Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Castles of Burgundy

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

The basic idea in The Castles of Burgundy is players race to grab tiles from a central board, and then use these tiles to fill up their personal board to score points. Tiles come in different colours representing different terrain types. On your turn you roll two dice, and then use them to execute two actions. The numbers on the dice determine where from the central board you can pick tiles, and also where on your player board you can place tiles. There are various features on the tiles, e.g. farm animals, ships, buildings and mines, and they give different benefits, e.g. making money, performing extra actions and scoring points. When you fill up a region of connected hexes of the same colour, you score points based on how early it is in the game and how big the region is. If you are the first or second to fill up every hex of a particular colour on your personal board, you also score points.

That's the basic, central mechanism. There is much more to the game. Knowledge tiles give special abilities to players who claim and play them, including extra scoring opportunities. Placing ships lets you claim goods, which can be sold for money and victory points (VP's). Ships also let you compete for turn order, which is important because going earlier usually means more choices.

Actions being dependent on die rolls may make the game sound very luck-dependent. However you can mitigate that by using workers. Each worker spent alters a die by one pip. Changing a 6 to a 1 (and vice versa) is considered a one-pip change, i.e. it wraps around. It's usually a good idea to keep some workers around.

The game runs for 5 phases, with each phase lasting 5 rounds. Highest score at game end wins.

The central board. The group of tiles at the centre is call the black depot. You need to pay $2 (which is a lot in this game) to claim a tile from here. Around this black depot are the six normal depots, where you use dice to claim tiles. Each of the normal depots has a goods space (big square) where goods are stored. When a player adds a ship to his estate, he gets to claim all goods from any one goods space, up to the max his player board can hold (the limit being three goods types). The five squares on the top left, labelled A to E, are used for keeping goods tiles for each of the five phases in the game. Spaces A to D being empty means the game is in Phase 4 now. The column of five squares on the left are used for keeping the goods tiles for each round within a phase. The first three spaces being empty means it is the third round of Phase 4 now.
In a three-player game, not all spaces on the board are in use. We used spaceship tokens from another game to mark the spaces which were not in play.

The player board. Player boards are double-sided. This is the simpler side, and it is the same for everyone. The advanced side differs for each player. You start expanding your estate from the castle at the centre. You can only place tiles next to existing tiles. The three spaces at the lower left are for temporarily storing tiles that you claim from the central game board, i.e. you can hold at most three. The four squares at the top left are for the goods tiles - three for the three types of unsold goods, and the fourth one for sold goods, which are turned face-down.

Every player has two dice. The white die is rolled once per round to determine where the new goods tile goes on the central game board.

The Play

I did a three-player game with Chong Sean and Francis. I was the only one new to the game. My biggest realisation was how much you can mitigate the randomness in the game. I think one of the keys to winning the game is planning and manipulating your board and the overall game situation such that no matter what die rolls you get, you can always find something useful to do. That's easier said than done, and that is the charm of the game. You want to expand your holdings such that the numbers on the available land plots cover as many die roll results as possible. Trying to stay flexible has its costs and risks though. The game does reward focusing on specific scoring criteria, and if you try to do too many things at once, you'll end up being a weak jack of all trades.

Deciding whether to emphasise your own strength or to hinder your opponents is another constant consideration. It can be dangerous to let your opponents have too free a hand in growing their dominions. Yet another consideration is when you find yourself competing with another opponent (or more!) in the same field, do you continue to compete, which may result in a lose-lose situation, or do you switch to focus on other fields with less competition? This reminds me of Navegador.

The many scoring options and special abilities of the various tile types were quite overwhelming at first. Thankfully I had Chee Wee to be my Zhuge Liang. He pointed out a number of good options which I otherwise would have overlooked. In the end I beat both my opponents despite being the only newbie to the game. They protested that this didn't count - using dual-core processors is cheating.

My player board at game end. The northern half of my estate was completely filled up. I was among the earliest to fill up all light green (grassland) and river (blue) spaces on my estate, so I earned bonus chips (above my player board to the right).

The score track goes crazy between 83 and 99.

The Thoughts

I found The Castles of Burgundy just okay - not bad, nothing in particular that I dislike, but nothing particularly outstanding either. But then there's something about me and Stefan Feld designs (from among his many hits I only really like In the Year of the Dragon and Notre Dame), so I may not be the best judge of his designs. The game feels very Euro. It is a mechanism-first game. The mechanisms and the many scoring options seem sound. However I get a feeling that the many paths to victory exist for the sake of having many paths to victory. That in itself is not really a problem. It is what it is. Some players won't mind it but others will find it a turnoff. There really isn't much theme or story or setting.

I like the long-term planning and prioritisation in the game, and also the manoeuvring to make every die roll useful as much as possible. Despite these long-term strategic aspects, the randomness in the game manages to create many tactical opportunities and short-term gains to consider. The new tiles being revealed at the start of every phase and the placement of the goods tiles at the start of every round can make you rethink your plans. Sometimes a juicy opportunity surfaces which tempts you to go in a very different direction. Sometimes a golden opportunity appears for an opponent and you will have to consider whether to grab it just to deny him, even if there is little to gain for yourself. Sometimes you have to take one for the team.

It is satisfying to see your estate develop and to see your plans come to fruition. The game is rich in choices.


Paul Owen said...

Very interesting. I've heard a variety of things about CoB, mostly good. It sounds a little like a cross between Maori and Garden Dice, but perhaps more complex than either.

Thanks for the write-up!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I have played Maori before. The similarity is in claiming tiles from a central pool and then placing them on your personal board. However in Maori you are not dependent on die rolls. Also in Maori you mostly place the tiles directly onto your board, which is something you want to do because it saves you an action. In COB it's a two-step process. And definitely COB has many more moving parts than Maori.

I haven't played Garden Dice before, so I can't comment on the similarities or differences.

Damien said...

Hold on a second, on the burgundy board, what's the white round token with a blue thick 'x' mark on it?

I own the game, and have never seen it before. Did it come from promos or something?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

You don't have those in your copy of the game? Oh no, you may want to contact the publisher to send you these pieces. Just kidding... these are pieces from another game. We used them to block off the spaces which are not used for 3-player games.

Damien said...

Haha, okay, you got me there.

Anyway, good to see that you tried another Stefan Feld. I agreed that it felt ok rather than groundbreaking. But I really enjoy the game with 2p.

I'd advice you to give another try, this time with players using random board (as suggested by the rulebook). With this, the dynamic changes and feels very different.

Hoping to hear what you'll think of Trajan next!