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BETWEEN TWO CASTLES OF MAD KING LUDWIG
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Designers: Ben Rosset & Matthew O’Malley
Artists: Agnieszka Dabrowiecka, Laura Bevon & Bartlomiej Kordowski
3-7 players (2 player variant)
Movin’ Meeples score 7/10
Between two Castles of Mad King Ludwig; it’s quite a mouthful! But there’s a reason for this uniquely verbose title. It’s not so much a game as an amalgam of two games. The ethos of Castles of Mad King Ludwig, laying extravagant and eccentric floor plans, meets the mechanics of Between Two Cities, sharing constructions with your neighbours to left and right.
I’ll put my hands up right now and say I haven’t played either of those two titles (much to my chagrin). So this review won’t be a ‘how does it compare?’ or ‘what does it change?’ type review. I’ll take Between Two Castles purely as it’s own unique entity.
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A Tale of Two Castles
Designed as a 3-7 player game, Between two Castles also includes a 2 player variant. The point of the game though is to work with your two neighbours, hence the 3 player minimum, to create two castles. The rub is, you’ll only score one of those structures, the lowest scoring one in fact. Players will take a hand of 9 tiles as well as two shared throne rooms. Everyone will choose two tiles and pass the rest to their left, standard drafting fare, reversed for the second and final round. Of these two tiles you’ll discuss with your neighbours how best to place those and in which castle, pick up your new hand and crack on with the next draft.
There are 7 different regular room types and 4 specialty room types (if you include the Throne room). As well as royal attendants with which to embellish your throne room for further scoring potential. If that’s not enough variety for you then all the regular tiles are unique in title and art if not in scoring parameters. Different room types score in different ways as you expand your crazy castle with barely any constraints. The only limits are your imagination… and certain placement rules like adjacency, downstairs rooms must be below the throne room, upper rooms must be supported by a ground floor room yadayadaya. Rules boring rules, the point is if you want your scythe room next to your Chocolate room resting atop your bottomless pit, then you do you my dear!
King of the Castle
This, for me, is the best part of B2CoMKL (I presume that’s what the cool kids are calling it!). The eccentric castles built with your own fair hands from uniquely weird room tiles displayed in intricate artwork. Looking back and just glorying in your creations. Amazing. That’s not to say the puzzle of tile placement for scoring isn’t a fun little puzzle, because it is. Each room type scores for different things. Sometimes it’s certain adjacent tiles, sometimes it’s certain rooms anywhere in your castle and sometimes it’s different icons like torches or mirrors. As you lay more rooms of the same type bonuses become available and special tiles can be used. Not to mention the bonus scoring cards that can be gained. As your glorious abode expands it gets harder and thinkier to maintain that perfect efficiency of scoring, not to mention keep track of said scoring. Yes while the artwork is fantastic and the production levels are great, the writing and iconography in Two Castles is infinitesimal! Seriously crack out the magnifying glass. Taking stock at a glance is hopeless
Love Thy Neighbour
The thing is while it’s undeniably attractive, and pleasantly puzzley, as a competitive strategy game Two Castles fell a little flat for me. It’s possible I’m missing a key ingredient here, but the way the game works and scores left me not really seeing the possibility for strategies at all. I mean, you’ll only score your lowest castle, so it’s not like focusing on one will benefit you. Vice versa neglecting one will be bad for you too. So the only option is to try your level best to match and maximise scores on both castles. I mean even if you were inclined to check out everyone’s castles and do some sneaky mental arithmetic for some sneaky reason, the sub-atomic iconography (that’s hyperbole) would make that Impossible.
It seems like an awfully complicated way to get back to what our mummy’s always told us, just try your best! Add to that the fact that while you can try your level best to be most efficient you’re completely reliant on your neighbours trying just as hard. To be honest I kind of lost interest in trying to win really. But that’s ok, because as a friendly co-operative tile laying puzzle game with an eccentric theme it’s very entertaining.
A note on player count. While the 2 player variant works fine it is essentially just more tile drafting, more mathing it up, when what the game actually excels in is player interaction. So the more players the merrier in that regard. This is unfortunately one of the few Stonemaier titles without an automa factory solo mode in the base game. Although I hear the new expansion includes one.
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a light game, that’s not to say it’s not thinky. It can be positively AP inducing at times. But compared to the depth of options and strategy in most Stonemaier titles, it feels light. For me it also feels lighthearted rather than intensely competitive.
I guess I’d liken this board game mash up to amalgamating the 100m sprint and the three legged race. It’s a bit unusual, everyone’s going to get to the finish line but it won’t necessarily be the best runner that wins. But there’s likely to be enough laughs along the way that no one really cares who wins by the end anyway. It’s probably as close to releasing a party game as Stonemaier will ever get!