Sunday, 24 May 2015

Builders of Blankenburg the best (p)review I've played yet

I fairly recently signed up for an account over at Meeple Mechanic. Peter Schultz of Cobblestone Games was one of the first to contact me through the site. He was looking for someone to preview their new game Builders of Blankenburg. The game is currently on kickstarter and already half funded.

Builders of Blankenburg is a bidding and building game for 2-5 players. Players are bidding and trading resources in order to convert plans in their hand to buildings on the table. What you build is very important as citizens who move into Blankenburg have definite preferences for which buildings they want to stay in and they will reward the owners of those buildings with much needed income. 

I've got to say right off the bat Builders of Blankenburg is, by far, the best (p)review game I've played. These kickstarter preview games are often a mixed bag and sometimes feel like they could use a few more months (or years) of work. Not so with this game. The gameplay is very solid and it does something interesting and new. 

Note: this (p)review is based on an early prototype of Builders of Blankenburg. The physical components you see here do  not represent the final production versions. Very few of the cards have actual art on them and I know for a fact that the board background art is changing. In addition the resource cubes and beads may not represent what will be in the final product.

What is Builders of Blankenburg about?

Builders of Blankenburg is all about building up the town of Blankenburg and earning as much prestige as possible while doing this. Players gather their resources, comprised of Stone, Wood, Marble, Iron and Glass and spend these to turn Plan cards in their hands into buildings on the board. Each building built awards prestige to it's builder.

The problem is that all of those plans and resources cost silver which can be hard to come by. In order to earn income players have to be careful to build buildings that are in high demand by the growing citizenry of Blankenburg. Having citizens stay at your buildings gives you the silver to get more resources and thus build more buildings. So it's important to focus on what the citizenry want as well as which buildings award the most prestige.

At the very end of the game there is also an area control element. Each building is built in one of four districts and there are bonus prestige points to be had for the builders who have built the majority of buildings in each of these districts. 

Set up:

Set up is rather quick in Builders of Blankenburg. Each player gets one stone and one wood resource and a random basic plan card (from a subset of the basic plans used just for start up). Of the basic plans left one goes face up on the board in the public area (any player can build these public plans on their turn). A random card is drawn from the Grand Plan deck and also placed in the public area. Grand plans are for bigger buildings that give more income and points but cost more resources.

A set of starter citizens is added to the board equal to the number of players (again these are a subset of the full set of citizens). Starting resources are placed on the market based on the number of players. With a count of one less than the number of players.

Each player is given a character card. These cards give you some cool asymmetrical player powers that we found really help guide which way you will play once the game starts. Finally each player grabs 12 silver (potentially modified by the rules on their character card).


Each round of the game goes through the following five phases: Bidding, Building, Income, Marketplace and End of Turn.

Bidding: During the Bidding phase, the starting player (which passes to the left each turn) choose a number of resources equal to the number of players -1 and places them on the 'bidding wheel' on the board. There is a spot for each resource type in the game on this wheel and all resources of the same type are grouped on the wheel. Then a number of special dice are rolled, equal to the number of players with the icons on these dice representing more resources to be added to the bidding wheel. Wood and Stone are common so each icon rolled adds two to the wheel.

Once all the resources are added to the wheel a blind auction is held. Players select any amount of silver from behind their player screen and hold out a closed fist with their bid. The highest bidder takes all of the resources of one type from the wheel (with a max of three) as well as any gold. Gold is a special wild card resource that only comes up when certain citizens move into town. If there's gold available it goes on the wheel and the highest bidder gets it. After the highest bidder gets their resources the next highest bid grabs all of one resource and so on. Note that there's just one round of bidding, this isn't like Fleet or Power Grid. Ties are broken by current turn player order.

Building: During the building phase players spend their resources to turn plans into buildings. Each plan card lists the resources required at the bottom (for the Cathedral shown here you need 1 Wood, 3 Stone, 3 Glass, 2 Marble and 1 Iron). In addition to resource requirements the card tells you which district it belongs in (Religious for the Cathedral), how much prestige it is worth (5 for our Cathedral) and how much income it generates if a citizens chooses to reside there (3 for this building). Lastly each card lists an occupancy amount. This is how many citizens can reside in the building during the income phase (2 citizens for the Cathedral). 

In addition to building plans from their hands players also have the option of building one of the two public plans that are out on the board. These are placed at the start of the game and refreshed every End of Turn round if built. As they aren't replenished until the End of Turn, only one player would be able to build each of the current public buildings.

When a building is built it's card is placed on the board in the appropriate district (full districts cannot be built into). A player token is then placed on the building to remind everyone who owns the building (this reminds me of the houses in Caylus or the tokens in Lords of Waterdeep). 

During the building phase players also have the option of destroying one of their already built buildings. A player may do this in order to free up room in a district, replace a low value building with a higher value one or perhaps due to the ever changing desires of the citizenry. When a building is destroyed, if there was any wood or stone used in the construction you get 1 of that resource back. Destroying Grand buildings comes with a penalty of -1 prestige, there is no penalty for destroying basic buildings.

Income: The main thing that happens in the income phase is that citizens decide where to stay and generate income for building owners. First though two random things happen. To start an event card is drawn.

The event deck is filled with all kinds of things ranging from devastating earthquakes to town festivals. Events can change the game state significantly. Disastrous events like Fires and Earthquakes can cause buildings to be damaged. When they are damaged, the player marker on the building is flipped over and the building generates no income until repaired. Repairs are done during the building phase and cost more for Grand Plans. Most events are of a more positive nature. Many reward players for buildings already built. For example a Bountiful Harvest will have more people stopping in at the Tavern by adding that as a top building preference on all citizens.

After the event, a visitor card is drawn. This is a special citizen that is only going to visit Blankenburg for one turn. Each one has a special effect that comes into play as soon as the card is drawn. They usually give players an optional action they can choose to take. The Alchemist for example, allows you to convert Iron into Gold. 

In addition to providing some unique action, visitors also act like every other citizen and desire somewhere to stay for the night. They list two buildings, in order of preference, similar to a regular citizen.

This preference list is what we use next to determine income. Starting with the visitor and moving backwards through the collection of citizens, the players determine where each person will be residing for the turn.

Each citizen has a list of three places they would like to stay, with the highest preference being at the top of the list. For example, the Wench lists Tavern, Cottage, Brewery, in that order on her card. Her first choice is to stay at a Tavern. If there is no Tavern or the Tavern is full (remember each building lists an occupancy number) she will move on and try to stay at a Cottage. If there is no Cottage or the Cottage is full she will look for a spot at the Brewery. If the Brewery isn't available, then she will stay at an Inn. If no player has built an Inn she stays at the Inn owned by 'the board'. 

When a citizen finds somewhere to stay the owner of that building earns income, in silver, equal to the number in silver at the top right of the building card. Some buildings pay a lot more than others (but are often worth less prestige). 

Marketplace: During the marketplace phase players purchase new plans and buy/sell at the public market. New basic plans only cost 1 silver and you get your pick of two randomly drawn plans for that silver. Grand Plans cost 2 silver and you get the top card off the stack. While buying plans you also have the option to discard plans from your hand, for each plan you discard you get to draw and choose from an additional plan. There is a 3 plan hand limit that has to be maintained.

The market starts off with a number of resources equal to the number of players -1. This is also the maximum number of goods of each type that can ever be for sale in the market. In turn order each player gets the chance to buy one good at the market for 2 silver. Then each player gets a chance to buy a second resource but this time it costs 3 silver. At any time during this purchasing a player can also sell to the market for 1 silver per good. You cannot sell to the market if it already has as many of a good as there are players, and if the market is out of a good there is no way to buy it.

End of Turn: After everyone is done shopping at that market it is re-stocked. At least 2 Wood and Stone and at least 1 of each other resource should be in the market. Any goods higher than this total are left there. Any communal plans that were built are replaced by draws from the appropriate deck. 

Players are limited in the amount of resources they can hold and this total is checked. Each player can hold 5 wood and/or stone and 3 of each other resource. Any extras are returned to the general supply. A new citizen is added to the citizen track and if they have a gold coin printed on their card this is added to the bidding wheel. 

Lastly the first player token is passed to the left and a new round begins.

End of game: The game ends when there is either no spots left to construct buildings or if there is no room to place a new citizen in the following turn. Players get one last chance to repair their damaged structures.

All resources a player has at the end of the game are converted to silver on a 1 to 1 basis. Then players score 1 point per 10 silver they have. Lastly players are awarded points for owning a majority of buildings in each district. 

The player with the most prestige wins.

What did I think of Builders of Blankenburg?

I liked it. I really liked it.

As I said at the start of this (p)review, this is the best kickstarter prototype game I've played to date. It's very quick to set up and rather easy to teach as the gameplay elements just make sense. They fit the theme well. Of course I will bid for resources in order to fill my plans. It just makes sense that I turn plans into buildings. Why wouldn't the citizens want to stay at different buildings in an order of their preference? Of course players who's buildings attract people make the most money. It just all works very well together and makes sense.

I love the way the whole income phase works. Going down the track citizen by citizen trying to figure out where they stay is rather fun. You can't help but tell a story when you are doing so. "So the Blacksmith shows up. He's bummed there's no Forge built so he goes to see the soldiers in the Tower. That's full up though so he gives up and heads to his Tudor, the Tudor owner gets 2 silver"

I do have one complaint though, that also relates to this income phase. The game currently doesn't have a good way to mark which citizens stay where. You never remove the cards from the citizen track, so you have to remember who went where. After our third game we started actually placing the income generated on the buildings themselves, then having players collect it at the end of the income round. This way you could tell which buildings are already occupied. This still wasn't ideal but worked better than just using our memory.

Final Thoughts:

Builders of Blankenburg is an excellent game. One of the better games I've played this year. Easily the best kickstarter preview I've played this year. 

I give a strong recommendation for Builders of Blankenburg. I'll be backing it and I suggest anyone else who thinks the idea of building up a city while trying to cater to the needs of it's citizens sounds fun should back it as well.

There's a great game here, well worth supporting.

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