The Builders: Middle Ages is a clever little card game for 2-4 people of all ages that can be played in about 30 minutes, or asynchronously. The theme is literally what it says on the tin (the game comes in a small “tin” box.) It’s a game about constructing buildings in the European Middle Ages. Players take on the role of a general contractor, recruiting workers of various skill levels to send out to work on small to large construction projects, providing coins and victory points that vary according to the type of building. The game rewards good decisions in the choices players make among the available buildings and workers, finding efficiencies and synergies between the cards, or doing the best one can with sub-optimal card combinations.
The front of a building card depicts a building under construction and shows the number and type of resources (stone, wood, knowledge, and tile) needed to complete the building, as well as the victory points and number of coins you will gain by completing it. The back of a building card depicts the completed building and its victory points.
The worker cards depict apprentices, laborers, craftsmen, and masters, each of which provides a different combination of resources to be applied to buildings. Apprentices, the cheapest type of worker, cost two coins to send to a construction site and supply two resources. At the other end of the scale, master workers cost five coins to put to work and supply five resources.
How to play
Each turn, a player can take up to three free actions to do any combination of the following: start construction by selecting a building from a line of five available building cards, recruit a worker from a line of five available worker cards, send a worker to work on a building they have previously selected, or take coins (one coin for one action, three coins for two actions, and six coins for three actions). After taking three free actions, players can pay five coins for each additional action they’d like to take during that same turn.
A few of the building cards depict machines that you can build just like any other building, but which offer the player ongoing resources after they are constructed. For example, a tile oven that provides tile resources, or a crane that provides stone. A player won’t earn any coins when completing the construction of a machine but completed machines can be sent to a construction site for no cost in coins. So, there’s a tradeoff.
The design of the cards is very pleasing, as the building cards show the necessary resources on the right side, while the worker cards show the provided resources on the left side, so that they line up when laid side-by-side. And the art on the cards is done in a light-hearted aesthetic. The only downside is that all the workers appear to be white males. For a game published just a few years ago, one would expect more diversity here. The worker cards are two-sided, so having each card have the same image on both sides of the card seems like a wasted opportunity.
A lot in a small package
For a small game (only 42 building cards and 42 worker cards), The Builders has more variety and depth of strategy than you might expect. Do you go for several small buildings that you can quickly build for 2-3 victory points and a modest number of coins each, or one large building that will take several turns (and more coins) to build but earns you 6-8 victory points and more coins? Do you pay five extra coins to take an extra action this turn or wait until the next turn to take that action? Do you build a machine, which will cost you coins now but save you coins later? Since the game is so short and so replayable, you can try out different strategies each time you play.