I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
A friend of mine knew I was looking at Shanghaien when he suggested Burgen Land to me. It fit the same basic criteria of a 2-player game with dice that played reasonably quickly. After reading up on the game I decided it would be a great one to try with my fiance so I picked it up along with Shanghaien. While I find some similarities between the two, I'm not going to compare them for the purpose of this review. With 7 plays under our belts, I think its safely time to review this interesting 2-player game. So is Burgen Land the King of the Castle, or is it another game for the peasants?
Burgen Land is a German production from Schmidt Spiele and as such has no English rules. But thanks to Fledermaushaus, you can find them here on BGG. The translation is great and is very easy to understand. The overall rules are pretty simple so it shouldn't be too hard to get started playing.
For a small box, theres a decent amount of components in there. Each person gets a scoring pawn and a matching colored die (white or black). There are also 5 red dice and a yellow crown piece. All of the dice and the pawns are made of wood. I personally love wood dice so thats a big plus in my book.
The wall and tower tiles are made of a nice thick stock, approximately equal in thickness to Carcassonne tiles. They have a very light coating which should do well enough to resist some wear and tear. The tiles don't get move much so I'm not very worried about their resilience.
The board has nice artwork in the middle of the King and his court. Below that is the scoring track which is perfectly functional without being pretty. On the top is the rondel which is where the crown piece is used. The Rondel is clearly illustrated to match the tower and wall pieces. There should be no confusion as to which piece matches which space.
Overall, this is a nice presentation with decent artwork. The wood dice are a nice touch. Sincce you can buy this for around $18 US, I think you get a fair amount and quality of components for the price tag.
A Simple Turn
A player's turn could not be simpler. Roll the die (or dice) and move the crown. Take the corresponding action. Decide whether to roll again or pass. Thats really all there is. Now while that sounds simple, its some of the extra choices that happen on your turn which make this game great.
Red dice or a tile?
When you land on a space with a wall piece or tower, you can decide whether to take the tile or to take red dice equal to that tile's value. I firmly believe the red dice are the key to victory so this is an important decision. There are times to take the dice and times to take the tile, so knowing which is the right time will go a long way towards deciding the winner. Additionally, if all the tiles of that type and color are taken from the general supply, you can take the tile out of your opponent's castle, thereby severly damaging their ability to score points.
Mitigating luck or "why the red dice are so important"
Any dice game is bound to the fate of those evil little cubes. If you roll good, you have a better chance of winning. Roll bad and you have an instant excuse for defeat. Dice games are best when they have some way of mitigating that luck which is exactly what Burgen Land does with the red dice. Anytime you roll your die, you have the option to add any red dice you control to the roll. You may then choose the roll that you want from the ones on the table. While this does not guarantee anything, it certainly improves your chance of getting what you want. Granted, you could roll all 5 red dice plus your own and still not get anything helpful, but the more dice you roll, the better the chances. And getting what you need is very important...
Controlling the scoring
Each color has 2 scoring spaces which happen to be right next to each other. One of them is optional and the other is mandatory. Simply put, if you're leading the color then you want it to score. If your opponent is leading, you want to skip over it. This is one more way to use those red dice and probably the most important one.
One color per turn
The rondel is made up of 3 colored sections each having the same spaces in the same order. On a player's turn, he can only score or take pieces in one color. After his initial roll, whatever color he ends that move in is the color for the turn. Here again, the red dice come into play. If you are strong in yellow for example, you want to start early in the yellow area giving you chances to score and to build your castle even more. Additionally, you may want to stop early in the color to force your opponent to stay in it so that you can alter the turn sequence and hopefully hit another color on your next turn. You can basically manipulate the rondel using the red dice.
Back to the red dice
I've spoken a lot about these red dice and I believe its with just cause. Those little dice really shape the game. Without that added mechanism, Burgen Land would be a very simple roll & move/press your luck game. It still retains some of that press your luck, but the red dice really add a strong layer of decision making to the process.
Number of players and downtime
Burgen Land is a 2-player game which is pretty fast moving. There's not really anything that slows down the pace of the game. Players' turns are relatively fast and while there are decisions to be made, none of them are brain burning. This game shouldn't take any longer than 20 minutes. If you work the scoring right, it can be as quick as 10 although lopsided victories aren't that prevalent if you use the dice properly.
Player interaction - the Screw Your Neighbor problem
Lots of gamers looking for a non-gaming spouse game are afraid of games that have a screw the neighbor problem. There's a small amount of that present in this game, but overall there is very little direct competition. Only late in the game will you possibly be taking each others pieces. And when that happens, just look to those trusty red dice to bail you out. If you compare this to games like Battle Line or Babel, this one is very limited in its interaction. This is not necessarily a bad thing, its just a different kind of game. Its more about controlling the scoring and building the best castle you can than directly attacking the other player.
Mideval castle building never gets old, does it?
Compare it to...
I think the rondel mechanism bears comparison to the Mac Gerdts rondel games. While its certainly not as complex as those games, Burgen Land makes use of the same idea and executes it in a similar style. Again, this is a much lighter game, but the rondel is as prevalent in those games as it is in BL. One player can vastly influence the options of the others by his movement on the rondel.
I've been absolutely thrilled with Burgen Land. Its a terrific game which hasn't really gotten much attention here on BGG. I'm not sure if thats because its not an English release or if its from an unknown designer. Either way, this game deserves some serious attention from people looking for a solid 2-player experience. This game offers a lot of decisions in a non-frightening package, making it a great choice for a non-gaming spouse or friend.
I've rated Burgen Land an 8/10. I really like this game. I'm liable to suggest it and I won't turn down a game. Its quick so even if I'm not really in the mood to play a game, I'll play this one. I like the choices the game presents and the cruel way the dice influence those choices. This isn't a great game so I can't rate it higher. Its not quite long enough to be a 9 and 2-player only games don't usually garner a 10 from me. Still, this is one of the best 2-player games I've played recently.
So if you're looking for a good 2-player game with some decision making that plays pretty quickly, I think Burgen Land is a great choice. The rules are very simple but allow for a lot of choices. There's always luck when dice are involved, but the game provides a very interesting way to mitigate that luck. The playtime is quick and the turns are fast. All in all, this is a great addition to any game collection with space for solid 2-player action.
I almost purchased Burgen Land a few weeks ago and instead opted for Big Points. After reading your review, I'm definitely picking up a copy! Thanks, Steve!
OMG I am someone's friend! YAY!