During these strange weeks I’d like to highlight a couple of games that seem relevant for board gaming while we’re all stuck at home. These are all games that can be played remotely through one method or another so in one sense they are suggestions. But I will also try to focus on games that just fit a certain mood that also seem appropriate. Granted, everyone is at a different place with what is going on and how it affects their life situation. But hopefully these games are useful and you might discover a new favorite. The game that I’d like to highlight today is an old favorite of mine that I rediscovered through the great sites I wrote about the other week to play games online if you’re stuck at home alone. That game is Castles of Burgundy.
Castles of Burgundy is pure comfort food gaming for me. In the game, players are trying to build up a castle estate with various different types of landscapes: buildings, farmland, mines, shipping lanes etc… On a turn players roll two dice and generally do one of two things with them. They either take a landscape tile from the central market corresponding to the die they rolled or they place out a landscape onto their player board, also corresponding to that die. There are of course more rules, and I’ll get to those in a minute, but these central two are where I’d like to focus first. Option one is essentially like shopping for your kingdom. What sort of tile are you looking for, and what’s available that matches your die. Immediately you are given options but they are not wide open or overwhelming. The dice dictate what you can do, but there are still interesting choices within that limitation. Option two then gives you a sense of accomplishment. You place any tile that you shopped for previously into the right place in your player board which represents your kingdom. Here too there are limitations, but there is immense satisfaction to placing a tile just where it belongs. It all has a very puzzle-like nature of finding the right piece and placing it in just the right spot.
This is still a dice game, so the luck can be challenging at times. There are always more things that you want to do, but whether you roll the right dice is another matter. To that end, the game introduces a third way to use each die, which is to turn it in for worker tiles. You get two of these tiles for any die that you turn in, and they each allow you to change your roll by plus or minus one. So if you really want to place that tile you got last turn but you rolled a five and need a three, you can just turn in two of these tiles and you’re golden. Helpfully the dice “loop” around so going up from a 6 gets you back to one. There is a push and pull in the game for how many of these workers tiles you want to get because every die you use to get them could have potentially been used from something else. But that little bit of flexibility goes a long way.
Each landscape type has a different function or way of scoring, but they are all helpful. Farm tiles score for every animal of the same type, and this includes previously placed tiles which encourages players to specialize. Mines get you money which can be used to buy special tiles not available in the normal market. Ship tiles let you go first in a turn and take goods that you can sell later. Building and knowledge tiles let you do extra actions or bend the rules. It all comes together in a quintessential point salad. Everything you do helps in some way and pops off a little endorphin rush as you progress towards a better and better kingdom. And at the end of the game you may not have won, but you have a pretty satisfying kingdom built on your player board that feels like your own.
Recently the publisher put out a new version of Castle of Burgundy commemorating their 20th anniversary publishing games. This new edition has all of the expansions packed into one box and a new set of artwork to celebrate the occasion. If you are tracking down a physical version of the game, this is the one I recommend, as there is a whole lot more in the box for just 10 dollars more on the price. However, not everyone has the luxury or a partner for physical board games these days. In that case, there is an excellent iOS and Android version of the game that is really great and affordable. And the game is also available on Yucata.de if you want to play against opponents asynchronously. The website is free and you can take turns whenever you have a free moment.
I have talked to friends who have taken up jigsaw puzzles during these strange times to have a project, and to see progress on something when everything feels very up in the air. If you want a game that feels like that jigsaw puzzle with a bit more going on, Castle of Burgundy is excellent for that. It has been my quarantine game of choice. And if you want to find me for a game look up username Jerm on Yucata.de