It would be hard to rope someone into the experience of playing a high medieval estate owner in Bourgogne, France, and convince them they’re in for a fun evening. But is it possible that The Castles of Burgundy has some enjoyment secreted away in its bland, beige-coloured pockets?
Hi! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table. The Castles of Burgundy is a 2011 board game by cult of personality leader Stefan Feld. Let’s find the fun! Fun: it’s a tile placement game, but it’s not a tile placement game. Technically, you ARE placing tiles in this game, but that’s kind of like saying french fries are a vegetable. This is almost more of a dice worker placement game, except you’re not placing any of your workers, but there is a common pool of stuff, and every turn, one of your opponents is removing options and blocking you from taking that stuff. And if there’s one type of board game i love, it’s a dice worker placement game! Not fun: the theme. Hey, kids… who wants to play an estate owner in high medieval Bourgogne France? Fun: the turn order mechanic is really cool! i love the way it works: as soon as you place a ship on your estate, you’re allowed to move your little disk forward on the turn order track, and if it’s underneath the stack of other disks from other players, you pull out ahead of that stac,k and now you’re king of the hill. But if somebody else plays a ship on their estate, they move ahead, and they go on top of your disk. And turn order, of course, is resolved right to left, top to bottom. It’s just really cool, and i think it exists in a few other board games, but i don’t own any of those board games! If you want to see that turn order mechanic in action, check out the How to Play [The] Castles of Burgundy video i made, keeping in mind that it was one of the first videos i ever produced, so it’s a little bit rough. Not fun: it’s got kind of an arduous setup and teardown. You have to sort and flip and colour match all these thin little hexagonal tiles, and put them in stacks, and God help you if you finished the game last time and you forgot to sort them by colour into different baggies, and then at the end of the game they’re not even all on the table – some of them have been – you know – chucked back in the box, and it’s just basically like sorting through a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle at the beginning and end of every single game. Fun: The Castles of Burgundy is inexpensive, and i’m cheap! Everybody likes getting a bargain, and so for the price of what would really be, maybe, a card game, you’re getting a full boxed board game. It’s a pretty good value, but… the game is inexpensive because the components are inexpensive, and it shows. This is definitely a thinner grade card board than you’re probably used to, and the mats are super thin, and you know what? i’ve seen a lot of board game companies cottonning onto this and producing these super paper-thin player mats. They plasticize them, which is… better… but i’m not too sure it’s a trend that i’m all too happy with. Because then down the road, you get stuff like Terraforming Mars and Underwater Cities, where they’re like “Oh – mea culpa… here’s a proper thick board with recessed holes in it,” and really, those should have shipped with the game to begin with. It’s almost like they’re taking the approach that certain video game publishers do, where they’ll push the game out as inexpensively as possible, and then once it’s shown that it’s sort of developed a following and a fan base, they’ll go in and patch it or fix up the bits that didn’t really work the first time. Fun: mitigating dice rolls. Some board game players don’t like games with any luck in them whatsoever, and i’m not one of those players. i don’t mind a game that has dice, where you have to roll them, and you have to sort of make good on the circumstances that you’re dealt. It kind of reminds me of the way life works! But i can understand being upset with a game where you’re really beholden to the luck of the draw, or the luck of the roll. That’s why The Castles of Burgundy is great, because it has a game mechanic where you can mitigate that luck by thinking and planning ahead of time and taking these little worker chits that allow your dice rolls to go up or down, and you can even wrap around from a 1 to a 6, or a 6 back to a 1. If you saw my 5 Things i Love About Board Games video, you may remember that one of the things i love about board games is mitigating dice rolls, and this game’s got that! Fun: the turns are pretty quick. There’s not a whole lot of downtime, unless of course somebody gets analysis paralysis, which doesn’t happen to too often in this game. Not fun: the iconography isn’t always clear, and there’s a certain coloured tile – which the game calls “yellow,” but really it’s just another one of the three shades of green – where you have to sort of figure out what the tile means, because it’s a meta-scoring thing, and to do that, there’s a big index in the back of the rulebook. And we found that every single round, when you put out these yellow tiles, we’d have to look them up and say “Okay: what does number 12 mean?” and read that out, and “Okay: what does number 4 mean?” and read that out of the rule book. It did slow the game a little bit. Fun: i think there’s a great amount of player interaction in this game. At first, it’ll seem sort of like a multiplayer solitaire game – you know, everybody has their own little mat, and everybody’s putting their tiles in their own way on their own board. But it’s that central depot of tiles that everybody’s taking from that adds a really interesting competitive dynamic. Now, i say i like player interaction, but then if somebody asks me to play, say, a two-player war game, where we’re just really in each other’s faces and fighting, i tend not to go for that. And i don’t really like complete multiplayer solitaire games, where we might as well not even be at the same table together. But this is a really nice blend. i love the way that off the top of every single round, everybody rolls their two dice, so you can kind of look around the table at other people’s dice and think to yourself “Man… it’s my turn. Is it do or die? Do i have to take the tile i really need from that depot, or can i relax on it a little bit because there’s no way, based on those dice rolls, that my opponents are gonna get the thing that i want?” But then, of course, you have to look at the little lower left corner of their board to make sure they don’t have any worker chits that allow them to augment their dice rolls to take the thing that you want. And it’s not a game where you have to melt your brain trying to keep everybody else’s strategy in your head as well as yours. A pretty quick cursory glance around the table will give you a decent idea of what you should be trying to do on your next turn. Not fun: the artwork makes the game’s buildings hard to differentiate from one another, and it’s important to do that, because the different buildings give you different powers. So i found myself staring at my player mat a whole lot looking at the legend thinking “Okay: is that the building that’s wide and has a brown roof, or is that the building that’s sorta tall and has two brown roofs…? Or is that the one that’s wide and has a BLUE roof?” It’s very easy to get those buildings confused with each other. i prefer to see artwork where each building has a big key differentiating feature that screams “i’M THIS BUILDING!” like a big bell in the watchtower. The only building we could reliably tell apart from the others was one that i like to call… the burritos. Fun: blocking other players benefits you. Have you ever played a game where you see somebody pulling ahead, and you look at your other teammates or your opponents, and you say “There’s… there’s no way that we can let this happen! We… we have to stop that player!” And… and they’re not helping you stop the player, so you have to maybe sacrifice a turn or two getting in that player’s way, or taking the thing that they need in order to prevent them having a runaway victory… but then in doing that, you completely tank your own strategy, and instead of maybe helping yourself out, all you’ve done is prevent another leader from winning, and then somebody else wins the game? What’s nice about The Castles of Burgundy is that you can take actions to stop a runaway victory, but whenever you take an action, it benefits you. It’s not like a Pyrrhic victory, where you’re sacrificing your own advantage in order to stop someone. Every single thing you do generally helps out your case. Not fun: there’s a lot of points sort of flying all over the place. You get points for this, you get points for that, and it’s easy to miss the points that you were due, so it’s not uncommon to go a couple of rounds and then say “Oh – i… i don’t think i took my three points for XYZ.” So for some games that i play that are like this, i’ll actually keep a ledger. i’ll be the guy sitting down there, and if you earn points, you have to tell me “Hey: i’m green, and i just got three points for X,” and i’ll write it down like a court stenographer. So if you’ve got the time and the inclination, i do recommend keeping a ledger. Fun: keeping a ledger! Unless you’re not a big game stats nerd, in which case… Not fun: keeping a ledger. Fun: there are different player boards that you can choose from so that not everybody has to play with the same configuration. Everybody CAN play with the same configuration, but it’s nice to have other options. Not fun: nerds, who – as you know – ruin everything, have actually done statistical analysis on the different boards, and have found that some of them definitely give players an edge or an advantage, so it’s not really fair when one player gets a certain board, and another player doesn’t. So in order to play with different boards and mix the game up a little bit, and to keep it all fair, you kind of have to print and play your own boards. Fun: The Castles of Burgundy got a reprint in 2019 which includes 11 expansions that were released as promos for the original game, so that adds even more value to the box… but it’s a gaudy hellscape of nightmarish colour that looks like an art terrorist bombed a Crayola factory. There were no survivors. So let’s Find the Fun in The Castles of Burgundy, where Fun is represented by anything but math, and Not Fun is represented by… math! The Castles of Burgundy is… fun! And i was reminded of just how fun The Castles of Burgundy was when my family and i busted it out and put it on the table after our first play, maybe three years ago. Often times, i’ll come away from a game that i haven’t played in a long time thinking “Oh, that was really challenging,” or “that was really stressful,” or “that really hurt my brain and really got me thinking in unique and interesting ways,” or “oh, i was so close to winning,” but this is a game where i came away thinking “that was FUN! That was just really, really fun.” And unfortunately, not every game in my collection can make that claim. And what i found interesting was despite the drab theme, my daughters really took to this game. It was the first proper board game that we ever finished together as a family. Now, my daughters are 11 and 14, so your mileage may vary, but i thought it was pretty cool that they saw through the sort of drab veneer on this game, and were really enjoying the mechanics of it. That’s a game that, in my opinion, is worth playing, it’s worth having in your collection, and it’s even maybe worth adding to a 10×10 gameplay challenge like we did, with our 2020 10×10 Gameplay Challenge! So we’ve got about 9 more games to go of Castles of Burgundy for the rest of this year. You know what? i’m looking forward to playing every single one. Have you played The Castles of Burgundy? What do you think of it? Leave me a comment in the comments section below! Did you just watch that whole thing? Oh – hey! To 100% this video, click the badge to subscribe, and then click the bell to get notifications when i’ve got new stuff! [Music – Board Game Booogie by Ryan Henson Creighton]
Get Your Own Copy of The Castles of Burgundy
Hopefully you’ve watched the video before reading this bit. Is The Castles of Burgundy worth having in your collection? Yes, absolutely! Now, the question is whether you go for the 20th Anniversary edition, with its higher price tag but included expansions, or opt for the bland original, with colours that won’t sear your eyes out of your skull. The choice is yours! Either way, if you click the Amazon link below before you go shopping, i’ll receive a small commission.