W. Eric Martin
I need to start this preview of The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game with a confession. Despite my love for almost all games created by Stefan Feld, I've yet to play The Castles of Burgundy.
I know, right? How could that have happened? I love Roma, Macao, Notre Dame, and In the Year of the Dragon, and I even like Rum & Pirates far more than most people. As I recall, in early 2011 when CoB was released, my son was two and I was busy with dad things for months on end and I was still finding my way with BGG (for which I had just started working a few months earlier) and we were preparing to move, so I was boxing our life in my spare moments instead of playing. Then we moved, and I had new games to preview, so that was that. Boo hoo, poor me. New games to play instead of six-month-old games...
I did play Feld's Trajan, which was released in late 2011, then the magical quartet of Bora Bora, Bruges, Rialto, and Amerigo in 2013, then La Isla and Aquasphere in 2014, etc., but I somehow never made it back in time to Burgundy.
In any case, here we are in 2017 with The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game already available in Germany and with the game scheduled to debut in the U.S. at BGG.CON in November 2017 ahead of a January 1, 2018 retail release. This game, co-designed by Christoph Toussaint and published as usual under Ravensburger's alea brand, is labeled as a 1-5 player game, but I think that upper limit is listed solely due to the box containing only five pencils. In practice, any number of people could play this game simultaneously.
To start, each player receives a two-dimensional duchy, with the pad of scoring sheets containing four different duchy designs colorfully labeled A, B, C and D. Every player needs the same duchy design so that you can imagine yourselves competing on alternate Earths to become the duckiest Duke or Duchess of all. Naturally, you value your worth in points, and for the most part you acquire these points by filling in empty spots in your ledger, just as the dukes of old, who charted their wealth on paper while the farmers and peasants did all the physical labor behind the scenes.
To start, each player Xs a green castle (for which 1 point is already recorded in the first round area), then circles the benefit of that castle (orange, in this case). Here's how you might start in Croissant, as I've named my duchy:
Each turn, one player rolls all five dice, then players use those dice to mark off something adjacent to anything already tagged as your turf. First, though, you mark one or two spaces in the round tracker depending on whether the hourglass die shows one or two hourglasses. Here's the first roll:
So what now? Pair one color die with one number die, then write the number in the appropriate space. To fill a blue space, you need a 5 or 6, so that's out — unless you want to spend the circled orange power that allows you to change (solely for yourself) the pip value of a die. Seems early to spend your one special ability, so why not fill the adjacent orange space with a 1 or 4?
Moving along to turn 4, and the dice show nothing you can use. Hmm.
If you don't mark something off, then you circle an orange bonus for use on a later turn, but you don't want to do that if you can help it. (TCOB:TDG life lesson #1: When someone is sad, give them an orange. It might not improve their disposition, but it will protect them from scurvy.)
Thankfully you didn't waste that orange bonus earlier, so now you can change a die to 5 or 6 to mark either adjacent blue space or you can change a die to 5 to mark the green castle. Note that you can mark a castle only when the die value matches the number in any adjacent space. (They're really big on adjacency in Burgundy. No one dared mess with the Bureau d'Adjonction in the 1400s as they ruled with a perfectly formed iron fist.)
Let's go with the castle plan. This gives us 1 point for completing the castle as well as a blue commodity that we might be able to sell at some future date. You might notice underneath the round tracker is a points legend for completed regions. The earlier you fill in the all the spaces of a region, the more points you receive for that region — except for single-space regions, of course, because how much of a challenge is it to fill in a single space anyway?
Moving on to turn 6:
Turn 6 lets you complete the gray region, presumably a mine or digging pit since the image vaguely looks like a cave, but let's go with "gray region" for simplicity's sake. Completing that region nets you 4 points and lets you circle the gray bonus. On a future turn, you can X that gray nugget to use two different dice combinations on the same turn.
Every completed region gives you a bonus this way. Orangeville (each space of which must be filled with a different value) gives you an orange bonus, which as previously noted lets you change the pip value of a die. The purple bonus lets you change a die's color. Each yellow bonus scores you the value of that region twice, points being their own reward. The blue bonus is the previously mentioned commodity that still sits unused.
Turn 7 introduces something new:
The double hourglass has you mark off two spaces in the round tracker. Ah, life is passing so quickly! Little Etionette is now large enough to join you at the window as you yell at the peasants to work harder. Her high-pitched squeak gives the commands a grating quality that you couldn't previously achieve on your own. Magnifique!
With all this time at hand, every player can sell all commodities they've circled, scoring two points for each while also gaining a gray nugget in the process. Blessed nugget, it's time to put one to use to mark off two spaces at once! After crossing out the nugget, you can use the blue with one 5, then the blue again with the other 5 to mark both spaces in the blue region, thereby gaining you another commodity in addition to 4 points for that region. Progress feels good, especially when others are sweating on your behalf. After all that work, here's how your duchy now stands:
Alas, you pushed everyone too hard, and turn 8 in the first round brought this result. Each space in a yellowtown needs to be filled with the same value, and thankfully for all of our mathematical efforts throughout history (but sadly for you now), 3s are neither a 1 nor a 5, so the final turn in this round hands you an orange in compensation along with a sum of 12 points.
Rounds 2 and 3 progress the same way. You don't have much in the way of special powers at hand — only one orange and one nugget — and you haven't even seen a purple die all game, so if one does show, you had best complete the one violet space to the east of the river (or nugget that dice roll, if possible, for either two-space purple region). Time and again, both in competitive games and when playing solo, I've found myself short of a plum bonus and unable to change the color of a die, which then leads to me getting another orange, which does you no good if you don't need the colors at hand. (TCOB:TDG life lesson #2: Colors are more important than numbers.)
Did I mention playing solo? I did, and the only rule change is that each round lasts precisely eight turns (instead of varying between five and ten depending on how many double hourglasses show up). What differs when playing competitively versus playing solo? Other than the varying number of turns, not much except that everyone so often someone will shout at the end of a turn, "I've completed all of the blue", and you'll curse them for doing this before you because they'll score the higher number of bonus points for this color (4), leaving you only 2 points to scrounge up — assuming someone else doesn't beat you to second place.
As you might gather, The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game is very much a solitaire game. I'm marking things on my sheet, and you're marking things on yours, and sometimes I score a bonus first and sometimes you do and sometimes we both complete the same colored region on the same turn and we both score the higher number of bonus points. Huzzah! I've played six times on a press copy from Ravensburger — three solo and three three-player games — and the experience hasn't differed much. You might look at another player's sheet and see they've filled one orange space more than you and have as many nuggets as you, so you realize that you're unlikely to beat them to the bonus, so you fill in a purple space instead of an orange one this turn. At least you can call purple your own...
The play sheets differ in their arrangements of the land masses, but they feel the same during a game, the values and colors rolled on the dice being more important than the colored patterns on your sheet. I initially thought commodities were the way to go when choosing a starting castle, but in my most recent game the double hourglasses were constant, with the entire game lasting only 18 turns (with the full range being 15-30 turns) and therefore kiboshing my "long-term" strategy of parlaying commodities into nuggets into double turns. Super frustrating, but sometimes you just have to suffer the dice. (TCOB:TDG life lesson #3: Dice results are random.)
No matter — I have dozens of duchies still to be developed, and should I find a willing opponent, we can compete on opposite sides of the sheet at the same time, perhaps introducing a new form of head-to-head competition in the process, with me pushing my pencil through the paper to jab their hand as they attempt to write something down. En garde!
Rollin' and writin'