Benny and Derik Break It Down: Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game a Review

Today, Benny and guest (Derik Duley) take a look at Ravensburger’s  Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game.

Benny: So this is something new we’re trying. Derik and I have very similar taste in games and we enjoy breaking down mechanisms. This seemed like a natural extension of that.

Derik: Plus, as designers with large collections and limited time, our game critiques kind of have to be (and get to be) more detailed than “it was fun”.

Roll & Writes

Benny: Today’s breakdown is Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game. Yes, the original game had dice in it. This is a whole new experience in that shared universe. They also did a card game. CoB: Dice, as i like to call it, is a Roll and Write game. Conceptually, the players are rolling dice and writing on their player sheet. Roll and Writes are one of my favorites. Suz definitely expanded my horizons to them. I had played Roll Through the Ages and Saint Malo, but the genre is definitely growing. So this is why CoB: Dice in particular is getting my attention.

Derik: Roll and writes (R&W) are one of my favorite genres, too, and is actually the basis on which my friendship with Mr. Sperling has grown. Wurfel Pie (a game he designed for Suz) and Rolling America were my first 2 R&Ws ever, and Wurfel Pie has gone on to be one of my absolute favorites. I already enjoyed rolling dice, but the vast variety in games and decision spaces available and possible have really won over my heart. The genre as a whole is so easy to recommend and fun to design within because most R&Ws are VERY accessible. They often are fairly casual, lightweight games with low or non-existent direct player interference. Plus, they usually have a solitaire mode – which fits really well with a lot of busy lifestyles.

Benny: You know what really strikes me about R& W games is the variety and best of all they are really cheap to make! At least from a Print and Play standpoint. I could see a lot more designers getting hip to this!

Derik: True story!

Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game

Used with permission (c) W. Eric Martin

Benny: The first part of CoB: Dice that is important to discuss is that players are playing simultaneously. You could play with any number of players all using the 1 set of dice. If they could all see it, you could play with a million players!

Derik: A MILLION PLAYERS!!!!!

Benny: Well maybe not a million, but couldn’t you see doing this over like a huge google hangout?

Derik: I can, and I really enjoy finding games that are stable enough for remote playing. I’ve never had the opportunity (because of my chaotic schedule) but this trait of the game also speaks to a certain type of play, too. There’s a unique, brain exercising challenge to games like this in which everyone has access to the same information throughout. I find a sweet satisfaction to beating opponents by making “better” choices with “better” timing.

Benny: Hey better, better, Swing! Maybe there’s room for a baseball R&W game. Someone track down Darrell and Mike and tell them to get on this or even Mike Fitzgerald, I cannot wait to see if he gets a baseball R&W game going!

Derik: The thing that makes the dice in CoB: Dice different than most other games, like Rolling America, is that only one player is given the role of rolling dice and tracking turns.

Benny: So you gotta know your role and your roll?

Derik: Nice! Well, at first, it really bothered me. I want everyone to feel involved and most people love playing these games TO ROLL THE DICE. However, anyone who has tried Rolling America (RA) or any other simultaneous action game has had those days where you struggle to keep everyone on the same turn. This simple, non-intuitive difference not only gives the job to only one person but it makes the job supremely important for that person. The progress of the game rests on that one player’s shoulders. Thus, greatly increasing the chance that they will remember that incredibly important task which is theirs alone.

Benny: Did you know that when we play RA and CoB: Dice that I’m not allowed to roll? I’m so bad and unlucky at rolling dice, but Jax is just the best so I let her roll, plus she likes that job.

Derik: That’s outstanding! My house has a similar rule for Pandemic: the Cure. For some reason, I’m really good at murdering the world.

Benny: I could see that, you seem like the sort to go around placing viruses in the shape of dice in random countries.

Used with permission. (c) Ori Avtalion

Benny: Here’s something else that is cool about this game, 4 separate sheets in 1 box! That is so awesome if you think about something like Rolling America where it only has 1 sheet. I suspect creative gamers will get on this and make a bunch more home-brew sheets. Not me of course, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Derik: True. As a stickler for “going the extra mile”, this is probably my absolute favorite part of CoB: Dice. While it still irritates me that this box is almost exactly the same as CoB: Cards, the variable play allowed with 4 different maps is HUGE. Like a hug and a “thank you” from the publisher.

Benny: I’m sure you could get a real hug from the folks at Ravensberger, they are super nice! At the very worst a high five.

Derik: Some day…

Benny: Here’s the big thing with this game, pairing colors and numbers. Feld and Christoph Toussaint did a great job on this overall. They had a sort of team up on AquaSphere/OctoDice.

Benny: This is pretty reminiscent of OctoDice actually, the pairing of colors and numbers. When you roll 2 color dice and 2 regular d6s, you have quite a few combinations, often you aren’t going to see two of the same color on the color die. Even less likely to get the same number and the same color. It happened during one of the games we played over the weekend though, we had Green, Green, 3, 3. It was the worst!

Derik: Not to be a sour puss, but I actually have two problems with this system of 2 colored dice and 2 numbered dice.

Benny: Only 2 problems? Do tell!

Derik: For one thing, the system is NOT color-blind friendly. Really, I wouldn’t consider it low-vision friendly either. I even have trouble distinguishing 3 of the colors in a room lit by something other than bright white lights. Secondly, I feel really restricted. In OctoDice, you can do almost anything you want because the dice can be used for multiple purposes. Here, it’s pretty limited. 4 of the colors only ever work with 2 of the numbers. In the right circumstances, the other 2 colors can use “any” number but, more often than not, it FEELS like I had no option – just use the only legal set.

Benny: This is why we’ve got bonuses though! I love that they baked in a way to literally change everything single thing that happens in this game. You have the ability to change color, number, use both pairs. Really well crafted. This is where these kinds of games can really fall flat. It adds a little more grey matter to what the players can do and potentially adds game length as they sort out the puzzle.

Derik: That is correct, sir. And they aren’t just easy to get – you are rewarded with the bonuses for doing what you should be doing! It’s a pretty significant saving grace, really. These plentiful bonuses somehow bring in the fun and bridge that gap between “play the only legal set” and “I figured out a thing!”.

Benny: I like the variations of what they have on the maps too. Some of them have many little Monasteries, others have these 2 spot groups of monasteries, pretty neat-o. It really feels like the 4 maps are perfectly balanced for points, like the parent game, where Feld and company keep doing more player sheets. This is a really tricky thing, they make it feel like the scores will stay close to each other over successive plays.

Derik: Yes sir. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate the “extra” maps. And you are correct in that they all feel well tested and balanced.

Benny: It’s funny, i usually play this solo or with Jax. This last weekend we played it with 4 players twice. I scored 73 points on map A. It was the first time i scored outside of the 50’s. We got lucky and barely rolled any of the Blue hourglasses. We actually got nearly 10 full turns each round.

Derik: Holy smokes! That blows my best scores right out of the water.

Benny: That round tracker die is interesting to me. In solo play it has little effect other than, hooray i can sell my goods. But seeing it in the 2 and 4 player games i can see where it has a huge impact. Players are gonna curse Feld for that one. That is classic punishment era stuff right there! We had it hit during turn 9 twice in 1 game. I laughed because it reminded me so much of how mean luck can be. Nothing like skipping from turn 9, thinking you’ve got 1 more shot at getting something filled in to; nope, sorry fella. That marking out 2 turns in 1 go can really be a game changer for those players.

I am surprised at how much I love the incredible amount of work that super simple mechanism puts in.

Derik: Yeah buddy! That sounds like a hoot 😉 Yeah, I am surprised at how much I love the incredible amount of work that super simple mechanism puts in. Variable game length: golden drama, right there. But the fact that it is also the only trigger for a market action (sell off 1 of your resources for VP and more resources) is just a blast! It is ALWAYS a messy gamble.

Benny: Here’s what i really like in this little package, it does solo game play correctly.

Derik: True that! It isn’t the short, repetitive puzzle that a lot of R&Ws feel like. Nor does it have that tacked on, “just play both characters” type of laziness, either. I really love that you get 24 TURNS and it still flows quite quickly.

Benny: This is one of the most frustrating things, you know? It’s not that bloody hard! They change up the way the round tracker works, you get a steady 8 turns a round, which is fine, because you have a predictability that is happening. You know what you’ve got to work with.

Derik: Agreed. On both points. I’ve seen a LOT of disappointing solitaire modes – this one feels really smooth. It’s a good one.

It isn’t like Rolling America where you are basically stuck with a terrible die roll and nothing you can do about it. You have choice, unless you use it all up, but you can get more choices.

Benny: Searching into the depths of this game is pretty rewarding, but it is random. The game box tells you as much. 1/10 brains. That ain’t much in the way of strategy, my friend. That said though, it has ways around the random. It isn’t like Rolling America where you are basically stuck with a terrible die roll and nothing you can do about it. You have choice, unless you use it all up, but you can get more choices. RA is a couple of choices and then you’re done, good luck and good night. This one really falls into a nice spot in my Feld collection because it gives a nod to the Macao punishment, but also allows for some of the everything gets you points of Castles of Burgundy. It’s going to make a lot of people very happy.

Derik: That’s interesting because I didn’t find RA so punishing. I felt like I often had options, but only in those limited-use player powers. That particular decision process was pretty tasty. “Do I use this now or save it in case I REALLY need it later?” However, I do find RA boring because most every turn (for me, at least) comes down to “is there a 3 or 4 I can use?”. The powers are tasty but the rest of the game (and every session of it) feels like the exact same decision to me.

Benny: See that’s where RA feels a bit punishing, because I’m terrible at rolling so I would never roll a 3 or 4, I’m going to end up rolling weird numbers that are zero help. It’s like they know how bad I am at dice rolling! It’s like they’re watching me… but that’s probably not something they would do! Ha, um, right…?

Derik: But, that’s where CoB: Dice kind of shines. As you mentioned, there is a remarkable amount of depth to explore. Not just the 4 different maps but 4 different starting points on the map! And with the struggle of random rolls and proximity restriction on map expansion, the starting locations MATTER.

Benny: Do you think gamers will gloss over it as “just a dice game” or “random”? I hope they don’t. There is a lot of neat stuff in this game to explore. I could see this being the Helen of Roll & Writes, the game so perfect for its time and place it launches a thousand new ideas!

Derik: It’s a tough call. On a bare bones level, this game does a lot of similar things to RA and bad rolls can be just as punishing as Dice Stars. However, I think it’s too good to be passed up. 3 or 4 “bad” rolls won’t abruptly end your game with a dismal score like in Dice Stars. You’re almost never looking for the exact same thing each turn like in RA. This is super tasty: you are constantly rolling with the punches and gambling on a profitable future. If you enjoy dice, you will definitely enjoy this. If you enjoy roll and writes, you will enjoy this. 30 minute game? Casual? Accessible? No conflict? Euro-feel? This just does so many things right.

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