Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Stefan Feld

ALEA 2011

No. of Players:
2 - 4



Over the last few years the classic six-sided dice has seen a notable comeback in a good number of games, but instead of being (ab-)used as a classic randomizer, the uses which have been found for the D6 have been quite variable and sometimes even surprising. Games like Kingsburg, Alea iacta est or Ra - the Dicegame all have come up with some new ways to use dice to determine a player's actions, and this trend now has found another follower in Stefan Feld's Die Burgen von Burgund.

However, despite the fact that Die Burgen von Burgund broadly falls into the same category of "innovative dice games" as the other titles listed before, this new game clearly outdistances the other games in terms of complexity and variety of possible actions. In fact, the widespread scoring possibilities in Die Burgen von Burgund are not easy to master especially for newcomers, and coupled with rules of some complexity the initial hurdle to learn the game and enjoy it to full extent is quite considerable. But let's have a look at the facts…

Each of the players possesses his own player tableau, showing a territory of hexagon-spaces which show dice values from "1" to "6", and furthermore each hexagon belongs to a specific type of landscape. The available types of landscapes are buildings, pastures (with animals), castles, mines, rivers (with ships) and knowledge. Yes, you have read correctly - knowledge is a specific type of landscape in this game. At the beginning, one castle-tile is placed at a castle-landscape on each player tableau, and during the course of the game the players will try to fill their tableaus with additional tiles matching the different types of landscapes.


A choice of landscape tiles is available each round on a depot tableau, and a player may hold up to three tiles in reserve for adding them to his own landscape. However, the new landscape tiles are not just taken and placed, but instead we have come to the point where the dice enter the game. At the beginning of a turn each player rolls two dice, and the results shown on the dice may be used for a player's action. For example, a dice result may be used to pick up one landscape tile from a matching numbered depot on the depot board and add it to a player's hand. In addition, a player also may opt to spend two coins from his stockpile as a free action, and he is allowed to chose and take a landscape tile from a specific purchase depot for this amount.

A dice result also must be used to add a landscape tile from a player's hand to the territory on his own player tableau. When adding a new landscape tile, it must not only match the landscape type of the hexagon where it is placed, but the player also must use a dice showing the number of the space where he desires to place the landscape tile. And, to make it even harder, all landscape tiles must be placed on hexes adjacent to tiles which have already been placed, so that the players cannot wildly place new landscapes all over their tableaus.

As you can see, the acquisition and placement of new landscape tiles is strongly dependent on the dice results available to a player, and in order to push back the influence of luck each player starts the game with a number of worker chips. These workers can be handed back to the bank, and for each worker used the player either may add or substract one to the result of one of his dice. Even multiple workers can be used on the same dice, so that the players have a chance to make adjustments in cases of real need. However, a player's supply of worker chips is limited, and if all of them are used up (or if the active player cannot use a dice-result for any reason), the usual action with the dice may be forfeit in order to take two new workers from the bank.

The tricky part of the game begins if you consider that many of the landscape tiles available for placement either allow the scoring victory points or the performance of a special action. Here the game becomes really multi-layered, since the players face a multitude of scoring options and it will be their task to find out which acquisitions may prove to be most useful. To give you some understanding of these different aspects, let's have a closer look at each type of landscape available in the game:

  • Castles: There are not many spaces on which a player can build a new castle, and the use of a castle tile if fairly straightforward - when the tile is placed the player is allowed to take directly another action, just like he had rolled an additional dice.
  • Pastures: These are more interesting in terms of victory points, since each pasture shows up to four animals, and upon placement of a pasture a player will receive one victory point per animal. However, four different types of animals exist, and if a pasture is placed into an area of pasture hexes where this type of animals is already present, all matching animals on already placed pasture tiles will score victory points again!
  • Mines: Like castles, there only are a few spaces where mines can be placed in each player's territory. At the end of a round, each mine in a player's territory will yield one coin income.
  • Rivers with ships: Up to six such tiles can be placed in each player's territory, and for each tile placed the player may move his marker on the table indicating the players' order. Thus, a player who has placed more ships than the others will get to act sooner during each turn, and this means that the player gets an earlier access especially to the new landscape tiles which have been revealed for the turn. In addition, the placement of a river tile also means that the player gains one or more merchandise tiles from one of the depots on the depot board, and using a dice later the player may decide to cash in matching numbered merchandise tiles for a coin and some victory points.
  • Buildings: Now it gets even more intricate, since eight different types of buildings exist in the game, and each type of building will trigger a special effect upon placement. These effects range from gaining additional workers, money or victory points to a free landscape tile or the selling of merchandise, and so the placement of a building usually will trigger a windfall effect which the players consider when planning how they could optimize their turn.
  • Knowledge: The 26 (!!!) different knowledge tiles are most delicate, since they trigger an assortment of effects which is even broader then the effects caused by the eight different types of buildings. So, some knowledge tiles will grant their owner additional victory points at the end of the game according to the player's acquisitions made during the game (e.g. points for each building placed, for each type of animals on pastures, for each kind of merchandise sold etc.) Other knowledge tiles once again will cause windfall effects, and here the spectrum is even more variable since, for example, the players may receive money when taking new workers or additional victory points when placing pastures. Finally, some of the tiles offer beneficial effects which allow the adjustment of dice results for the placement of specific types of landscapes or when a worker is used, and so the variety of knowledge tiles available really can be used in conjunction with many player strategies to create worthwhile economies of scale.

The game draws to its close after the fifth round, and during each round each player was able to play for a total of five turns. The players will have collected victory points by placing pastures with animals, specific buildings and by selling merchandise, but that's still not all options for generating victory points in the course of the game. So, a player who finishes a connected area of landscape hexes of the same type in his territory by placing a landscape tile on each hex will receive bonus victory points (with the yield of victory points depending on the size of the area and the round of the game in which the area is finished), and likewise a player who first succeeds in finishing all landscape hexes of a type in his whole territory also will receive bonus points. Now, at the game's end, additional points are added by specific knowledge tiles, and each coin, merchandise and worker remaining to a player also can be cashed in for additional victory points. Taken together, all these points make up a grant total on which the success of each player is measured.

Despite the use of dice, Die Burgen von Burgund certainly cannot be qualified as a dicegame in the closer sense. Quite the opposite, the players are faced with a multitude of options which might seem rather confusing, and here the dice actually serve as catalyzer which helps the players to narrow down their options for the current turn. The sheer volume of landscapes and options lined out above otherwise would threaten to overwhelm the players, and so the dice are cleverly used to help the players focus on a somewhat reduced choice of options.

Other elements like the scoring rules connected with the completion of landscape areas also give the players a gentle push to follow one strategy or another, since playtesting has revealed that a player who follows a wide "score here, there and everywhere" approach usually will fall behind players who try to remain focused on certain types of acquisitions and who try to generate economies of scale. However, here the game offers some room for frustration, since opportunities will arise when the dice simply refuse to be of help, or - even more nasty - when earlier players will claim a desperately needed tile for their own purposes. The loss of a tile to a competitor who comes earlier in the turn order also is one of the rare moments when direct competition can be felt, since otherwise each player concentrates on increasing his own yield of victory points by improving his territory. Still, the game certainly requires each player to watch the development of the other players' territories, because this will allow the players to expand in fields which are possibly less attractive for opposing players.

Only a few of the other alea-titles actually can claim to offer a complexity which compares with Die Burgen von Burgund, and the sheer variety of possibilities to score victory points gives the game a high degree of variation which poses a new challenge with each new game. The players are tempted to try new combinations with each new game, while at the same time the use of dice and the strategies followed by the other players will force them to adapt their strategies to their current needs. And it is especially this process of adaptation on which the game's high quality is founded, since many other good games with dice mechanisms like Kingsburg or Roll through the Ages only succeed in opening up a deterministic approach: in these games the players chose a strategy and try to follow it as good as they can, whereas Die Burgen von Burgund leaves ample of room to follow alternative strategies if the dice should not cooperate.

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany