Boardgaming – Castles of Burgundy and Thunder Alley

The Castles of Burgundy

I’ve been playing a number of two-player games of The Castles of Burgundy recently, but Mikey had been intrigued by the good reputation of the game on BoardGameGeek (and the potential of picking it up quite cheaply at a nearby store), so I brought it in last Wednesday so he’d get a chance to play it. We were joined by Scott and Brad, so I was in the unfamiliar territory of playing a four-player game. (How well rated is the game? It’s 10th. That’s incredibly high!)

Somewhere along the way, I managed to get into a shipping strategy that really didn’t pay off. I did really, really well at not completing areas of my board before other players, as I got distracted and flitted from strategy to strategy. It was one of my least convincing games.

Mikey got an early mine and the skill that gave him a worker whenever the mine produced, and then moved to quickly fill up a five-area of buildings by the end of the second turn.

Scott was competing with me on ships, but he filled up a three-area of ports while I split mine 2-1. What was I thinking?

Brad quickly completed all the castles, and also gained a few good points from livestock early in the game.

At the end of the second turn, the scores were Scott 52, Brad 50, Mikey 49, and Merric 37.

Clockwise from top left: Scott, Brad, Merric, Mikey

It’s okay, I kept telling myself. I was getting end-game VP skills. I’d catch up!

Mikey moved into the sheep trade, placing a 5-area of sheep that eventually had 16 sheep in it! I’m not sure of the cumulative total he got out of it, but about 49 points sounds right even before the 15 points for the 5-area plus round points.

Scott stumbled in the later game. He’d gained the 3 points/type of good shipped skill, but wasn’t able to ship all his goods. It gave him a 12 point bonus in the end game, but that wasn’t enough.

Brad finished a 5-area of buildings and a 5-area of farms (though not all with the same area), and managed to score 21 from being first to complete all of his mines, castles and fields.

Meanwhile, I was first to complete skills, second to complete ships, and then just had to rely on final-VP bonus points: 12 goods shipped for 12 VPs, 12 points for three of one type of building, and 12 for three of another type of building.

Clockwise from top left: Scott, Brad, Merric, Mikey

Final scores: Mikey 216, Brad 205, Merric 169, Scott 154.

Yes, I was just too late on completing everything!

It was a very enjoyable game, just the same, and apparently Mikey hasn’t been able to stop talking about it since… I guess he’ll be getting it soon!

Thunder Alley

After our game of The Castles of Burgundy it was time to turn our attention to one of the best recent games from GMT Games: Thunder Alley. It’s a racing game. Yes, I know, they’re known for their wargames. However, every so often they recognise a really good game and publish it. Thunder Alley is one of those. It’s a card-driving racing game, by which I mean you play cards to activate and move the cars.

What makes it special is that most of the cards activate more than one car: you move an entire pack along with you. A large part of the strategy is learning when to stay in the pack and when to make a break for it. And believe me, it’s a very strategic game. That said, the interactions of the players can make the game feel very chaotic, and the event deck throws in a small amount of chaos.

Here we are, all ready to start the race:

In a four-player game, each player controls four cars. They have five cards in hand, and each card is played on a separate car, until all four have been activated. Then a new hand is drawn – the unplayed card can be discarded or retained.

The first turn saw us all keeping together in a pack and moving quickly around the track together. Or, at least, most of us stayed together – towards the end of the turn, one group of cars broke away from the others, and we actually finished the first lap in the first turn! I’d done really well and my car (purple) was in the lead, and two more of my cars were in that lead group. I was really well positioned for the next stage of the game.

Unfortunately, it’s at this point the first event card was drawn, and my lead car’s transmission failed and it was out of the race! The yellow flag restart meant we all were bunched up again.

Just one car fewer!

And so we were off again! This time, the pack didn’t form in the same way, and cars were falling further and further behind. My own cars weren’t in the lead pack; indeed, they were some way off the pace! Poor Brad even had one car that hadn’t finished the first lap… (The lead car is marked by a counter and is on the right of the following picture).

Without the big pack, our cars weren’t moving forward as fast. By the end of the third turn, we had only just completed the second lap.

However, I managed to get my cars up to second and third… and after the lead car drove into the pits, I was able to become the lap leader again. Unfortunately, my cars were taking some significant damage…

The race continued. By dint of some excellent cards in hand, I was able to get my two cars out to a big, big lead – and even though they then both had pit stops, no-one was able to catch up to them. Other players tried racing with damaged cars, but the damage slowed them down significantly.

Unfortunately, although I had the two lead cars, I also had one that was very slow. Both Brad and I lost cars that were lapped… I now had cards in 14th and 16th. Winning this race would be really hard!

Incredibly, no-one managed to catch my cars at all and they roared over the finish line in 1st and 2nd place! Brad’s car came 3rd, while Mikey took 4th, 5th and 6th!

The question was now who had taken the race – it isn’t the car that wins. It’s the team that does the best overall (with bonus points for leading the race at the end of each turn!)

We added up the points… and Mikey was declared the winner with two more points than me!

I love Thunder Alley – it’s the best car racing game I’ve played.

The race had taken a couple of hours, so it was now time to go home – but it had been a very enjoyable evening!

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