It’s been a while since I reviewed a board game, and happily we have purchased a few new ones recently. Last weekend, we tried out Castles of Mad King Ludwig.
The game designer, Ted Alspach, also designed Suburbia, which is a game we do not own (yet) but I highly enjoy and recommend. I didn’t realize this game was by the same designer until we read the instructions. There are a lot of similar mechanics, though the theme is very different. At it’s heart, Castles is a tile placement game. This game is for 1-4 players (yes, you can play it solo…is it weird that I have done that?), and takes about 90 min to 120 min. Each player is building their own castle, trying to meet the whims and desires of the mad king. Penny was playing the role of the Mad King for us (no one really plays this role}.
Here is the initial game setup. This part even reminds me of Suburbia.
Everyone starts with a Foyer tile (like the blue octagon piece at the bottom of the picture above) and three bonus cards of which they discard one. The bonus cards help you earn points at the end of the game based on what you build in your castle by making suggestions – maybe your card says you will get points at the end of the game for every downstairs room you have. Also during game setup, four favors are selected randomly, and at the end of the game, extra points are earned for those who please the king by meeting these favors. I think in the game we played, the favors were who had the most living rooms built, who had the most square footage of utility rooms, who had the most square footage of garden rooms, and who had the most activity rooms. In the picture above, favors are represented by the colored circle tokens.
Each round, players choose a tile to purchase to add to their castle. One player each turn is the master builder, and that player sets the prices for the rooms that are to be available for the round. Rooms that are not bought gain money as an incentive to purchase them in the future. You can always buy stairs, hallways, or downstairs hallways for $3000 each. There is a purchasing mechanic where each player pays the master builder their funds instead of the bank, and then whatever the master builder buys at the end of the round, he pays the money to the bank. The master builder role rotates around the table.
Above are two early game castles. You earn rewards for completing rooms in your castle. A complete room means all the entrances to the room have a room attached to them. There is a cheat sheet for what the rewards do, but for example, completing a food room lets you take an additional turn, and completing a utility room lets you draw two bonus cards and choose one to keep.
Each room is worth a certain number of points immediately for placing it, represented by a number in the top left of the room tile. Additionally, rooms may have some numbers and symbols in the center of their tile indicating bonus points that can be scored (or lost) depending on rooms that are placed adjacent to the room, connecting to the room, or just the total number of a type of rooms you have at the end. There is also a number in the top right of each room tile for square footage (which is relevant to some of the bonuses and favors).
The game ends when the room card deck is emptied. The person with the most points at the end of the game wins. You are supposed to tally your points as you build your castle, but it was difficult to do this as we played. We wound up rescoring everything at the end. This is what two of the castles looked like near the end of the game we played.
I did not win the game we played, but I enjoyed it a lot. And I’ve had a strong urge to play it again ever since. If you like Suburbia, you will like this game. I seem to enjoy games where each player gets to build their own “stuff” – Suburbia, Keyflower, Agricola, this. I would give Castles a 5 out of 5 – the only negative I can really think of for it is the scoring process is a bit complicated.