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Stefan Feld   Alea    1-4 Players Aged 12+  120 minutes to play  From £30.00-£40.00 online but first check your Local Game Store
Full colour Rules Booklets in French. German. Spanish. Italian. English. Rules for Solo, 2, 3 & 4 players. Expansions galore.

The Basics:
Score Victory Points through Trading, Farming, Building and Scientific Research.
Win by having the most Victory Points after 5 Phases.
It is set in 15th Century Burgundy and you are a fairly influential Duke (Duchess?) working hard to ensure your estates prosper.

 

Components:
Lots (I really mean LOTS); including a main board, 16 double-sided player boards (a couple of which butt-up together to form one long Team-game board), Trade Route cards (these form routes for one of the mini expansion ideas), New Hexes such as White Castles and Inns, Border posts (on the player's boards - additional strategy game requires these to be joined for bonuses), and Bridge tiles, Workers, Cranes, Geese etc all can be added into the basdic game with ease and without disrupting the essence of the play. All components are of card, wood, or impact plastic (dice) - all very good quality and designed for lots of game play.

I shall spend most of the time here talking about the games we have played, which means there may be some cross-over between the basic play and using some/all of the expansion pieces. Once we have included expansion pieces into our games they almost always become part of the basic game and are not kept separate, especially when the additions are cards or tiles that mix in with the original game pieces.

 

Each player has a Duchy, their player board. The first thing to ensure is that all players are using the same, pre-determined, side of these boards - they are similar on each side but different enough to create alternate strategies. We tried (just for the heck of it) having someone using a different board to the other three players and it didn't seem to make any difference. Both sides of these boards have the same series of numbers in the same hexex that are designed in the same formation. The only difference is the placing of the colours to form the areas. There are the same number of each colour of hex on both sides but the formation of them and the shape/size of each area is diverse.

This game has a setup which begins with the players determining a random start player who then gets one less coin (or whatever - in CoB it is Workers) than the 2nd player who gets one less than the third player and the fourth player who gets one more than the 3rd player etc (you know how it works). In many cases we have found that this can lead to the Start player either having an actual advantage despite having the lowest start-up cash, or the Start player gets screwed because the other players can do something in their turn that the Start player cannot afford to do, in our experience it rarely works out to be as balanced as one would hope.

Unlike too many games, CASTLES of BURGUNDY actually does balance out well using the above setup system. This is noticeable on the first round of play.

 

The flip side of each Hex relates in colour to the different colours of the hexes on the player boards. They are all mixed together, stacked up and randomly drawn, then placed on the main game board within the areas (depots) marked by the numbers 1-6 - four tiles to each area face up and 8 with black back sides, also placed face up, on the central black hexes. Tiles in the black hexes have to be bought at a cost of 2 silver coins. Tiles in the Depots are not bought but are taken for free, according to your dice roll which you can modify by using workers - unless you have a building that gives additional bonuses one Worker can change a die result up or down by one pip - a six rolls over to one or to five, a one to two or six etc. Changing the die number changes the Depot you can take from - buying from the central black area doesn't require a die number.

When you collect or buy buildings they are placed on one of the three spaces you have bottom left of your board, shown as Keys. You cannot obtain another card if the key hexes are full. Dice rolls can be used to place Buildings in the Key area onto your board, but they must be attached to a previously laid tile - everyone begins with a start tile in the centre space of their board.

 

When you place buildings they have an immediate one-off effect. These are either shown on the tile or the pictogram on the tile is explained in the rules. Careful buying can make the difference between winning and losing. The farm/animal tiles look to be the least attractive to gain at first but they are a game winner if you can catch the other players unawares. This happened to us in one game, and then the next time we played I concentrated on the animals and let other things of import slide; this didn't work out well for me - one step behind every game, that's me!

One thing I think you should note about the player boards is that there are actually many things to regard with thought and caution, but this one in particular didn't ring with three of the four of us in our first game until the points tallying. One one side of the board the Blue hexes (water) run through the centre - we all made the same mistake of counting the three tiles either side of the centre space (a castle tile as part of the setup) as one 6 hex river. When you actually stop and think about it, it's obvious the Castle splits the river into two 3-hex areas, but a trick of vision played with our minds and, as I say, 3 out of 4 of us saw what we wanted to see (a 6 hex area) instead of what was actually in front of us (2 x 3 hex river areas). Putting it politely, this really screwed up our scoring. 

 

CASTLES of BURGUNDY 2019 edition is a really fun game for every player. It has differences every game which protect it from being a one-off wonder and there are buildings and goods tiles that do not come into play every game, or definitely not during the same phase every game, thus you can plan for them but cannot rely on them being there when needed. We haven't found a definitive tactic or strategy yet, one where you can look at the game and state 'checkmate in three'.

On the right side of the Player board are Goods crates. Each player has spaces for three types of goods - same goods are stacked on each other. When you sell these goods you get one silver coin per type of goods (selling a stack of one type of goods gains you one coin no matter how many tiles in the stack) but you do get 4VPs for each separate tile. Thus 3 Purple tiles (berries) would gain you 1 silver coin and 12 VPs. Once used these crates are flipped over and placed on the used space. These goods tiles require one of your dice, from your turn roll, to use/sell - the number on the dice must match the number on the Crate.

 

There is luck in the game in a few ways. One is obviously that you have to roll dice, but if you erect the correct building (one allowing you to use coins as well as Workers) and the second that comes to mind is the tiles that are drawn to the Depots being hexes that you require - after a few turns it becomes easier to place tiles on your board, but placing them just because you can get them isn't always a clever ploy. Of course players going before you in the turn order may take what you want - people in opposition are not always friendly.

The player turn order is shown on the Bridge by where the players coloured discs are. These discs move down the bridge and when they land on top of another disc they take precedence in the turn order - the top disc on the stack goes before those underneath it, but the disc at the front of the line always goes first. This mechanic means that it is quite likely that the turn order will change, but only at the end of the phase - Turn Order cards would be most helpful. I keep saying I'm going to make some (it is really difficult to get the energy flowing to collect four cards and write 1, 2, 3 and 4 on them (one number per card if you hadn't worked it out).

This is really a very good, I would say 'great', core board-gamers game. It has planning, luck, strategy, manipulation, thought, all manner of mental agility and ability.

For me, it has one minor flaw, and it is a minor flaw, but it affects players, such as myself, who either (or both) have diminshed/diminishing eye-sight or home lighting that isn't as sharp as it could be. The illustrations on most of the tiles are just too small. For example, the photo on this page of the two pigs in a field has been highly magnified. On the actual tile the pigs are seen as little pink blobs; I only knew they were pigs because they were pink blobs. The tile with the 2 Geese on it has two tiny pix that are only recognised as Geese because you know there is a Geese tile and there is only one that looks like this one does. The annoying thing is that there is enough room on the tile to show a larger illustration and if the designers wants multiple animals on a tile then one picture and an 'x N' would be easier all tound - visually and for counting up.

Cannot say enough good about this game though. It is an instant favourite. 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021