World Without End is a traditional Euro-style strategy board game, 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.
- Players receive their personal income according to the card’s orientation.
- 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.