This French-designed classic went back to Kickstarter in Dec 2018 and has been a much-anticipated arrival for me. After about 3 hours (no exaggeration involved) of punching and organisation – here is a first look at the contents and an initial play through.
Here is the initial track set up and grid placements (I chose Track 31 from the official tracks because I wanted an excuse to use the sweet bridge overpass).
Mistakes: I made a few! In hindsight, I definitely ignored the overtaking rule a couple of times. Looking forward to having another go!
1. the challenging decisions it forces on you as you balance the order and availability of actions – just when you think you’ve got your next few turns planned…. that weather mechanic!
2. the ‘events’ mechanic which sees events happen in a predictable order, but with unpredictable timing. This is just great – it gives each game a feeling of progression and requires flexibility and risk mitigation; and
3. the sheer breadth and range of the scenarios – you don’t have to settle for the original Snowdonia railway: travel to Germany, Japan, Tibet or even time-travel as you play. I mean, when it includes scenarios put together by designers as eminent as the great Hisashi Hayashi – and that’s just one of 18 major scenarios – this is a lot of game!
The worst bit of Snowdonia Master Set is the stencilling on the wooden pieces – the workers and surveyors look weird and pretty ugly, to be frank, and the goats (mini-expansion, included) are hideous. Also, this game has a significant cost and limited availability.
This review does not cover the Botdell solo mode in detail – I’ve played against that once, am still getting the hang of it, and will probably do a separate solo play review of that.
Snowdonia really captures the feeling of toiling to carve out a rail line up a mountain – clear rubble, lay track, prepare the stations, and race to the top! There are multiple ways to gain points as you play, and you’ll probably need to exploit all of them to some extent, if you want to do well.
Contract cards introduce a neat dynamic: end-game goals which can deliver big chunks of points, but each also has a one-off in-game benefit, which can be a real boon.
The engine building in Snowdonia is limited, but literal- you build engines (but just one at a time) which are a sacrifice to build, but deliver ongoing benefits.
The components in this game are fantastic – chunky, colourful and well produced.³
Each scenario has slightly (or sometimes significantly) different setup rules and this is well handled in the scenario book, which is easy to follow and apply. The scenarios preserve the basic gameplay but add twists and extra interest.
In addition to the scenarios there are a range of optional mini-expansions included – for example seasons, and wagons, which I think I would include in every game from now on, and … more whimsical ones like the Abominable Snowman, which might only get a run occasionally.
Seasons expansion – this is an excellent addition
snowman will work for coal
Tip: When learning this game, I continually forgot to take the final step and refill the workshop with extra cubes, so keep an eye on that to save yourself some heartache.
Replayability? Well, it’s ridiculous. With 18 major scenarios, mini expansions and countless promo expansions (you use 6 trains per game but they give you over 100 😵) – I think you could play this game hundreds of times and still find it challenging and interesting.
BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.89 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review). Honestly I think that is way under what it would be rated if the many, many scenarios and variants in the box are taken into account.
Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set is expensive and of limited availability – currently just via Guf in Australia ($200). Totally worth it though, and definitely comparable or superior in content to similar deluxe games like the Eagle-Gryphon games.
These are, of course, our opinions only.
¹ I debated whether to rate this as an Enthusiast or Fanatic level game. I consider the decisions about when to excavate, build, convert and take other actions to be quite tricky, and a suboptimal choice can be quite punishing and hard to recover from- there are no significant catchup mechanisms in this game. For me, that puts it into the Fanatic category. Besides, if you buy this massive beast of a game, you’re clearly a fanatic 🤣😝
² some scenarios are quicker than this, and over time you’ll definitely get faster, but this game has a significant setup and pack down time, mainly due to the vast number of cards, options and scenarios.
³ except for the horrifying goats mentioned previously. Seriously, you might have nightmares.
The best bits of this game are the Paladins, hands down. It’s a simple idea – you draw 3 of your 12 paladin cards and choose one to be your ‘champion’ for this round. He will assist you with one type of action (see picture below).
Each paladin only gets one round (out of seven) to help you, so choose carefully. But, here’s the neat ‘hand management’ bit which works so well – choose one of the other two to add to the bottom of your draw pile – you won’t see him again (or at least not until much later in the game – and choose one to add to the top, so that he’s available again as one of your options next round. This simple approach blends variety with planning for future rounds – it’s very neat. More on the paladin cards, below.
the rulebook – you have to jump back and forth to find some bits of the info you need, and this created some challenges in my game group;
the player interaction can be punishing: for example, if someone attacks (or converts) an Outsider who you really want before you get a chance, then you can really take a hit – because they’re not replaced until end of round, and the different types of worker meeples have different strengths, so it can be tough to redeploy them effectively. This is slightly mitigated by the ability to carry up to 3 workers over to the next round.
You own medieval town is in front of you. You’ve chosen your champion paladin for the current round – he may encourage hunting for provisions, for example – so you will probably use one or two of those workers to hunt. Include a green (Scout) worker if you want good results! If you chose the optimal paladin, then he will also have come with a Scout worker or two, whether or not you could hire one from the Tavern.
Your opponent might have missed out on the Cleric they wanted from the Tavern at the start of the round – perhaps they got stuck with Labourers and Fighters. Fortunately, any Labourer (or other worker) can conspire to be a Criminal – those purple workers can do it all! You might even pilfer some coins from the taxman along the way – but you’re under Suspicion now – watch out for the Inquisition, when it arrives!
This game is about choosing workers and gaining resources to take the actions which suit what you want to do – there are lots of options, and you definitely won’t have time in 7 rounds to do them all. Do you want a great big wall around your town (for rewards and points)? – then, Fortify. Keen on being a renowned warrior? – then, Attack the Outsiders (for rewards and perhaps points). Feeling pious? Convert the Outsiders, or Commission Monks (for rewards, points or more workers). Back to those paladin cards we discussed earlier – each one buffs two of your three attributes for the round – so, the attacker makes you better at Attacking and rewards you with extra benefits for doing so. Paladins of the West Kingdom really feels like you’re developing your town as you ‘engine build’ through your ‘tableau’ of cards and wooden buildings.
The art by Mihajlo Dimitrievski is bold and cartoonish in the consistent style of Garphill Games’ recent North Sea amd West Kingdom series. The wooden workers and buildings are OK – typical for the series. There is A LOT of game in this small box.
If you like any of the other recent Garphill Games (which I do), then you’re bound to like this one too – playing it is very satisfying and there are several different strategies available. Paladins seems very nicely balanced and each game I have played has been close. The player interaction is limited but it’s there (through competition for initial workers from the Tavern, the central Townsfolk and Outsider cards and the central rewards) and is occasionally punishing.
The paladin cards really help with enjoyment of the game, in my opinion, because they give new players a clue about what they might want to do in any particular round – this makes learning the game less intimidating. The game moves quickly for us, and 7 rounds feels almost a touch too short to achieve your plans when playing – in my experience this game is a bit quicker to play than the box suggests. Definitely recommended as worth playing!
The variable “Kings Favour” cards encourage you to try different strategies for points. In my first game I ‘Absolved’ my way to a win and in the second I ‘Converted’ up a big team of Outsider recruits.
I’m convinced that concentrating on Fortifying a massive wall, Commissioning monks or creating Garrisons, or on other strategies, would also be viable. There is an adequate amount of variability and content in the game to allow for reasonable replayability .
BoardGameGeek rates this game as 3.57 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review). I don’t think it’s quite that heavy but ‘comparisons are odorous‘ by nature.
Paladins of the West Kingdom is widely available. Best current price I can find is $70 at Amazon US, or from $76 to $85 at a variety of other retailers.
I love the metal coins which are not in the standard retail game but are available here.
It’s a bit like the movie Inside Out – but wayyy more complicated
Cerebria: the Inside World is a Fanatic level board game of Full + length for 2 to 4 players. It has a native solo mode which I have not played, so that is not included in this review.
Here’s what we mean when we rate game ‘weight’ or level or game length or player count. For example: this game theoretically plays 6 with the ‘Forces of Balance’ expansion (was available, but we didn’t use it), but I can’t imagine how convoluted that game could be!
The best bits of this game are:
the distinctive art and design – you will love it or hate it (or perhaps, like me, admire it while feeling slightly disturbed…)
the way in which the Spirits carry their theme into the gameplay, and the way that Emotions trigger actions which align with their descriptions. When you play “Guilt”, the action it triggers makes sense – as though the other team feels guilty!
the learning curve for new players and the consequent teaching and setup time: it is steep, and the time commitment is significant!
the catchup mechanism for the losing team seems very weak, and so a runaway winner is totally possible – perhaps even likely.
Cerebria does feel a lot like a battle for dominance, inside a human brain. You have to summon up Willpower and Essence to manifest Emotions (i.e. to play cards in particular areas) – but will Team Bliss come along and undo the ‘important work’ of Team Gloom?
Willpower and essence are scarce, but become easier to gain as you influence the Realms and Frontiers of the mind (the game board¹).
Dominating each area (a Realm, or Frontier) of the mind grants minor additional benefits (but the small benefits really add up over time through the gameplay). This “area control” mechanism is also a major factor in scoring (which occurs indirectly through 6 to 9 Revelations, determined by player actions during the game).
Also, each Emotion played has its own power – getting these to work together with your Spirit’s theme and with the other Spirit in your team² is a major factor in successful play.
The art is well displayed on large, thematic Emotion cards and player boards. I was lucky enough to play with the extra miniatures (cardboard standees are standard) which are large, detailed and beautiful (or appropriately ugly…).
Hatred miniature on its player board
Anxiety, Hatred and Empathy minis in front of the Fragments forming the Identity (lots of end game scoring in the Identity)
I’ve skipped over a part of the setup and gameplay – you get to build a deck of possible Emotions for each Spirit (choosing 8 from 16 options). In my first game, I just made thematic choices, but you can follow a recommended starter deck – or spend ages building a customised preferred deck before you even start the main game, if that’s your thing.
Each spirit has a specific power – give them a good trip or two around the block, as they will help you learn the way the game flows, and can be really powerful when deployed consistently. It’s important to know that this is a team-based game – part co-operative, part competitive. I really liked that, but it may affect your view of the game differently.
This is a lovely game with great production values, which oozes theme³. It requires complex decisions and you must keep an eye on many factors – the board is constantly changing. I enjoyed it a lot, but it won’t be for everyone – it could get pretty slow with four players, and it is complex. This is a game-lover’s game.
Each team has 4 Spirits but will use only two in each game. Each Spirit has 16 Emotions but will use only 8 in each game (and each team has 8 ‘Strong Emotions’ to advance to – we didn’t even get into 15/16 of the ‘Strongs’ in our game). The Aspiration cards (a major source of scoring) will occur in a different order in each game and some may be skipped or removed. This extensive content means that the game should have excellent replayability.
BoardGameGeek rates this game at a colossal 4.32 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review). That seems a little high to me, but there’s no doubt it’s an intricate board game which could be ‘bewildering’ [that’s a quote from the rulebook…] for less fanatical players.
Behold Games (I’m a repeat customer of theirs – excellent service from a game loving store owner) has this available for $71 – excellent value as the typical price is near $100. I doubt that includes the plastic miniatures, as they were most easily obtained in the Kickstarter campaign for the Cerebria board game and are probably pretty tough to get now.
These are, of course, our opinions only.
¹ the game board is HUGE – you’ll need a big table.
² this reminds me a LOT of aspects of the gameplay inSpirit Island.
³ motif? Thesaurus.comtook a beating while I was writing this review – ‘theme’ does not have many useful synonyms!