Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game

Designer: Stefan Feld

Artist: Julian Delval

Publisher: Alea / Ravensburger

The picture just reminds me of Roads and Boats. (Photo credits: Eric Martin@BGG)

As the title indicates, this is another card game based on a popular Stefan Feld big box production of the same name. CoBTCG is a small box production from the Alea series which was conceived to make card games derived from their popular older and heavier sibling. Thus far, we have Witches’s Broom: The Card Game and Puerto Rico: The Card Game (aka San Juan) as titles in this series.

I guess the goal of these small box card games is to capture the experience of the bigger game by paring down the complexity and distilling the game play to the basic elements. Just enough to satiate the taste buds, but not really a full course serving. I think in that sense, the card game successfully captured many aspects of Castle of Burgundy. There are plenty things about this card game that reminded me of the board game.

The card game’s central action selection mechanism is card drafting. In fact the entire game is driven by a single card deck consisting of around 150 Euro sized (small!) cards. As you would expect, these cards are multifunctional. The gist of the game is very similar to board game in that players are selecting “dice” to perform function. Each round players will get a deck of 8 cards to play with each hand consisting of only 2 cards to choose from. All of these action cards have a “dice” on the top half of the card that symbolize the die roll result. All other features of the cards are ignored during this segment of play. By drawing two cards and playing one, players can perform actions based on their die roll selection. Like the board game, worker chits can be used to modify the pip values on the die roll.

There are several actions available for players, but I would argue that only two of them form the bulk of all the actions taken. First, you play card for the value of the die to draft one card from the central area. Depending on player counts, a number of cards are placed below a die value. By playing the matching “dice” from your hand, you select one card from the draft board and place it in your Project area, which functions as a staging area. Your Project area can only hold three cards though. That’s where the other major action comes in. You can also play a “dice” card to move your drafted cards from the Project area to your Estates. Moving your cards from the Project to Estates will trigger the powers/abilities/benefits on the cards as well as score points during the game (potentially), or at the end of the game. That’s where the meat of the game lies.

As you can imagine, there are a ton of different cards with different powers. Critically though, they come in specific sets and for each set, you want to collect exactly three cards of the same color in order to score victory points printed on the cards. Collecting the sets to score victory points is only part of the story. The powers of these cards can also be potent. For instance, moving a green “castle” card from Project to Estates will trigger an additional action as if you had a virtual die. Moving a yellow card will allow you to collect worker tiles; moving a blue “ship” card will allow you to pick up a goods tile that can be sold for silver and also earn victory points; moving a light green “animal” card will allow you to pick up an animal card that will score set collection victory points at the end. There are also building cards that can form sets. Each building type will confer a unique benefit and there are quite a number of different building types in the game.

To round off the remaining actions that can be performed with dice cards, players can also play a card to sell goods for silver coins and victory points, pick up a silver coin, pick up additional worker tiles or exchange worker/silver coins for victory points. These actions are all ancillary to the two main actions I have described above.

Like most of the game designed by Mr. Feld, there is a plethora of scoring options in CoBTCG. Besides the end game scoring for set collection of 3 cards, there are a bunch of bonus points to score if you are the first to complete a specific set of cards or to have one of each type in the Estates. You also score points for animal set collection as well as for selling goods. One can also earn victory points during the game for moving building cards from Project to Estates. Finally, silver coins and workers can also be converted to points. There really is no shortage for what is a point salad scoring matrix for the card game. In all fairness, the card game does reflect the board game in scoring, so this should not really come as a surprise.

The game lasts for 5 phases. Each phase consists of playing 8 cards for a total of 40 actions. It may seem a lot, but the game is faster than the board game and the actions are quite straightforward. Most likely, you already have quite a good idea of what you want to accomplish during your turn and so the game moves briskly. There are some decisions to be made with each action and tension from the game comes primarily from card drafting, grabbing what you want before your opponent takes it, and from set collection to score the bonus points. Beyond these two aspects, the game is a relatively solitary activity where players will occasionally peek at their opponents tableau to see what they are gunning for in terms of set collection and card drafting.

As a standalone, the game is decent and a faithful interpretation of the board game version. However, the point has been made by others that the board game itself is a superior experience to the card game in many aspects. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say, the card game only has two benefits: it’s shorter and more compact. If you love the original board game, there is very little reason for you to choose the card game unless you are pressed for time. I suspect that most would enjoy the board game version over the card game. Some may like CoBTCG because it is more streamlined and plays faster, but I suspect that they are a minority. The compactness of the game can be attractive to folks who want to travel with the game they love. I can’t argue with that, except how often does that happen? Another factor is the price. It’s true, the card game is cheap. You can find a copy for under $10. So, that is actually quite a strong positive for the game. The only gripe I have is that the cards are too small. I am saying this because some of the building powers, their icons are way to small and you really need a player aid for it. I am not a stickler for card-sizes but in this case, there is way too much information to be printed on these smaller sized Euro cards.

For me personally, I am biased against card/dice versions of a popular game. I recognize this a hypocritical stance because I usually applaud stripping the chrome from board games and allowing the main mechanisms to shine. On paper, a card game should be a streamlined version of the board game. Some designers like Knizia do a good job at designing the bare minimum for a game, but other designers like to layer on the icing and frosting on an already delicious cake, ruining the taste in the process. However, if a game is already good and popular such as the case for Castles of Burgundy, I am quite reluctant to take the plunge for the card/dice version of the game. That’s because I already know I like the full game and playing the shorter version, won’t change my mind on the longer version. There is also no need for me to own both versions and so, why should I bother with the card/dice implementation of the game? I much rather play something fresh. This logic only works if I enjoy the parent game. Usually, if I am not enthusiastic about the parent game, I would give the card game a shot. For example, I enjoy 7 Wonders The Duel way more than I do 7 Wonders.

So, in short, CoBTCG is not for me not because the game is bad, but because I already have an alternative I enjoy.

Initial impression: Not for me

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