Since my review of The Red Cathedral dropped, we’re still out here rigorously planning construction for Ivan the Terrible and pleading for assistance. Erecting this new monument has taken a lot of time. Decades. We miss our families and those rare moments of tranquil silence where no one is grunting or shouting. St. Basil’s Cathedral continues to grow. Even through the misery, there is a shared pleasure in watching something so wonderous be built by our very hands.
The day finally arrives. The Tzar has enlisted more help! Specialists and craftsmen arrive daily, as if drawn to the beauty of the tower’s form. And with them, more guilds emerge, taking up more space, and increasing the daily noises that remove all traces of serenity from our lives.
The Red Cathedral is back with the Contractors expansion. Published by Devir Games and designed by Sheila Santos and Israel Cendrero, this expansion brings a lot more resources to the table. But are these additions all for the better? Or have we begun to expand beyond our means?
The Contractors expansion adds a main module called Contractors. In addition, we’re given ten new guilds, six new blueprint cards, and one additional card for the solitaire mode. Let’s get into each now.
The Contractors module features a new board called the Grand Duchy of Moscow and new avenues to score points. There’s now a fourth action to hire contractors that reside on a personal player board extension (that slides over the bottom of the original). Players receive a limited supply of six contractors, who are hired using a new resource called permits. You pay a certain number of permits based on how many contractors already reside in the city you’d like to visit.
Why visit these cities? Well, on either side of them are two specialist tokens that provide powerful one-time bonuses as well as a set collection element for end game scoring. Players can choose between them and then purchase one for two coins. When moving the new black die on the market board, players can activate the power of the purchased specialist tile before removing it from their board to create space for the next. The black die can also be manipulated like a player’s personal die or the neutral white die to move further along the market.
There are six city tiles and during setup one is placed randomly at the top of each cathedral tower column. The remaining become closed cities that cannot be visited on the Grand Duchy board. When a column of the cathedral is completed, the city tile above it is moved to the board and closes an additional city. Thus, the Duchy board tightens over the course of the game, making hiring more expensive and limiting specialist options.
The ten new guilds introduced each have three variations within their sets. Many of these guilds can be used in conjunction with the base game whereas some of them must be used with the expansion’s main module. Each new guild provides ways to manipulate the market, activate workshop tiles, and obtain permits. Some introduce new functions such as a contract deck and reinforcement tiles. The jewelers guild even adds a new wild resource: diamonds. The market is still restricted to four guilds, but the expansion provides plenty of opportunities to vary each session.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
The first thing to mention is that the addition of the ten guilds is a game-changer for those looking to increase replay value for their Red Cathedral sessions. The combinations are exponentially increased, and the variety is much welcomed. I’ve already begun using these in plays with only the base game to keep things interesting. This addition, as well as the six new blueprint cards, greatly extend the life of an already fun experience.
That’s not to say that all the guilds are excellent though. We found that the archivists and their contract deck disrupted the game’s flow, whereas the wholesalers ask you to spend your hard-earned coin to get even more from the market. Even the brick makers bonus tiles were not as inspired as we’d hoped. They still add variety, so I can’t complain about my group’s lack of interest in these, plus the other seven more than make up for any deficiencies we’ve encountered.
But you’ve glanced down already and seen that I’m considering this an optional purchase, right? That is going to come down to group preference, but I feel like the Grand Duchy board and the hiring action dilutes the focus enough to where there are times when I feel comfortable leaving it in the box. It adds to the teach, it pulls away from the speedy length of the game, and it isn’t as exciting as the central market board.
Excitement does come in the form of creating combos from the specialist tiles. They help you gain points and resources, and they can manipulate workshop tiles. There are nine types of tile powers and each features an icon that provides end game scoring. The more diverse your icons, the more points. This set collection does make your hiring decision more interesting, and the associated prestige bonus can be huge, but while you’re focusing on that other players are building the cathedral and using the market board. Who really wins there?
The Red Cathedral already has luck ingrained in its design. Even with mitigation at play, there’s the roll of the dice. The specialist tiles now add drawing from a bag. When one of these tiles is removed from the Duchy board, it’s replaced by a new one. Sometimes these draws can greatly benefit an opponent and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Perhaps an easy house rule is to draw two and select one to place, but at the same time this just adds more plodding decision-making.
The city closures are an interesting touch. They provide yet another way to tighten the Duchy board, sometimes to the point where it’s no longer worthwhile to even attempt the hire action. As such, the main module adds depth and is somewhat linked to the setting, but it also expands the focus enough to make you miss the tighter base experience.
Do you already enjoy The Red Cathedral and want more variety? This expansion is a no-brainer for your group. The rules state to replace the base game clergy guild with one new guild when you add them to the mix, but there’s no one watching if you want to add more. Wait. Maybe Ivan is watching. Maybe you better just do what the rulebook says. I can’t be responsible for the Tzar’s actions. You’ve been warned.
The main module is hit-or-miss. I think it will be something to visit every so often, but it may extend the scope of the game a little too far, even with the restrictions that it provides. The extra die is nice in the market area to provide more lucrative resource actions. And the new blueprint cards extend the cathedral layout options further. And finally, the added card for the solitaire mode brings contractors to Ivan’s retinue, so if you’ve lost all your friends to the rigors of building, you can at least explore the Grand Duchy alone against the tyrant. High five!
• Permits pull from cathedral focus
• Specialist set collection
• Additional luck through drawing