythedral. Not much to say here without giving each game a mythos that doesn’t really translate into gameplay.

Theme: TIE


art design
Pillars’ art design is marked by a very definite sense of medieval fiction. The portrayed cathedral is imposing, foreboding, and majestic. One imagines that it leaves a powerful imprint on the mind of those who might see it. The game itself, and this cannot be argued against, is simply beautiful. In my review of Pillars, I made much of how stunning the board is: rich colors, interesting board layout, attention to detail. Components are well made and well packaged – nothing to complain about here.



Keythedral definitely aims for a different aesthetic. First, it is based on a bit more fictional place: Breese’s Keytowne, although the portrayals clearly place it somewhat akin, from a temporal view, to Pillars. However, while Pillars goes for big, majestic, and stunningly beautiful, Keythedral goes for understated and sublime. The box is a bit unique on game store shelves being done in easy and gentle water colors that do everything but evoke the typical glum colonial/medieval Eurogame. I prefer Keythedral’s box, but on the play area is where this really matters. Although I have an appreciation for the light-hearted portrayal of citizens and the gentler watercolors, the overall presentation doesn’t quite pull one all the way in. While the art design is quite endearing, it does not earn the points Pillars earns in this regard.




Art design goes to: PILLARS


setup and play
Though the board layout in Pillars is somewhat novel, it is a fixed affair. There are areas where resources are stacked, for worker deployment in those areas and places for various kinds of cards. A turn in Pillars works as follows: resource cards are laid out, players use a fixed amount of actions and gold to purchase resources and craftsmen who make something of these resources (VP’s). Players go on to deploy workers in ways that will maximize the ability of their craftsmen. Afterwards, there are a number of calculations in placing master builders: do you pay to place first in an area that will further your cause or do you wait and place for free though you may not make it to the area before your opponent? Will you opt for extra workers next turn, seek tax exemption or event exemption? Maybe a particular craftsman or privilege that fits your strategy? Afterwards, all areas are resolved and players calculate the accomplishments of their craftsmen. Repeat.


Keythedral Setup
Foregoing a fixed board, for a modular tile playing area, there is no overriding narrative or play system portrayed on the board in Keythedral. Rather, the cathedral tile is set in the center with initial resource tiles surrounding it (and these vary depending on the number of players). The various resources are coded red, black, brown, green, blue. The tiles representing these resources are stacked face down. Players take turns doing two things: turning over a resource tile and placing it in the play area, then placing a cottage tile which will deploy one worker (two when converted to a house) to adjacent tiles. This is really important as it matters a great deal what resources you have access to early in the game (getting a lot of red won’t do you too much good). It also matters how many different resources you will have access to as the game progresses (red WILL become important). But this is where strategy makes itself known very early on: every placement any player makes continuously alters the board for it will matter whether your placement not only advantages you but whether it disadvantages or inadvertently advantages your opponent. Also, there are considerations as to what number cottage you place in relation to an opponent, something that will be made clear below. The point, however, is that the board is dynamic and there is already interactive strategizing before the first round is played. In this aspect, Keythedral easily trumps Pillars as one is immersed in going about the game immediately. Similarly, my main criticism with Pillars was the risk of gameplays resembling each other – the modular board in Keythedral will alter your play every time as it would take much to make two games play alike.

Now there are some fixed point in Keythedral: there is a board where law cards are placed (privileges), as well as special, higher value craft cubes – something akin to metal cubes in Pillars. There is a separate board that holds building tiles, with the tiles tiered in their point value and resource demands. Each tile in the bottom row is requires few resources and are worth four each while the top tow holds fewer, more demanding 12 point value tiles. However, there is variation here that I find more appealing than in Pillars. Now some players don’t like randomness that much, but it’s an element in Pillars, but one that is very constrained. Nothing that surprising happens from play to play as there are is a lot of fixed randomness. In Keythedral, a game play, especially with two, will not see even half the law cards drawn so there is a lot of variation right there. But also, the building tiles are shuffled for each play and while there isn’t the absolute greatest degree of variation, there is a greater sense of newness across plays – something I appreciate about Keythedral.

Setup goes to: KEYTHEDRAL


Keythedral Gameplay
An interesting setup is all well and good, but how does the game play? Players begin by deploying a work to an adjacent field. The next phase has players collect a resource cube based on worker placement. If your cottage is adjacent to multiple tiles you will have some interesting decisions to make. Why? Well, worker placement proceeds in work orders. Along the bottom of the building tile board are five spaces numbered 1-5. There are wooden cylinders numbered 1-5 also. If you are the first player and you place the #1 cylinder on the #3 spot this means that cottages numbered 3 for both players deploy workers first. The import of this is that there is a lot of blocking that goes on here since players alternate placing work orders. If your opponent placed poorly in the opening and let’s say their number two cottage only faces the same tile as your number three cottage (in other words their cottage wound up being isolated) you would do well to place your worker on that tile and then place the next work order for #2 cottages – in effect, your opponent has nowhere to place a worker from that cottage when the next work order is resolved.

After resources are collected, there is an action phase that goes round-robin. Players keep taking actions until all pass and/or law cards are drawn: player A buys a building tile with resources, player B trades in two cubes for one of a different color, A takes a law cards (he or she may take no more turns), B buys a building tile, B converts a cottage to a house (which can now deploy two workers providing more opportunities for blocking). B then passes and this phase is over. Players retrieve workers and start players are switched.

In terms of pure gameplay, I give Keythedral the nod yet again. Why? Much more streamlined and immersive. Pillars tends to have one too many steps: you place master builders and then you resolve areas where the master builders were placed in fixed order, so the dynamics of every turn are relatively fixed. In playing Pillars, I often felt pulled out of the game by going through many motions over and over in a somewhat repetitive fashion. The fact that players can continue to take actions until they choose to stop is very nice as you feel as if you can hold back strategically – you may or may not pay the price but that option is open to you. Similarly, there is a great deal of tension in Keythedral as one may want to take many actions but get a law card at the same time, but taking a law card ends your turn. What to do? Last, Pillars ends in 6 rounds...each and every game, making performance a kind of race. Keythedral ends when the last building tile is taken and this only predicated upon the pace of development of each of the players’ strategy. Games can be a race...or they can be chess with players taking their time. What is great about Keythedral is that one needs to have a strategy but one needs to be very flexible. If your opponent is racking up on law cards, you’d be a fool to not match some of that activity. In Pillars, given the fixed appearance of craftsmen and privileges, it is quite possible to have a strategy that you can execute with much less interference than in Keythedral, but more on this below.

Gameplay goes to: KEYTHEDRAL


interaction
In reviewing Pillars I raised concerns about the dynamism of the game. As stated above and in that review, Pillars does allow for dominant strategies that only require precise implementation and minimal interference. So, there is a feeling of multiplayer solitaire, at least at the 2-player level. But then this highlights another aspect of Pillars that bothers me: when players do interfere, it isn’t quite as fun to re-strategize as the same craftsmen you saw in round three in the last game are there again this game, and they’ll be there tomorrow, and... With only a bit more variety, the same holds true for privilege cards – this is where the excitement should be as these allow you to upend your opponent. .

Keythedral, plainly put, can be a really nasty game. My fiance is an aggressive gamer and she wreaks havoc on me in this game that she can’t begin to playing Pillars. I mean, it gets bad. We block each other out of certain resource fields in the choosing of work order and then worker placement vis-a-vis each other, we build fences to keep each others’ workers off certain fields, we deconstruct each others’ fences and revert the other’s house back to a cottage. I mean, a good portion has everything to do with counteracting and preempting the other player. If you don’t get into the mix in this game, you will get beat...BAD. Period. I shouldn’t like this aspect of the game as I do better at 2-player solitaire, but it’s really a lot of fun to try and move your game forward while frustrating your opponent. Similarly, this provides for a certain investment in a session of Keythedral that simply is not the case for me when we play Pillars. Pillars is highly cerebral while Keythedral requires both brains and brawn.

Interaction goes to: KEYTHEDRAL


immersion
There are two kinds of immersion in a game. One is thematic and the other is straight gameplay. Thematic immersion invites me into the world while I play. Gameplay immersion makes me lose track of time. I have to admit, though I love the art design in Keythedral, the design of Pillars is more immersive: everything from the color palette, to portrayed brass on the gold counter, to the brass dial-like master builder bidding area evokes a sense of the medieval. Keythedral succeeds in setting a mood but I feel less in this game that I’m in Breese’s Keytowne.

Thematic Immersion goes to: PILLARS

...however, I start looking at my watch during the 5th turn in Pillars. The other night we started a game of Keythedral at a little past 11 pm and were shocked upon game ending that it was nearly 1am. Where did the time go? In enjoying the battle royale that is Keythedral, that’s where.

Gameplay Immersion (which I weigh more in my enjoyment of a game) goes to: KEYTHEDRAL


2-player
Now, this is where things get a bit tricky. We’ve only played each of these as 2-player sessions. Pillars becomes a game of cold, precise calculation, one in which early deficits can be difficult to make up. Additionally, it is more possible with two players for each to more or less go about his or her business with little interference. There’s usually enough space early in the game for master builders to be placed while not getting in each others’ face unless two players have very similar strategies.

Keythedral, as stated above, keeps gamers in each other’s face and reminds you that you’re playing with someone every step of the way from setup to game end. This makes a big difference as you’ll have high incentives to both predict your opponent’s strategy and actively undermine it while keeping yours nimble. If both players are good at games then you’re looking at a highly engaging experience.

2-player goes to: KEYTHEDAL


OVERALL GOES TO: KEYTHEDRAL


Final comments:
Each of these games is very good and deserve any gamer’s attention. Some might disagree with the comparison. I mean it all in a (hopefully) insightful entertaining way. Pillars has garnered enough attention lately to warrant a comparison to some game. Why not Keythedral?

-c-
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Bob Flaherty
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Great review and great comparison.

Bob
 
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Tim Harrison
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I whole-heartedly agree. Pillars of the Earth is a great game, but Keythedral is vastly superior.

Nice job!
 
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Jonathan Badger
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cvlw wrote:
As of this writing, Pillars stands at #45 on BGG while Keythedral is at #96. When considering that these are among thousands of games, the 50 point disparity is negligible, but I find it nonetheless telling that Pillars has gone so far so fast though I don’t consider it to be Keythedral’s equal.


Nice post. One explanation for the ratings is that Keythedral came in two editions. The first edition by R&D did not have the extended Keythedral board - with the extra seats. The extended game option was more to the taste of gamers and allowed more time for the game to develop. The rating is therefore weighted down by the early ratings of the first edition. This is why Keythedral has survived at the bottom of the top 100 a lot longer than many other games.
 
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bruno faidutti
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I prefer Pillars, because it feels more like building a cathedral and less like swapping two grey cubes for one purple, then one purple and one yellow for one white.

But what about the third cathedral building game, Krieg und Frieden, which might well be the best of the bunch.



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Chris
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1. Hi Bruno. Thanks for the recommendation. Our local store has this game on sale for half-price and I've considered getting it. I've just seen that there are English rules so now I have an excuse to add yet another game to the collection!

2. To be honest, neither game really makes me feel as if I'm building a cathedral - they both feel as if I'm trading cubes for stuff. Pillars may capture it a bit more, to my mind, because of the remarkable art and board design, and also because of the clever round counters that are the cathedral pieces. Now that I think about it, the "mythos" is also embodied in some of the privilege cards, but this is why I give it a nod for thematic immersion over Keythedral.
 
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Steve R Bullock
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Funny, the only game I think of when I hear "Cathedral" is:




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Oh you seekers of the new who run terrified from history into the clutches of an eternal life where no electric shaver can be built to last.
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    That was a darn good read.

             Sag.

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