Full disclosure: A review copy of The Castles of Burgundy was provided by Ravensburger.
Yes, you read that correctly; it’s really happening. He’ll review whatever, these days, you know? Though I suppose you should have expected as much after I wrote up Carpe Diem a while back. I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons a bit and see what appeals to me, and while I am still relatively convinced that I slightly prefer The Castles of Tuscany, we can see what happens when I finish writing this one up. The Castles of Burgundy is a classic, as far as I’ve been told, and I’ve been in many an awkward social situation where people have questioned my board gamer cred because I hadn’t played it. So that’s been cool. But, that’s not the game’s fault. So let’s see how it plays!
The Castles of Burgundy is set against the rich, unexplored backdrop of High Medieval France, casting players as aristocrats trying to expand their dominions. How do they do that? Dice rolling, mostly. Each turn, you’ll have two dice available to you that you can use to buy tiles, place tiles, sell goods, and more. The tiles represent various parts of your growing kingdom, from cities and buildings to monasteries to livestock to ships to mines and even more castles. These various locales will provide a variety of benefits, earning you points, goods, and other abilities. Completing a group of tiles of the same color will earn you even more points, so it’s worth focusing on that. Try to mitigate your rolls to get the results you want, and you might be able to become the most influential duke or duchess in all of … central France. That seems worth it. Will your legacy influence Burgundy for years to come?
Player Count Differences
I’ve actually quite enjoyed The Castles of Burgundy at the various player counts, though I still haven’t tried the solo mode or the team game. The team game, in particular, looks vexing, but that’s a conversation for another day, I think. I wouldn’t necessarily call Castles a super interactive game, just by its nature; you can’t mess with another player’s board, and the most you can do is take tiles that they were otherwise planning on grabbing, as befits a market-based tile placement game like this. For me, that’s perfect. It means there’s some strategy and tension around what I take and when I take it, but I don’t have to worry about things I’ve already placed getting messed up. There’s an inevitability of me getting at least a few things that I want, over time, though if I mess around too much at higher player counts I risk that inevitable outcome taking a lot longer than I would otherwise like. I’d say I tend to play Castles the most at two players, just because it’s a decent bit of setup and I’ve been relying on Board Game Arena, as of late, to do that menial work, but I’ve enjoyed the three and four player versions of it, as well. No strong preference, for this one!
- Try not to run out of workers. Not only does it put you in a bind from a dice mitigation standpoint, but it also makes you fairly predictable. If I can see what dice you’ve got, then I can draw some conclusions about what you’re going to be able to do on your turn. You want to be a bit unknowable, strategically speaking, so that you can surprise your opponents. Having some way to mitigate your dice rolls can do that.
- Castles are great, but fleeting; use them wisely and plan for how you’re going to make them work! You can essentially do anything with a Castle, so playing one should usually be part of a multi-step combo, like playing a Town Hall to place another tile from your supply or something. A castle loosely duplicates the functionality of almost any other tile, so plan ahead and think about what you want to do when you play it.
- Ships are a great way to accrue resources, but they also let you sneak up in the turn order; if you use them well, you can effectively take a double turn. Especially in two-player games, using a ship to string together a double turn can really put your opponent on their back foot, which is awesome. Plus, you can also gain a lot of goods from any of the available depots when you place a ship, which can be useful as well. Selling goods is an easy way to get points and a silver, which can lead to better future tiles. It’s an easy part of the gameplay loop to miss, so try to at least save some energy for shipping.
- Watch out for opponents hoarding animals for big farming plays. Livestock scores again whenever a tile with the same livestock is added to the farm area, so if you can get enough of the same tile type, you can rack up major points. It’s worth aggressively preventing that outcome for opponents, since the livestock still score if you place them on your own, just perhaps not as much. You can lose a game pretty quickly if you’re not paying attention to your opponent’s livestock, and I can say this from rueful experience.
- Different buildings work for different strategies, so keep an eye out for which ones come up in your games. There are so many buildings. You can place ones that let you take livestock or ships, ones that let you place another tile for free, ones that give you silver, ones that give you workers, ones that give you points, ones that let you take a mine or castle or monastery, and ones that let you sell goods. There’s probably one I forgot, outside of the expansion ones. Your strategy will probably utilize some or all of these, so plan ahead. I find that the ones that give workers and silver tend to be most helpful for me, since they expand my options, but a well-placed Town Hall letting you place another tile and complete an area before the round ends can often be a couple extra points for free. Always good to get more points.
- Similarly, there are certain tiles that might be “must-get” tiles for your particular player board configuration; keep an eye out for those. One particular board has a massive city in the center, so it helps to have the Monastery tile that allows you to have the same building multiple times in one city, for instance. Not getting that tile won’t sink you, but it will make that region much more difficult to complete. Similarly, keep an eye out for situations in which one of these tiles appears for your opponent. Sure would be a shame if you bought it and used it yourself, no?
- Towards the end of the game, you can occasionally leave some tiles in the market for a bit if you’re pretty sure your opponent isn’t going to steal them from you. There’s generally no reason to do that outside of a really aggressive two-player game; like, you can buy tiles you can’t place, sure, but that’s spiteful as hell. I respect it, I suppose, but I wouldn’t recommend it. As such, if your opponent(s) are all full on castles or mines or something, there’s no real reason to rush out and buy them in the final round or two; you can wait and pick them up later.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I will say that the player boards spending valuable real estate to include a picture of some random guy on a horse is deeply comical to me for some unexplainable reason. I get that it’s the place for you to place dice you’ve already used, but it’s … strange! It’s just a weird thing to invest in, from a graphic design standpoint and a real estate standpoint? But I love it. So that’s all good, here. It makes me laugh every time I look at the player board.
- I really like the way that they organize the rulebooks for these games. There’s text explaining the rules, and then essentially a quick reference column on the right so that, once you know the game, you can skim for the information that you need as a quick summary. I really like that style of rulebook! It prioritizes both learning and reference.
- For a dice-based game, there are many ways to mitigate bad rolls, which is nice. It helps that there are often more ways to mitigate bad rolls as the game progresses and getting specific rolls also becomes more useful. Early in the game, you might find yourself spending a die to get workers, but by the end of the game your workers may be able to change a die’s value by 2, or you might be able to treat dice as different values for playing certain tiles. There’s a lot of ways to get around things. You can even use silver to buy tiles that you might not otherwise have been able to roll, which can be nice.
- I like how many different abilities are available! There’s a lot to keep track of, granted, which can make the game harder to learn, but it’s nice that there’s such a wide array of things to do every round.
- The new version has a very nicely-colored box, which I like. I get that it’s burgundy, but it’s just a very pleasant box color. I’ve actually been a huge fan of the whole alea bookshelf line. I’m not sure how I feel about this super-deluxe one hitting Gamefound soon, but it would probably be a joy to photograph, I suppose. To each their own.
- I’m experimenting a bit more with various starting boards, and I’m enjoying the challenge of them. I like the variation! I need to try more of them, I think, and I still occasionally end up picking the classic front configuration, but it’s fun to have some variety in how you start the game and what you prioritize. I still almost never place my starting castle anywhere but the center, though; old habits die hard.
- I’ve always enjoyed city-building games, and this is a great, medium-weight one. It’s a bit less economic than, say, Suburbia, because it’s more about the placement and organization of things than the cost and economic management aspect, but it’s a very interesting game of progression and ability management. I really like it, and I’d suggest it to folks who are looking to start getting into more complex strategy games. It’s still not going to be the kind of game where you’re exhausted after playing it, but it does require a bit of planning and forethought to play well, which I appreciate.
- Feld is generally known for making games with lots of different pathways to success, and this is certainly no exception. There’s a lot of different ways to make winning work. I’ve seen a variety of them! All sorts of things. Going all-in on Monastery tiles, livestock, goods, all kinds of things can work; of course, a combination of a few different things is most likely going to yield the results that you want, and that’s good, also. I think that despite the dice of it all, I end up feeling like I have a lot of control over my ultimate fate in CoB, and that’s satisfying. I feel like, after a game ends, I also can identify places where I made mistakes or didn’t play well and think about how to improve in subsequent games (usually, it’s getting less distracted by the shiniest tile). That progression is satisfying and makes the game feel robust. There’s always more to do and refine, as a player.
- This edition contains all the expansions (and a new one) and some of them are wild. The team variant (you each control a massive, shared board, and have two private hex tile storage spaces and two shared hex tile storage spaces) seems deeply cursed but intriguing. I wish I had been able to try it before the review, but I tend to focus on just the base game experience with these kinda boxes. I figure that the extras are … extras, and if you like them, great, and if you don’t, don’t use them. Other mini-expansions add wild buildings and livestock, expansion tiles, trade routes that give you bonuses for selling certain-color goods, a solo mode, and a shields mode that gives you ridiculous abilities for a massive cost (one silver per shield per round). If you can’t pay, they get removed from the game. There’s a ton of extra content in this box, which, honestly, I have a really good time with the base game alone, so more almost feels unnecessary? But I appreciate that it’s there for when I’m ready to dive into it.
- The theme does very little for me. It’s hard for me to feel anything about “vague Europe” as a theme, and this doesn’t really enthrall me that much beyond that picture of the guy on the horse that I keep thinking about.
- The limited number of actions available on a turn does make me feel a bit frustrated when I have to “waste” one of those actions because I didn’t get the roll I wanted. It’s punishing, but getting two extra workers can be a huge boon (it essentially lets you almost entirely wrap a die around to whatever value you want). It still feels bad, as a player, but it’s a justifiable rebuke from the game for you, the player, not effectively hedging your bets. Your ideal circumstance is that no matter what dice you roll, something is always playable. This requires you to keep track of your board, your goods, and the market. If you fail to do so, this is the result.
- Having to check the rulebook for the Monastery tiles / Buildings as you learn the game can be annoying. Here we return to a What’s Eric Playing? tradition: the struggle of iconography versus text. To summarize quickly, it’s easier to learn things when they just tell you what they do, but that costs valuable real estate. Once you “get” icons, they’re intuitive, but they add a learning curve to often already-challenging games. Castles of Burgundy has a lot of these, from the Monastery bonuses to the Building tiles, and you might find yourself consulting the rulebook on the regular (especially to make sure you don’t make mistakes; the Warehouse and the Bank still look somewhat similar, to me).
- The inside of the box is just a pile of stuff, which is always a bit funny to organize. It makes the game a bit of a pain to set up unless you either label your bags or you have third-party storage solutions, but, I guess that’s the world we live in. I can mostly figure it out, though it would behoove me to separate out the mini-expansion content now that I’m more familiar with it.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I can see why folks think of The Castles of Burgundy as a classic board game. For me, it certainly earns that spot with some gusto. I’ve been playing it on and off on Board Game Arena for like, a month or so now, and I regularly look forward to my games of it. While I complain about having to “waste” a die on an action that doesn’t really get me where I want to go, I also appreciate that the per-turn decision space is small enough that despite the game being complex and strategic, the turns tend to move quickly. I do think that the game can be a challenge to learn, just with the various different systems of play being so different and all the moving parts of the Buildings and Monasteries, but I think that Castles of Burgundy is worth that investment, from a player standpoint, because it offers a robust, strategic experience that holds up at various player counts and over multiple plays. I tend to only play a game a few times before reviewing it and moving on (alas, such is the churn of board game reviewing), but I find myself consistently drawn back to playing it (probably because it’s super easy to play on Board Game Arena, my go-to, as of late). Part of that is definitely the medium, but the other part is that I’ve consistently had fun planning, executing, and failing to do either, and I’m always trying to iterate on my previous strategies to do better next time. I think Castles of Burgundy rewards that kind of growth mindset from a player standpoint, and that’s part of what makes it so satisfying to play. Plus, there’s a ton of expansion content in the box, and I need to get better at this game before I even consider the team variant. That would be wild. If you’re curious as to why Castles of Burgundy is regarded as a classic, you enjoy some city-building and some dice placement, or you just really like Vague Europe as a theme, I’d definitely recommend checking this one out! I’ve had a blast with it, and I can’t wait to play it again.
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