Reviews

Games in the Stacks! The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game

The Game

Stefan Feld’s The Castles of Burgundy is a classic Eurogame. The components are simple and barely adequate. The theme hardly a veneer (you can chip it off with your fingernail). The player interaction minimal. The strategy deep and the paths to victory many. Ironically, there is nothing glamorous about The Castles of Burgundy. Yet, despite the lack of looks, there is no mistaking the fact that The Castles of Burgundy has a solid mechanical foundation that makes this game a popular choice. Despite this, it isn’t one of my favorite games. Set up is a drag. When you calculate into the equation teaching new players, it turns into a 2+ hour drudge. Even with two players (and I hear often that it is the perfect two player game), it tends to hit the 90 minute mark more often than not.

I appreciate the idea of Stefan Feld. I enjoy his place in the board game design space and have nothing against his work. I love seeing how many ways I can score points in his games and don’t consider the moniker “point salad” a derogatory statement. However, his designs don’t particularly stick with me. Trajan and Aquasphere are too busy. Bora Bora made my head spin. Rialto and La Isla were just dull (although the card hand market was kinda cool). But a card game version of The Castles Of Burgundy intrigued me. When I hear card game I think a streamlined, simpler, and quicker version of the original and this is not what I think about when I think Stefan Feld. I wanted to see how he was going to approach the design.

As in the original, you are an aristocrat in the Burgundy region of medieval France working to develop your fiefdom through the building of settlements, castles, trade routes, mines, and agriculture. Each of these developments is represented by cards and success is determined through the collection of sets of three. Instead of dice, players use cards with dice faces (1-6 pips) to acquire improvements on your land.

  • Designer: Stefan Feld
  • Publisher:  alea / Ravensburger
  • Players:  1 – 4
  • Ages:  12+
  • Time:  30-60
IMG_6470
All seven types of action cards plus the bonus for having all seven in your estate. Round cards are fanned to the left.

The Rules

Let me throw this out there again. If there is one thing I love, it is games that utilize dual-use cards. It saves space and can make card play more variable and interesting. In The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game, the bulk of your cards are action cards. They represent both the improvements you are collecting for points and the dice you are using to acquire them. So it doesn’t do much for game play but I still appreciate the dual use.

For each of the five rounds of the game, players gets six action cards. These are placed face down in front of them. At the beginning of their turn, a player draws up to two cards and then uses the dice face on one card (1 – 6 pips) to choose which item from the market to collect. The market is set up in six rows; each row representing a dice face. So if you play a card with six pips, you can collect a card from that row. In front of each player, there is a projects card for newly acquired improvements, an estate card for collecting sets of different colored improvements, and a storage card to store items which will help garner some additional victory points through the game. When a player chooses a card from the market it goes under their projects card (only three cards can be active projects at one time). On following turns, they can move a card from under the projects card to the estate card. Once under the estate card, triples can be scored, bonuses awarded, and card abilities can take effect.

IMG_6467
The Improvements Market set up for four players.

Under the storage card, each player starts the game with one random good, one random animal, one silver card, and one worker. The goods can be collected and then sold for victory points, the workers can be used to modify the dice on the cards when played (plus or minus one pip per worker used), the silver can be traded in once per round to take an extra turn consisting of drawing three cards from the action deck and either placing one under your projects card or using the dice face from one to take something from the market. Additionally, workers and silver can be traded in to score points at a ratio of 3:1.

On their turn, a player can play a card from their hand on their turn for a total of six turns per round.

  1. They can take a card from the market corresponding with the dice face of the card (modified with workers if desired) and place it under the project card.
  2. They can move a card from under the project card to under the estate card. Signifying the completion of a project allowing for triples to be collected, victory points scored, card specific bonuses on the bottom of the cards take effect, and other bonuses can be awarded for having the first triple of a specific color or having each of the seven colored cards in your estate.
  3. They can sell goods. There are three types of goods to sell (tan, light brown, and dark brown) each of which aligned with 1-2 pips, 3-4 pips, and 5-6 pips respectively. You can only sell the goods that correspond with the dice on the card played (It can, however, be modified by workers) and they would get one silver per good sold and the sold good go next to your estate card scoring one victory point per good sold. Additionally, the person to sell goods gets to take the first player card which will be applied the following round.
  4. They can restock workers back up to two if they have 0-1 in their supply.
  5. Take one silver…that’s it. You deserve it.
  6. Convert any number or combinations of workers and/or silver into victory points.  

After each round, when the players have used up their deck of six action cards, the market is flushed and new cards are put out for the next round to begin. Each round has a specific round card marked A-E and anyone who completes a triple during that round gets a variety of bonuses to choose. For the first round of play (Round A) you can get three victory points, two animals, two goods, three workers, or three gold when you complete a triple. These bonuses get less spectacular as the game progresses.

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Above the Market is a place for animals, goods, workers, silver, bonuses, and round bonuses (A-E).

Action Cards

The bulk of the game is collecting sets of the following cards. Each set has a specific color and bonus when the improvements are moved into the player’s estate.

  • 12 Cloisters (Violet).  Cloisters can be a wild card for other sets of triples or worth a whopping 6 victory points if collected into their own triple. They provide no immediate bonus.
  • 12 Castles (Dark Green). Take a free action (does not require playing one of your action cards) when placed into the estate. They provide a measly 2 victory points when collected in a set.  
  • 12 Mines (Grey). Take two silver from the supply when placed in the estate. A standard 4 victory points when collected into a set.
  • 18 Knowledge (Yellow).  Take two workers from the supply with no limit on the amount of workers you can have on your estate. A standard 4 victory points when collected into a set.  
  • 18 Pastures (Green).  Take the top animal card from one of the two animal decks. Animals are collected for some additional points at the end of the game. A standard 4 victory points when pastures are collected into a set of three.
  • 18 Ships (Blue).  Take the top goods card from one of the two goods decks.  
  • 24 Buildings (Brown).  There are eight types of buildings with specific actions for each building. For the most part buildings allow you to grab additional buildings from the market. When collected in a set, they are worth 4 victory points.

The Rub

Unlike most Stephan Feld designs, The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game is not a point salad. Usually a “point salad” allows players to score points through multiple venues both immediate and endgame; each with a roughly equal chance at victory. Whether you consider this unfocused design or an experiment in open-ended, variable play, it is a hallmark of Feld’s designs and we love him for it. Not so, in TCoB: TCG, though. As expected in a card game (especially one which is a simplification of a larger design), the mechanisms are streamlined and, in this case,  you need to focus on set collection to win. The primary method of scoring is collecting triples of similarly colored cards. While there are a few other ways of scoring points — bonuses for having an estate with all seven different card types, bonuses for being the first to collect the first triple of a specific color, victory points for sold goods, having a diversity of animals at the end of the game, etc. But despite the variety, collection of triples will be the bulk of your points. This is a set collection game. Period. And a really good one. Maybe Feld is stretching his design wings by slimming down a game to one particular element. Maybe the big money is in small card/dice games. Either way it is a wonderful card implementation — focused in what you need to do and variable in how you do it.

The variety comes from the actions each of the improvements (the action cards in the market) provide when placed into your estate. You can go for the quick triple when it avails itself or you can attempt to utilize the card’s powers to optimize your points. You may think that this would allow for you to chain actions or create combos but alas, it does not. Since all cards go into the projects area first and the actions on the cards only activate in the estate, at best you get one extra action per turn.

The most pleasant surprise for me was the solitaire variant. The AI is simple to construct. For each round of the game you reveal an increasing amount of cards starting at 3. So for the first round, flip three cards and place them into the AI’s estate. For the second round flip over four cards and place them in the AI’s estate and so on. Score any appropriate bonuses, and at the end of the round, if the AI is in the lead, you lose the game. Simple, fun, and quick, I have enjoyed this variant enough to recommend the purchase solely on the solitaire play. 

There are a few cons to the game. It takes up a surprising amount of table space at 3 or 4 players. This is the one drawback for playing this game at the full player count. It would benefit nicely from a nice game mat (if someone would like to design one) or an individual tableau rather than the three cards (projects, estate, and storage) that are meant to divide your player area. This is a middling complaint but when you have four people playing with those tiny little cards on a huge table, it does hamper the experience.

The Endgame

The card game serves as a great introduction to The Castles of Burgundy despite the simplified mechanisms and the loss of strategic depth. It certainly scratches the itch without the long time to set-up, teach, and play. Similar to San Juan (which completely replaced Puerto Rico for me), The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game could easily replace The Castles of Burgundy. I look forward to Feld’s dice version of the game as well.

deep sea adventure (1)

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