Last weekend we managed to play through a few of the games we have been meaning to get through for a while. During that time we played the X-Files game (reviewed yesterday) and also a new classic that has been making the board game circuit for the past few years. We wanted to see if this regular top 20 in Board Game Geek was worth it, and so picked up our own copy of Castles of Burgundy.
THE PREMISE OF CASTLES OF BURGUNDY
Castles of Burgundy, designed by Stefan Feld, is a resource management, tile placement, set collection, dice game for 2-4 players. In it, the players take on the roles of lords in their castles (in Burgundy, in case you hadn’t guessed) trying to build up the most profitable homesteads possible. To do this they need to build farms, settlements, docks, mines, and gain knowledge suitable to gain the strongest possible settlement.
At its heart, Castles of Burgundy is a dice game. Each turn the players roll two dice to determine their actions for the turns. There are six depots on the central board, each one with different resources, and using those die they can purchase resources from the correlating depot for their die result. Alternatively, they can build one of the things they have already bought and place it on their player map. To do this they need to match their die to a space on their player map that matches the tile colour they want to play, as well as the number on the dice they rolled. Finally, the tile they want to play has to be in a colour region they have already started filling, and next to a tile they have already placed.
Sound complicated? Well, surprisingly it’s not. Luckily I took a lot of pictures to help explain. These were the last ever pictures taken with my Canon 650D before it gave up the ghost and died. They’re a little bit off focus, but what do you expect? The camera nearly blew up afterwards.
As you can see by the above picture, each large square has a dice number associated with it. These are the depots. The two image filled hexagonal tiles next to them are the tiles associated, that can be purchased with that dice result, with that depot. The image shows the set up for a two player game. What this means is, if we look at the “4” depot, we can see a tile showing a ship and another one showing a village. These represent docks and settlements that can be purchased throughout the game. The 3 in the green hexagonal space and 4 in the grey hexagonal space next to them are filled with a three and four player game accordingly.
Likewise, next to the “3” depot, we can see a field with two sheep (hello Catan), and another settlement. These can be purchased if the player rolls a three on the dice. The “3” in the blue hexagonal space would hold a dock in a three player game. It’s complex, but also remarkably simple.
The black spaces in the centre can be purchased for two silver pieces, or ‘Silverlings’, a piece, and can be bought with no dice, meaning they can be purchased at any time during your turn if you have the money.
Once a player has purchased a tile, it is then down to them to store and play that tile. In order to do this the tile gets added to a holding space on their own individual player mat. In order to place that tile they then need to spend more die to place the tile in the correlating space.
Tiles can only go in spaces that match the colour they are (so a mine, which is grey, can only be placed in a grey space) and they need to be placed in a space that is next to an already placed tile. Everyone starts with one castle, so the board kind of grows around that. For the very first game, this was in the middle of the player mat for both of us.
The board kind of grows out from there, with each tile being worth, and meaning, something different. You get points for completing an area (so those bottom three yellow spaces with the 2, 4, and 1 in them would count as one area).
The types of tiles are:
- Light Green – Farming – points when played and subsequent points as the pasture grows.
- Grey – Mining – Each turn you get silver.
- Beige – Buildings – Each building has a different effect, from victory points to additional workers to gaining silver to having another turn. No two of the same type of building can be placed in the same area.
- Blue – Dock – You can get cargo. I haven’t explained Cargo in this review, as there are just too many rules to cover in a brief overview, but Cargo is pretty good.
- Dark Green – Castle – Have another action, doing whatever you want, without a dice.
- Yellow – Knowledge – These give you augmented rules, allowing you to do things like gain workers whenever you gain silver from a mine, gain points for the end game depending on your buildings, or break more or less any rule in the game.
You get those effects after placing each piece on your player mat.
Each “Phase” in the game is made up of five “rounds”. You roll your dice and have actions during each of these rounds. The game ends at the end of five phases.
That is a very brief overview of the rules, covering the base game in some detail; however, this is one of the most strategic games I know with as many options as there are types of tile. There are lots more rules and components I haven’t covered, as it is a complex game, but that is some of the basic information.
QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF CASTLES OF BURGUNDY
Castles of Burgundy is infamous around the web. It is, to be frank, an ugly game. The artwork is okay, but it feels dated, having more of a “textbook” vibe to it. The components are standard cardboard, with the back of the board resembling some form of horrific optical illusion. The player mats are pretty much thin enough cardboard to be technically classified as paper. It’s not bad – I mean I’ve seen worse, but it is a cheap game.
That being said, does it really matter? Well, that is an entirely different question. I would argue that no, it probably doesn’t.
Castles of Burgundy is, at its core, an abstract game. As pointed out by other reviewers, it isn’t overly about castles, and it has nothing to do with Burgundy bar the colour of the box. What it is though is a game about resource management and well-planned strategy.
That being said, it is still really annoying when something like this happens due to the flimsy player mats:
That happened in the second from last turn, so I had to spend a couple of minutes putting everything back where it should be before continuing.
So are the components detrimental to the game? No, they are not.
Are they detrimental to the experience? That entirely depends on how clumsy you are.
WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING CASTLES OF BURGUNDY?
So what is it like playing the legend that Castles of Burgundy has become? Does it live up to the hype? Well, components aside, I would say “great” and “yes”.
Castles of Burgundy is a highly strategic game, in which players need to carefully plan out each and every turn to make the most of the round. It becomes a game of focus, determination, and die manipulation (using workers) so you can get the results you want.
One thing we were worried about going into the game is whether there would be enough to do each turn, as bit by bit the number of items on the board each round diminishes. The board is only replenished after the phase has ended, so there are fewer options out there every turn. That being said, that becomes part of the challenge. We never found ourselves in a situation where we had nothing to play, and we rarely found ourselves having our hands forced in what we could do. I imagine this changes with three and four player games (we have only played two so far), but not that much due to the layout and preparation of the board.
All in all, Castles of Burgundy is a game with its heart set solidly in the realm of strategy. It requires thinking outside of the box and plays out with a lot more freedom than the initial concept suggests. It is not really a dice game, but dice play a part in a much larger whole.
VERDICT FOR CASTLES OF BURGUNDY
Castles of Burgundy will, in a few years time, be considered a classic. It is already doing phenomenally well and, although it is a hard game to talk about, it is a brilliant game to play. Yes, the components could be improved upon, but I am sure Stefan Feld is a genius, with strategy flowing through his veins. Having played Castles of Burgundy it is easy to place it up there with the likes of Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep, and Catan. It is very simple – you should play this game.
That and…you know…it’s only £19.99, so the components can be forgiven.
So what do you think? Have you played Castles of Burgundy? If so then let me know what you think in the comments below.