Welcome to Burano review

Walking in Burano (2018)

Game Details
NameWalking in Burano (2018)
ComplexityMedium Light [2.00]
BGG Rank1434 [7.10]
Player Count1-4
Designer(s)Wei-Min Ling
Buy it!Amazon Link

TL;DR: It's fine, I suppose. I guess. Whatever.

I love the art of Maisherly Chan so much that I will buy a game on its presence alone. Shadows in Kyoto was one such game, although its link to the dense extended universe of the Hanamikoji franchise certainly didn’t hurt. And so we find ourselves here, with Walking In Burano arrayed in front of us. The moral of the story I guess is that art is important and I am an uncritical consumer.

But also as we know I’m certainly not a uncritical post-consumer…

Walking in Burano Box

I’m not going to go in hard on Walking In Burano. It is what it is – a pleasant time-filler. It’s not particularly adventurous in its design or in the experience it presents to you as a player. It’s just nice. Gentle, even. Its cover art is an almost perfect encapsulation of what the game feels like to play – it’s like being a tourist somewhere agreeable. No pressures and no stresses. It’s just you and a slow-paced exercise in people watching.

It works like this – a set of cards in three categories are dealt out into a tableau. They represent the three possible levels of a building, and the various configurations in which they might appear. Every round, you get to choose a row of these. You start collecting from the top or the bottom, and you collect between one and three cards. If you only want the middle card, you still need to take the one that leads to it. You have a hand limit and it costs money to place them down. The fewer cards you take, the more money you get. The more cards you place, the more money it costs. Placement has to be done according to some relatively strict rules, such as ‘everything has to be the same colour in a row’, or ‘You can’t place cards if you don’t have the right foundations in place’, ‘adjacent houses cannot have the same colour’ and so on. You can break these rules, sometimes, but at a point penalty.

Building choices

Making your job a little easier is the existence of several ‘scaffold’ cards which you can use to create temporary arrangements of legal card placements. You can place a first floor even if you don’t have a street card as long as you place a scaffold there. Scaffolds are reconfigurable, and each player gets two. Moving them around is a free action although they are also bound by the game’s placement rules. They do though make those placement rules much less of a burden on your street.

Buildings with scaffolds

When you finish constructing a row, you choose a inhabitant or a tourist to come visit the building and they determine how scoring works. One might score you based on the number of cats in a building, another perhaps by the number of lights across a street. Once a player completes their fifth building, the game is over and you go into scoring. The player closest to the average number of points without going over wins.

Haha, no. The player with the most points wins. I let myself get carried away there with a brief flight of fantasy into the realms of the ‘passingly innovative’.

Visitors and Tourists in Burano

If it seems like there’s not a lot of meat on these bones, you’re right. Scaffolds pretty much remove any weight of consequence in card selection. Your ability to bypass placement rules with a point penalty means that you can make choices based on a simple arithmetic weighting. Bundling up the collection of cards and money in a single action removes decision tension. Despite Walking in Burano having all the trappings of a modern board game, it feels like an old fashioned card game. Something like Whist, or Go Fish, or even Solitaire.

Does that make it a bad game? Well, no. It is though certainly not something that’s going to get out of this review with anything approaching a recommendation. It does present you with decisions, but I’m hard-pressed to define any of them as ‘interesting’. You do have a rule-set to navigate, but it’s too pliable to be challenging.

Does all that make it a bad way to spend your time though? Maybe the answer to that question deserves a bit more attention.

Honestly, we’re done with our review of Burano at this point. It’s not a very interesting game. Feel free to hit the customer service kiosk button on your way out and have a nice day. Thank you for your custom. But you know, there’s nobody else here in the shop and Corona means that we’re all a bit starved of human contact these days. So I’m going to ramble on for a bit more.

Please rate our service kiosk buttons

I’ve often argued that the value of a review is only really seen when you build up familiarity with an author. Knowing your reviewer means that your interpretation of their thoughts is not about the review score, but about the degree of uncertainty the review score represents. If you find a random reviewer somewhere rate something as a ten out of ten game, that doesn’t mean the game is outstanding. What it means is that reviewer, for a range of reasons, is willing to endorse the game at that level. Those reasons may not be applicable to you. My point here though is that ‘what I value most in a game is not all that may be valuable in a game’. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll know my biases. You’ll know the kind of thing that gets me all hot and bothered.

When a review ends as early as this one, I do like to spend a bit of time considering the value I might have missed in my own sessions. And that often involves thinking about the kind of use-cases to which games such as Walking in Burano might be profitably put. And I think really the value is in the comparison to slower, more sedate card games. I often find these drearily uninspiring, but sometimes people play them to excess and it’s not because they’re just counting out the hours until the cool release of the grave. Sometimes it’s because the game isn’t supposed to be the focal point of the experience. It’s just the reason the experience exists.

Burano coins

One of my weird game-playing quirks is that I will sometimes find myself compelled to play games that I know are bad. I’ve never reviewed The Game because I only own it in digital form but I’ve sometimes described it as ‘the worst game I can’t stop playing’. There’s virtually no meaningful decision making involved, and it’s often mathematically unsolvable. For those that haven’t encountered it, it’s a game of trying to lay out a random deal of cards in such a way that it forms four neat piles – two ascending, two descending – where each card must progress the sequence. So if you have an 89 in a descending pile, the next card must be 88 or lower. If you have an 88, great. But maybe you’ve only got a 79, or perhaps a 62. You look at your cards, you assess the piles, and you play what you hope is mathematically optimal.

It’s awful. It turns me from a thinking human being into an underperforming computer sort algorithm, and I have almost zero fun with it. And yet I find myself firing it up again and again. And I suspect the reason is a conflict in my mentality. ‘I want to play a game’, my operating system insists. ‘You don’t currently have processor cycles to spare’, points out my CPU. The compromise is that I pick a game that doesn’t spend brain energy I don’t have available. And thus The Game gets more play on my tablet than many other apps I genuinely adore. It’s likely the same thing that occasionally causes me to fall of the wagon and into the Cookie Mines.

I think there’s a complementary concept here – social bandwidth. I’m going to define that as the amount of your attention, and time, that is available for enjoying the people around you once you’ve finished with the various computations and discussions around the game itself. A game with very high cognitive costs will tend to have people staring silently at the board as they grind over possibilities. That means no brain capacity left over for idle chat. A game with very intense communication may not use up a lot of your brain but it uses up the oxygen of conversation. No capacity left over that isn’t spent on productively achieving your goals.

In a game like Chinatown, you don’t have time to chat. All your brain cycles are taken up with the deals you’re making and how the deals everyone else is making are a problem. All your conversation is taken up with negotiation, arguing, and fermenting division as is appropriate. It’s a game that fills your head and your environment from wall to wall and I think that’s an astonishing thing to accomplish. If you want to catch up with your friends while you’re playing, you need to force those spaces into the session because they don’t appear naturally. Chinatown, in other words, is exceptionally efficient at using up social bandwidth.

But man, if you just want to catch up with someone you haven’t met in a while… Chinatown wouldn’t be the game I’d recommend you play.

I’ve written before that board games can be a great cure for social isolation because they offer a non-stigmatising option for saying ‘I would like to spend some time with you’. Not all games are an ideal follow through for that. If you want people to enjoy the game, you go for Chinatown. If you want people to enjoy the people around them, well… maybe you go for a game that gives friendship a chance to take root. A game that requires less social bandwidth, in other words.

Walking in Burano, in comparison to the kind of games I usually enjoy the most, is a stress-free walk through a quiet forest. It’s going fishing on a pleasantly warm day. It’s a catch up over coffee. It is a game, in other words, that doesn’t put a big pressure on the social bandwidth of a meetup.

Is that enough for me to suggest you check it out? Not really. I’m in the business of evaluating games in terms of how successful they are as games. The domains of friendly conversation and enjoying the presence of your friends are as alien to me as the distant moons of Saturn.

It is though enough for me to suggest that check out what other people have to say about it. You should be doing that on a regular basis anyway, but I think you’d get a fairer appraisal of the game from someone that knows how to find the simple joy in something like Old Maid and the company of other people.