Monday, December 30, 2013

Castles of Burgundy: a very short review

My new board game this fall was Stefan Feld's The Castles of Burgundy.

This is our second Stefan Feld game; about a year ago I got his Trajan, which I thought was nice but rather busy.

Castles of Burgundy is, I think, quite enjoyable.

Castles of Burgundy has a fair amount of randomness (i.e., luck) in it. Each of your overall turns is controlled by a roll of the dice, and the selection and timing of the pieces on the board is also a matter of luck. In any particular game, not all the pieces will be used, and they will not all arrive on the board at the same time.

A further element of luck is that you may choose one of a variety of possible game boards at the start of the game, and the particular board you choose may or may not fit well to the pieces that actually appear as possible selections when it's your turn.

What this means is that Castles of Burgundy is a game where tactical optimization is quite important. Rarely can you successfully plan many moves in advance.

You may start the game with a lucky opportunity to fetch two Sheep tiles, and think that your winning strategy will be to fill your animal area with Sheep. And then, you may go three rounds without ever seeing another Sheep tile! The game will punish your stubborn inflexibility and refusal to adjust your course.

Another interesting aspect of this game is that, to be successful, you must, must, must be willing to pay attention to the strategies that your opponents are using, and make the occasional defensive play, which generally involves compromising your own Grand Strategy from time to time to make a play which denies your opponent a particularly crucial tile. If they are working to fill their 5-tile Buildings region, and are desperate for that Watchtower, grab it! If they're favoring animals, and you can grab those Chickens, make it so!

Another nice thing about Castles of Burgundy is that it isn't terribly fatiguing to learn. 15 minutes with the rulebook, and one rather slow practice game, and you'll have it down, at which point you can switch from learning mode into playing mode, which is much better.

And Castles of Burgundy has plenty of mental challenge, even given the dice and board randomness. You'll find that there's just enough opportunity for thinking and planning to keep you entertained, without the deep multi-turn planning and organization issues that can turn a game like Agricola or Le Havre into a 4 hour event. Castles of Burgundy cleverly foils those approaches without making you feel like it's dumbed down to the point of dullness.

Heck, you can even play it at the beach!

Based on just a few weeks with the game, I'd say Castles of Burgundy is a winner, and if it looks like your cup of tea, give it a whirl.

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