Building an empire isn’t easy. You need a reliable crew, a few sturdy tools and most of all a blueprint to get the job done. The Builders: Middle Ages came out in 2013 to pretty good critical acclaim. It’s a fun little game about putting together a workforce to construct various buildings needed in a medieval society. Its little tin box and cartoonish artwork belie the level of strategy that is packed into this half hour long game. Now, along comes The Builders: Antiquity. There is even more depth and decisions to make along the way. You even have some moral quandaries to face. One option in the game is buying prisoners to work for free on your projects, another is investing in your workers by educating them and increasing their skill set. These are the types of decisions you’re going to have to make while constructing anything from a lowly Rural House all the way up to The Colossus of Rhodes!
Frédéric Henry designed the followup to the original Builders. Each player starts off with an Apprentice that, although loyal, is still learning their trade. They also get 10 Sesterces (bucks) to get their fledgling business off the ground. Each worker that joins your team has skills in different areas (stone, wood, architecture and decoration). The more skilled the worker, the more it’s going to cost to send them out on a project.
The common area tableau is made up of five available workers you can recruit to join your workforce, five different buildings ready to start construction on, and the investment line made up of four stacks; prisoners, tools, loans and universities.
On a turn players will get three free actions, with the option of buying more for five Sesterces each. They can start construction on a building by taking it from the common tableau and immediately replacing it from the building stack. Recruiting a worker plays out in the same way, grab the worker whose skill set is most appealing and then immediately replace them. They can send a worker to work on a project. Each worker has a pay rate in Sesterces that needs to be paid, then they will lend their skills to the building you’re working on, covering some or possibly all of the building’s construction requirements. Players in a tight spot can give up actions for Sesterces. One action will get you one, two will get you three and giving up all three actions will award six Sesterces.
The final option for player’s actions is grabbing something from the investment line. Loans will give you 10 bucks in the short term, but cost you 15 to pay off. Any remaining loans at the end of the game cost you two points. There are four tools that can be purchased for a one time cost of two Sesterces each. They can be assigned to a worker setting off on a project for free. They aren’t super powerful, but if you’re short of completing a building by one decoration point, being able to equip a worker with a paintbrush can save you an action, which is pretty darn helpful. You can send a worker to a university for seven Sesterces. Now, that’s pretty powerful. Going to a university means that your worker’s skill set in one category is going to get much better. You grab the university of your choice (represented by clear plastic cards) and place them over your worker, permanently making them better at their job without increasing the price of hiring them. Finally, you can buy a prisoner for a one time cost of seven Sesterces. Prisoners have a pretty good skill set and once you have them they can be set to work for free. Only problem is the moral quandary of essentially benefiting from slave labour. That, and the fact that any prisoners you haven’t freed by the end of the game will cost you a point. You can free them at any time during the game for an action, flipping them to their free side. They will still be part of your workforce, but now it will cost you to send them out on a project.
As the requirements for buildings are fulfilled they can be flipped over to their completed side. Most reward you with Sesterces and points, but some structures, like the crane or scaffold can actually be used on future projects. Once a building is completed, all of the workers and tools assigned to it are free to to start work on another project.
The Builders endgame is triggered when one player has 17 points on the board. The current round is finished and then there is an opportunity for everyone to pay back their loans and free their prisoners. Every 10 Sesterces left over is worth a point as well. Whoever has earned the most points through careful hiring and building practices will win the game.
I’ve quite enjoyed both versions of the Builders that I’ve played. Antiquity adds some interesting decisions and the investment line is a great addition. It adds some new elements when mathing out a path to victory. Antiquity is a great followup to the Middle Ages and well worth checking out!