15 February 2021
If we may be Franks for a moment...
The final instalment in Shem Phillips and S.J. Macdonald’s Eurotastic West Kingdom trilogy (following 2018’s Architects and 2019’s Paladins) picks up with the late-10th century decline of the once glorious Carolingian dynasty. This was the era of Louis V, known as Louis the Do-Nothing – so called because he pretty much left everything for his Frankish nobles to sort out. Which is where you come in. Buildings must be constructed, manuscripts must be written, debts must be settled, townsfolk must be won over, and deeds must be secured for new land. It’s not easy being a viscount.
This is apparent with even the briefest of glances at Viscounts of the West Kingdom’s main board. It is a beautiful thing: a modular, hexagonal medieval landscape with a three-tiered plastic castle at its centre. But it is busy, featuring numerous spaces for buildings, multiple stacks of recruitable townsfolk cards (for some deckbuilding), piles of manuscripts (for a bit of set collection) and a twin-pathed rondel track, around which your viscount must clippity-clop, executing a number of possible actions that include trading, scribing, constructing and sending workers to go scurrying around the aforementioned castle. There are simply not enough minutes in the game to do everything.
And that’s not even mentioning the player boards. On these you must play down your townsfolk to fuel your actions and trigger special powers, adding one per turn to a small, ever-shifting tableau. This sits beneath a colourful crowd of initially bewildering icons (unless you’re already familiar with the previous West Kingdoms), and a double-ended track on which you must move your virtue and corruption markers, depending on the moral quality of the various townsfolk you employ. Criminals offer handy short cuts, but they’ll cost you.
No doubt about it, Viscounts is a complex cocktail of mechanisms that will be too strong for many casual gamers to swallow. But, like the best heavy-strategy titles, all its moving parts click and slide together neatly, allowing for an impressive amount of variability between plays. (A factor that’s smartly reflected in the solo version, which offers up different kinds of AI opponent: one who focuses on building, one who focuses on manuscripts, and so forth.)
It has a lot of character too, thanks to returning illustrator Mihajlo Dimitrievski, whose art is so expressive and vibrant it really does feel like history brought to life in your hands. There’s also no denying the tactile joy of interacting with the board, especially that petit castle, on which workers soon stack up, pleasingly dispersing around its tiers every time one segment fills with three of the same colour, sparking a cascade that often leads to other players’ pieces being shunted out of the gates (with a small reward for the inconvenience).
It might not be the easiest game to get into – especially for newcomers to Phillips and Macdonald’s West Kingdom – but if you persevere, these Viscounts will reward you.
An almost head-spinning hybrid of genres (deckbuilding, set collection, worker placement, tableau-building, rondel movement…) bundled into a colourful slice of medieval history.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED PALADINS OF THE WEST KINGDOM…
It’s a touch more complex and ambitious than its predecessor, so it’s guaranteed to satisfy fans of that game.
Designer: Shem Phillips, S.J. Macdonald
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Time: 60-80 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 5 Main board segments
- 1 3D Castle
- 4 Player boards
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Start player marker
- 4 Viscount figures
- 4 Virtue markers
- 4 Corruption markers
- 80 Workers
- 36 Buildings
- 50 Silver
- 72 Wooden resources
- 208 Cards
- 35 Manuscripts
This review originally appeared in Issue 51 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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