Can you reign supreme as the best estate builder in Burgundy?
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
The Castles of Burgundy is a set collection, tile placement game from Digidiced. Players are charged with developing their estates in the most efficient way possible to earn victory points in a variety of ways. The game plays over five phases, each consisting of five rounds, before the final dice are rolled. The player who finishes with the most VP wins the game, this usually takes about 30 minutes for a three player game under the fastest animation setting.
A round in Castles consists of a player taking two actions. There are four primary actions in the game: recruit workers, sell goods, acquire a tile, place a tile in your estate. There is a fifth action, purchasing from the black market, that can be taken at any time but does not count as one of the two actions per turn. The details about the action you take are, mostly, dictated by the roll of two dice at the start of your round. When acquiring a tile there are six slots in the depot on the top of the screen, each slot starting with three tiles. You may take a tile from the depot matching the die you chose. Acquired tiles go into your personal storage and you may use a separate action to move a tile from that storage to your estate board. This is also dictated by the die you choose. Each hex spot on your estate has a number and, you guessed it, you can only build on a spot matching the die you chose. Building tiles has the added restriction of needing to be placed adjacent to an already built tile in your estate.
Selling goods allows you to unload any goods you have which match the die number you are using for the action, you earn three VP for each good sold and one silverling each time you make a sale. Recruiting workers does not rely on specific die numbers, you may use any die to recruit two workers. Workers help you by allowing you to adjust the value of a die up or down by one, which becomes crucial when you need to take specific actions. The fifth action, the black market, allows you to pay two silverlings to purchase one of a handful of face-up tiles in the special black market area.
Remarkably, that is the entire description of how to play Castles of Burgundy. I will touch on this more later, but the game might just be the epitome of “easy to teach, difficult to master.” There really isn’t anything else as far as actions go. On each turn you perform two of those, optionally using the black market as well, and then your turn is over. The devil, of course, is in the details. And the details, in the case of Castles of Burgundy, are in the VPs. There are far too many routes to VPs to explain in this space, but the wide open nature of the game with so many different ways to earn points is likely the reason the game has had such staying power over the years.
Placing tiles in your estate is the key strategic point of the game. Each tile you place earns you some additional ability based on the tile type and, sometimes, the specific tile. There are a few different types: buildings, castles, ships, animals, knowledge, and mines. Each is represented by a different color and you can only play them on the matching color on your estate board. A connected section of matching colored tile spaces makes up a region. There are eight different buildings and they each provide an immediate bonus such as gaining silverlings, points, or acquiring a tile. Castles give you an immediate free action after being built. Ships allow you to collect goods to later be sold for points, and also advance your turn order marker. Animals provide points based on how many of that type of animal you have in that region. Knowledge provides some ongoing effect like bonus points for selling goods or the ability for workers to adjust die values by up to two, instead of one. Mines provide silverlings as the end of each phase.
One big aspect for scoring is racing to get various regions on your estate built. Whenever you complete a contiguous region of a single color on your board, you are awarded points based on the size of the region. Additionally, there is a bonus depending on which phase you completed the region in, starting at ten points for the first phase and dropping from there. There are also bonuses, based on the player count, for being the first or second to complete all regions of any of the six colors. In short, the quicker you can build out your estate, the more points you will get.
I must address the dice at some point. Three of the four actions are tied to those pesky two dice you roll at the end of each turn. This may seem incredibly restrictive, but given the ease of acquiring workers, it isn’t nearly as limiting as it sounds. Sure, you will occasionally not be able to make the move that was going to set off a chain of moves for you, but you learn to adjust. You will occasionally have a great plan ruined by the dice, but the game is so wide open that it is rarely a devastating punch to the gut when this happens, instead it’s a mere bump on your road to estate building glory.
The common complaints about Castles, based on what I’ve seen across various corners of the internet, are as follows: It’s multiplayer solitaire, it’s a point salad, and there is no theme (aka all of the common Euro complaints). Let me clear things up on those fronts: It might be more multiplayer solitaire than actually playing multiplayer solitaire, the only interaction is in what tiles you take from the common areas. It is probably the quintessential example of point salad, seeing the app add various numbers to your score after playing a tile only reinforces this. The theme is completely pasted on and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. If any of these issues are major concerns of yours, walk away now, Castles absolutely lives up to those stereotypes.
However, I don’t care even one tiny bit. I love this game. Love it. The reaction was pretty much instant from the first time I played the app (I had, regrettably, never played the physical version). The ease of learning the game combined with the wide breadth of strategic options is absolutely a sweet spot for me. A lesser game would constrain you in some ways, such as making the benefits of workers more difficult to acquire so your are more beholden to the dice, or limiting you to taking any one action type only once per round. Castles lets you choose your own path, there are no penalizing aspects for taking certain actions. You are free to do as you wish, may the best estate builder win. There’s a reason this game is so highly regarded and has held up against the barrage of newcomers in the BGG top 100 (Castles is the 2nd oldest game in the top 15). It might be Stefan Feld’s masterpiece, it’s a brilliantly designed game that can be picked up incredibly quickly but offers substantial depth, a rare and beautiful combination.
Barrier to Entry
The game contains a series of three short tutorials and a PDF manual that is pulled from the physical game. The tutorials cover three basic aspects: actions, placing tiles, and scoring. The action tutorial is the longest but only takes a few minutes, the other two fly by. I was shocked at how quickly they ran overall. This isn’t Through the Ages, but it is solidly a heavy game according to BGG. I assumed the tutorials were significantly lacking in some way, but I was wrong. From my first game, I was able to understand every action even if I didn’t have a great strategy. It is a testament to Feld’s design and Digidiced’s tutorials that the gameplay can be fully understood after such a short tutorial. It will take much longer to develop winning strategies, but you will have everything you need to get started in just a few short minutes.
A halfway developed estate
Two player game
Look and Feel
I understand the app uses some significant graphical changes from the original physical game. These may or may not be indicative of the upcoming re-packaging of the physical game. Having never played the physical game, I don’t have any feelings on this matter, but veterans certainly might.
To me, the app looks good. The graphics are somewhat crude 3D models, but they do a good job of bringing the 2D game to life a bit. Nobody is going to be overly impressed with those soda can shaped pigs in your estate, but they do add a bit of pop and represent a step up from simply copy and pasting the tile artwork. The game has a lot going on all the time, and the layout is handled quite well to make sure you can see the current state of all of it all of the time. It will take some time to get used to where to look, but everything you want to know is there, which is an impressive feat.
Elsewhere, the menus have the standard Digidiced format. I’ve played so many of their games that I know how to navigate them with ease, but I do recall my first experience being somewhat confusing as none of the menu options are labeled, so new Digidiced customers might need some time to learn.
There is an option in the main menu which allows you to speed up the gameplay animations, even skipping some of the longer animations. The animations are fine, but the game plays a bit long with them, so I only play with the speed set to fast at this point.
Controls are handled very well, with multiple different ways to carry out most actions. You can click on the “place tile” action button, select the tile from your supply, or select the destination space to initiate the tile placement action, for example. This seems unnecessary, but it gives the user the option to take whatever route is easiest for them, and that’s a good thing. Actions are all confirmed with the tapping of a red emblem/check. There is an undo button which will reset your entire turn. This is fine and certainly better than no undo button, but it is occasionally frustrating when you only want to undo one thing and have to redo your whole turn.
Digidiced veterans know what to expect here. The game features asynchronous and real-time games, cross-platform play, random ranked matchmaking or invite-based online games, local pass-and-play, leaderboards, achievements, and stat keeping. Ranked games use three players and use random, but identical, board layouts. As always with Digidiced, the handy option to join the queue for up to five asynchronous games at once makes an appearance here, I’ll never stop loving that feature. System notifications work and games play as you would hope, with asynchronous games having 24 hour timeouts per turn.
Despite all of the positives, the online system has some occasional hiccups. Usually, when clicking a notification, the game opens up quickly and I’m taken to the active game and the turn replays start. Every few times, however, the app fails to connect and I get stuck on with a “Loading” pop-up and have to restart the app, which forces me to login again and wait a little bit for my games list to populate. Overall, the online games work well, but the stark difference in the times it loads quickly and the times when it is a bit buggy make the latter really stand out.
Single player is played against one to three bots, complete with the expected Digidiced pun-tastic names: BurgundyBot, Silverling Surfer, and Castlemania are your AI foes in waiting. I was immediately competitive against the easy bot, although it took a few games to actually get a win. When playing against multiple at least one easy bot usually scores in the upper 180s or lower 190s, which I understand to be a strong score in the game. When starting a local game you can select from three different board layouts: standard, random identical, or random different.
Learning the game
End game estate
No in-app purchases, or anything else to note here.
The Wrap Up
Clearly, I really enjoy this game. It’s as Euro as they come which isn’t necessarily something I’m usually immediately drawn to, but I find the game to be so well designed that I constantly want to play more of it to discover new strategies.
The downsides are very limited. The brute force undo button is the first complaint, as not having to replay your entire turn to undo a single click would be nice. The occasional online game connections issues would be the only other problem to qualify as annoying. Outside of that, it’s incredibly minor details that I can nitpick. Such as the very limited, odd choices for online achievements. There are only five achievements and one of them is to sell ten goods in a game? Which sits adjacent to “win 100 games”? Sure. The stats are similarly odd, and the whole user profile section could use a visual overhaul, it feels like an afterthought.
There are some legitimate reasons not to like Castles of Burgundy as a game. It is a Euro through and through and packages up everything that term means and does so proudly. You likely know if that means that this isn’t a game for you. If you are on the fence, however, I highly recommend trying out the app. If you know you like the game then I’m not sure why you’re still reading, go get the app. The game is a design marvel and the app does a great job of letting that shine through in abundance with strong AI opponents and great online play.