Builders of Blankenburg (or BoB if you will) is a Euro-style resource and build type game that came out in 2016 after a (barely) successful Kickstarter. It looks and feels more than a bit like Lords of Waterdeep, which as you know is one of my all-time favorite games, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite match up. If I were to sum the game in one sentence I would say it’s a cool idea that is held back by some major issues in design.
In BoB you gather up 5 different resources (wood, stone, iron, marble, and glass) and use them to build buildings. Buildings provide prestige points (i.e. victory points) and provide income. Resources can be acquired by bidding for them at the beginning of each round and by purchasing them from the marketplace near the end of each round. Buildings also provide income whenever a citizen stays there; the game starts out with a number of citizens equal to the number of players, and a new one is added at the end of each round. Play continues until the citizen track is full or there is no more room for buildings. Variety to the gameplay is provided by things like the event cards and the visitor cards; one of each is drawn each round and they can have good, bad, or indifferent effects. Another point that adds to the gameplay is the citizens; each one has three different buildings they will stay at if they can, and trying to acquire buildings that match up with the citizens on the board is a big part of the strategy.
All in all it’s a solid concept. When I first opened the box I was pretty hyped because it looked a lot like LoW, and it even does play like it a bit, but there are some serious issues that really hold it back. The first, and probably the most serious of these issues, are the visuals. Now when it comes to games of any type (video games, board games, cards, whatever) I’m not an aesthetics guy. I don’t care if the video game has pretty graphics, or the pictures on the cards are cool, or if I like the music playing in the background. Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay. I only care about aesthetics when they’re really really good or really really bad. And this is a case of the latter unfortunately. The visual problems are myriad:
- There are 4 types of buildings that can be built, and each can only be built in certain spots. The spots are outlined on the board but they’re so light (and they’re dashed, not solid) and the board is so busy that you can hardly see them. The game board in general is far too crowded, and should have been scaled way back visually.
- The 5 resources are represented by small blocks like many other games. Those are fine. But each plan (the cards that represent the buildings) has the resources you need to use for that building on it, and the colors don’t match the resources. It’s really dumb. Plus some of them, especially the solid black bar that represents iron, are very hard to see since the cards are so dark.
- Because bidding for resources is done in secret there are screens included for each player. On the inside of the screens each building is listed, along with what it takes to build it. Very nice, BUT they didn’t include which of the 4 types the building is, or whether it’s a Level 1 or Level 2 type building, information that would be extremely useful (the Level 2 buildings are much bigger and better, and there are significantly different treatments of them in the rules)
- Each player gets a set of markers to use to mark their building and to keep track of their score using the scoring track at the top of the game board. Instead of making the markers large and distinctive they opted for tiny and similar. Each on has a different pattern on it, but because they’re so small you can’t easily tell them apart, and instead of using solid colors each one has multiple colors that are repeated throughout.
The scoring track in general sucks because it’s way too small, and because this isn’t a high-scoring type of game (the winning player might have around 30 points at the end of the game), you’ll constantly be trying to squeeze a bunch of markers into the same tiny space. Also, it doesn’t have a zero spot on the track, what’s up with that?
In addition, even though the game is divided into 4 neat phases, (bidding for resources, adding buildings, income, and marketplace) the gameflow is still very hard to grasp and follow. It just doesn’t move smoothly at all. Even after a few games you’ll be saying, “OK, what do we do next…?” This is greatly exacerbated by the rulebook. It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, it’s pretty thorough and covers most everything you need, but it’s laid out in these huge walls of text. Each phase I mentioned is one huge block of text with no bullet points, capsulized bits of text, illustrative examples, or anything. Trying to locate a particular rule in the book, which you’ll be doing often, is very tedious. I never use those little reference cards that come with a lot of games, but this is one time I would so of course it didn’t come with any.
It feels like there was no playtesting of this game once it was actually created. Like they did all the playtesting with mockup pieces, then once they got funding they just printed it up and sold it. It seems like these issues would be pretty obvious and would come up if someone had played the game in its final form.
Despite the major flaws, I do still somewhat enjoy the game. I’m willing to play it once in a while, but it’s not something I want to play over and over. There is an expansion out as well, although I’ll probably never buy it (for one thing it’s called Cutthroat and that’s not exactly my wife’s cup of tea!). I rate it as decent but not a must-play. Thanks for reading!