I’m man enough to admit that sometimes, occasionally, on a rare occurrence, I may be wrong. And in one of my earliest reviews, I gave The Pillars of the Earth a bit of a bad rap. I reconsidered my opinion a little after it was the Game of the Month! for my game group, but still left my overall rating at a 7. Anyway, I recently picked up the brand-spankin’-new expansion set recently, finally getting it to the table with my wife over the weekend, and I have to say that Pillars just gets better and better for me the more I play it.
Let me start by saying that part of my enhanced appreciation for the game comes from finally reading the amazing novel it was based on, which is truly a great book. While the core game mechanic is only tangentially related to the game, the use of events and privilege cards referencing the characters from the book really help to invoke the atmosphere of the story and make the game a deeper thematic experience. If you’ve not read Ken Follet’s masterpiece, I strongly recommend that you pick it up very soon.
As for the Expansion Set, it does a lot more than just make the game playable for up to 6 people. It also adds a whole new section of board with a few new and interesting options, plus you get a bunch of new craftsmen, several new privilege and event cards, and a few new rules to fix an issue or two from the core game. More than anything else, what it really does is to greatly expand the replayability of the game at the minor expense of adding a bit more variability and randomness.
But in speaking of randomness, the expansion set also gives a little rule to even out some of the luck inherent in the master builder placement from the core game. Players only put two of their three master builders in the bag, and then the third is placed at the end of the phase in reverse order of how players placed their first master builder on the board. It’s not perfect, but it does even out the luck a bit.
So, with or without the expansion, I now think that Pillars is a really excellent game. The more I’ve played, the more I see multiple strategies and viable paths to victory. As opposed to my original opinion, getting specific craftsmen is less important than I once thought, while many of the other master builder options all have some really significant strategic value. It’s a game about having a strategy, pursuing it as best you can but also being flexible enough to roll with the punches thrown at you both by the game and the other players. Also realize that the game does have a level of depth not so obvious from the first few plays, so be willing to give it a little investment of your time to see all that it really offers. And if you’re in the Hypermind BoardGamers, please play it with me soon!