Thursday, July 11, 2013

F#@k You, Castles Are Cool: "The Castles of Burgundy"

Okay, so after thoroughly greasing the less-then-dynamic box art for Power Grid, here's what we were thinking about playing next:

Now some folks will think that this game looks even more yawn-inspiring.  To those people I say: fuck you, castles are cool.  As a fan of all things medieval I was immediately keen to try this one.  In fact, the box art for The Castles of Burgundy actually makes me vaguely aroused.

Awrite, so what's the deal with this one?  Welp, here's the game's synopsis right from the Lords n' Ladies at Alea Games:

"Das Tal der Loire im 15. Jahrhundert. Als einflussreiche Fürsten setzen..."   

Oh, probably can't understand that, huh?  At first, Eurogames were commonly referred to as "German Games" since so many of those influential early titles such as Tigris and Euphrates, The Settlers of Catan, and El Grande hailed from there!  And, trust me, Alea Games (along with The Castles of Burgundy) is as Deutschland as bratwurst, beer and public nudity (NSFW!!!).

For these reasons and many more, I  Germany.  They have as much reverence for board games as we North Americans have for video games.  Guess which one makes the most sense to this cowpoke?  

Okay, sorry, so here's the Anglo-fied version of the game's description:

"The Loire Valley during the 15th Century.  As influential princes, the players devote their efforts to careful trading and building in order to lead their estates to prominence. 

"Two dice set out the action options, but the players always make the final choices. Whether trading or livestock farming, city building or scientific research, many different paths lead to the prosperity and prominence of the players! 

"The many ways to gain victory points in this building game require careful thought round after round along with extensive planning ahead. Thanks to the different estates, the game remains challenging for the players for a long time, as no two games play out alike. 

"The winner is the player with the most victory points at the end of the game." 

Now, if that blurb caused your brain to partially flatline, then you might as well "X" this tab off, break out your copy of Descent and then roll around nekkid in the box for a little bit.  P.S. I'm not being judgmental since I've actually done that myself.  Be careful, BTW, some of those plastic figures are downright pointy.

For those of you who are still with me, feel free to click upon yon link to review your regal mandate in the tongue of thine preference.


With Dean off courting vendors with sexual favors and Chad hip-deep in the World Championship of Cockfighting, only Andrew, Mike and I were left to tackle this one.  So we got together last Wednesday night at my place to roll some dice and expand our respective dominions.




As soon as I heard that you get more points for completing similarly-colored regions early in the game I immediately sealed up that one-hex City section by plopping down a Market.  This allowed me to take a free Animal Tile from the communal game board.  Since Livestock gives you instant Victory Point (I said Victory Point) gratification, I landscaped two Pastures, one with two Piggies and the other with three Sheep.  After stockpiling a two-McNugget Chicken tile, I gently nudged my first Boat out into the East branch of the River, scoring some sweet Orange Goods in the process.   

Andrew followed suit, snatching up a Warehouse tile to complete his own one-hex City section.  This allowed him to Sell Goods without burning a turn, earning him a few precious Victory Points whilst altering the turn order.  After installing a three-poultry Pasture, Andrew became the first player to add a second Castle to his cardboard realm.  With the resulting free action, Andrew played a Mine from his reserve, knowing full-well that it would spit out Silverlings every turn like the world's loosest (and lamest) slot machine.  In his final action, he squirreled away a Market for a rainy day.    

Mike began his turn by completing the same one-slot City space with a Bank, giving him two free Silverlings.  By spending his "1" die roll, Mike then became the first player to buy a Knowledge Tile, which gave him a free Worker every time one of his Mines paid off.  Unfortunately, he didn't end up digging a Mine until two rounds later.  Instead he plopped down a three-Veep Cow tile and a single Ship which shoved off into the East side of his River.  This allowed him to pick up some Goods which were collecting dust on the docks.  

Here's the Victory Point tally at the end of that inaugural turn:



Andrew added a second Castle, earning yet another free play which he used to double down on Mines.  He then started to expand in an easterly direction, smashing a champagne bottle on the hull of a new Ship which he used to pick up some Pink Goods.  He also dropped a Market into the south-east City Section, allowing him to pick up and subsequently play a three-Victory Point Chicken tile.  Andrew then capped off his turn by acquiring a Bank (complete with two free Silverlings), performing a Sell Goods action and then stockpiling a Church for a future round.               

After laying down a Market, Mike picked up a Pasture tile for free and then revealed his Great Gonzo-like predilection for Chickens, earning five Victory Points via their feathery hides.  He then continued his Knowledge gambit, placing a tile that promised four Victory Points for every Watchtower he owned at the end of the game.  This would have awesome if he'd actually bothered to buy one.  Oh, crap, sorry...SPOILER ALERT!  He ran out of time before the end of the round, temporarily stranding two tiles in his Storage Area.     

Meanwhile, I was toadly in the zone.  In an effort to be "the first one on the block to collect 'em all" I added a Chicken tile to my Pasture menagerie.  Inspired by Andrew's efforts, I tried to chain a bunch of construction projects together, starting with a new Castle.  This gave me a free action which I spent on a City Hall, which, in turn, allowed me to pick up and later play a Bank.  I polished off that three-hex City section with a Boarding House, giving me a decent amount of Victory Points.  The really great thing about the Boarding House is that it gives you four free Worker Tiles, which you can use to modify die rolls and score additional options.  Finally, I did a Sell Goods action for some extra Victory Points and then requestioned another Ship, looking to extend my reach out West.      

Here's a look at the score at the end of the second round:   



Although Andrew was trailing, he remained focussed and went right back to work.  After adding the final Castle-shaped puzzle piece to the three-hex section of his Estate he became the first person to cover up all of the dark green spaces, thus earning a coveted Large Bonus Tile for six additional Victory Points!  He used the resulting bonus die to roll out a Church, which, in turn, let him snap up and then throw down a third and final Mine.  Not only did this give him a ridiculously-powerful economic engine, it also completed yet another section and color, resulting in a metric shit-ton of Veeps.  His first Knowledge Tile placement was also well-gaged, giving him a bonus Silverling every time he picked the "Take Two Workers" option.  He then added a Market which chained to a completed four-Cow Pasture and a third helping of Victory Points.  As a result, Mike and I immediately re-dubbed Andrew "Prince Greedyface".  He finished off this incredible run by investing in more Ships; an obvious challenge to my own burgeoning naval ambitions!      

Andrew's comeback efforts were aided somewhat by a breakdown in my own strategy.  I should have extended my Shipping line East first instead of West since this would have allowed me to reach the one-hex Pasture there a lot quicker.  Nevertheless, the completion of my Western shipping route did provide a decent little Victory Point boost.

Around this time I also started to feel the pinch of eschewing Mines since we all thought that cash monies only came from from Mines and Banks.  L-o-o-o-n-g after the game was over we found out that you also get a Silverling every time you pick the Sell Goods option, which would have helped me out tremendously.


Anyway, we didn't know this at the time so we kept blissfully playing on, doling out Victory Points instead of Silverlings for every Sell Goods action.  Heh, heh...whoopsie!  

Anyway, it's quite telling that Andrew managed to chain together no less then seven (!) new tiles that round and I only managed to a measly four.  

Meanwhile, Mike's strategy slowly began to coalesce.  He finally planted a new Castle, giving him a chance to move his three-Cow Pasture tile out of Storage limbo.  Coveting Andrew's Scrooge McDuck-like pile of Silverlings, he added a badly-needed Mine just south of his starting Castle and augmented this with a Bank out east.  He then went nuts with the Knowledge tiles, closing off the three-hex region to the northeast for a modest Victory Point reward.  The first Knowledge tile he placed allowed him to alter die rolls by a pip when placing buildings, kinda like a functionally-limited free Worker.  The second yellow tile, which he installed down south, was the Ship and Animal equivalent of its predecessor.  Although these tiles didn't do a lot for him right away, they eventually gave him the flexibility needed for late-game comeback.    

Here's the state of the union at the end of Turn Three:



Mike, now in the vanguard for turn order, used this opportunity to add to his burgeoning momentum.  After laying down another Castle he used his bonus turn to seal up his five-space Pasture with another gaggle of Chitlens.  He was then twice blessed: scoring Veeps from blanketing the region and for his prodigious livestock head-count.  After plunking down his second Mine, Mike continued to follow through on his Knowledge strategy, adding two more yellow tiles: the first granting one die-pip of wiggle room while placing Castles, Mines and Knowledge and the second doling out two end-of-match Victory Points for each Bonus Tile.  This actually worked out quite well, since he became the first player to cover up all of the yellow hexes and earn a Large Knowledge Bonus Tile for six additional Victory Points!  You gotta love it when a plan (eventually) comes together!    

By now, Andrew's Estate was growing like Poison Ivy's weed garden.  Just as predicted, he put every effort into outpacing me in Ship construction.  Thanks to his obscene stockpile of Silverlings, he had easy access to the Central Black Depot and all of the additional options that came with it.  Eventually he snapped up every available Ship, sealing off the East bank of the river and then the West.  I swore under my breath as he waltzed away with the Large River Bonus Tile in addition to a slew of Victory Points.  He then went on to cover up a three-hex City region for yet another Victory Point windfall.  Turd burglar!      

With Andrew and Mike both going before me, the pickings were mighty slim by the time my turn rolled around.  Regardless, I chained together the construction of two new Castles, allowing me to drop a Boarding House into the three-hex City district to the southwest and claim the Small Bonus Tile for Castles.  Armed with four new Workers via the Boarding House I installed a two-Piggie Pasture right next door.  This finally completed my long-fought goal of being the first player to cover up all the Pasture tiles.  Huzzah!  The resulting tsunami of Victory Points inspired me to acquire and then place my very first Knowledge Tile.  At this stage in the game it was all about horking as many Points as possible so I went with the endgame tile that gives you four Veeps for every Bank you own.  Since I already had one of them on the board I figgered there were probably worse investments.         

So here's the way things looked, score-wise at the end of Round Four:



Mike, the Goods-Selling virgin, got to go first again.  Continuing his impressive rally he added a Church to his Estate, giving him a chance to draw and later play his third Mine.  This eventually resulted in a double-barreled blast of Victory Points for completing the region and covering up all of that unsightly gray.  He then struck out East, sealing up his Shipping route and earning a second round of V.P.'s.  As soon as he plopped down that three-Pig, one-hex Pasture hex I was convinced that I'd fallen into last place, especially when he augmented this with a Sell Goods action to soak up a few extra Veeps.          

I did what I could in that final round, which is to say that I threw a bunch of random crap down on my board.  First, I erected (uh, a-huh, huh) a Church in the southeast City section which allowed me to collect a Knowledge tile.  In a last-ditch effort to stay ahead of Mike, I chose the option which would give me four end-game Victory Points for the Bank that I already had down.  I also brought out a Boarding House, hoping to retain enough Workers to eke out a few stray Veeps.  And although I managed to add to my Eastern waterway, Mike had already snatched up the very last Boat on the board.  With that, my life-long dream to finish off that river region was rendered stillborn.  Arrrggghhh!!!  Oh well, at least I sold a few Goods at the very end for a small pittance.  

Not willing to rest on his laurels, Andrew kept hammering away, looking for a Billy Mitchell-style High Score.  Two livestock tiles placed in the northwest Pasture earned him seven Victory Points, certainly nothing to sneeze at.  Looking to inflate his post-match score, he also retrieved and played an excellent Knowledge Tile designed to give him three Victory Points for every different type of Good he'd sold during the game.  Andrew then set his sights on completing the southeast City region of his Estate.  He managed to accomplish this by playing a Carpenter's Workshop next to his Mines off to the West, which chained together with a second Carpenter's Workshop followed by a City Hall and then a Tower!  After slotting these structures into the last three hexes of that City region, he sat back, tallied up the bonus points and then touched himself inappropriately underneath the table.  


We then tallied up all of the post-game Victory Points from the following sources:
  1. One Point for every unsold Goods tiles.
  2. One Point for each remaining Silverling.
  3. One Point for every two remaining Worker Tiles.
  4. Any post-game Victory Points produced by the Knowledge Tiles.  
And here were the final standings:




  • The game offers so many choices and possibilities that I often found myself gripped by analysis paralysis.  Andrew's early Castle / Mine strategy appears to be pretty formidable and I can't help but wonder if anything else can compete.  Hopefully a subsequent play will reveal that alternate paths to victory are just as legitimate.  
  • At the very least, the game certainly rewards a cohesive strategy.  As soon as I lost focus on my eastern River / one-hex Pasture goal, my efforts quickly began to unravel.  
  • The game virtually demands that you pay attention.  Although selling goods for Victory Points is a pretty sweet peach, you could end up last in the turn order.  And let me tell ya, vying for table scraps at the end of a round ain't pretty.
  • It's kinda fun to chain a string of actions together.  Smart player will always strive to maximize their turn order.   
  • Although dice are used to determine your options, luck is actually a pretty minor factor in the game thanks to the Worker Tiles.
  • The lead changed hands several times in our game, which is great.  It's definitely possible to storm back from a deficit if you remain focussed.    
  • Despite our little Sell Goods / Silverling / Victory Point faux pas, the rules are actually clear, concise and well-presented.  
  • The game could do with a makeover.  The artwork on the communal board isn't just subtle, it's downright washed out.  Also, a lot of the iconography is microscopic and the tile thickness leaves something to be desired.  The inclusion of Player Aids to describe the various tiles would have been ridiculously handy.  On the bright side, the game is fairly priced, so I'm willing to let this slide a bit.  

Welp, another week, another solid Euro.  I can't wait play this one again so I can test out some alternate strategies.  And, let's face it, if you find yourself chomping at the bit, itching to play a game again, then that's some pretty high testimony right thur.

The Castles of Burgundy rates five pips outta six, with a healthy tilt up towards the parapet.  


Looking to build an Estate that makes the Palace of Versailles look like a trailer park?   Well, then, click on the image below, buy the game and help support this blog!   

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