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Alea Celebrates Twenty Years with a New Look for Las Vegas Royale and The Castles of Burgundy

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: alea
The alea game brand debuted from the German publishing house Ravensburger at the Spielwarenmesse toy fair in 1999 with the presentation of its first two titles: Reiner Knizia's Ra and Karsten Hartwig's Chinatown. Editor Stefan Brück had previously been in charge of the entire game line at F.X. Schmid, a company that Ravensburger bought in the late 1990s, and the idea behind the alea line was to establish a "noble brand" that would present strategy games somewhat more involved than the family games published by its parent company.

The alea line celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2019, and to mark the occasion Ravensburger is relaunching the game line with a graphics overhaul and an updating of previous releases. (It had previously reclaimed distribution of the line in 2018 following the purchase of distributor Heidelberger Spieleverlag by Asmodee Germany in 2017.) From a press release announcing this overhaul: "The series owes its success to its authors and the continuous commitment of product manager Stefan Brück. He notes, however, a change in the reception of games: 'Previously, it was about the content and originality of the game, about how long the game captivates you. In the meantime, external aspects such as presentation and design have gained in importance.'"

Thus, at Spielwarenmesse 2019, Ravensburger unveiled a new look for the alea line:

Board Game Publisher: alea

The first two titles in this line — Las Vegas Royale and The Castles of Burgundy — will debut in the U.S. at Gen Con 2019 in August, with a retail release for the former title in Europe in April 2019 and the latter title in August.

Las Vegas Royale combines the original Las Vegas dice game from Rüdiger Dorn that debuted in 2012 with selected elements of the Las Vegas Boulevard expansion from 2014. Las Vegas is an easy-to-learn, dice-rolling game that was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2012. This new version of the game includes six cardboard casino mats, one for each side of a normal six-sided die, as well as a dice-rolling tray. For each mat in the basic game, players draw money cards until at least $50k is showing, but the amount may end up being a lot more, making that casino more desirable.

Each player has eight dice of a different color, which they take turns rolling. When you roll your dice, you can choose to place them on the relevant casino cards; for example, a die showing a 1 will be placed on the casino mat marked "1". You must place all dice of one number on one casino in your turn. All players take turns doing this until all the dice have been used. Finally, the player with the most dice on each casino card takes the highest-valued money associated with it, then the player with the secondmost dice takes the next highest-valued money card. In case of a tie, the non-tied player with the most dice takes the highest-valued money card at that casino, while the tied players get bupkis.

Las Vegas Royale includes twelve expansion tiles, and to play a more involved game, you can place an expansion tile at random by each casino. These tiles have special abilities on them, and by placing dice on them, players can activate these abilities. The expansion components also include a larger than normal die (with black pips instead of white) for each player that counts as two dice. Editor André Maack said that the best elements of Las Vegas Boulevard will be included in Las Vegas Royale, but not every element is shown in this photo I took at Spielwarenmesse 2019, which depicts only mock-up components for now:

Board Game: Las Vegas Royale

The new edition of The Castles of Burgundy is somewhat more straightforward than the amalgam described above. This game will contain Stefan Feld's The Castles of Burgundy base game from 2011, as well as the ten expansions that have appeared to date and one new expansion. The art and graphics are being completely redone, but nothing other than a box mock-up was on display at Spielwarenmesse 2019. Ravensburger's press release about this edition notes that "Since the game's first release in 2011, ten enhancements have been added, distributed as promo packs at trade shows or other occasions. Officially, these extensions never existed." Of course, physically they existed, but these expansions were never available through Ravensburger itself, so now the company has taken ownership of them (so to speak) and will put them all in one box.

I asked Maack about the component quality of the new edition of The Castles of Burgundy, and he said that the player boards would be similar to those in the original release. To paraphrase him, you can have thicker player boards or you can have eleven expansions included along with the base game, but not both because they wouldn't fit in the box.

Both of these games will include rules in English, French, and German, which has been standard for recent alea releases. As for what else alea will release in this new format and when such titles will appear, Maack declined to give details beyond suggesting that titles #3 and 4 would appear in 2020. In its press release, Ravensburger notes that "For the anniversary year, the eleven games appear in a new guise", and Ravensburger does indeed currently list eleven alea titles on its website: Las Vegas, Las Vegas: The Card Game, The Castles of Burgundy, The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game, Broom Service, Broom Service: The Card Game, Puerto Rico, Notre Dame, In the Year of the Dragon, Carpe Diem, and The Rise of Queensdale. We'll see. (A second edition of Carpe Diem has already been promised by alea to account for production and design issues that made the game more difficult to play, so expect to see that edition in the new format rather than the old one.)

(Our interview with André Maack will be posted as part of our Spielwarenmesse 2019 coverage on the new BoardGameGeek Express YouTube channel. Starting in 2019, this channel will contain all of the game previews that we record at conventions, while the regular BGG TV YouTube channel will feature GameNight!, Rodney Smith's Table Talk series, Chaz Marler's monthly hotness report, Rob Oren's painting tutorials, my game overviews, and other more produced content. We always worried about flooding BGG TV with 100-300 videos at once following a convention, but that worry led to them being trickled out for weeks and months after a show. Now we'll post everything ASAP on BGG Express. Subscribe if you want to survey what we saw and recorded!)

Finally, note that these two releases signal a renumbering of the alea big box line. Maack said that either they could refer to Las Vegas Royale as #19 and the new version of The Castles of Burgundy as #20 to continue the numbering or they could restart the numbering to further indicate the new approach the company is taking with its graphics and production. They chose the latter option, which might be the better call given the number of complaints gamers had after a revised edition of Puerto Rico appeared bearing the number 16 in all languages other than English. Reboot, refresh, reissue!

Board Game: The Castles of Burgundy
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