Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig

2-7 players, Competitive, Castle Building Point Gobbler

Designer: Matthew O’Malley, Ben Rosset

Artwork: Laura Bevon, Agnieszka Dabrowiecka, Bartłomiej Kordowski

Publisher: Stonemaier Games

Release Year: 2018

Origin Story

This game was first introduced to me back in 2018 when it first appeared and at that time I had no knowledge of either Between Two Cities OR The Mad King Ludwig. So, to me, this was a totally new and original idea. My first game was with a group of six player and although it took a few turns to really grasp the scoring mechanics behind all the different tiles, once it clicked it was magical. I remember leaving the game thinking it was THE team building exercise. Did I love it? Did it change my life? Read on to discover the answers to these pressing questions.

Overview of Gameplay

On the surface this is a very simple game to play. There are two rounds in which players draw up a hand of nine random tiles, drat two of those and then pass the rest to the person next to them. Players will then “build” on TWO castles, one for each tiles they selected to their left and right situated between the players next to them. Rinse and repeat this process until all the tiles are exhausted then another nine tiles are drawn for each player for the second round but this time they are passed the opposite direction. Once all these are done the final scoring is calculated and whoever has the highest score wins!

Sounds easy peasy right? And it is! The complexity however lies within your placements of your tiles in BOTH of the castles you are constructing. There are a few different types of tiles ranging from workshops, sleeping quarters to outdoorsy things like fountains and parks and each different type has different scoring mechanisms. This means that particular types of tiles score MORE points being placed in a particular way in your castles and next to or around other types. Ultimately this trickles back to your initial decision of which two tiles to select in your stack. Of course you want to pick the two that you think would work in your two castles. The tricky part is that BOTH your neighbors are ALSO selecting two tiles for their two castles, one of which, each, is also your two castles! SO, in a nutshell both your neighboring castles will receive two new tiles during each placement round, one from yourself and one from your neighbor.

Now, the interesting thing is that the final score that you get at the very end of the game is the LOWER score of your two castles. Whoever has the highest, uh, lower score wins! This means you CANNOT neglect either of your castles and you MUST collaborate with both your neighbors to make sure both your castles are being constructed to their maximum potential. Because if both your castles are incredible and if your neighbors are slacking on their OTHER castle (the one that has nothing to do with you) then you know they will get a much lower score for that measly pitiful castle.

Components/Game Board

This game coming out of the box is very light on components. I mean, there are a bookoo of tiles for each of the different castles types, and there need to be to be able to handle up to seven players. The game consists of tiles, a few end game scoring cards and some wooden castle tokens to set between the players to add to the theme. I am happy to say that the component quality is incredible as with most other Stonemaier games with the tiles being housed in a couple of Gametrayz plastic holders. The tiles themselves are thick and sturdy and they form the “game board” between each player. That being the case this game is unique with the fact that the playing areas are to your sides instead of the middle of the table, which is where the gametrayz will be sitting holding the waiting tiles.

Box/Storage

The box is sturdy and nice looking and as already mentioned comes with an EXCELLENT storage solution consisting of plastic Gametrayz. These make setting up the game easy breazy considering all you have to do is pull out each of the two trays and pop the lids off. Picking up everything is just as easy as putting all the tiles back in the formed fitted trays. And with every game that I have comes across with Gametrayz, these are just the king of storage solutions. Top marks.

Visual Appeal /Theme

I really enjoy all the different art on the individual tiles. It’s fun and exciting to see what new tiles you will draw and even though you are supposed to pick tiles based on what would synergize with your other tiles, I find myself drawn to picking the coolest rooms. Of course, this had led to many a loss but who cares? I’m having a great time! The theme is also interesting and one that I haven’t seen before even though it already exists in apparently two other games of similar namesake. Overall, I like the visuals and theme.

Rulebook

The rulebook is decent. It’s set up in such a way to lay out each different type of room tile on its own respective page with examples, which is nice. However, I found myself getting confused on the wording of some explanations, particularly the initial turn structure. Because the game setup is played BETWEEN players this instantly created this strange confusion on exactly how to draw and pass tiles. There is also a bit of confusion when it comes to the order of how this plays out. For example, do I draw two tiles pass then draw two more and continue doing this until the pile is exhausted? Does EVERY player draw a pile of nine tiles and passes EACH pile OR do you ONLY draw one pile of nine tiles and just pass that ONE pile around? Stuff like that created some initial confusion for me. Another area that was VERY confusing was the 2 player variant game. The way that is laid out just created frustration for both players and to be honest, I’m not sure better rules could have helped that variant. I’ll go more into that later on. Overall, the rulebook is good for the most part with just a few minor missteps.

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

This game is ALL about the player interaction. I would be so bold to say if you are looking for a game that screeches “player interaction”, THIS is the game you should snatch. I mentioned this earlier but anytime anyone brings up “team building exercises” at work, I instantly bring this game up. Every player will have to collaborate and discuss the optimal tiles for each of their castles if they hope to have a chance at winning. My first game I mostly kept to myself and ended up getting one of the lowest scores at the table by the end of the game. The bad thing is, that also caused my neighbors to suffer as well since they share castles with me. It’s in your best interest to actively take part in discussion with your neighbors.

And that is where the fun of this game is derived. If you are not one that enjoys player interaction or other players having the ability to influence YOUR score then you probably won’t like this game. However, if there is one thing this game has shown me, it is how to be an active player and how to work together for the good of everyone. That said, the fun of this game wavers as the lower the player count becomes. I had the most fun with more people and had a not so good time with 2 players which leads into………

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

………The optimal player count! Definitely the more players the better with this game. I had a blast with 6 players and the best part is, there is NO down time! Since everyone is passing around their own pile of nine tiles and selecting at the same time, everyone is engaged and active throughout. Everything runs smoothly and efficiently. Now, when playing the 2-player variant it was a different story. Mind you, this is a VARIANT and has to take liberties to even make it work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well in my experience.  You see there HAS to be a third player or you would just be building the same two castles your neighbor is building. So, to fix this the variant incorporates a third “Ludwig” invisible player that both players have to manage. So, each player is working on the castle between them AND another two castles, one for each player on their other side. Each turn one player will select two tiles for their Ludwig castle AND their opponents Ludwig castle, forcing them to have to use that tile. But you have no idea how their castle looks so you are basically just picking the one tile that you CAN use for your and giving them the scraps. On top of that it made the game unnecessarily complicated since the invisible Ludwig player is, well, not there.

Replayability is really good since each starting throne room is slightly different. This will cause players to actively seek out different tiles each game to place AND since the draft is random, you never know what tiles will come up. This brings LOTS of the different rooms and designs into the game so each castle structure will look different. THAT SAID, unfortunately over time you start glazing over the interesting artwork and rooms and instead start focusing on the scoring icons on the tiles. This takes away from the theme and the game starts becoming a puzzling array of numbers and points.

Positive Final Thoughts

The game plays SUPER fast at all player counts (an hour or less) and is a GREAT starter game for game night. The player collaboration and teamwork in this game is second to none and it’s easy-ish to teach the basic gameplay structure. The gametrayz storage solution is incredible making this a game that is VERY easy to transport for events and setup and takedown is smooth as butter.

Negative Final Thoughts

The two-player variant isn’t nearly as good as higher player counts, so I can ONLY recommend this game for higher player counts. Even though the artwork on the tiles is good, the game eventually devolves into point calculation over time causing players to lose focus on the theme.

The Bottom Line

This is a game that is excellent for that larger gaming group wanting a fast and easy game play experience. The building and collaboration between players is always fun. However, I didn’t find the game exciting for 2-players and if you are one that would rather do their own thing in a game and not have to worry about your neighbor, then I doubt you will find this game very engaging.

The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence

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