Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig
The king demands a castle! You are a world-renowned master builder who has been asked by the Mad King Ludwig to help design his castles. Projects of such significance require the expertise of more than one person, so for each assignment you are paired with another master builder to execute your grandiose plans. Will your planning and partnership skills be enough to design the most impressive castles in the world?
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a competitive tile-drafting game in which each tile is a room in a castle. You work together with the player on your left to design one castle, and with the player on your right on another castle. On each turn you select two tiles from your hand, reveal them, then work with your partners to place them.
At the end of the game, each castle is scored. Your personal final score is the lower of the scores of the two castles you helped design, and the player with the highest final score wins the game. To win, you have to share your attention and your devotion between two castles.
Tile drafting, Partnerships
Designer: Ben Rosset, Mathew O’Malley
Artist: Agnieszka Dabrowiecka, Laura Bevon, Barlomiej Kordowski
Publisher: Stonemaier Games, Beziér Games
Price: $36.23 Amazon.com
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig combines the mechanisms of Stonemaier Games’ Between Two Cities with the theme of Bezier Games’ Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Both games are popular in their own right, but Between Two Castles mashes them up for a new experience.
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a pick-and-pass tile-laying game in which players collaborate with their neighbors to build magnificent, kingly estates. Throughout the game, each player maintains two tableaus, one shared with the person to their right, the other with the person to their left. These tableaus begin as single throne rooms, but they quickly expand into the titular castles.
At the start of the game, everyone receives a player aid card, which details how the different types of room tiles score. A throne room begins between each set of neighboring players.
The game plays very quickly, lasting only two rounds. In a round, players begin with a set of nine room tiles, from which they simultaneously select two—one for each of their castles—and pass the rest to their neighbor. Once everyone has selected the tiles they wish to play, they individually choose which one will go on which castle. Players can and should discuss options with their neighbors. This process of picking, passing, and placing (how’s that for alliteration?) is repeated until each player has only one tile left in hand.
Between Two Castles is all about strategic planning and spatial reasoning. There are seven colors of normal room tiles, each bearing their own scoring criteria.
Below is an overview of what each type of tile needs in order to score:
- Yellow rooms need a particular type of tile adjacent to them, either above/below or left/right
- Purple rooms need the indicated type of tile in any/all surrounding spots
- Orange rooms need a continuous sequence of like tiles connected to them
- Green rooms award points for the total number of rooms of the listed type in the castle
- Blue rooms score points just for being in the castle, but more points if all other standard tile colors are present as well
- White rooms need tiles showing a particular icon surrounding them (note that many tiles have an icon like a torch or crossed swords in the upper-right corner)
- Black tiles score points for rooms of the indicated color anywhere above them, in the same vertical column
This may seem like a lot to remember, but thankfully, each tile lists its own scoring requirements directly on it. That, coupled with the helpful player aid, means participants should not have much trouble understanding how tiles score; everything is pretty intuitive.
The player aids also list the floors on which a tile may be placed. Thematically, each row of tiles represents a different floor of the castle, with the throne room being the ground level. Most room tiles must be placed at or above ground, but some, like the black “downstairs” tiles, go below.
If a player adds the third tile of a particular color to one of her castles, she and her partner immediately receive that color’s bonus. Bonuses allow players to do things like add a free room tile to the castle, add a special tile such as a Fountain to the castle (five free points!), or earn extra game-end scoring opportunities. A similar bonus is available for five tiles of the same color.
After two rounds of play, the game ends and players determine the scores of both of their castles. The value of each player’s lower-scoring castle is their overall score, and the player with the highest score among these wins. Thus, it’s important for players to balance both of their tableaus, making sure to develop their castles roughly evenly.
While this game mashes up two existing titles, it definitely feels more like Between Two Cities than Castles of Mad King Ludwig. This is totally fine with me; I like both games independently, so I would have been happy either way. Actually, I enjoyed this game even more than Between Two Cities; it feels more streamlined, requiring less rules referencing.
I really like the conversational nature of this game. Between Two Castles is not cooperative, but it nonetheless has a sense of teamwork and collaboration because of the shared-tableau system. Players will have to coordinate and strategize together, which makes the whole experience friendly and pleasant. Pick-and-pass games often cater to so-called “hate-drafting,” the act of taking something someone else wants just so they can’t have it, but in this game, players share common interests with their neighbors, essentially removing hate-drafting altogether.
The production quality is high, as I have come to expect from Stonemaier Games. The tiles are individually named and illustrated, meaning that every castle will feature totally different rooms at the end of the game. Sure, this is purely thematic with no real in-game effect, but it gives players a sense of pride in the uniqueness of what they have built. Between Two Castles also comes with two GameTrayz inserts, which neatly store, organize, and dispense the tiles. (I loved the inserts in My Little Scythe, so I’m glad to see them continuing to be included.) As a totally unnecessary bonus, the rulebook bears a lovely linen finish, something I have never seen in another game.
Everything fits nicely in the box, and the plastic inserts slot together, holding them in place.
I will say that the iconography can be a bit tough to read due to its small size. It’s certainly not game-breaking, but players will have to look carefully at their tableaus to make sure everything lines up the way they intend. Additionally, both the maroon and purple and the blue and black tiles can be easily mixed up. All told, though, these are pretty minor issues, and the game plays smoothly overall.
Between Two Castles is a lighter game than, say, Scythe or Viticulture, so I think it rounds out Stonemaier’s catalog well. It is quite accessible, and new players will immediately grasp the core system. Players with strong visual and spatial skills will really excel, since the game is basically a big spatial optimization puzzle. It manages to be simple enough that non-gamers can understand it, strategic enough that experienced gamers can stay engaged, and friendly enough that everyone should have a good time. To me, that’s basically the checklist for a solid family game, and I recommended giving it a try!
A review copy was provided by Stonemaier Games.
+ Simple ruleset with intuitive iconography and helpful player aids
+ Accessible to new players, but strategic enough for experienced gamers
+ Excellent production quality
- Scales well, but works better at higher player counts. 2-player variant was not my favorite.