As architects we constructed buildings and toiled to finish the King’s cathedral. But our wealth and prosperity led to unwanted attention from outside invaders. The time had come to sharpen our swords and ready our defences. Fortunately, we were not alone in our efforts. Our wise King sent us the legendary paladins to help aid our city and surrounding settlements. Once again there is peace. But for how long? After bribing enemies with land and riches, our King’s favour with the people has begun to wane. As noble viscounts of the King’s court, we must remain loyal to his throne. However, should there be a sudden shift in power, it may benefit us to increase our own favour among the church, trade guilds and noble men and women of this great kingdom.
Viscounts is the third game in the West Kingdom series, following on from Architects and Paladins. This is a brand-new standalone game for 1-4 players. The game features a unique blend of deckbuilding, tableau-building and rondel movement, with elements of area control, set collection and engine building.
Players start with an identical deck of 8 cards, plus 1 unique hero card. On their first turn, players must play a single card into their tableau. This will determine how far they must move around the main board and also provide various icons required for taking the 4 main actions (working with the merchants, builders, clerics and nobles). On future turns, players will begin their turn by first sliding all cards on their board 1 space to the right before playing their next card. This results in a dynamic tableau of 3 shifting cards. In addition to this, each card has either an ongoing ability (active while in their tableau), an immediate effect (when played to their tableau), or a drop-off effect (when being slid off their tableau). Timing is everything. Players will need to plan a few turns ahead to best optimize their shifting tableau of cards. As with most deck-builders, there is also the chance for players to both hire new cards and destroy unwanted cards from their decks.
The game features three main paths for players to explore. The noble path sees players vying for control over the 3D castle in the centre of the main board. As players place more workers into the castle, this sets off chain reactions of workers rushing to reach the centre, gaining various rewards and increasing their points along the way. The builder path allows players to move trading posts, guildhalls and workshops from their own player boards, onto the main boards. This not only rewards immediate benefits, but also unlocks special,
ongoing abilities and end game scoring opportunities. Lastly, the cleric path has players writing manuscripts of different types for immediate rewards and additional points from set collection and other conditions.
Having three very unique and distinct paths was an interesting design challenge to balance. Sam Macdonald and I spent a lot of time making sure that each path felt both fun and rewarding in their own way. Also included in the game are four unique AI opponents for players to compete against in the solo variant. three of these focus on the noble, builder and cleric paths, while the 4th focuses on gaining a lot of end-game scoring cards. This makes for a lot of replayability, both for the multiplayer and solo game modes. There are so many different combinations and strategies to explore within the three main paths.
Architects and Paladins both focused a lot on virtue, corruption and debts. Viscounts carries on this trend by introducing a new morality mechanism for players to navigate. Debts are also accompanied by their new positive counterparts, known as deeds. Virteous players will likely gain a lot of deeds and progress the kingdom towards prosperity, while more sinister players won’t fear a little debt and push the kingdom into poverty. This is also how the endgame is triggered - by the kingdom entering either poverty or prosperity. However, there’s a careful balance for players to manage. Should the kingdom reach prosperity, only the players with the most paid debts will earn additional points. Likewise, if poverty should strike, those with plenty of approved deeds for land will be rewarded.
Continuing on from the previous West Kingdom games, I knew the cover needed to be red. However, I wanted to do something a little different for this one, since Architects and Paladins both featured a very similar layout. For this, The Mico created a stunning image of a viscount slinging a flag over his shoulder, overlooking the city below. I’m always blown away by how much emotion and character he can breathe into his art. Some of my favourite characters in Viscounts include the Aristocrat, Bishop, Diplomat and Journeyman.
It’s always interesting to look back on a trilogy once the third game has been finished. My personal challenge for this trilogy was to make sure it was better than the North Sea trilogy in every way. No artist or designer wants to feel like their best work was that from years ago. We always want to keep creating something better. And thanks largely to Sam’s input on these games, I think we achieved that. We often joke about how Sam likes to add more to games, while I like to streamline and take things out. I think it’s the mix of this that pushes us to constantly question our designs and get them to a place that we are really proud of.
Looking forward, we are currently developing some new expansions for the West Kingdom series, rather than rushing into the next trilogy right away. Hopefully, this gives players a bit of a breather and time to enjoy the West Kingdom for a while first. We love hearing feedback from players before designing expansions. The question we always ask ourselves is “what do fans of this game want to see added into it”. So once copies of Viscounts start arriving, we’d love to hear any and all feedback that gamers may have.