First, Let’s Talk Cardboard: Background About the Board Game
The Castles of Burgundy, designed by prolific game designer Stefan Feld, is easily one of my favorite board games of all time. It’s a beautiful blend of tile placement, set collection, and luck-mitigated dice rolling that’s all wrapped up into one yummy point salad. The game is fairly straightforward and simple to learn, but has great depth of strategy. It plays in a relatively short amount of time, at around 30-90 minutes depending on player count.
That being said, despite my gushing about the board game, it is not without faults. Allow me to highlight some of the things I dislike, so that I can later address how they were managed within the digital version.
What I Don’t Like About Castles of Burgundy, the Board Game
- The Castles of Burgundy is your quintessential eurogame. The theme is almost non-existent and the artwork is as dry and boring as they come.
- The component quality is merely satisfactory with very flimsy player boards (although, it is sold at a lower price point which may make up for it).
- The use of colors is horrendous. Not only do the colors make the game ugly, but it impacts the accessibility of the game. I kid you not, there are 2 different shades of green tiles that you need to distinguish between, a lighter green and a dark forest-green. In certain lighting, the yellow is at times too similar to the light green tile as well. (Note: It’s definitely not necessary as there are other ways to identify the tiles).
- The process of setting up the tiles and placing new ones each round is cumbersome and fiddly. You need to shuffle various piles of tiles and place them all over the board. It’s made easier by purchasing opaque bags for each tile type, such as the ones available from the BoardGamesGeek Store, but who wants to purchase yet another board game accessory?
- The iconography is only so-so. The building tiles have no uniformed iconography. You need to either remember what happens when you place each type or reference the rulebook. The knowledge tiles are somewhat better, but I often finding myself referencing the rules on select tiles that have unique symbols on them.
Now, enough background about the cardboard version of the game. You came here to read about the digital version…
The Digital Implementation of The Castles of Burgundy
When I found out The Castles of Burgundy had been released on iOS, Android, and Steam, I was ecstatic. The prospect of being able to play CoB (the Castles of Burgundy) on my iPhone was exciting and I also knew the digitization was an opportunity for the developer to fix some of the things that irked me about the board game version in advance of the release of its 2019 “deluxe” edition.
Design and Aesthetics
Overall, much of the look and feel of the game is improved. Digidiced, the app developer, re-organized the central game and player boards in such away that is both information-rich and presentable. You do not feel information overload, yet all the information is available to you at a quick glance (with the exception being the other players’ estate boards which require an extra tap or two).
Within a single view, you’re able to see your own player estate and other player board information. This includes everything you’d want to see such as number of silverlings, current victory points, number of workers, tiles available in the various depots, player order track, and more.
The players estate boards are loaded into the same screen view. The center ring drops out in a strange mechanical animation, and the new player board takes the previous one’s place. The animation fits the Castles of Burgundy theme even less than anything in the original implementation of the game. But that’s a bit nitpicky and it certainly doesn’t detract from the game experience in anyway.
Whereas the other player boards aren’t visible on screen simultaneously, their actions are visible to you via this center-ring animation, so in some ways that missing information is solved for by this sequence.
One qualm I had with the cardboard version of the game was the chosen color of the tiles. The use of different shades of green is among the most disappointing. I see no reason why they couldn’t have used slightly bolder colors for these tiles, or altered the colors entirely. But unfortunately, Digidiced did not. I suppose the intention may have been to establish greater familiarity with those of us who have played the cardboard version of the game, but I question whether that was necessary.
Despite the tiles and territory colors being mostly unaltered, they did add a black border surrounding the estate, between it and the perimeter of the central ring and between tiles. The effect is greater visibility compared to muted-beige background on the physical player boards. It’s a minor tweak that really works.
In terms of iconography, it’s true to the original and unaltered version. You may touch and hold a knowledge tile for a text description of what it does. This is the benefit digital media.
Once building tiles are placed on to your estate, they are given a very nice 3D rendering. The game actually permits you to rotate your view because of this, although I’m not sure that there is any real, practical reason for this functionality. As with the knowledge tiles, you are able to tap and hold for more information about which each building does once placed onto your estate.
The app nailed the gameplay with its design choices. That’s the most important thing. But what else does it have to offer in terms of features?
Feature-wise, it’s a pretty standard Digidized implementation of a board game. You can initiate a local game and play against your IRL friends by passing your phone or you may play against three different levels of AI.
I’ve only played games against the most difficult AI, CASTLEMANIA, and found it to be a fun, challenging opponent in all player counts. I’ve both lost and won against him, usually by only a few points.
If you are playing against the AI, you have to sit and watch their turn on your screen via the center ring animation. Personally, I found it to be a bit slow for my liking. There’s a setting to change the speed, and even on the fastest setting, I found myself wishing I could just skip seeing their turns.
You have three options for choosing estate maps, similar to how you would in the board game version. You may choose to play with the standard player board layout, play your opponent with random estate configuration but with identical boards, or randomize the estate boards and everyone receives a different board.
The player board options are fine, but I would have liked the ability to self-select my own player board. It’s fun to experiment with the different boards without having to randomize the selection.
It’s not clear to me if player board 8 is included as an estate map or not. It’s a bit overpowered in my opinion. I’ll assume it is included, and as a result, will choose “random identical” whenever I play the game on my phone.
Online multiplayer modes include a “ranked game” (with push notifications) and a “casual game”.
In the casual game, you invite your friends who also have the app to play against you online. I was unable to try this mode as none of my friends currently the app (Add me: CastlesOfBeige).
The ranked game mode allows you play against strangers and vie to be recognized as the best Castles of Burgundy player. Rankings are posted on the leaderboard.
The option to play a casual, unranked game against strangers is unfortunately missing. It’s a feature I very much would have liked to have seen within the app.
As far as other features that are missing, the game seems to be absent the expansion content. Since the new deluxe edition went out of its way to include it, it would have been a nice-to-have. In-app purchases coming soon Digidiced?
There’s an interesting conversation to be had about who plays digital board games.
- Is it hobby board gamers who have want to bring their favorite games along with them on their commute?
- Is it the “try before you buy” gamers that want to try a game out before investing in the more expensive tabletop version and inviting friends over?
- Is it video gamers without much previous board gaming experience
This target audience strongly influences how you would design the game’s tutorial experience. So naturally, I wasn’t curious how The Castles of Burgundy app would go about teaching players the game.
As it turns out, the app developer took a hybrid audience approach, catering to all of them. There is a tutorial that simultaneously explains the game mechanics and how to navigate them within the app experience.
The game tutorial is divided into three parts:
- Taking Actions
- Terrain Types
- Completing Sections
Frankly, it’s a good model of how to explain the rules of Castles of Burgundy. I may even apply it when I teach the board game version moving forward.
Below the three tutorials is a web link to the rules manual (it’s a PDF and requires an active internet connection) for the original analogue game, catering to existing board game players. I both like the inclusion of the original rules and dislike it. I would have preferred a reference guide that was specifically designed for the mobile version in addition to the analog rules. This way, you don’t have to go through a long drawn out tutorial in order the get a rules refresher but you have the option of referencing the original rules if your heart desires. But again, I nitpick about what is otherwise a great experience.
Throughout the tutorials, the game utilizes a number of personas, such as Phillip the Good and Isabella, to explain the game. Oddly enough, it does add a bit of thematic flare that is absent from the original board game even though it has absolutely nothing to do with gameplay. It’s inconsequential, but I approve.
Overall, the digital version of The Castles of Burgundy is true to Stefan Feld’s classic tabletop version. It’s a fantastic implementation that I have a ton of fun playing.
The game looks and feels good. They may have been able to make it slightly better if they chose to make the tiles bolder colors, but it is still an overall improvement to the current tabletop version.
There are a few minor things that may cause minor irritation to a season CoB player, but I can see those things being addressed via in-app purchases and app updates.
I highly recommend the The Castles of Burgundy digital version.
Original Board Game Rating: 9/10
App Design: 8/10
App Features: 7/10
App Translation of Board Game: 9/10
App Rating (Average): 8/10
You can download The Castles of Burgundy for the following platforms:
Paul Shapiro is Founder and Editor of Board Game Squad. He enjoys all types of games and experiences, but has a particular penchant for medium to heavy eurogames.