Fiona Dickinson
United Kingdom
Horley
Surrey
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Historical architecture is a fascinating subject, and none more interesting than those from the reign of ‘mad' King Ludwig. Few buildings remain, but a handful of his unique castles have survived and provide a fascinating insight into his psyche. Take this example; the only way to get to the master bedroom is by walking through the grand hall, down the stairs into the dungeon, then back up the stairs to enter the bedchambers. Apparently this castle was made to house one of his less favoured wives, and several of his most dangerous enemies. Then we have this unique building, tall stone walls and a moat protect nothing but a series of kitchens and a banquet room, Ludwig would travel here simply to feast, where he slept when he stayed we are still unsure. It’s probably becoming clear to you how he earned the nickname of ‘mad king’, but it’s worth remembering the difference between madness and eccentricity is being rich!

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a 1-4 player tile laying game in which you try and make the best castles. Unfortunately the person you are making castles for doesn’t really have much of an understanding of common ideas such as design, but has more of an understanding that he *really* likes round things, and basements, and round basements! While some point scoring stays the same the game has both open group objectives and secret personal objectives that award large amounts of bonus points.

The game works on a market system with players taking turns to be the Master Builder. The Master Builder ensures everything is awesome decides the order of the market which in turn determines the price that different rooms cost to add to your castle. Players then take a turn buying rooms and adding them to their castle, paying the Master Builder the cost of the room. The Master Builder always plays last so it’s important to try and order the market so that you get the most money out of your opponents while making the rooms you want cheap enough to buy, but not so cheap that other players buy them first. The Master Builder pays their money to the bank so the total money in the game slowly depletes. There are a few ways that money comes back into the game, rooms that weren’t bought in a round get a 1000 money discount put on them next round (which can make buying a room give you money should it build up enough. A player can skip their go to earn 5000 money, or 10000 money is awarded for every complete garden.

Completing rooms gets you big bonuses in this game (though of course the king may decide to reward unfinished rooms, which makes for an interesting game), each room gives a bonus based on its type. Food rooms allow the player to take a bonus turn, gardens give 10000 cash, activity rooms give bonus points, living rooms re-score the points they already earned, sleeping rooms allow you to choose the upcoming rooms, corridors allow you to place extra stairs/corridors, utility rooms let you take an additional objective and basement rooms allow you to choose another bonus to take every second room you complete. Finishing a room can be a big help at the right time, but you may want to watch when you do what action, giving yourself an extra go by completing a food room can seem like a great plan until you realise how much money you just gave the Master Builder by buying two rooms.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig scores points on a couple of different levels. I’ve already mentioned public and secret objectives that score at the end of the game, these are often along the lines of 2 points for every square room or for every garden you’ve built. Additionally every room has a point score that you get when you play it, larger, more awkward shapes are often worth more. Lastly every room has adjacency bonuses (or penalties for activity rooms) for rooms that connect to it’s doorways, these are usually specific to a room type, like a bedroom getting a bonus for being next to a garden. Basement rooms work like this but for the entire castle rather than adjacent rooms (as they can only be adjacent to other basement rooms/staircases).

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game I find myself enjoying every time I play it, it can suffer when played with someone who takes too long to decide the optimal move, but so long as no-one stalls the game then you usually get enough thinking time while other players build and it flows quite nicely. Castle building is fun, especially as themes start to appear, some of the basement cards are especially suspicious. The game balances well with more players, though you do get an expected increase in playing time and more risk of analysis paralysis. I would say that Castles of Mad King Ludwig was one of the games that really got Fi and I into gaming, games like Catan might have drawn us in, but games like Castles made us stay.

8.5/10

Please check out thegameshelf.blogspot.co.uk for more weekly reviews from this UK-based board-gaming couple.

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