In today’s board game review, I look at a boardgame with a unique worker placement system that also combines bidding using influence, Bastille from Queen Games.
It’s Paris weeks before The French Revolution, and different factions are using their influence to rally the commoners and gather weapons. Fulfil missions, search the catacombs under Paris, and raid the Bastille, all while trying to manage your dwindling coffers in Bastille.
Disclosure: Queen Games provided me with a review copy of Bastille, no other compensation was provided. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Check out what you get with Bastille from Queen
The best way to see what you get in the box is to watch our Bastille Unboxing Video on YouTube.
Bastille comes in the standard-sized Queen games square box. This is something I appreciate, a company that has a standard set of box sizes, especially when that box matches up with the sizes of other boxes from other companies and fit on standard board game shelves like the Ikea Kallax
Bastille features a rather large four-fold board with one of the clearest and easiest to see layouts and designs I’ve encountered. The text is large, iconography is well designed and sections of the board are even colour coded. This colour coding carries over into the rulebook as well so that the rules for the red section of the board are in the red section of the rulebook.
Under the board is a set of nice thick cardboard punchboards. These contain a number of items, including two large catacombs boards, ten bonus tiles, eight Versailles tiles, twenty-four weapon tokens, fifty-eight coins, twelve influence tokens and one scoring token in four different player colours. It’s worth noting that the player colours used here are picked based on the theme and feature the colours of the French flag, red, white and blue as well as black.
Queen Games was thoughtful enough to include a large two-sided summary sheet that covers all of the various mission cards, the contents of the citizen decks, the mid-game and end game scoring system, as well as a quick rule summary presented in a variety of languages.
Three are three rulebooks in the box in three languages, French, German and English. The English rules are twelve pages long, with eleven pages of rules and a one-page summary. This rulebook features more examples and pictures of actual game components than text. As noted earlier the rules are also colour coded to match sections of the board. Reading the rules is a breeze and you can easily learn the game from the book.
All of these components rest over a pretty typical Queen Games box insert, which is a full-colour cardboard insert separating the box into two large sections. While it’s not terrible, it’s not very useful either.
Inside the insert, you’ll find a black bag used for holding the henchmen cubes that get sent into the catacombs. There are also a number of wooden components in the four-player colours, consisting of two meeples and twenty henchmen cubes per player.
Finally, there is a deck of cards, this is split over two types. First, there is a deck of thirty-five character cards featuring ten peasants, ten soldiers, ten nobles and five monks. Second, there is a deck of twenty mission cards. All of the cards, and all of the tiles I mentioned earlier, feature the same large and clear icons that you find on the main board. What I love about these is how large they are and how easy they are to read, even at a distance.
Overall I have to say I was extremely impressed by the component quality in Bastille. Queen Games is known for producing high-quality games and it’s great to see that their reputation for producing first-rate components still stands.
A look at the gameplay in Bastille, the French Revolution based board game
To start a game of Bastille, first sort the character cards into three decks based on the letters on them, then shuffle those and stack them in reverse order: C,B,A.
Deal out four characters to the Place Louis, the five spot, on the board. The Versailles tiles are shuffled and stacked at Versailles, a.k.a. the three spot on the board. The catacomb boards are also placed on the main board.
A number of weapons, based on the number of players, are randomly placed in the Bastille, section six on the board.
The mission cards are shuffled and placed face down in the Etats Généraux, the seven spot on the board. Bonus tiles are randomized and placed on the main board, one for each of the eight turns of the game including one randomly selected final round tile.
Players each get a set of influence tiles, a scoring title, a number of henchman cubes, and their two meeples, plus a number of coins with a total value of eight. One meeple is placed at the start of the scoring track, the other is placed at the start of the Bastille track, section six of the board.
From their pool of influence tiles, players will take three or four of these at set values based on the player count. For example in a three-player game players will start with four tiles, with values of one, one, one, and two. Finally, players each draw one starting mission card from the mission deck already placed out on the board.
A game of Bastille is played over eight rounds. Each round is broken into three phases. First players will place influence tiles, then the locations on the board are resolved in numerical order and then there is a flag scoring phase. At the end of round four and at the end of the game there is a special scoring round.
Phase 1: Placing influence tokens
In turn, players choose one of their influence tokens to place at one of the seven locations in Paris represented on the board. Each of the locations has spots for two to four influence tokens and once a spot is taken no other influence token can be placed there. Tokens fill up the location spots left to right. Players are free to play multiple tokens at the same location.
Phase 2: Evaluate Locations
Locations are resolved in numerical order starting with location one and ending with location seven. At each location the player who placed the highest numbered influence token will activate the location first, followed by the player with the second highest influence, and so on. Ties are awarded to the player with a token furthest to the left at that location. Here is a break down of each location and what players receive for playing there.
Banque de Paris (1) – Players collect coins with a value equal to the amount of influence played here multiplied by two. The player in first place, by influence, also takes the first player token for the next round.
Notre Dame (2) – Players can upgrade their influence tokens here. They remove the influence token played in this location from the game and replace it with a token from their pool that is numerically one higher. Note the pool of influence tokens is limited and the maximum influence number is four. The player in first place, by influence, also receives one victory point.
Versailles (3) – Each round there will be a new Versailles tile at this location. Each tile features one of two rewards that range from a number of coins, torches, or victory points, to movement on the Bastille track or the ability to place henchman in the catacombs bag. The player with the highest influence gets to pick which reward they want with the player in second getting the remaining reward.
Catacombs (4) – The player in first place places two henchmen into the catacombs bag, while the player in second places one. Five cubes are drawn from the bag during each scoring round and will allow the players who own them to claim catacomb bonuses.
Place Louis (5) – Here players hire characters by paying coins to the bank. The amount a character costs is shown on its card and this is discounted by the amount of influence shown on the influence token placed here by a player. The influence level also determines the order in which players hire characters.
In addition to its cost, each character has a number of different attributes. There are four types of characters, Peasants, Soldiers, Nobles and Monks. Each character will provide a number of victory points at the end of the game. Characters also give a number of Flags, Crowns and/or Gems. These are important for both mid-game and end game scoring. Finally, each character has a weapon spot, the type is based on the character type and characters can either come equipped or unequipped. Monks are special in that they are wild cards and, at the end of the game are grouped with another character type and count as that type for scoring purposes.
Bastille (6) – This section of the board consists of a track going from zero to twenty. Players each start with a meeple at the beginning of the track. On this track are a number of threshold spots worth varying amounts of points which increase the further down the track you go. During both scoring rounds, all players will get points based on how far their meeple is down the track. The collecting of weapons is also done based on the order of meeples on this track.
The player with the highest influence will move their meeple a number of spots on the Bastille track equal to the influence number they used plus one. The other player will just move their meeple a number of spots equal to their influence level.
Etats Généraux (7) – The player with the most influence will take the stack of mission cards, look through it and pick one card to keep. They also get a bonus of two coins. The second player will then get to select a mission card but will not receive any coins.
Mission cards are end game scoring cards and all of them are based on what characters players have in their tableaus at the end of the game. There are cards that require sets of the same character types with costs in numerical order, cards that require pairs of three different types of characters, and cards that give points for having the most crowns, gems, or weapons, or most of one particular character type.
Phase 3: Flag Scoring
Players compare the number of French flags depicted on the characters they have collected. The player with the most flags selects one of the two bonuses listed on the current round’s bonus tile. The player with the second most flags gets the other bonus. Ties are broken based on who is the current first player. The bonuses include coins, victory points, getting to place henchmen into the catacomb bag, movement on the Bastille track, torches, etc.
Then everyone prepares for the next game round. The next in line bonus tile is flipped face up, the top Versailles tile is removed from the game and the next tile is revealed. Any characters still present in Place Louis are discarded and four new characters are drawn.
After turn four the game pauses and an interim scoring round is conducted.
Players get points for the following:
- Gems – One point per gem on their character cards.
- Max Crowns – The player with the most crowns depicted on their characters gets three points.
- Catacombs – Five cubes are pulled from the catacomb bag. For each cube, players select one of the rewards on the catacombs tiles. These include things like coins, points, movement on the Bastille track, a free influence upgrade, choosing a mission card, getting a free character or getting one or more torches. Based on the reward chosen players will then either get their henchmen back or return them to the catacomb bag. Finally, the catacomb tiles are removed from the game.
- Bastille – Players get points based on their position on the Bastille track. The player in first place on the track then gets to select two weapons from the Bastille, this continues with each player taking up to two weapons in the order their meeple is on the track. This will result in the player in last place only getting one weapon. Once everyone has selected their weapons a new set is drawn randomly, with the number of weapons being based on the player count.
First players must arrange their characters. Characters of the same type are grouped and monks must be assigned to a group of one of the other character types. Then all weapons and torches must be assigned to characters. Torches count as a wild card and can be placed instead of any of the other three weapon types.
- Gems – One point per gem, the same as interim scoring.
- Max Crowns – The player with the most crowns gets five points.
- Catacombs – Similar to mid-game scoring, five cubes are pulled from the bag. This time the rewards are listed on the bottom of the board instead of the catacomb tiles and any cubes placed are removed from the game.
- Bastille – This works exactly the same as mid-game scoring but no new weapons are drawn.
- Character Cards – Each player totals and scores the points shown on their characters.
- Mission Cards – Each player reveals their mission cards, evaluates if they’ve met the requirements on them and then score any resulting points. Note that there is no penalty for not fulfilling the requirements of a card.
- Henchmen – Players get one point for each cube of theirs remaining in the catacomb bag.
- Coins – Players score one point per three coins they have left.
- Weapons – Players lose a number of points based on how many of their characters are unarmed at the end of the game. This ranges from no penalty when everyone is equipped to minus twenty points if a player has five or more unarmed characters.
In addition to these rules, there is one variant rule that is included with the base game. The Secret Mission variant splits the mission deck in half using a new board that is placed at the Etats Généraux, the seven spot on the board. Also, players do not get a mission card at the start of the game. When resolving the Etats Généraux, players must choose one of the two piles of cards to look through and select a mission from. This adds a memory element to the game.
What did I think of Bastille?
There I got to meet the Queen team and try out some of their new games. This included getting to check out Copenhagen and try a new Merlin expansion. At the time I asked if they were looking for reviewers and while they were, they were waiting until the last day of the con to actually hand our any review copies of games.
So I went back Sunday and quickly asked for a copy of Merlin with the expansion and was told it was sold out. So I asked for a copy of the deluxe version of Copenhagen. Also sold out. How about the regular version of Copenhagen? Also sold out. This went on for a bit and then I changed my tactic. Instead, I asked the Queen Games rep if there was a game of theirs that they wished people were talking about more. This is when Travis handed me Bastille and noted that he thought it was one of their most underrated games, one that flew under the radar due to it coming out at the same time as a number of very hyped games.
So, I had no idea what to expect when I brought Bastille home and tried it out for the first time.
One thing I did expect from this game was the high-quality presentation and components. This is one of the trademarks of Queen Games products and I’m pleased to say, that Bastille does not disappoint at all in this regard. This is one of the best-designed games I’ve played in regards to layout, design and iconography. All of this not only helps with information dissemination during play but also helps when teaching the game to new players.
The other real highlight in Bastille is a very interesting mix of auction bidding mechanics with worker placement. Even I didn’t realize at first that each of the seven locations on the Bastille board is really a mini auction. Auctions that sometimes limit the number of players that can take part in them.
By placing an influence token on a spot, players are bidding that amount of influence from their pool in order to take that action. Similar to games like Ra, the bid amounts are limited to the tokens players have in their current pool.
In play, this whole influence system works really well and opens up some very interesting decision points to players. Figuring out which influence token to use where is a big part of the game. Added to this is figuring out when to place them, which is especially important because tied influence actions are awarded to the player who placed on a location earlier.
The one downfall I have found over playing multiple games of Bastille is with how the character deck is divided and how the mission scoring is based on what characters a player is able to collect. The character deck is split into three decks, A, B and C, and what order the characters come out in is based on this divide. The ability to play Bastille well is based on knowing this order and how it ties to the various mission cards.
What this can lead to is players thinking that they will be able to purchase a specific card by the end of the game only to learn that the card no longer exists, because it came out in an earlier round, or players misinterpreting an end game scoring card thinking that they only need a set of three characters of the same type rather than requiring a more specific set of characters with a very specific sequence of costs. These idiosyncrasies tied to the character deck have caused the game to fall flat for me with a couple of different game groups on the first play.
Now these specifics are called out on the included reference card, but I do find that, especially on the first play of a game, players aren’t interested in diving that deeply into details and don’t bother using this reference. What this means is that for players to really grok and enjoy Bastille they need to play the game at least two times. In today’s one and done board game culture, it’s likely that second play won’t happen for many groups.
It’s this that I think keeps Bastille from being talked about and what makes it a bit of a hidden gem. It’s a very solid game that I think is very much worth learning, but it takes a level of system mastery to really enjoy. I think many groups are going to move on to another game as opposed to playing this game enough to reach that level. However, I think this can be mitigated if you have a good game teacher.
Having now played Bastille a number of times and realizing the potential problem of not understanding the importance and value of the character deck distribution, I can now front load that information during my teaching of the game. By spending some additional time going through each of the mission cards and how they work, while showing actual examples from the character deck, I find that I can greatly improve that initial gameplay experience.
Overall I really enjoy Bastille. While it does require a couple of plays to learn the game, or at least having a teacher who understands the importance of the distribution of the character deck on hand when learning to play, there is a very solid game here that is doing something interesting in new ways by mashing up the tried and true worker placement mechanic with an influence based bidding system. Added to that, Bastille is one of the best produced games I’ve seen in a long time and the design makes it a joy to play.
If you dig auction games or worker placement games you really should check out what Bastille is doing with these mechanics. If you like medium weight Euros you will find a lot to like with Bastille. If you prefer a lot of randomnesses, dice rolling and miniatures, this won’t be the game for you.
All I ask is that if you do give Bastille a shot you either spend some extra time looking at the character deck and the reference card or take the time to play two rounds to really get the full experience. This is a game that rewards knowing the cards and repeated play. One that might easily be skipped over if that extra learning time isn’t taken and with how much I enjoyed the game that would be a shame.
Have you played Bastille? If you have, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I would also love to hear about other games that you played that weren’t so great on the first play but got better and better the more you learned the ins and outs of gameplay.