Builders of Blankenburg
Designed by Peter Schultz
Art by Liz Stephanoff
Review by Jonathan Franklin
Are you tired of building towns where no one lives? Do you despise resource conversion games that have no point? How much fun is perfect information?
Builders of Blankenburg is a break from the norms where you have imperfect information, need to build to meet the needs of the citizens, and need resources to build those structures. It is a classic town building Euro with a few twists that make it a smooth medium-weight gamer game.
I’ll briefly cover the nuts and bolts of the game, as it would be useful, but won’t dwell on the details, as those can be found online.
The goal of the game is to gain the most points by building structures, achieving majorities in the districts, and having money and resources at game end.
The game ends when the town is full of citizens or full of structures. In general, you can control whether or not to build to trigger the game end, but the citizens come routinely unless an event changes things.
Each turn is four simple phases.
First, the start player seeds the resource wheel with a resource, often one she needs, then she rolls as many dice as there are players to fill it out with additional random resources. The dice have the five resources on five faces plus a blank side, which means no goods are added. Now the players have a simultaneous in the fist bid for resources, after which they choose from wood, stone, glass, iron, or marble. In special cases, a wild resource, a gold coin, may be available.
Second, in turn order, players may spend their resources to build structures based on plans in their hand or communal plans on the board. These structures generate prestige points upon being built, and also lead to income, as discussed below. Structures come in four types, denoted by the their border color, and can only be built on spaces on the board of that color. Filling the board is one of the end game conditions, but if you want to delay the end of the game while still building, you can overbuild one of your own structures with another one of the same type but greater prestige value.
Third, after building, an event is flipped and a visitor comes to town. The event and visitor can change things up by making everyone richer or poorer, removing or adding another citizen, etc. Then the visitor and citizens, in reverse order, go inhabit the structures. Each visitor has a list of three preferences for where they want to stay in town. If their first preference has not been built, they will stay in their second choice. If that too has not been built, they will stay in their third choice. If none of those exist, they will go to a player’s inn, if that has been built. If none of those have been built, she will stay in the city inn, which is no good to anyone. You do the same thing for all the citizens in reverse order, so following the visitor, the most recent citizen to come to town goes into a location first. At the location they end up, they will pay the structure’s builder/owner the rent as shown on the card. However, each structure has an occupancy limit, so if three citizens want to go to the university, it might not have room for all three, leading some to have to stay in other structures because the university is full. After the visitor and all citizens have moved into their structures, as indicated by the stacks of rent coins on the structure card, each player collects all the rent on their structures.
Fourth, with the newly received income, you can spend money in three rounds, first to get a new basic or grand plan, second to buy a resource for 2 coins, and third to buy another resource for three coins. There is a simple mop up to ensure no one is hoarding resources. You then restock the marketplace, add a citizen, pass the start player marker and play another round.
Photo by kenes35
I have played this game three times with pretty different groups.
It is a very smooth game where playing through a sample round makes everything clear – you can then reset and start the game for real. In addition, there are variable player powers that are handed out at the start. These vary in their upfront vs. downstream benefit, but are more comprehensible to the other players after the sample round. At the same time, they help direct the players or lead different people in different directions, as you might start with extra stone and hence be seeking wood while I start with extra wood and am seeking extra stone. There are enough variable player powers, events, visitors, and citizens that every game will be different. At the same time, the structures are not too swingy, so there are no ‘killer structures’.
I liked several aspects of Builders of Blankenburg over similar games. First, it felt less dry and more interactive. I found myself annoyed at others as they thwarted my plans, often to further their own, but sometimes just because they had a choice of two useless materials and chose the one they thought I needed.
I have played so many dry calculating Euros recently that I did not mind the events and visitors. It meant I was not planning three turns ahead, which was a relief. At the same time, it would have been nice if money had been slightly looser, as it is hard to catch up after an event whacks you and only you.
Unlike some recent games, there are really four simple phases that are repeated, which makes it a good after dinner on a weeknight game. My wife appreciated the rhythm of the turns and the size of the decision-space, not too large and not too small. In addition, as someone not keen on auctions, she found the bidding fine, as it was not as high pressure as in most auction games. In-the-fist bidding decreases the stress, as it is more about reading opponents and then guessing, rather than a round-and-round auction for a Power Grid powerplant.
The art was muted and beautiful. It was neither garish nor dark, so pleasing to play with. The structures on the cards all had individualized illustrations, as did the events, visitors, and citizens, so lots of art assets in this game to admire. We liked the double-sided board because it expanded the playability of the game without complicating it. The starting side shows a more fully laid out town, while the more advanced side has a more open feel. The dice were engraved, so no chance of them showing wear in my lifetime. Overall, the production quality was impressive, from the player screens to the board to the box itself.
There is very strong indirect interaction in the bidding phase, as low bidders can be left getting one of something they don’t want or need. Players can always bid zero to get 3 coins, but that pretty much guarantees you are not building anything that turn, which makes it hard to get out of your money losing ways.
There is a Turn Zero aspect to the game in that you can see the first citizens in town, equal to the number of players, before starting. If you have a plan that one of them will stay in as their first choice, you know you will always have someone to stay in your structure, unless someone kills off that character with an event. The gamers noted that the plans they were dealt at the start strongly affected their cashflow for the first few turns. As the starting cards are marked with a star, non-gamers did not see that as an issue and just played through.
One of the starting cards is the inn. In theory, this is great because a city without any of the structures listed on the citizen will go stay in the inn, but the inn is a paltry payoff, so some of the variable player powers were as strong as the inn. At the same time, there were some synergies and non-synergies between initial plans and player powers that appeared to set some better up than others.
Finally, the event cards should be shown to new players, just so they are not surprised when a negative event occurs. They can hurt the leader, but also can hurt the person who just built a fancy structure to try to catch up to the leader, so they are just something to be aware of in terms of variability.
In conclusion, I have enjoyed my three plays of Builders of Blankenburg and plan on keeping it and playing it a few more times to explore more possibilities, as well as the other side of the board, which has a more complex town layout. Nice job Peter and Liz!