World Without End is a traditional Euro-style strategy board mahjong ways, thematically built around events taking place in the fictional village of Kingsbridge, from 1337 to 1361, nearly 200 years after building of the imposing cathedral known as The Pillars of the Earth. Players take the roles of merchants, farmers and builders striving for wealth and prestige while living a pious and loyal life. The object of the game is to gain the most victory points. These are gained mainly by taking part in various building projects and by taking care of the inhabitants of Kingsbridge that are strikken by the plague, known as Black Death. However, life in Kingsbridge is not an easy one. Players have to continuously struggle to gain enough food, show loyalty to the church and the crown, pay taxes and deal with sudden misadventures that occur randomly during the cource of the game.
The most important component of this game is a huge, four-panel gameboard of superb quality, depicting Kingsbridge and its surrounding lands. On the game board there are several locations such as:
production spaces: the Quarry (producing stone), the forest (producing wood) and the fields (producing grain). various building sites in which players can contribute with stone or wood and gain victory points. the village of Kingsbridge with its houses and market. Some of the families fall ill during the plague and can be healed, granting VPs and various bonuses. In the market, players can trade wool and cloth for money.
The game takes place in 4 chapters (time periods) each consisting of 6 rounds.Each chapter represents a time span of a few years, during which players take part in various building projects, thus gaining precious victory points while also having to deal with several unexpected events. At the end of each chapter, all players have certain obligations. Failing to meet them, costs victory points and additional penalties occurring at the beginning of the next chapter. In each round the same sequence of actions occurs:
The active player (the one who has the active player token) reveals an Event card. Events can be immediate or have a lasting effect till the end of the chapter.
After resolving an immediate event, the event card is oriented on a special city council space on the top edge of the game board. The active player chooses an orientation that fits his current goals, as it affects two elements in the game: each player’s personal income as well as a special bonus for the active player only. The active player receives his special bonus as he has the favour of either the Prior / Prioress, the King / Queen, the Guild Master, the Merchnats, the Earl of Shiring, the Bishop or the Outlaws
Beginning with the active player, each player plays an action card. All players have the same set of 12 action cards. These actions include: selling wool or cloth at the market, exchanging wool for cloth (which is more valuable), building a house that provides a bonus when rented, rent up to 2 houses, getting a grain, getting a resource (wood or stone), getting piety from the cathedral, taking care of ill people, taking part in a building project contributing wood or stone, or repeating the action chosen in the previous round. In this phase, players choose a card to play and they discard another one. This way, during the whole chapter, they will play 6 actions and discard the rest.
At the end of the chapter, players have the following mandatory obligations: Show that they live a virtuous and pious life by paying 2 piety, show that they have enough food to sustain themselves by paying 2 grain, and pay a tax. In order to determine the amount of tax, the active player throws a dice. Upon failing to fulfil one or more of the above duties, players lose victory points and suffer additional penalties which occur at the beginning of the following chapter such as losing their income in the first round of the next chapter or playing one less action card. It is possible to avoid the additional penalty by paying 1 Loyalty.
At the beginning of the third chapter, the plague hits the village and certain plague counters are placed, face down, on each house of Kingsbridge, Each round, a family in one of the houses may fall ill and can be cured, using the appropriate action card to give victory points plus other bonuses to the players who choose this action. In order to take care of the ill, players must have enough medical knowledge. All components of the game are very beautiful and of high quality. The game board is visually stunning, with the village of Kingsbridge and its surrounding lands beautiful drawn, making the players get the feel of England in the 14th century.
Resources (wood, stone, grain, wool, cloth) are made of wood, appropriately coloured. They also have shapes that resemble their real form, especially grain and cloth. That is somewhat rare in a standard edition of a game. Houses are also made of wood and have the shape of houses, in each player’s colour. All other components: piety and loyalty markers, cover markers, money and medical knowledge are made of thick cardboard with attention to detail and with appropriate shapes as well. Action and event cards are made of thick paper and they deserve a special mention. Their are elaborately designed and their background has the visual feel of paper used in the Middle Ages That apllies to the players’ screens as well. All in all, components will satisfy even the most demanding gamer. Thumbs up to Michael Menzel, responsible for the game’s artwork and graphics.
World Without End has rich gameplay and depth that will challenge strategy game lovers. Luck plays a role in the game but not in a way that can spoil a player’s strategy (at least not entirely). After all, life is full of surprises and things cannot always go as planned. I think this is the concept the designers had in mind when they decided to incorporate the Event cards in the game. Some of them are really frustrating and can mess up your plans but think of it as a challenge to your mental skills. Plus they enhance the replayability factor. The are eleven event cards for each chapter and in each game you choose randomly which six of them will be included.
This way, each game is different from every other. The game is all about maintaining an, often fragile, balance between catering for food supplies, money and piety, which are the duties all players have at the end of the chapter. And between all these, struggling for resource gathering and gaining victory points by taking part in building projects. A design element that some people may object to, is the way personal income is determined: by our opponents. It could be regarded as another element of luck but I think it makes the game more interesting and unpredictable. Never during any of my games, have I felt that my fate was in the hands of random events or luck. Each player takes their turn in orienting an Event card which is a good opportunity to get what he needs plus the additional bonus of the favour.
Moreover by manipulating action cards as well as houses, it seems that you can be in control of your strategy. That is easier in 2-player games than in 4-player because in 2-player games you will be controlling your income 50% of the time, whereas in 4-player, only 25% of the time. As for player interaction, there is not much of it in this game. Opponents’ resources are hidden behind special screens so you must pay attention to what other players get and need. The only way you can interfere with their plans is by orienting an event card in a way that they don’t get something they need. However in most occasions you will be consumed in your own problems and orient the card so that you get what you want. In fact you don’t reallly have the time or the urge to bother with what other players do, you have enough troubles of your own There are so many things to do in this game, that you can’t easily get bored of it. I am always willing to play a game of World Without End at any given board gaming night.