Publisher: Emperor S4
Emperor S4 is the publisher for a cadre of talented Taiwanese board game designers. Looking at the their recent output, S4 has really churned out games with a unique style of game play that combines several mechanisms with a very distinctive artwork. I am truly impressed that a small country like Taiwan is able to jump into the competitive global board game market to make a name for themselves. Regardless of whether you think the games are good or bad, it is a credit to the designers (and illustrators!) for publishing these games in both local and markets abroad. To me, that is no small feat! I also commend the illustrators, particularly Maisherly Chen for rendering the artwork for Walking in Burano, Realm of Sand as well as other games in the S4 series. Her anime-inspired artwork is gorgeous with brilliant colors and the art has infused each game with an Asian flavor. I would love to see her artwork integrated into more mainstream, non-fantasy based themes in other board games.
Walking in Burano is a simple but meaty filler where players build five side-by-side town houses, each with 3 floors. Each floor and by extension, building comes in 6 vibrant colors. Players draft different floor cards for each level (1-3) from a common pool of cards and then pay a fixed cost to build these structures on the personal tableau. Typically, players have 3 actions per round for which they can either take a combination of coin or card followed by a building phase which they play the drafted cards. Players are also able to hold 3 cards in reserve between rounds. Buildings are typically of the same color and two similarly-colored buildings should not occupy adjacent slots. The last round is triggered when one player completes the fifth structure and scoring is carried out.
As to be expected, each floor of the building contains both unique and common scoring elements which players have to amass for end-game scoring. For example, only 1st level floor cards have store fronts (pizza, ice cream, clothing, etc.) and pedestrians unique for scoring while 2nd level floor cards have lamps and 3rd level floor cards have chimneys. Besides unique elements for each floor, all floors also have common elements for scoring include cats, plants, flowers and window shades. Once each building is completed, players can lure either inhabitants or tourists into their completed houses for scoring points. While tourists score for elements specific for each completed building it is attached to, inhabitants score across all the completed structures. For example, a tourist may score all the plants in the red building it is associated with while an inhabitant may score the chimneys found on all structures.
Walking in Burano has a simple premise but the decisions can be quite challenging. We discovered that with 2 players, the game can get very aggressive and full of denial of choice actions. The way the rules are structured encourages drafting of floor cards to prevent opponents from completing their buildings. Moreover, the drafted floor cards do not have to be built and can be discarded end of the round if your hand size exceeds 3. This means that apart from constructing your own houses, one must block opponents from completing theirs. This is critical because some of the scoring cards (tourists and inhabitants) are rare (1 copy) and once recruited, they will be gone. So, its a race to see who can lure the right people to occupy the houses. Of course another way of framing this is that player interaction is quite superb. Overall, we couldn’t help but notice the disconnect between a beautiful and leisurely-themed game with a really cut-throat mechanism.
The game is decent but with some rough edges. It feels like the rules could be tweaked or streamlined just a little more. For starters, card drafting from top to bottom or bottom to top feels like an artificial constraint. Perhaps it may break the game, perhaps not? Also, the game is structured for aggressive play. This is not necessarily a flaw if the designer intended the game to be played this way. Otherwise, it could be a turn-off for folks who are conflict-averse. Finally, the designer has provided a way for players to legitimately break some building rules. For example, one can combine different colored floors if necessary, but at a penalty. At the start of each game, each player gets 4x 3VP tokens. By giving away one token, players can build a different colored floor to a pre-exisiting building or have two buildings with the same color side-by-side. The spirit of the game is such that one shouldn’t be doing this often as the penalty (-3VP) can be severe. However, if multiple building rules are broken, there is some unanticipated complexity of determining if further rules are broken. Suffice to say, the questions asked on BGG indicate there is some ambiguity in this area which need clarification (for example, what happens when a fifth rule is broken?).
Overall, I think Walking in Burano is a solid effort by a relatively new designer and publisher. I would be happy to play the game but the design isn’t groundbreaking in any way. Again, there is nothing wrong with it, except that it falls solidly in the middle of the bell curve which means it will have to compete with other games of the same category for table time.
Initial impressions: Average