Review: The Castles of Burgundy05 Mar 2019 1
Review: The Castles of Burgundy
Released 28 Feb 2019
Many people would agree that The Castles of Burgundy is board game maestro Stefan Felds’s finest achievement. It sounds simple enough; roll two dice and take two actions that are dependent on the numbers rolled. However, players will quickly discover that this modest premise hides a surprising amount of depth and a variety of different routes to victory.
CoB is a settlement building game in which the players acquire and place small hexagonal tiles onto their player boards. These boards are divided into regions of different colours. The blue areas, for instance, represent your overseas trade, whilst the light green spaces are for agricultural development. Players begin each round by rolling two dice; they then use the values of these dice to carry out two actions. A player can use a die to take a hexagonal tile from the correspondingly numbered depot. The newly acquired tile is then placed into their store, which can hold a maximum of three tiles. By spending an action a player can transfer a tile from their store to their settlement board. The space on the board has to be the same colour as the tile and must also show the same number as that of the die used to complete the action.
The tiles themselves have a range of different powers. When you place a blue ship tile you have the opportunity to take some trade goods and also move forward on the turn order track. Going first can give you a real advantage, as in every round each depot will only have a limited number of tiles available. The dark green castle tiles are very powerful; when they are placed on the board the player gets to immediately take a free action, grabbing or placing any tile without having to consider dice values. You place animals in light green areas. To maximise the point-scoring potential you will want to place animal tiles of the same type in the same area. The grey areas are reserved for silver mines. At the end of every round, each mine will produce silver. This resource is extremely useful as it allows you to purchase additional tiles from the black market without having to expend an action.
The other two colours of tiles offer more complicated options. The brown spaces are for buildings; there are several types, each with its own special ability. Build a warehouse and you can immediately sell some goods. Normally, to sell goods you need to use a die that matches the value printed on that particular type of good. Trading is a great way of earning both points and silver. Construct an inn and you get four workers, each of which will allow you to modify the value of a die by either plus or minus one. At a push, you can spend one of your precious action die to get workers, but in this instance, you will only gain two of them.
The yellow tiles represent knowledge and fall into two main types. Some will give you end-of-game scoring opportunities, such as awarding extra points for constructing a particular type of building. Others will allow you to bend the rules, modifying dice rolls and giving bonuses when you carry out specific actions. In a neat design feature, the yellow tiles that you own are also displayed along the edge of the board. This means that at a glance you can see your special abilities and end-of-game targets.
CoB has plenty of moving pieces and fitting all of this information onto a small screen must have presented the creators with a real challenge. Happily, it is one that the designers have managed to pull off with aplomb. It may not work as well on a phone, but on a tablet-sized screen, the game is very user-friendly. Presentation wise, the game has had a much-needed makeover. The board game was certainly never going to win any beauty contests, with its drab colours and sketchy illustrations. Now, things are nicer, with colourful structures pleasingly rotating into view, cows mooing, chickens clucking and sheep making disturbing strangled bleating sounds. It is very satisfying to watch your settlement spring into life, and although the buildings can be hard to differentiate (a criticism that could also be leveled at the board game), a simple tap and hold will quickly provide the information that you are looking for. At the start of each turn the settlement board springs from a giant iris aperture – it all has a mechanical Game of Thrones opening credits feel. I could have done without the mumbling guys popping up in the corner of the screen every time I take a move, though.
The playing options are going to be recognisable to anyone familiar with Digidiced’s previous releases. You can play a local game with a mix of human and AI controlled players. The AI is a little predictable, having a particular liking for silver mines, but it still manages to put up a decent challenge on the toughest of the three difficulty levels. Other options include fast or slow ranked asynchronous games, as well as the option to play casual online games against friends. It is reassuring that a couple of bugs which caused the game to freeze have quickly been identified and removed.
The Castles of Burgundy is a fairly involved tile-laying game; a two-player local game is going to take upwards of forty-five minutes to reach its conclusion. It is not as complex as something like Terra Mystica but is certainly a lot tougher to get to grips with than Carcassonne. The excellent interface means that players familiar with the board game will be able to jump in and play straight away. New players will have to invest a considerable amount of time going through the comprehensive tutorials, but it is well worth the effort.
Player interaction is limited to grabbing valuable tiles before your opponent does, but it is amazing how just two dice rolls can open up so many choices. Despite rolling dice, you hardly ever feel beholden to luck. There are ways of modifying dice or other options worth considering. Indeed a big part of the skill is to be able to keep your plans fluid and make the most of your current rolls. In each of the five rounds, the points that you earn for completing an area diminish and the game becomes a very tense race to complete regions as quickly as possible.
This year has been brilliant for board game releases, it feels like there have been as many excellent releases in the past two months as in the entirety of last year and The Castles of Burgundy is yet another essential purchase for board game fans.