Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A fine flock of sheep

Last night I played Castles of Burgundy in person for the first time.  I have been playing a bunch on the board game site boiteajeux but this was my first experience with the board and physical pieces.  I must say I really enjoy the functionality of having the computer handle all the randomization and point counting but I think I should really play games in person the first time.  It helps a lot in figuring out how all the mechanics work when I have to maintain board state myself.  I finished a couple of games of CoB online without even understanding how the turn order worked!

I won the game by about 30 points, roughly 256 to 226/215/205, which is a pretty large margin of victory for that game.  Funny thing is that I honestly can't pin down why I won by so much.  I had the least tiles on the board of anyone with 9 empty spaces at the end, and although I completed a full 5 field of sheep two of the other players completed 5 fields of cows and pigs respectively so they were keeping up.  I never got a mine, so you can't chalk up my victory to an early mine snowball.


This is the board I was on.  I filled everything except the lower yellow section, the lower left brown section, and the mines.

You might wonder if I only won because of miscounting points.  That is a reasonable suspicion, but I do not think it is right in this case.  Naked Man is good about maintaining board state and scoring correctly, and he was watching me like a hawk.

One thing that went really well is my boat usage.  I kept two boats ahead of the others for most of the game and this let me scoop up 2 resource tiles on 4 of my 6 boats.  I hadn't really considered how powerful it was to always be ahead and have the best selection on grabbing tiles like that, but it certainly came home.

I think the best way to attribute my win is simply to efficiency.  My 3 yellow tiles were worth 16 points (animal activations), 8 points (animal types), and 8 points (tower x 2).  That is a fantastic set of tiles, and exactly filled my size 3 yellow group.  I sold 13 resource tiles over the game, most of them in sets of 2 or 3.  That is an extremely high number for a 4 player game.

The early part of the game didn't look too exciting for me as I was just putting down boats and sheep.  Other people were doing the mining thing and getting yellow tiles that gave them workers and it seemed like they were building powerful engines.  I was just getting points.

But I think just getting points is how this game works.  Most brown buildings give zero points, but I had 2 watchtowers giving me a total of 8.  I got tons of points from selling stuff, maximized my completion bonuses, and had only a single tile that gave me workers because I was super tight with my workers all game.

I didn't try to build any sort of engine, I just rammed as much point generation into my board as is possible, and that led to a big margin of victory.  I honestly thought that the guy who got to 3 mines and had the mines -> workers yellow tile super early was going to walk away with it but he ended up coming third, though admittedly since it was his first game it was unlikely he would win.  He did manage to vacuum up 4 large bonus tiles and 1 small though, which is phenomenal for a first outing.

I guess the lesson in this game is that there is no engine.  The important thing is simply turning every resource into points as efficiently as possible.  It feels exciting to chain buildings with bonus actions on them into one another but that doesn't actually make you win.  In the end if you complete a size 5 group of brown buildings in only 5 actions you still only get ~20 points for them, and 4 points per action is weak.  That can be good enough if you can get a bunch of the same building and grab the associated yellow point tile, but otherwise isn't exciting.

This doesn't make me dislike the game though.  It just means I have to play it differently than I had thought and continue to iterate on my strategies.  It certainly does make me less inclined to take mines at the outset though if I have to expend a lot of resources to do so.


  1. Well, you get exactly 50 actions over the course of the entire game and the average score across all boards/player types was 218 in the analysis linked below so averaging 4 points per action is not great but it really isn't weak either. You're going to have a few really big actions, so filling out with 4 points per action is likely just fine. Note that the boards used does matter a lot, with board 1 (the one you used) only averaging 212 points across all players. If you weren't all playing the same board that can have a huge impact on the game.


    1. I know that board 8 is the unbalanced one that scores too high. We all used board 1 to make sure that it was fair. 4 points per action isn't a disaster, certainly, but people seemed super excited to chain buildings together and treated that like it was the way to win. It is just filler, really, not the key to the game.

  2. The best part of this revelation is the unmentioned anecdote about early in the game when Sky was telling me how bad the Watchtowers were...

    It was definitely good to play in real life and be able to talk strategy with someone. I'm a better player today than I was yesterday as a result!

    1. Yeah, they are efficient in terms of points / tile, just not that great in terms of points / turn. Though I guess by the metrics I just outlined they are certainly better than I thought!