What was the first tile laying game that you played? I remember hearing about Carcassonne, and finally getting my hands on a copy. When I broke out the meeples and the tiles, and taught my family to play, I knew we had a winner.
Dozens and dozens of plays later, I am always on the look out for the next big tile laying experience, the kind of game that changes the strategy a bit but still has the unmistakable pleasure of watching something being built as you lay tiles across the tile.
If your family game night is getting a little stale, then Spice it up! with Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Castles is a 2014 release from Bezier Games designed by Ted Alspach, who also designed Suburbia and One Night Ultimate Werewolf.
Players compete to win Mad King Ludwig’s favor by building out a castle. You score points by placing rooms near each other (or avoiding certain combinations) that make sense — like putting the Queen’s bedroom next to the King’s. The name comes from King Ludwig II, who spent all of his personal fortune building fairy tale castles in Bavaria in the late 1800s. (The board game’s cover art depicts his most famous castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, which was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in California.)
The randomized bonus cards (which each player secretly builds upon) and randomized King’s favor cards (which give bonuses but are visible to all players during the game) are enough to give this game lots of replay-ability. But the mechanic that really sets Castles apart from other tile laying games is the auction mechanism.
In Castles, the players can’t just pick a random tile out of a stack of cards, like in Carcassonne. Instead, each round a player is designated the “Master Builder”, and that person sets the price of all five to seven tiles that are available for purchase that round. That way, the Master builder can try to influence players into choosing (or not choosing) certain tiles — and the bonus is that the players pay the Master Builder for the privilege of purchasing the tiles instead of the bank.
You even have the option of building into the ground. By purchasing a downstairs tile, the players can take their castle down to the dungeon level. And just as expected, the tiles downstairs can be downright gloomy.
The first time I played, the group I was with just looked at this game like another Euro and tried to maximize points. And of course, that is why some people game. But since then, I have been lucky enough to introduce the game to people that looked at the game as a fun exercise in building their dream castle. There were lots of stories as to why the tiles were being placed in the way they were being placed (even though we know that the bonus cards and King’s favor tiles really generate the purchases and placements). There were lots of laughs when people tried to explain why the castle would have so many outdoor courtyards and just one or two inside buildings.
Don’t get me wrong — the game can be very competitive. The auction-setting mechanism and players purchasing tiles to meet secret objectives both contribute to the competition. But, you can have a lot of fun building out the craziest, goofiest, “mad”-dest castle around.
So if Carcassonne is getting a little stale, and you have the “envie” to construct your very own fairy tale castle, get down to your favorite local game store and pick up a copy of Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I give it three out of five cayenne peppers!
Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!