I love The Castles of Burgundy. I think it’s just about the most perfect mid-level Euro game I can conceive of. It’s also one of the best board games to casually play online, due to the lack of direct player interaction and the mostly short term decision making. So far I’ve logged over 400 games of “Die Burgen Von Burgund” at boiteajux.net and it still hasn’t gotten old. I’ve also improved a lot at the game, and I typically sit around 1700 in the ELO ratings (with 1500 being average). I wouldn’t call myself an expert player, but I am proud maintain an above average rank among the very competitive people at boiteajux.
Want to hone your skills? Here are 8 pieces of advice to improve your play at The Castles of Burgundy.
1. Finish small areas early
There are three primary ways to acquire points: farms, knowledge tiles, and completing regions. Of those, the most important by far is completing regions. You must always remember that a game of CoB is not won by placing the most tiles, but by converting those tiles into points. In the vast majority of games players will have between 6-10 empty spaces on the board, regardless of how they economize their actions. One trap I see a lot of new players fall into is always selecting the play that gives them the most actions. While utilizing city tiles to pull off a 4-move combo play is fun, it is not always the right decision.
More important is finishing regions quickly to get the round bonus points. Unless I am going to try to complete a large farm (more about that in the next point), my nearly exclusive focus in the first two/three rounds is to try to complete regions. Let’s break this down quantitatively.
A good winning score in a 2-player game on board 1 is 200 points. There are 50 dice actions in a game of CoB. That averages to 4 points per die. Completing a 1-size region in round 1 gives you 11 points–5.5 points per die used. Already we see that play netting 38% more than what your average should be for a very good score.
Let’s look more broadly. Board 8 is the best player board in the game, statistically. If you don’t believe me, check out the data. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the ship spaces are spaced apart on the board, which fits in nicely with a 1-2 ships played per round strategy to stay ahead in player order. Second, the farm is all one region, which creates the most potential points from a farm-based strategy. Third, and the most important, is that there are more total regions on the board to capture. Having multiple small regions is much more significant than having large regions.
I analyzed this hypothesis quantitatively, comparing board 8 and board 1 (which is the worst performing player board in the above link). Both boards have ship spaces placed fairly evenly and both have a large farm segment, so this should be a fairly decent test of my hypothesis.
Board 1, with its larger regions, has 80 potential points from completing those regions, disregarding round bonuses. However, there are only 12 regions to complete (13 if the player elects to start in the larger castle space on the top). Assuming an even distribution of completed regions throughout the game, that nets 6 points per region, so board 1 has 72 potential round bonus points. Added together that’s 152 potential points on the board.
Board 8 has 62 region completion points, but 20 regions to complete. Using the same math, it results in 182 potential points on the board–30 points greater than board 1. Looking back at the statistics, board 8 performs about 34 points better than board 1 on average, so I am pretty confident that my hypothesis is correct. Trying to finish regions quickly is probably the most important strategic consideration you can make in a game of Castles of Burgundy.
2. Farms are risky
While most people tend to underestimate the power of completing regions early, they also tend to overestimate the scoring potential of farms. This results in a lot of uncompleted farms and a lot of opportunities lost.
Small sized farms can be a tidy source of points when there’s nothing better to do, but they’re merely an opportunistic play based on the dice and your board state.
Large (5 or 6 sized) farms are an all or nothing proposition. The only reason you would want to start one is to complete it. To wit: the animal tiles average out to 3 pts per tile. Let’s say that you are going for the 5 size farm on board 1. Remember that it’s 2 dice to place one tile on your estate. The first tile is 3 pts, the second 6, then 9 and 12. Added together that’s 30 points at the expense of 8 dice, which is 3.75 points/die. That’s an okay total by itself, but it only becomes a winning play if you drop that 5th tile to get an additional 15 points, plus 15 for the region, plus, say, 2 for the round bonus. Then you’ve spent 10 dice on 62 points, which is excellent economy.
However, whenever pursuing a high-point farm, you must be aware of the opportunity costs of doing so. This means taking an extraordinary risk in 3 and 2 player games where, depending on the luck of the draw, it might be actually impossible to fill the space with all of one animal type. Plus, when going for this strategy, you often have to sacrifice very good moves to instead go for the animal tiles before your opponents block them from you. Very simply, a farm strategy is a high-variance play. If successful it will probably win you the game (particularly when combined with knowledge tile 7 for ludicrous combo points). If not, you will probably lose.
3. Mines are very good
I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that playing mine tiles early in the game is a solid move. However, isn’t not quite for the reason you think. While silverlings are great, the true value to going for mines is in the points completing those regions get you.
Each mine grants you 1 silverling at the end of each round. Each silverling is worth ½ of a die. Given that it takes 2 dice to play the tile, only mines played in the first round will make back what you used to play them in dice. Based on this calculation, it may seem that mines are a terrible play, rather than merely a conditional one. But you must not forget that if you are filling up mine regions, you’re also scoring points for completing those regions.
So best case scenario is probably filling a 1 size region in the first round and a 2 size region in the second round. In addition to only paying, in effect, one net die throughout the course of the game, you would receive 22 points, which is spectacular value. Even if, for instance, you filled a 1 size region in round 3, and a 2 size region in round 4, you would receive 14 points on net-4 dice, which is 3.5 points per die. Not a great play, but not as terrible as you might have thought.
But, there’s a hidden value to silverlings that you may not have realized that tip the scales even more towards valuing mines highly. The most powerful knowledge tiles in the game all only appear in the center black region.
4. Knowledge tiles are better than you think
Ignoring those special knowledge tiles in the center for a bit, let’s talk about the selection you’ll find in the main area. I love getting point-scoring knowledge tiles, and I think they are often dramatically underestimated. On the flip side, I believe that the “efficiency” knowledge tiles are usually overestimated. Hear me out.
When I talk about efficiency knowledge tiles, I am referring to the tiles that generally replace the use of workers in some way. Looking at the rulebook, that’s tiles 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14. Additionally, number 6 doesn’t fall into this category, but is plainly bad. The rest either grant victory points or are very situational.
As always we need to be aware of the cost of playing a tile (2 dice) and the opportunity cost (~8 points). The efficiency tiles seem to provide a benefit in mitigating the number of dice you spend on workers throughout the game. Therefore, to break even in this metric, they need to be put into use roughly 4 times (2 dice spent on workers is 4 workers). In my experience this rarely happens.
Of course, they’re also valuable insofar as they help you complete regions. Situationally they may be great for that purpose, but there are usually better knowledge tiles to select to complete your region.
The standard victory point tiles will generally give you about 4-8 points by themselves, before you factor in their role in completing regions.
Most critically, the most important knowledge tiles all only exist in the central black region. Number 15, in my opinion, is the best single tile in the game. Just through normal play it should score you between 9-15 points. Particularly in a 4 player game where shipping goods is worth more points, this tile should be your number one priority as soon as you see it.
Knowledge tile 7 has the greatest point potential (21 points) but it is extremely situational. Tiles 24 and 25 are very good and can, with a bit of planning, get you over 10 points each. I never get number 14 because I try to never pay dice for workers, and number 12 is a great pick up towards the beginning of the game. Even though it’s an efficiency tile, it has the advantage of helping you snatch the rare mine and castle tiles, or block your opponent’s strategies. It’s particularly good in 2 player games where the board is much more tight.
Unless some other opportunity presents itself to me, my main strategy regarding knowledge tiles is to complete all of them, and to have 4 at an absolute minimum give me victory points.
5. Don’t start regions you don’t intend to finish
Remember how the majority of your points are going to come from completing regions? This means that you need to actually finish regions. Generally speaking, you should not start a region unless you intend to complete it. Exceptions can be made for particularly good knowledge tiles. Remember that you will have about 6-10 empty spaces depending on how efficiently you used your dice, so don’t let your reach exceed your grasp.
6. Don’t succumb to the sunk cost fallacy
As a corollary to the previous point, do not fall into the sunk cost fallacy, particularly when it comes to farms. The sunk cost fallacy is essentially the impulse to hold onto something that you have invested in. If you’re trying to complete a 6 size town region but find that you would have to pass up a great opportunity elsewhere, or find that it’s going to depend on a lot of luck in the last round, take a deep breath and analyze your scoring opportunities only from that point forward. Do not let the fact that you have already played into that region dissuade you from the objectively right move.
7. Plan your end-game board by the mid-game
Avoiding situations in which you have to abandon an investment can be fairly easy with a bit of planning. By the 3rd round you should have a good idea of what you want your final board to look like. You should then start to count how many dice you need to complete that objective, and make sure you’re giving yourself a good amount of cushion to account for bad dice rolls and opponents blocking you. While Castles of Burgundy is mostly full of tactical decisions, creating a long-term strategy for yourself can help clear your decision making.
8. Understand what your opponents will do
This piece of advice is particularly important in 2 player games, where every point denied to your opponent is effectively one point gained. 2 player games also have more opportunities to be mean because the number of tiles available are limited and are dependent more on luck. So be mean! Part of this is making sure that you stay ahead in turn order. Ship tiles are more important in two player games, and the person who is ahead for the bulk of the game has a large advantage.
It also means both reading your opponent’s dice roll and their board when deciding your move. While this is less important in 3-4 player games, you absolutely should not make the fatal mistake with any player count of only looking at your own board.
I hope you find this information helpful! I tried to pack in many tactics and strategies that I see being underutilized. The single most important piece of advice overall is to calculate your moves objectively. Is a given action actually furthering any particular point-acquisition goal, or is it merely the convenient action? Remember the 4 points per die guideline (for 2 player games. 3 and 4 player games will have ~20-25 point increases, respectively, with their winning scores), and think in terms of dice as the currency for the game. Good luck!