The Castles of Burgundy
Players: 2 – 4
Time: 50 minutes
Times Played: 20+
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that’s what I did to Castles of Burgundy since its release. Every year I saw posts, reviews, videos, and more of people exclaiming the virtues of this game but it was so hard to look at the box art and get excited, especially when compared to the box art of something like Galaxy Trucker. Two completely different games but one has a pull whereas the other…doesn’t.
Simply put, Castles of Burgundy is the best two-player board game I’ve ever played. It might also be the greatest three and four-player game I’ve ever played but I’m not ready to make that proclamation yet.
I’m late to the party regarding Castles of Burgundy so it’s going to be hard to write something that hasn’t been said before but damn it, I’m going to try anyways. So, without further ado, here’s 3,397 words on Castles of Burgundy!
But first, let’s talk about the actual game. There’s a storyline to Castles of Burgundy that has you trying to build the grandest estate among your peers but honestly, that doesn’t really matter. I know I’ve said in the past that components and arts are a draw for me but honestly, as long as it’s playable and not offensive I’ll make due.
For the amount of depth and strategy that it has, Castles of Burgundy only has you doing two actions a turn (occasionally there’s an option for more but we’ll get to that). There are five phases and each phase has five rounds. On each round, a player will have one turn where they can do their two actions. Actions can be performed twice.
On your turn, you will roll your two dice and choose the actions you want to complete. The actions are as follows:
Grab a tile from the main general board and move it to the staging queue/area on your player board – With the result of your dice roll, you can choose to grab a tile in an area that matches what your die showcases. For instance, if you rolled a ‘one’, you can choose a tile from the top most ‘one’ region of the general board. This tile must be moved to your queue on your player board before moving on. The queue can only accommodate three tiles. If you want to grab a tile but your queue is full, you can discard something from your queue to make room. This will use the ability of one of your die;
Buy a tile from the main general board and move it to the staging queue/area on your player board – Independent of your dice rolling, you can use two Silverlings to purchase a black tile in the center of the general board and move it to your player boards queue, same rules apply as grabbing one with your die;
Move a tile from your staging queue/area to an area on your estate – Once you have a tile in your staging area, you can then move it to your estate using one of your die. The rules for placement are as follows: the tile must be placed on the number matching the die used, the tile must match the color of the area it is being placed, two of the same buildings cannot be placed in the same region as one another, and it must be placed adjacent to an existing tile. This might seem like a lot but it’s very intuitive and becomes second nature quickly. Also of note, once placed, a tile can never be moved;
Sell your goods – By selling your goods, accumulated through the shipping action, you can gain points (dependent on the number of players, i.e. two points for two-players, three points for three-players, and so on) and one Silverling (regardless of how many items you sold). A die can be used to sell goods if the number matches the number printed on the good tile(s). You only have room to fit three different color goods but can hold as many of those colors as you’d like. When picking up new goods, you can discard if you need to make space. Regarding the goods tiles, there are six different colors (equating six different faces of a die) and there are seven of each. Each good is identical in nature minus the color and number associated with it; and/or
Selling goods, in my group, is a underappreciated action for one reason and one reason only: it gives you SIlverling. Normally, you want to ship when you get send three or four (or more) goods out into the world and gain the points but sometimes the board and your dice rolls are in a position where shipping one tile and gaining that extra bit of currency (which for me is typically flipped for a black tile).
Take Worker Tiles – Instead of doing any other the other actions with your dice, you can instead use them to take workers. Using a die will result in two workers being added to your player board. Now, why are workers important? Because they can be used (one time usage) to change players die result ‘+1’ or ‘-1’. You can combine workers to change the die result more or less. Also of note is that die rolls in Castles of Burgundy are not stopped at one or six. A worker can be added to a six to change it into a one and vice versa. The numerical system in Castles of Burgundy is more a loop than a static line.
I’m of the mindset that you shouldn’t waste a die result on taking workers. There is a building that gives you four workers when placed on your board and I would rather take my chances on grabbing that. Now, if there’s absolutely nothing you can do (say it’s round five) then you can take some workers but if you can ship/take/place anything, I think that’s the strongest route to take. My only pause would be if you were shipping only one item as the return points-wise is not great BUT you gain a Silverling which depending on your board, could be your only source of income.
Turn order is decided by the player furthest along on the shipping track and does matter, as the board will not be replenished until the phase is complete. Each hexagonal tile that you are trying to grab has a different power/purpose which is only utilized and unlocked when it is placed on your player board. The tiles are:
Ship tiles [Blue] – The blue ship tiles are all identical and there is no difference in any of them. They exist to let you add goods tiles from the main board to your player board (permitted you have the room) and they move you forward on the turn order track.
Do not neglect the ship tiles. Being the last player can really negatively impact any and all game-plans you have for the day. In a two-player game, this isn’t quite terrible as only one person is going ahead of you. In a three-player game, it’s bad but not debilitating. In a four-person game, being stuck in last place will probably have you finishing in last place as well. Shipping is an investment that needs to be taken seriously. Going first in the first round of the phase means the world is your oyster and you can take anything that you’d like (with the right dice roll/worker manipulation).
Castle tiles [Green] – The green castle tiles, like the ship tiles just mentioned, are all identical as well. The special power associated with them is that you get to take another action, aka a free turn. Each player also starts with one of these tiles on their board as their jump-off point.
I always feel like these tiles get neglected in our games and I’m unsure why. Granted, there are typically fewer spaces on your estate for green tile comparably but placing the tile grants you a free action and more often than not, they are single regions which means once placed, they score. Castles are a limited quantity however (like mines) and if neglected, won’t be there later in the round to be grabbed. Be aware of what your opponent(s) is doing as this can impact what you grab and when you want to grab it.
Also, as the initial placement of your castle is a free action and dictates your initial strategy, I personally believe that placing near mines and shipping locations (if available on your board) is the strongest starting strategy as it ensures two huge benefits: gaining money and going first.
Mine tiles [Grey] – The grey mine tiles follow the ship and castle mantra and are all the same. Once placed, a mine will grant you one Silverling at the end of every phase.
Let’s take a quick sidebar to talk about Silverlings. This is the currency of the game and are used to purchase the tiles with the black backing. Purchasing an item is a free action and does not require the use of your dice. Silverlings can be earned through placing mines, selling goods, and placing a bank building (which nets two Silverlings). There are some knowledge bonus tiles that can increase your Silverling consumption as well.
Money can be notoriously hard to come by and if you haven’t played Castles of Burgundy before and think mines are the way to go, you’re half right. The issue is, mines are a scarce commodity and at the two- and three-player counts, only one will exist on the board each phase. They can occasionally be purchased in the market in the middle of the player board but I wouldn’t plan on that.
Animal Tiles [Light Green/Lime] – The light green/lime tiles have two to four animals on each tile. Since you are wondering which animals are included, there are cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs. When placed, a player will score a point for each animal present on the tile (so four pigs equate to four points). As an added bonus, placing an animal tile in a pasture that already includes that animal allows you to score the previously placed animal again.
I’m torn on animal tiles. When bundled and placing the same animal again and again, it can be greatly beneficial but everything is public knowledge so your opponent(s) knows you’re aiming for those chickens. Add that to the fact of the randomness of the draw, the animal you need may not appear during the phase. There are some Knowledge tiles (yellow) that can boost your point gathering regarding animals but I feel like there are more beneficial tiles to grab.
The other issue with the pasture tiles is that you obviously want to place your high number animal first, so when duplicate scoring happens the higher number is being scored again and again. But if that doesn’t come out or is snatched before you have the opportunity to grab it, do you place a sub-optimal tile (such as two cows) or do you hold off, cluttering your queue while awaiting a higher value target?
Knowledge Tiles [Yellow] – Castles of Burgundy features twenty-six knowledge tiles that provide a bonus or benefit to the placing player of some kind. It is important to note that a few of these tiles are only found in the market and our black in color.
These are tiles that bend the rules of the game or give a bonus at the end of the game. Every single one of these tiles is a boon to your playstyle and while some are obviously more beneficial to being played early in the game, they all have their place. Equally important, each tile is numbered one to twenty-six and the rulebook clearly states what each tile does on a two-page spread. Incredibly helpful.
Building Tiles [Tan/Beige] – There are eight different types of buildings that can be added to a player’s estate. Each neighborhood/city of light brown hexes can only accommodate one of each building type. Each building provides an immediate benefit once placed.
I really enjoy the resource on the player board that showcases what each buildings benefit is. On the first play through, we referred to the book until about the third phase but after that, the key provided is enough. The beauty that lies in the building tiles is that all are beneficial but their benefits depends on when you place them. I believe the Chateau to be one of the best tiles in the game but if you do not have another tile in your queue to be placed, its effect is wasted. Same with placing the caravan at the end of a round when nothing is available for grabbing.
The combo ability of buildings is one of the more intriguing aspects of Castles of Burgundy and is incredibly helpful in completing regions (not just of buildings) in early rounds.
Market Tiles [Black] – These are placed in the middle of the board and can be purchased for two Silverling. They are composed of all other types of tiles.
The goal with these tiles is to complete the regions on your estate as quickly as possible. Depending on which round you complete a region in impacts the amount of bonus points you receive. Obviously, the larger a completed region is, the larger the payoff will be as well.
After the final round, players receive additional points for remaining workers, Silverlings, and unshipped goods as well as any bonus knowledge tiles they have placed on their estate. The player with the most points is the winner.
For a light Euro, this has a lot of indirect player interaction (Tile denial [that just rolls off the tongue] is a viable strategy that can be employed and while the game is relatively simple to pick up, offers a surprising amount of depth and strategy. You are given your own player board (estate) but not once have I ever felt like I was playing a game by myself while others played the same game (which something like Dice City makes me feel).
The player board is a marvelous feat on its own as it provides players with an iconic breakdown of everything you need to know to play the game as well as spaces to place all your pieces. For the first or second run-through, the iconography might be too much but after that, you won’t find yourself referring to the rulebook again.
But that’s not why I love the player board. Well, it’s like…sixty percent of the reason. It’s a great board. But the real reason I love it is that it makes teaching Castles of Burgundy easy as each player has a frame of reference right in front of them. No awkwardly leering over the table or having to pass a book back and forth. “First column, blue roof. Let’s you ship goods freely once placed.” Bam! Easy peasy.
This game is a game where I feel like every play I get better at. In our first eight tracked plays, every single one of us scored higher than our last play. This was true at two-, three-, and four-player games. Even players playing their first game were competitive and in fact, did not finish last in either occurrence. After those eight plays, you can see the strategy being tightened and while scores are not as high as they once were, they are much more consistent and closer, which to me are hallmarks of a great game and makes me want to play again.
Which brings me to another glowing reference: I have never once felt out of a game. We routinely have someone jump out to a thirty or forty-point lead only for the distance to be minimized within a phase. I’m fairly certain I had a sixty-point advantage at the end of the first phase and ended up losing. There are so many ways to catch up and it’s almost hard to stay in last.
Simply put: I love Castles of Burgundy. I think it’s a beautifully structured game and I will never not play it. Does that mean it’s perfect? Of course not!
The theme has no bearing on the game whatsoever. The theme is non-existent. I personally don’t care and haven’t had anyone mention anything regarding it, but if theme is a major selling point for you, you might want to skip this game. I’m honestly surprised we haven’t seen a cool re-theme of the game, with players say colonizing Mars or something as I think it would open up the game to players who are put off by the bland theme and color scheme, which might work in Mars’ favor. But Castles of Burgundy has earned its legend status as-is so what do I know?
The artwork is uninspiring and bland and on a serious note, I do wonder if the dull colors make this game inaccessible to colorblind individuals. The iconography obviously helps differentiate the tiles but it’s so much easier to distinguish everything by color and the regions on the estate are dictated by color. Just something to think about.
This is definitely a point-salad game and two- and three-player games can sometimes reach upwards of two hundred points. There are additional trackers to act as reminders once the one hundred and two hundred barriers are reached. I don’t really mind this as all our scores are particularly close but it is a lot of score keeping. The score track around the board helps but I do hate the bottom left corner. Just make the spaces smaller instead of the zigzag.
Regarding the player mats, most feel balanced although Map 8, as shown below, might be the only map I have an issue with as it feels overpowered due to the sheer amount of one-space locations that can be completed early, resulting in ten-point bonuses. But…I wonder if it was designed this way to be a neutralizer when introducing a new player to the game. Give them map 8 as an act of leveling the playing field sort of deal.
I also wish the game came with multiple copies of the same map. I would love to see how the game would progress with each player trying to fill similar spots or just to see how the different placements work. You could obviously just photocopy the original mats but it’s a small issue that irks me, especially with so much box space still available.
There is a lot of set-up for this game and I did add some outside help with the designer bags. These aid tremendously in the set-up and clean-up of the game and wish they were included originally. I also wish there was a bag for the goods tiles. We also use condiment containers to aid in our gameplay.
At three- and four-player counts, the game can become quite long for the lightness of it. It’s a gift and a curse though. At four-players, you know you should be seeing every tile the game has to offer while at two-player, while a quicker experience, you have the luck of the draw and hope the tile you want will appear. Castles of Burgundy is definitely a different experience when comparing the minimum player count to the maximum.
The game can offer players the opportunity to suffer from analysis paralysis, especially if what they want to do is done by a player in front of them. The layout of the board (quick reading) and the minimal action count (two) do offset this issue a little but for people that like to second guess their actions (looking at you Jackie), it can prolong the game.
And that’s really it. Castles of Burgundy is a brilliant game and can routinely be found around the $20 mark online and that’s the price we got it for from a local comic shop. If a deluxe version was ever implemented, with thicker boards and tiles, I don’t think I would have to do much, if any, convincing of my fiancée to spring for the luxury edition.
If I had to restart my collection from scratch, I have no doubt that Castles of Burgundy would be one of the first five games we purchase. I cannot recommend this gem enough.