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Subject: Mechanical Review: Castellan rss

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Mech Gamer

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If you enjoy the process of building something while playing a game, Castellan (Beau Beckett, SJGames) is going to tickle all sorts of brain-armpits for you. Starting from a blank canvas, corner stones, short walls and long walls fashion a beautiful plastic one-storey castle. It’s tactile brilliance.

Building is a relatively simple affair of card management and devious cunning.

The Card Management

Beginning with four, the interesting thing about Castellan is that any number of cards can be played on a turn. Beware, though, because your hand is only replenished by one card from the deck. This means that your hand becomes a buffer of sorts; to maintain a level of choice requires restraint. Throw down four cards in your first turn and you will have a choice of one for a few turns. Oh, and you’ll lose.

Your drawing deck is neatly divided into two piles. One pile will yield more walls, the other more corner stones, though both will be a mixture. A few of the cards also contain the coveted “Draw one extra card” symbol, great for when you’ve overspent in previous rounds.

So, in essence, it’s a game of having the right thing at the right time. With a little patience, some strategic restraint and just a dash of luck, you can engineer the right thing perfectly around the right time. Which is when we get on to the devious cunning.

The Devious Cunning

Scratch a little against the shiny plastic veneer, and Castellan soon reveals a tense game of cat and mouse, the roles interchangable throughout. It only takes one game to realise that plonking down as many pieces as you’re physically able is not a tactic that’s going to take you to the pros. Firstly, you’re left severely reduced options with one card per turn, and secondly, you leave far too many tempting open corners and walls ready for a crafty opponent to utilise.

That being said, manage to carve out a large slice early on and you can make it pay out big time. The mechanic that moves Castellan from a friendly Lego build-a-thon into a cutthroat tactical game is the scoring. You get one point for each corner tower in your claimed area, but the corner towers don’t actually have to be… err… corners. So a ‘corner tile can actually be placed in the middle of a court yard, and still score you points. This is vital for maximizing the scoring potential of your finite resources.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you’re opponent is stupid enough to allow you some serious room to breath in, cut that behemoth into sections and you can captilise on some serious overlapping point scoring. A less lazy reviewer would put a picture here to illustrate two towers scoring for the same wall section, but Lord help me I never claimed not to be lazy.

It’s a game of manipulation - manipulating the cards, the evolving board, the mistakes your opponent makes and the scoring system. And it’s… good, it’s really good. Though, of course, if you want a theme, you are going to have to stretch your imagination muscles, because this one is an abstract through and through. But at least it’s an abstract where you build something beautiful.

If the game has a flaw (and, oh wait, it does) it’s that the card management can be made so much easier for the player who gets a few choice “draw an extra card” cards. By poor luck, it so happened that for one player these cards all came out at the end, two games in a row. I think a skilled player would be able to deal with this unfortunate turn of events, but for newbies, it does somewhat scupper your plans.

It’s a minor thing though, and as a two player, it’s surprisingly robust. With a second pack, you can up the player count to 4, but as I haven’t done that, I won’t comment. But, as far as I can tell, this game got very limited buzz last year upon release, so I thought I’d give it the smallest of small nudges right now. It’s pretty good.

For more reviews, please feel free to check out www.mechanicalgamer.com
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Kent Reuber
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It might be nice to make drawing extra cards more deterministic. Maybe use chips that can be discarded to give you a "draw one extra card" action. Then ignore the extra card symbol on the card.
 
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Robert Stetler
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kentreuber wrote:
It might be nice to make drawing extra cards more deterministic. Maybe use chips that can be discarded to give you a "draw one extra card" action. Then ignore the extra card symbol on the card.


Being able to draw at any time leaves little reason not to simply burn the chips immediately to have a bigger hand. The game is all about having as many options available as possible until one decides it is better to commit to a situation than to wait any longer. As such it would make no sense not to maximize your available options (cards in hand) immediately.

If its an issue, there is an easy solution. From each deck remove the extra card cards, shuffle the rest and set aside 2 cards. Shuffle the extra card cards back into the deck and stack on the removed 2 cards. Now the extra card draws will no longer be a dead effect, but will still be unpredictable on when they will pop up. If you're like the possibility of a nerf but don't want the worst case to hit, then set aside just 1 card.

The suggestion is fairly obvious, and has been posted at least once before.
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Mech Gamer

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That's a neat solution to the problem, minus the small extra setup time.. thanks!
 
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