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What Board Game Collective

Publisher of the Month


What Board Game will feature one distributer or publisher each month to take a look at some of their best games and discuss with the team what it's like to work in the wonderful world of board game distribution and publishing. 

Founded by Shem Phillips and now run by Shem and designer Sam Macdonald, Garphill Games is one of the most successful board game companies outside of Europe and the States. Starting with the Shipwrights of the North Sea, that became the first part of the North Sea trilogy, Garphill Games have just completed their second trology, this time in the West Kingdom. 

WBG reviews three of Garphills Games best current games; but first, let's chat with Shem to find out his thorughts on the future of the business, how he likes his eggs and what the next few trologies will look like. 


WBG's Top Three Garphill Games:

1. Architects Of The West Kingdom

Architects of the West Kingdom is a brilliant game. I love worker placement games anyway. Especially ones with a big board full of choices! So, I was always confident I was going to love this when I first played it. But I wasn’t aware just how quickly I was going to fall in love with its smooth mechanics and interesting points scoring opportunities.

It known for being the first game to introduce the mechanic whereby you can arrest other people's workers, (or your own!). You may immediately think that this makes the game feel quite heavy in take-that actions. But that is not the case. First of all, arresting other people’s workers doesn’t happen that often. Secondly, it is usually an expected thing. If you group your workers too much, you can expect them to be arrested. People will only really take this action if they see your group is too large. So, you would think you wouldn’t ever group your workers in big numbers? Well no, the larger the group, the bigger reward for each action. Players are in a constant tug-of-war between finding the right size of workers. Enough to make each action as effective as possible. But not so big that they become a target. Lastly, and most importantly, you would sometimes benefit from this happening to you anyway. This is the main way you get your workers back and the process of doing so can get you points.

There is also a very interesting morality system within the game where you can move up and down the virtue track that will open or close certain opportunities to you. This is based on the decisions you make, and events that happen to you. You can make a choice which path you want to take. Light or Dark. Good or Evil! Or a balance of the both to try and keep multiple options open to you. The higher up you go, the more end game points you will get, but the lower they are, the less tax they will pay when capturing workers or other actions that cause tax to be paid.

There are so many options on the board with the many different places you can send your workers. It is unlike other worker placement games where the allocation of workers on each space is restricted to certain amounts or players. Here, you can keep sending them to any space, bar some on the black market, as much as you like. This means the choices available to each player, on each turn, are always exactly as a good worker placement should be; full of options!

If you like worker placement games you are going to love this for sure. It has a solid solo version, and works well in a two, but is probably best in a three or four.  The art is solid, the board is beautiful and the production values are phenomenal. I would put this up there in my top 5 worker placement games and top 20 overall games. Highly recommended, I bet you would want to win this if you could!


2. Explorers Of The North Sea

Pick up and deliver games have a pretty bad reputation. Largely from the terrible games that plagued all children of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. But it doesn’t mean there can’t be a good way to use this mechanic. You cannot say you don’t like pick up and deliver games unless you have tried a good one. And Explorers of the North Sea is certainly that.

In Explorers, you are playing as Viking warriors, looking to explore new lands, expand territories and bring home livestock. It’s a fantastic balance between venturing out to find new point scoring options, whilst maintaining close proximity to home. You are limited in your movement, so you cannot just wade around the board. This is a highly thoughtful and tactical game.

Each player is very limited in their movement as we talked about. But also their available pieces and actions are very restricted too. Each turn, you are torn between multiple choices and scoring options. You need to maximise your own Captains scoring options as well as what the modular board spits up at you each turn. The scoring multiples will encourage you to venture out more. Whereas, the limited movement will keep you close to home.

The Rocks of Ruin expansion enhances this further with even more scoring opportunities and decisions to make. Each player now has a dashboard to place their captain card which gives them access to three new buildings that can be built, one of which, The Mill, offers a secondary place to deliver livestock. This means you can travel further out and explore further afield in the knowledge you don’t have to get all the way back to the start to offload your precious point worthy cargo. Good for sea-sick chickens too!

There is a great solo variation which has a lot of tension and entertainment. The tile laying alone is very satisfying. The game again looks amazing and like all Garphill productions, packs so much into each small box.


3. Raiders Of The North Sea

Raiders of the North Sea was Garphill games breakthrough game. Shipwrights announced them to Kickstarter. Raiders announced them to the world! It is a brilliantly smooth and accessible worker placement game with some brilliant little rule mechanics that set it apart from other games in its class.

One of the most interesting rules in Raiders, is the place worker, pick up worker mechanic. On your turn, all you really ever do is place a worker and take the action for that place on the board, and then pick up a different worker, and also take a second action for this subsequent worker’s area too. I have not seen this before or since. But it is brilliant. It is nice to have access to two options each turn, and the decisions for your second turn can often be affected by what is available on the first turn. “I want to get one more fighter, but I need more money first. Ah perfect, the Silversmith spot has just become available!”


Again, like all Garphill games, the art is stunning. Designer Shem Phillips works with artist Mihajlo Dimitrievski, who Shem states has never played a single Garphill game before, and the two have never met! But thanks to technology, the two have joined forces to create some utter gems! It feels like the art and gameplay are in complete simpatico. There are some lovely details on the board, and again. Like all Garphill games, I am always amazed as I unravel the game board, how big they are, considering the box size they come in.

You start with access to only the options at the bottom of the board. You need to build up your crew and resources before you can venture further afield and raid the nearby harbours. As you gather your strength, you can try more dangerous battles with greater rewards which are north of the harbour further up the board. It feels incredibly thematic to move up in this way. You feel like you are a Viking chieftain commanding your troops. Which is ideal as that is what the game is!

Raiders is the perfect gateway worker placement game. With a theme that is fun, rules that are quick and easy to learn and teach, but an experience that will pull in even the most reluctant of gamer into this wonderful world of wood and cardboard we live in!


Ok, we usually only do a top 3 for this feature. But! I have not played Paladins yet, and felt it wrong to exclude as a lot of people rank it so highly. So, I asked the amazing Kirsty Hewitt from @thoughtsofameeple to give us her thoughts of this game. 


4. Paladins of the West Kingdom

Paladins of the West Kingdom is another great twist on the worker placement genre.  Where Paladins differs from other worker placement games though, is that the colour of a worker shows their specialism, not what player they belong to.  All players have access to the workers of every colour.


At the start of each round players select a paladin card to play.  The paladin comes with their own workers as well as special bonuses.  Players then select four workers from one of the tavern cards in play.  During a turn players place their workers on their board to carry out an action.  Some spaces can only have workers of a certain colour (or purple workers which are “wild”) placed there.  Other spaces are clear which means that any colour worker can be used.  Carrying out certain actions may let you gain more workers.  


In Paladins, you are presented with an array of things you can do.  If you try to do a little bit of everything you will not maximise your points.  Instead, Paladins rewards the player who chooses a more focused strategy.  This involves looking at interlinked actions on the right hand side of the board.  This is not to say that the other actions on the right side are ignored completely.  Indeed, occasional use of these actions can help garner more points. 


Paladins doesn’t have the interactivity between players of Architects, for me though, this doesn’t distract from the game.  This is a multiplayer solitaire puzzle.  But what a puzzle it is!  Players need to consider carefully what order they take actions in to maximise the benefit of, and points from the action.  They also need to make sure they don’t run out of workers in the colour they need, which can be a challenge!


If you haven’t played Paladins yet, I really recommend that you try it out!

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