Spice it up: Walking In Burano

Burano, Murano, San Michelle, Torcello — just saying these names conjures up beautiful homes, restful boat rides, and flavorful Italian seafood. But someone has to maintain those beautiful houses. Does your game group like challenging games that play in less than hour and look gorgeous on the table?

Well, Spice It Up! with Walking in Burano, a tableau building game all about painting the beautiful houses found on the island of Burano off the coast of Venice (Italy, we mean, not the one on the Gulf of Mexico).

Walking In Burano is a 2018 release originally published by EmperorS4 and now published here in the states by AEG. It was designed by Wei-Min Ling, with art by Maisherly. According to BGG, Wei-Min Ling also designed Mystery of the Temples (which we previously reviewed here).

The box cover says the game plays from 1-4 people and takes up to 40 minutes. In our experience, it plays well at all multi-player counts (although we have not yet played the solo), and takes about 30 minutes.

The theme of Burano is all about painting the outside of the beautiful homes in Burano, which need constant revitalization to keep their vibrant colors. I explained it at Dice Tower Con by saying that we are all competing to win the favor of the town’s contract to keep the houses up, and have been given a small set of houses to paint as a test. May the best painter win the contract!

PRESENTATION:

Burano comes in a box a little bigger than my hand, with a colorful stylized scene of the town painted on the front.  The box is sturdy, and fits everything nice and neatly.

The box contains a ton of cards, and my edition even had a small expansion containing four bonus inhabitants, so I was able to mix and match random groups of inhabitants. Most of the inhabitants’ goals makes sense. For instance, Santa Claus wants chimneys on his street, the ship captain likes cats, the server wants food and dress shops, and the florist loves flowers on her street. The artwork on the cards is fun, whimsical and serviceable, even if not especially memorable.

The cardboard coins are perfectly sized and thick, but the cat first player standee was not well made and kind of leaned a little. Since this is a small box game, the standee did not really make that much of a difference and had nothing to do with gameplay, so I give it a pass.

I was surprised to find that there were tiny little flaps that seemed to create a nice insert for the cards to rest between plays and while in the box. Unfortunately, the design was not as good in practice as it may have been on paper. The small flaps do nothing to keep the cards from shifting around while bouncing around in my backpack. Everytime I pulled hte game out, I had to reorganize all of the cards. I have resigned myself to just putting the cards in separate zip lock bags.

GAMEPLAY:

The premise of the game is simple. Players will lay out a “market” of cards out on the table representing the colorful first, second and roof areas of different colored houses. Players do two things: first, grab one, two or three cards, and second, placing one, two or three cards in their tableau.

There are a few hard and fast rules: The less cards you grab, the more money you get back from the bank. The more cards you lay down in your tableau, the more money you have to pay the bank. You can’t keep more than three cards in your hand, nor six coins, after the end of your turn. Once you start a house in one color, you have to play all cards on that house in that same color. Two houses of the same color can’t be next to each other. And you must play the cards in a way that makes sense — can’t put the roof on the first floor for instance.

Some of these rules can be broken: if you spend three victory points, you can mix colors in a house, or even put two houses next to each other even though they are the same color. But, you only have four of those three victory point chips, so plan accordingly.

Building the houses is the beautiful part of the game. The thinky part of the game comes when you have to decide which cards to grab to your hand and which ones to place on your street. Each card has various symbols in addition to colors — things like cats, lamps, curtains, people, chimneys, plants and flowers. Some of the first floor cards represent shops that give you bonus points for building. And, of course, there are the obligatory negative point symbols (boarded up windows).

Build the right structure at the right time, and when completed, you can earn a visit from either the inhabitants of the town (who score points for certain symbols in a particular row or rows), or earn a visit from a tourist (who score points for that house only).

After the first person builds the fifth house, the other players finish their turns and the game ends.

BUT IS IT ANY FUN?

Walking In Burano is one of my favorite types of games, one that EmperorS4 seems to specialize in. It is a small box game that fits in your hand, yet takes a mechanic that I love (tableau building and collection) and explores it deeply all in the space of only a half an hour.

My wife and I have played this a ton, and has become our preferred two player card / tableau game of late. She loves the player interaction that really shines with two players. (I’m just not skilled enough to keep track of four players especially at the speeds we play games in the Gumbo!)

But I have also played it a lot at other play counts. At Gumbo Game Nights, and at Dice Tower Con, I was able to teach and play it with lots of different people of different interests. One morning’s game was especially representative. We were in the hot games area at DTC, with three heavy gamers about to start their 10:00 am game sessions and with me needing to get back to my volunteer booth duties. I pulled out Walking In Burano, the type of game that these heavy, long game aficionados would normally walk by without a glance.

I taught it quickly, and we launched into a four player game. It was a knife fight! All three of the other players were good gamers, constantly checking each other’s progress to ensure that they grabbed the house parts they needed in time to grab the right visitor cards. The scores were high, and each of the players said that this was a great warm up for their heavier games.

That tells me that you can play it as a beautiful simple little tableau building game, or play it as a really competitive and thinky thirty minute game. I’ve played both ways, and I have enjoyed Walking In Burano immensely. Right now, it is the top thirty minute warm up game that I have played so far this year. This past month at Gumbo Game Night, I played 8 Minute Empire and Walking In Burano back to back, games that are dissimilar in theme and mechanics but similar in size and length. While the comparisons are only for the time frame and weight, I’d much rather play Walking In Burano than the former. The game design is straight-forward yet challenging, and the passive aggressive cut throat nature of the card selection in addition to the thinkiness that goes into which cards to select, keep, and play makes it really shine over 8 Minute Empire.

Are there any downsides to the game? Yes, as stated above, the insert for the edition I received was pretty worthless. The randomization of the inhabitants is oh so important, yet oh so fiddly especially when the cards are in disarray after sprinting over to an empty game table at Dice Tower Con! And while the colors are gorgeous on the table, and the artwork fun, there’s nothing that really stands out in the presentation category. Finally. I could imagine that with only four extra cards, there is a danger in quickly burning through the fun level of the game without a lot of replayability.

But yeah, these are picayune complaints, because for this style of game — small box quick teaching, quick playing thirty minute tableau builder for four people — this little box packs a heck of a punch.

SUMMARY:

Pros:

  • Easy to teach
  • Art is fun and colorful
  • Rule book is well done
  • Plays bigger and feels bigger than the size of the box
  • Explores the tableau mechanic and economy management perfectly
  • Plays equally well at all multi-player counts

Cons:

  • Really needs the extra four cards that came in my edition
  • One or two of the cards are a little confusing
  • Sharpest scores come to those who score five buildings — no real way to win that I can see by getting only four done

If you like tableau building games, I strongly recommend you check out Walking In Burano. There are a whole village of inhabitants and tourists just waiting to see your handiwork!

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

 

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