You walk down the magnificent hallway, passing luxurious tapestries on your left and right, your footsteps echoing on the hard, cold flagstones underfoot. You approach a door and wonder what could be behind it. Opening it reveals a wall of stone. Well, that’s a little odd. You try the next door along to reveal a kitchen, pots bubbling away merrily while meat waits to be cleaved on massive blocks. Fantastic, you’re due to dine with his Excellency, the King in just a few minutes. If you pass through the kitchen, you should find yourself in the dining room just in time. Passing through the doorway you find yourself in a nine-pin bowling alley. That can’t be right. You run through another door and find yourself in the servant’s quarters. As you quickly run through into the next room, accompanied by the screams of chambermaids, you wonder: Who the hell designed this place?
|And so it begins *|
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to Castles of Mad King Ludwig. If you’ll step into this parlor over here, I’ll give you the incredibly brief review of this game and then you can be on your way. Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a tile placement game based around an auction mechanic and is brought to us by Bezier Games, Inc. The game can accommodate 1-4 players, with games generally lasting an hour to an hour and a half. In the game, each player has been tasked by the titular king to build him the most extravagant castle that they can. Each round, each player will purchase a sing room and add it to their own castle, scoring points for the room itself and bonuses according to what rooms it is connected to. At the end of the game, whichever player has the most points, wins. Simple as that. Right through that door, m’lord, you’ll find the end of this review.
|You’ll start the game with only 15,000 Marks, two bonus cards and a humble foyer *|
Well, actually, it isn’t quite that simple. That door actually leads to a twisting corridor. You see, each game has four bonus requirements (for a four player game, three for three players or less) set out by the king at the onset of each game. These could be as varied as: whoever has the most square rooms, the most blue rooms, the most large rooms, etc. At the end of the game, each player will count up the amount of rooms they have that fit the particular category and bonus points will be awarded to the players who had the most of that room, second-most of that room, third-most of that room, etc. There are four categories in each game, so there are a lot of bonus points to hand out, which can drastically change who wins. Simple as that. I swear, sir- right through that door is the summation.
|Rooms that aren’t purchased will have a coin placed on them to incentivize purchase later|
Oh, no- sorry. That isn’t the foyer, it’s actually a pantry. The thing is, there are also the bonus cards to consider. During the game, you could pick up bonus cards, which will each award you different bonuses to be scored at the end of the game, such as one point for every corridor, seven points for having one of every type of room, two points for every square room, etc. So as you can see, the choices of what rooms you buy to add to your castle are going to be influenced not only by the four long-term goals (which every player knows about) but also any bonus cards you may have (which only you know about.) But if you dust yourself off (and scrape the pate from sir’s fine coat) you’ll find the exit is just through there.
|End of game bonus points can be a total game-changer|
Oh, I tell a lie, this is actually the greenhouse. Well, while you’re here, I might as well explain the auction mechanic. Each turn, a player is designated as the Master Builder. They are allowed to arrange the rooms that are available for purchase that round in order from least expensive (1,000 Marks) to most expensive (15,000 Marks). Then, each other player gets an opportunity to purchase a room, paying the price to the Master Builder. Once everyone has done this, the Master Builder gets to pick from what is left. So a savvy Master Builder will make sure that the room that he wants to buy that round will be expensive enough that other players won’t snatch it up before he gets a chance, but not so expensive that he’ll empty his coffers to attain it. What’s more, an even savvier Master Builder will take stock of what other players might be striving to complete (such as trying to have the most of a certain type of room) and make them pay for it through the nose. A brilliant stratagem, I’m sure you’ll agree, m’lord. I think you’ll find the exit is through that door.
|Bonus cards will give you a clear goal to work towards (in an effort to rack up points)|
Oh, sir should be more careful- you’ve run straight into that brick wall- how strange to have a bricked-up doorway in this fabulous castle. You see, there is a certain strategy not just to which rooms to buy, but also in how to arrange them in front of you. Blocking off entrances to other rooms is totally permissible, but if one were to make sure that every entrance from a room connects to another room, one can earn a fabulous bonus which could be anything from more money, bonus points, taking another turn (and so much more!) depending on the room that has been completed. In addition, rooms will award bonuses (or penalties) according to what rooms they are directly connected to, so it pays to plan your layout carefully. Here is a fresh handkerchief for sir to wipe the blood from his lordly nose.
|Castles will expand ever closer to one another *|
And so, Castles of Mad King Ludwig turns out to be a rather pleasant surprise. What at first seems a somewhat dull tile-placement game instead becomes a rather pleasant game of strategy and anticipation of one’s opponents. Sure, the amount of player interaction is minimal and you will spend a seemingly interminable period of time as you wait for an opponent to place the room they just bought (which can slow the game down considerably, especially if that player has not been paying attention) but I think these are minor quibbles. I like to think of Castles of Mad King Ludwig as a soothing, rainy Sunday afternoon sort of game. It’s the kind of cozy game that you and your friends can snuggle up to on a dull day with a nice cup of tea (or coffee, if one so prefers.) You won’t spend a lot of time dicking each other over and when the game is over, you’ll each want to take a look at the ridiculous castle layouts you all have created. A Space Ahead heartily recommend you check out Castles of Mad King Ludwig, dear readers. Build your castle and get lost in its ridiculous, twisting path of rooms. Explore this charming game and have fun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m sure that I can hear m’lord… he’s found the armory if that crashing and cursing is any clue.
Want to try your hand at palatial architecture? If you live in the Bloomington area, you can find this game at The Game Preserve. If not, look for it at your local game store. Support local game stores!
*Special thanks to my friend and playtester Michael Burton for taking these photos while we were playing this game.