Castle Design Decisions

  • Sin

When you play board games, why do some people take so long to have their turn?

In this article I take a look at how Castles of Burgundy's design tries to tackle 'analysis paralysis' and help players keep the game moving.

Get on with it!

In an economic sense, more choice should be preferable, right? In reality though, extra choice means extra toll on the chooser. Balancing different outcomes and potential future benefits against each other takes time and effort. Choice overload occurs when the number of options causes too much mental effort, effectively cancelling the advantages of having those extra choices.

In strategy games, players evaluate a large number of options. In some games, the sheer volume of these can be overwhelming. This can lead to a hesitation to commit to a decision before analysing every option, leaving other players rolling thier eyes and losing interest in the game.

On a player level, it is also worth mentioning the concept of the satisficer-maximiser spectrum. When presented with a decision, a maximiser tends to seek the most optimal outcome. This can lead to them considering every available route before making a decision. A satisficer attempts to find an option which at least matches or exceeds their concept of a 'good' outcome. This generally means they will be satisfied with the first 'good' outcome they discover.

In our board game scenario, the closer a player is to the 'maximiser' end of the spectrum, the more difficulty they are likely to have in commiting to their turn when the number of possible strategies is high. When playing to win, analysing every possibility is worthwhile, but not necessarily fun for other players.

What's it all about?

Castles of Burgundy is a 2011 strategy board game. Named after a region of France, the game earned its German designer Stefan Feld a plethora of awards on release. The game is named after a region of France, itself named after the Germanic Burgundian tribe said to have settled there in the 5th Century.

Set in the 15th Century, 2-4 players assume the roles of influential princes. The aim is to create a successful estate. They accomplish this through careful and shrewd arrangement of tiles (6 sided cardboard hexes). The game occurs over the course of 5 phases. Hexes are selected from one of the central pools, and then added to the players board. This board represents the player's estate and each type of hex has different benefits. Examples include gaining points, or moving a player ahead in the game turn order.

A handful of hexes.

During the course of the game, different options are presented to the player. The key is to find the best way to manage your options.

Building blocks

Castles of Burgundy provides an opportunity to discuss choice architecture. This refers to the design of the ways in which choices are presented. Although the game has many moving parts within the framework of selecting and placing hexes into your estate, it adds several elements which reduce player choice. I beleive that in designing these elements, the game has been structured to reduce the likelihood of choice overload.

  • In Castles of Burgundy players must roll 2 dice at the start of the round. The results of this roll determine what the player can do that round. This small element of luck in a strategic game reduces the number of considerations a player must make when taking their turn.

  • A player may only have 3 hexes in his possession at any time. This forces a player to complete the 'choose and place' routine for hexes before opening up themselves to the choice of further hexes.

  • During each round of the game the hex pool slowly empties. And so during the game the the number of useful choices dwindles and refills several times. This gives a player the opportunity to think about other considerations than just grabbing the most beneficial available hexes.

  • All players simultaneously roll their dice at the start of each round. Although this doesn't benefit the first player, it allows the other players time to consider their goes whilst the preceding players are performing theirs.

These considerations in design to reduce choice mean less complexity in deciding between the few remaining options. This allows players to develop their estates based on the choices they do have. There is also more time to rethink their short and long term goals as the options dictate. This leads to less downtime where a player is considering their options.

The player board, midgame.

On the spectrum

In playing a board game, the player must make many decisions to move the game forward. A maximiser is likely to agonise over these decisions and even avoid choosing when the number of choices is too high. A satisficer is likely to be more comfortable in this position, and is less likely to be dissatisfied with decisions made.

By reducing the chance of choice overload, the game structure in Castles of burgundy welcomes both maximiser and satisficer tendencies. Restrictions mean less down time where a maximiser style player sits working out the best options. The shifting and refreshing set of hexes allows a satisficer to make quick but effective decisions as there is less chance of them overlooking a good strategy.

Overall then, my point is this: Whether you are a maximiser or satisficer, Castles of Burgundy is a great example of a thoughtfully designed game, which offers options through careful choice architecture. Through this, the flow of the game is smooth and manages to reduce the amount of 'analysis paralysis'. In doing so, I feel this adds to the level of engagement for the players.

Cheers!


Are you a maximiser or satisficer? Do you agonise over each turn in board games or just go with the flow? Let us know your stories in the comments!