Castles and more Castles: The Castles of Mad King Ludwig Review

Castles of Mad King Ludwig
review by Roman

For those who know me through Epic Duels, what I love about the game is the way it creates a feeling of the duel that’s happening. You can imagine blasters firing, lightsabers flashing, and characters dropping famous lines and big attacks on one another.

That’s sort of the lens through which I view most tabletop games. I like good strategy and components, but it’s ultimately about creating a feeling of what’s going on.

When it comes to games about castles well, there are castles and there are castles. Some feel like a castle, and some don’t.  Castles of Mad King Ludwig definitely delivers on the castle feeling and has become a staple of 1670 sessions, but I can easily see any gaming group adopting it.

I played the 2014 version of with the expansion, so that’s the only point of view I can give on that one. It does allow for more than 4 players.

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Overall Feeling:  You feel like you’re building a castle, and that’s a pretty awesome game right there.  There is scoring and strategy, actually quite a bit of it, but win or lose, building your own castle is fun.  You put rooms down and score off of them and combinations of them.

Verdict:  Awesome game.  It’s fun to build your own castle, but there are also enough strategic elements to make it worth trying to win.  There’s also a lot of variety, you could play 100 times and not build the same castle twice.  You’d have games with great castles that wouldn’t win, and games where fairly weak castles triumph.  You’ll have festive castles, castles with many outdoor rooms, and others with traps and dungeons.  Good fun.

Update:  We still play this game regularly and I play it on the iPad.  It is a lot of quick, strategic, yet wacky fun.

Object: Build your castle and score the most points.

Players: It goes up to 4 with the base game and up to 6 (I think) with the expansion, and it works for many players, but one good thing about the game is that it works well for only 2 players.

Overview:  Starting with his Foyer, each player will build his own castle according to his own mad king vision, and in order to maximize the points he can score in the game.  Each turn, each player can buy a room from a group of randomly-drawn rooms and add it to his castle, joining it by connecting a doorway to a doorway, and of course, by having the room’s shape and size fit where it is in the castle.  There are 6 classifications of rooms, and the rooms grant different types of bonuses and work together in different ways.  There are Food Rooms and Living Rooms, Outdoor Rooms and Activity Rooms, Sleeping Rooms and the unique Downstairs Rooms, plus Corridor Rooms and Stairs.  The “Mad” part, to me, speaks to how you can basically put any 2 or more rooms together without a lot of real logic, so long as the scoring bonuses match up the way you want them to, e.g. connect an Outdoor Room to a Food Room, which connects to yet another Outdoor Room.  Wouldn’t make much sense in reality, but it could make sense in the game.

Neat Mechanics:  The system of assigning Castle rooms to a certain dollar value, then collecting those dollars to spend for yourself, is an interesting mechanic.  As long as all the players are evenly matched, it’s a great game-within-a-game, and basically the determining factor of the game.  For more competitive games, it can really mess things up if one player consistently does a poor job of assigning value and essentially making it easy for the player who goes after him to win.

Components: Mostly you’re dealing with a bunch of castle rooms printed on high-quality high-gloss cardboard components. There is no other board, just cardboard pieces and several decks of cards. The components are nice enough quality for what the game is trying to do. Your castle is going to be built of colorful, high-gloss tiles, and they work well to give you the feeling of constructing a castle, which to me is what the game is about.

Setup: The setup of probably a little quicker than average once you figure out how to do it. There’s a board you put together, which is little more than outlines for where various decks of cards and stacks of tiles go.  You have to shuffle about 8 different Room tile stacks, which is annoying, plus 2 stacks of cards, but that’s a pretty easy setup as far as setups go. Each player gets a Foyer to start his castle, and a “cheat sheet” tile that summarizes the scoring bonuses for each type of room.

You start by drawing 3-4 random “King’s Favors” tiles, which provide VP bonuses depending upon how you rank in the categories that are drawn.  For example, King’s Favors might award who has the most Downstairs Rooms, or the most total square feet of Food Rooms.

Room tiles are placed face down into 8 different stacks for shape and size, and a deck of room cards is revealed, one at a time, to determine which stacks rooms will be pulled from.

There is also a deck of Bonus cards that the players draw from at the start of the game, and when achieving certain conditions such as completing a Utility Room.  Each player starts by drawing 3 of these cards, choosing 2 to keep and 1 to send back by putting at the bottom of the deck.

Making Something Happen:  I’ll need to adjust the name of this category over time, but what it comes down to is, what do you do during this game?  Do you build something?  If not, do you make something happen?

The Castles of Mad King Ludwig scores extremely high in this regard, because you build your own castle.  By the end of the game, win or lose, you’ve made something happen.  I love games like this and I therefore have high regard for this game.

Rule book:  I’m not evaluating the rule book in this case as I was introduced by people who already knew how to play.  I note that they have been celebrated for their brevity by some on BoardGameGeek.  The rules seem straightforward enough:

Game play:  The first player (selected in some random way) is the “Builder,” and he draws cards off the top of the room deck, which shows which stack of tiles the room will come from.  The Builder flips over the top building of the stack selected and it’s an immediately playable piece.  For a 4-player game, there will be 7 total rooms on the board.  The Builder then sets each of the room’s prices, from $1000 – $15,000, with the idea of making players pay the most for the most valuable rooms, and the cheapest rooms are the least desirable ones.  The ability to do this better than your opponents is a key to winning the game.  Then each player takes his turn deciding which room he wants to buy and add to his castle, or he passes and collects $5000 to use on a future turn.

That pretty well captures what’s going on.  From here I’ll take you through a 2-player game between Doc Mogs and myself:

We each started with our Foyer.  After a few turns, we each develop our own castle.  Doc (red) gets out to a nice lead here, getting some things going.  My own (blue) castle is looking rather weak:

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We’re over halfway done with the game here, and I’ve closed the gap.  Both castles have some things going for them.

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I end the game with a flurry, building an impressive castle of my own.  Will it be enough to send me over the top against Doc?

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We end the game and tally up the points in Bonus cards, King’s Favors and the total castle itself.

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A close game but Doc wins!

Great fun, especially with more players.  We will play again.

(Update:  We do!)

 

 

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