Name: Castles of Burgundy
Best with: 2-4
Length of Playtime: 60-120 minutes
Give it to Me Quick: Castles of Burgundy is the euro-game picture in the dictionary. The theme and art won’t be the reason you’ll love it, but if you like any kind of strategy, once you play you’ll be hooked. You will get a lot of points; everything you do will give you points or get you on the way to getting points. You’ll be rolling dice to allow you to perform actions; placing tiles, shipping goods, and jockeying with all the other players for the best options on the shared board. Castles of Burgundy is a great example of how that fantastic game mechanics can trump art style, no matter how boring the art is.
Castles of Burgundy features the familiar euro-game staples: farming, castles, goods, and 6 sided tiles. Each player is given the task of managing a kingdom in Burgundy, France. You will start with one of several different game boards; different board setups make the game easier or harder. Players will be taking tiles and goods from the larger shared board to build their own kingdom.
The game revolves around a dice roll; on each player’s turn a dice roll will determine what they may acquire, build, or deliver. The majority of the game is spent acquiring and placing different tiles (castles, boats, buildings, “knowledge tiles”, mines). When played, many tiles will allow other tiles to be played or acquired, or other actions to be taken, often creating chain reactions.
The player gameboards are divided into similar groups of tile types that, once completed, create bonus points depending on what phase they are finished in the game. Each die roll, goods will be filling up one of six docks that can be acquired by placing a boat tile.
Because rolling a specific number will often be important, the game also has pieces to allow players to add or subtract from their dice roll to get a number they need. Two of these pieces can be acquired at any time at the expense of a die roll.
There are many other wrinkles to Castles of Burgundy, but the main thing you need to know is that nearly everything you do will give you points, and the player with the most points at the end will win.
How many players is it best with?
Castles of Burgundy is a great two player game and plays surprisingly quickly (under an hour) when both players are experienced. My wife and I often play when we’re in the mood for something lighter than Agricola but deeper than Splendor or Dominion. We started tracking our plays and enjoy trying to beat our previous scores on certain boards.
It’s also a great three player game, and a great four player game. The only change from two to three to four is adding more tiles to the shared gameboard in order to have enough pieces in play. Otherwise, the game plays much the same way, and just takes longer with more players. Be warned; players susceptible to analysis paralysis when overthinking their turns won’t get a free pass here. It helps that all dice are rolled at the same time so that everyone can start to plan their move before their turn comes.
It’s a lot of fun to jockey for first place with four players. The first/second/third/fourth player mechanic, based on which players have recently played the most boat tiles, is done brilliantly.
In Castles of Burgundy, even if your dice roll is not what you were hoping for, you will always have something to build, gain, or otherwise improve your score. There are options all over the board, and many of the options will allow you to “chain” moves together. It’s a lot of fun to figure out a play that creates three or four further moves, or to land that perfect tile, ready to rack up the points in the next round.
At first glance of the board, Burgundy seems to have an overwhelming amount of choices available each turn, but the dice roll restricts the amount of plays that can be made and streamlines each turn. After games of Catan, Agricola, or Dominion, where you always need resources to purchase what you need, it’s refreshing to have the only requirement be to roll a certain number. You won’t get the feeling that you’re “never going to roll that five I need” like it often happens in Catan, since you can adjust the roll as you need to, and you’re only rolling for a 1 through 6.
There are a lot of interesting strategies to use; some players will take a route that gets a lot of up front points, whereas another might build a strategy that is rewarding more at the end of the game. Often in our games someone will be up by thirty or forty points, until a late push by someone else would close the gap right at the end. This is not a game where you will struggle for points; just about everything you do will create something. The trick is finding the moves that don’t just get you some points, but get you a lot of points.
The game boards are small, and the tiles smaller and sometimes hard to read. The artwork is drab, though serviceable, and doesn’t really tie to what some of the tiles do. The looks alone are probably a reason that those on the fence won’t give it a chance. Once you get all the pieces out, the tiles don’t easily shuffle without flipping over to the wrong side, and it takes some time to get all the pieces set on the board.
Some of the “knowledge” tiles makes sense based on the icon graphics, but many do not. You’ll play your first several games with the instruction book handy to look up what each of the tiles do. With four players, it can drag on a bit, especially with new players. We played a four player game with two new players and it took over 2 1/2 hours.
|for a Party||No, not at all.|
|Casual||Depends, this is at the difficult end of the casual gamer spectrum. It’s complicated to grasp and explain quickly.|
|Competitive||Yes, indirectly. You will take tiles from play before others have a chance to take them. You will play ship tiles to jump ahead of others in the turn orders.|
|Strategic||Very much so. Not as difficult as say, Agricola, but a good challenge.|
Final Thoughts on Castles of Burgundy
There are a lot of different ways to score points in Castles of Burgundy. However, sometimes it feels like the scores are tethered together and that everyone will land at about the same final score if they are the same skill level. Everyone will be picking up just about the same bonuses, albeit at different points of the game. In these games, sometimes a random knowledge tile picked up in the middle of the game can sometimes swing the balance. Many times, all players will have wildly different scores throughout the game, when right near the end they’ll somehow end up with similar scores. An experienced player will nearly always beat a newbie, but it’s generally always close when two players of similar skill level square off.
Once you get a few rounds in you’ll start to appreciate the gameplay design. Everything does give you points, but there is definitely a strategy in figuring out the most efficient way to get points, or what type of points to go for at which stage of the game, keeping everyone else’s gameboard in mind to deny them the tiles they are looking for. This elegant design is what makes Castles of Burgundy currently one of our favorite mid-weight games.
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