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Subject: The BSW Review: Im Schutze der Burg rss

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Matt Musselman
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The BSW Review: Im Schutze der Burg

This review is part of a new series of reviews I'm undertaking of the BSW implementation of several well-regarded games. I started with Im Schutze der Burg because it has so few reviews in general, so I thought this article would therefore serve multiple purposes.




1 Overview
Number of Players: 2-4
Ideal Number of Players: 3-4
Average Play Time: 30 minutes
Expansions/Variants: The Winter board is also available for play.
Ease of Finding an Opponent: Not bad for now, though not many BSW players have learned the game yet. Many users enter the room not wanting to play, and only to watch.
Typical Game Friendliness: Very friendly so far, since the game is new to nearly everyone

Im Schutze der Burg (renamed to A Castle for All Seasons for the English publication) was added to BSW for play in February, 2009.

2 Rule Summary and Strategic Review
Im Schutz der Burg is the marriage of a worker placement and building game (like Stone Age or Pillars of the Earth) with a simultaneous action selection game (like Race for the Galaxy). Players choose various builder roles in order to gather resources or money, build buildings for points or profit, and claim strategic victory bonuses based on the final layout of the board.

The game occurs in a fixed number of rounds (number depending on player order), made up of a couple of phases:
colonist Start player receives the taler from the next spot on the turn track
colonist Select an action (or 2 in 2 player) out of eight action cards. Each action can only be used once, until the Baumeister (master builder) action is selected to reset the player's action card deck.

In order of the selection action cards' precedence in the deck:
colonist Collect money or resources (Trader places traders and gathers resources, Carpenter grabs resources from the building crane, Stonemason buys a resource from another card, etc)
colonist Build 1 (in the case of workers) or 2 (in the case of Bricklayer / Stonemason) buildings and immediately receive money (for Bricklayer) or victory points
colonist For Bricklayer or Stonemason, pay to place up to 2 helpers on available endgame bonus circles

Then start player passes to the next player, and the sequence starts over.

At game end, players receive additional victory points for their helpers placed throughout the city. Typical bonuses include points for every tower or stable built, every helper placed, every vacant helper spot, every vacant building, every silver used, and also a couple of spaces which allow conversion of spare talers or resources to VP at game end.

A detailed description of each role:
1 - Messenger: Receives 8 talers.
2 - Trader: Place a helper on any available (or taken, if all are full) resource collection spot at the bottom of the board. Then all players with helpers in the trader area receive resources, with one of each batch being placed on the building crane.
3 - Bricklayer: Choose to take all of any 1 type of resource from the building crane. Optionally build 1 or 2 buildings for talers rather than points. Optionally pay to place 1 or 2 helpers on available bonus point circles.
4 - Stonemason: Choose to buy any one resource from one of the selected worker cards. Optionally build 1 or 2 buildings for full victory points. Optionally pay to place 1 or 2 helpers on available bonus point circles.
5 - Worker 1: Receive 1 silver and 2 wood resources. Optionally build 1 or 2 buildings for half victory points.
6 - Worker 2: Receive 1 brick and 2 sand resources. Optionally build 1 or 2 buildings for half victory points.
7 - Worker 3: Receive 1 stone and 2 sand, wood, and/or brick resources. Optionally build 1 or 2 buildings for half victory points.
8 - Master Builder: Receives 5 points any time any other player builds a building this round. Resets the action card deck.

The game's simplicity hides a multitude of choices, much of the complexity due to the way in which selected roles interact with each other, for example:
colonist If you need a lot of resources, you can pick the Trader yourself (with the bonus of getting to place a new resource-gathering helper) but at the cost of a valuable action. Or you can hope that someone else chooses it (still giving you the resources for any existing helpers in the trader area), leaving you the action to do something more important, like building something. But if no one ends up choosing it, in that case, you might end up stuck.
colonist The interaction between the Master Builder role and the various builder roles is also interesting. If other players have a lot of resources built up and are likely to build this turn, do you forego something useful and choose Master Builder hoping to cash in on 5 or 10 (or even 15 or 20) free points? Or if you were planning to build, but one or more other players chose Master Builder, do you avoid building after all to prevent giving them points?

The other complexity arises from the management of money and resources. The Bricklayer forces you to build for income, which is sometimes a good thing (especially at the beginning of the game), but not always. Also, the restriction that every building must be built a) with exact change and b) with at least 3 resources forces you to keep plenty of resources on hand, and also may guide which building you choose because the 10 cost Stable may leave you with more total resources left over but the wrong mix to perform a second build, whereas the 12 point Well may be a better mix allowing that second build of a Tower or something else.

Lastly, as all players begin to stake their claims on the endgame bonus spots, you're forced to choose building sites and helper placements of your own which don't help other players too much. There's also a gambling aspect of betting on which spots will payoff more in the future (e.g. the Helpers Placed bonus is small now, but will only grow, whereas the Vacant Buildings bonus is huge, but will only go down).

There's a lot to balance here, and every game leaves you feeling like you could do it just a little bit better next time around.

Regarding the BSW implementation in particular, I'm not aware of any rule which was specifically changed for the online version. Allegedly the restriction preventing players from placing two endgame victory point helpers in the same building on the same turn was not enforced by the UI, but that may have been fixed now.


3 Play Experience
Since Im Schutze der Burg is a perfect information game (all money and resources are public, and there's no negotiation or trading between players) the translation to online game is quite smooth. The game moves quickly with typically fairly little downtime.

The one thing I and some of my online opponents have found lacking is an auto-calculated resource value total. The information is public anyway, so it's not really giving anything away, and would save some hassle. Sure, it's not available to you in the box-and-board version of the game, but I assumed the key skills for the game were strategy and planning, not pure arithmetic.

4 The UI
The implementation looks beautiful, but has quite a few minor issues:
colonist Perhaps the biggest problem is the scrolling map. There is no scrollbar on the screen, and a simple click and drag doesn't work either (like it does in other scrollable maps like Power Grid). Experimentation will finally show that the secret is to right-click & drag on a PC, or ⌘ + click & drag on a Mac. I think this is the only BSW game with such an odd scrolling mechanism. One opponent of mine assumed the game was simply cutting off half the map until he could get the scrolling to work.
colonist It's not immediately obvious how to get to the role selection cards (autohide at the top of the screen) and the selected cards for the round (autohide at the right side). At least the cards for the round have a little handle which is visible, but there's not visual cue at all for the cards at the top. The good news is that once you've figured this one out, you won't forget it.
colonist One more gripe with the role selection cards, the colour difference between available cards and already used cards is very subtle, and only even visible when your cursor is over the cards proper. Not a major playability issue, since you usually have a fairly good idea what you've already picked anyway -- just an annoyance.
colonist The UI for reallocating which resources are going into a building purchase is a little fiddly at first (especially when silver resources are in play) but is figured out soon enough.
colonist Error messages for illegal placements are not translated from German, for non-German players. This can make it a little difficult to figure out why a placement is illegal, especially in the case where the problem is number of helpers, rather than cost. I'd have preferred if the spots were greyed out, or the phased merely skipped (see below).
colonist Lastly, I find it a little redundant that the UI prompts for building or helper placement even when no building or placement is possible (lack of resources, helpers, or money), but an argument could be made that the flow of the game is easier to follow when these null events are at least called out.

All other aspects of the UI are very intuitive. To pick a card, click it. To pick a building to build, click it. To place a worker, click it. It's certainly one of the easier games on BSW to figure out.

The game UI is also pretty good about indicating whose turn it is to act (or everyone, in the case of choosing roles), and what action they're supposed to do.

5 Graphics and Sound
The graphics for the board and cards are beautiful.

The representation of the helpers is nice as well, and I'd actually prefer if the real wooden components looked more like these rather than the strange man-shaped ones which come with the game.

Compared to most games on BSW, the sounds in Im Schutze der Burg are pretty subtle. Certainly no shouts of "What?!?!?", loud organ pipes, demolition explosions, or elephant noises.

Probably the most obnoxious sound is if you attempt an illegal worker placement, but that doesn't happen much. Otherwise, everything is done with pleasant clicks and "dink" noises.

6 Conclusion
Overall Im Schutze der Burg is a fast-playing, strategic, and enjoyable game which is worth your time to at least try out, especially if you're a Stone Age or The Pillars of the Earth fan on BSW, but looking for something which takes less time to play. I expect that its BSW appearance will increase its exposure considerably, and make this a "game to watch" for 2009, perhaps with good SdJ potential.

Overall
Play Style Faithfulness
Rules Faithfulness
UI Playability
Graphics
Sound

Edit: Enriched information in section about scrolling problems
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Jim Cote
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mussels wrote:
colonist Perhaps the biggest problem is the scrolling map. On a Mac I use the 2-finger scrolling touchpad to scroll from the top half to the bottom half, and vice-versa, but I honestly have no idea how to scroll without using a scroll pad/wheel. There is no scrollbar on the screen, and click and drag doesn't work either (like it does in other scrollable maps like Power Grid). I'd be happy if someone would let me know, because I do get asked by opponents sometimes and would like to be able to offer better guidance.

In Windows, you can drag the map with the right mouse button down, so perhaps Option-Drag would work on the Mac.
 
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Matt Musselman
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ekted wrote:
mussels wrote:
colonist Perhaps the biggest problem is the scrolling map. On a Mac I use the 2-finger scrolling touchpad to scroll from the top half to the bottom half, and vice-versa, but I honestly have no idea how to scroll without using a scroll pad/wheel. There is no scrollbar on the screen, and click and drag doesn't work either (like it does in other scrollable maps like Power Grid). I'd be happy if someone would let me know, because I do get asked by opponents sometimes and would like to be able to offer better guidance.

In Windows, you can drag the map with the right mouse button down, so perhaps Option-Drag would work on the Mac.


Did some experimenting, and you're right, ⌘+click+drag will drag the map around. I never would have figure that out, though. The right-click+drag approach in windows is maybe a little more intuitive, but not much. I'll update the article later when I have a few minutes.
 
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Tom Thingamagummy
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mussels wrote:
ekted wrote:
mussels wrote:
colonist Perhaps the biggest problem is the scrolling map. On a Mac I use the 2-finger scrolling touchpad to scroll from the top half to the bottom half, and vice-versa, but I honestly have no idea how to scroll without using a scroll pad/wheel. There is no scrollbar on the screen, and click and drag doesn't work either (like it does in other scrollable maps like Power Grid). I'd be happy if someone would let me know, because I do get asked by opponents sometimes and would like to be able to offer better guidance.

In Windows, you can drag the map with the right mouse button down, so perhaps Option-Drag would work on the Mac.


Did some experimenting, and you're right, ⌘+click+drag will drag the map around. I never would have figure that out, though. The right-click+drag approach in windows is maybe a little more intuitive, but not much. I'll update the article later when I have a few minutes.


Someone noted that Germans right click very frequently while Americans don't. So in many interfaces, right click is typically the thing you're looking for.

Thanks for the review!
 
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Randolph Bookman
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I never see anyone playing this on BSW.
 
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Matt Musselman
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shieldwolf wrote:
I never see anyone playing this on BSW.


Yeah, the hype seems to have died down really quickly, and I'm not sure why.

I have a friend on my watchlist who likes to play it, and he's the only one I've played against in quite some time....
 
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