The Castles of Burgundy
Do you like Castle the TV show? Who does not like Nathan Fillion, right? This game has nothing to do with the TV show or him. I just wanted the chance to talk about Nathan Fillion. I miss Firefly. Anyways, moving on. This game is about Castles! Though they are not really burgundy colored. More grey and green on average. Actually, there is not much burgundy in this game. Do you love beige tho? How about a slightly yellow beige? And a bit more grey shade of beige? A playmat that is mostly beige? Then this game has you covered in spades. Beige spades, but still spades.
The Castles of Burgundy is a dice rolling tile placement game for 2 to 4 players, created by the renowned Stefan Feld and first published back in 2011. Some of Feld’s other games of note are Trajan, Bora Bora, and In the Year of the Dragon to name just a few.
Goal of the game?
To win! But how do I do that? By having the most victory points (a.k.a. VPs)! A groundbreaking concept that I am sure will take off one of these days.
How to play?
The game takes place over 5 phases with each phase having 5 rounds. So everyone gets 25 turns to build the most prestigious estate. At the start of each round, players roll their two dice. Players then spend their dice on their turn to perform actions.
In general terms, the actions are:
Take a tile from one of the numbered depots on the central board, and place it in the storage area on your playmat.
Place a tile from your storage area onto the map of your estate.
Sell goods tiles from your goods supply.
Take worker tiles from the bank and add them to your worker pool.
Sounds easy, right? And it is, for the most part. Like many classic games the core mechanics are simple and easy to learn. It is the decisions that you have to make that add the complexity that keeps folks playing the game.
The number on the die you spend determines where you can take tiles from, where you can place them in your estate, or the types of goods you can sell. You can trade in any die for workers. If you do not have the right number, you can spend workers to change the die result by one for each worker spent. Workers are handy folks that way.
The heart of the game is the different tile types you can claim and how and when you add them to your estate. There are six types of tiles.
Animals: There are 4 different kinds of animal tiles. Each tile will score you points based on the number of animals on the tile. As well as bonus points for having the same animals in the same field. So, the more chickens you put in the field the more each chicken is worth.
Buildings: There are 8 building sub-types. Each one basically gives you a specific bonus action depending on which building it is. For example, when you place the City Hall tile you can place any tile you have in your storage area onto your estate map for free.
Castles: While they are not very burgundy colored, as noted at the start, they are as useful as a deep red is to a painter who needs to paint something deep red. Actually, they are even more useful than that. When you place one in your estate, they act as a bonus die of any number. So you get a free action you can choose to do anything with.
Knowledges: These are technologies you can research, and mostly let you do something better, or allow you to tweak the rules a bit. Or, they give you extra VPs at the end of the game.
Mines: Hey, it’s a mine. At the end of each phase, you receive one Silverling* per mine you have.
Ships: These help determine turn order, as well as let you claim trade goods. Speaking of turn order, it is not set by who sits where, but by how many ships you have and when you got them. So you are not always stuck going after the person to your right.
*You mentioned a Silverling above. What are those? Good question. Silverlings are worth points at the end of the game, but if you have two of them you can trade them in to take a tile from the middle depot on the central board as a bonus action instead. So, they are super cool and handy to have. Just like money is in real life.
The wrap up.
I like this game. The core mechanics are simple and easy to understand. It is easy to teach, but a bit tricky to master. It has just the right element of luck/randomness with the dice for my liking. I enjoy having to scramble some turns to adjust my plans. Even though I usually say something along the lines of “I shake my fist at thee,” to whomever has just thrown a spanner into my grand plan. The base game has 9 different maps to choose from. So the replay-ability is high. When you play with fewer than 4 people, not all the tiles will come out. So you can’t count on the same tile combination each time. I think I like it best at the 3 player count, but both 2 and 4 are a good time.
The meat of the game comes from when to grab certain tiles and when to hold off on them. Seeing what your opponents are going for, and what to try and compete on is key. If two people are going heavy into boats, maybe try for the animals instead, etc. Grabbing a few of the techs that work well with each other, or that give you an additional benefit for doing something you are going to do anyways, always feels nice.
For folks who need a game to be pretty or colorful to play it, this one may not be the best fit. To put it politely, its aesthetic is bland. It is jokingly called Castles of Beigundy for a reason. On the other hand, if gameplay is more important to you than the color palette, then Castles will reward you for taking the time to try it out. Heck, the game is still in the top 20 on BGG even after being out for 9 years and not looking cool or sexy. Or having a hype campaign behind it. It is the oldest one in the top 20 after the weird anomaly that is Twilight Struggle. At least at the time of this writing. So that should tell you how good of a game it is. Give it a spin. I think you will enjoy the trip.
Hope you get a chance to play The Castles of Burgundy!