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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.
If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.
Game Type - Card/Tile Laying Game
Play Time: 30-60 minutes
Number of Players: 2-5
Mechanics - Tile Placement, Hand Management
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in 10 minutes)
Components - Fair to Good
Release - 2000
Designer(s) - Bruno Faidutti (Ad Astra, Argo, Cargo Noir, Chicago Poker, Citadels, Diamant/Incan Gold, Formula E, Lost Temple, Isla Dorada, Mascarade, Mission: Red Planet, Mystery of the Abbey, Queen's Necklace, Red November, Silk Road, Warrior Knights)
Serge Laget (Ad Astra, Argo, Cargo Noir, Mare Nostrum, Mundus Novus, Mystery Express, Mystery of the Abbey, Senji, Shadows Over Camelot, Wicked Witches Way)
Overview and Theme
Every so often I like to look at an older classic and this time around we head back to 2000 to take a look at a Laget/Faidutti collaboration in Castle.
There really isn't any backstory here and in keeping with lighter games of the time, the theme is really a pasted on one with characters from medieval times forming the cards. But it does give a reason to include knights, heralds, archers and assassins. I've always liked this theme since I was a very young boy, so I'm not complaining.
If I was to make a logical backstory up...I guess the players are vying for control of the Castle by situating their people and assets into key positions.
Castle plays like a tile placement game but in fact uses cards, which are shaped much like a tile but no doubt cheaper to produce.
The aim of the game is simple enough...get rid of all your cards before anyone else can. Sounds simple right?
The box front also displays the moniker 'Blue Games' and a little research reveals that the publisher Descartes Editeur released a series of games in this range. They included games like Democrazy, Drako & Co, Fantasy Business, Halloween Party and Lawless. I am familiar with none of these games for the record. Of course the publisher is most famous for its release of Formula De and they also published the original version of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, which is all the rage again today. But I digress...
Grab that crossbow and join me up on the ramparts. We can get a better look at the game from up there.
The components are probably in keeping with a game of this weight and the 2000 time period as they are relatively simple. But there is some charm to be found here as well.
Cards - As a card game these are the central component and they are really well done, even if they have the feeling of being from yesteryear.
The cards are square affairs and remind me of those found in the original Settlers of Catan Card Game. The artwork is central as it should be and really helps to evoke that classic medieval period. The placement rules are outlined in small text at the top of the card and this is reinforced by a coloured banner down the left side that also displays the name of each card. The colour used here is clever as it becomes quite evident as the game unfolds as to which area of the castle a card can be placed (as other cards of the matching colour are already in play).
The final feature of each card is the text at the bottom, which is all important, as it outlines the ability bestowed by the card and it is these that help fashion the game play.
They might be old school by today's standards but I think there is a charm here that is worth savouring. The art in particular is from a time before digital graphics and whilst it might not be as mind blowing as some of the art and graphic design we have become accustomed to, it just feels right for the theme.
Image Courtesy of dennisthebadger
Castle Walls - These are critical to the play of the game, but do let the production down as a whole. The walls are represented by 4 strips of cardboard, which feature a center fold and depict the areas of the ramparts and the towers. They are beige in colour and offer 4 Rampart sections and 1 Tower per strip. The problem here is that they are rather thin and do feel a little cheap.
However, how they are combined to construct a top-down view of a castle and define the play areas is rather clever (more on that shortly).
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Ownership Tokens - These are pretty standard wooden discs, reminding us of a time before the rise and rise of plastic. Ah I do get sentimental... (where's the old timer emoticon?)
Image Courtesy of EndersGame
Cloth Bag - The game also offers up a cloth bag. The rules outline that these are for keeping the cards in but really this is rather redundant in my opinion, but a nice quality inclusion none-the-less. Personally I would appropriate it for another game that could use a cloth bag.
Image Courtesy of EndersGame
Rules - The rules come in a small booklet format as is required by the size of the small to middling box. The text is rather small and crammed in if I am to be honest but they are otherwise well explained. In a game driven by cards and their interplay, there will always be questions of 'what happens in this situation' and some of these are spelled out. One or two things are not as clear as they could be but thankfully we have the BGG forums and I have resolved a number of questions using these. Go here for support - Castle - Rules Forums
Image Courtesy of Alice87
All in all the production quality is fair to good. I would like to give a thumbs up for the game using a conservative box size. This was indeed a time when efficiency was more highly valued than justifying an inflated sticker price by filling a large box with 40% air. (Where's the get off my lawn emoticon?!)
Image Courtesy of cobalto
The set-up of the game is a simple 3 step process. First the castle is created by positioning the 4 strips to form a square. Voila! A castle is formed.
Then the players take a set of tokens in a colour of their choosing before being dealt a number of cards. How many they get to their hand and how many are placed in a draw deck (each player has their own) will depend on the number of players.
Finally a number of cards are also placed face-up in the Exchange (an area to the side of the castle).
The game is ready to begin as soon as a start player is determined.
It should be noted that the Village Idiot and Fool cards are removed for 2-player games as these powers are relevant to multi-player games only.
The basic flow of the game really couldn't be any simpler. What makes the game work though is the interplay of the cards and the subsequent implications for their placement.
The Physical Structure of the Game –
Image Courtesy of EndersGame Before I begin it is important to outline the physical nature of the playing space, as this is somewhat unique to Castle.
As we have seen in the set-up, the play area revolves around the 4 cardboard walls that together form the formation of a classic castle. This castle in itself, creates 4 areas to which cards can be played. The walls themselves provide two areas as cards can be played onto the walls, called the Ramparts, and at each corner we have the 4 Towers. Inside the walls is referred to as the Courtyard (which allows for 16 cards in total) and the 4th area is referred to as Outside the Walls.
These areas are important to understand to help make the rest of the game-play make sense.
The Actions – On a player's turn they have 2 actions that they can take and the game offers 3 possible actions in total. It is possible to take the same action twice.
Draw a Card - This action is pretty simple as it allows a player to draw a card from their face-down draw stack and add it to their hand. The more cards a player has in their hand, the more options they hopefully have to turn the tide of the game in their favour.
Swap a Card at the Exchange - Sometimes a player may be holding a card that is of little use at the present time or it may just be that a card in the Exchange is very useful right now or may allow for a good combo with another card in your hand already.
This action is as simple as swapping a card from your hand with one card from the face-up Exchange Cards.
Play a Card - This action to is as simple as it sounds. It allows a player to play a card to the play area thereby reducing the number of cards they have left (which is the objective).
When a card is played, the owner must also place one of their discs on the card to define who owns it. This is important as you will see shortly.
Some cards do have placement requirements which must be adhered to such as needing to be placed adjacent to the King for example. If the King is not in play yet, then the card cannot be played at that time.
It is also important to understand the word Adjacency as Castle defines it. Adjacency in this title means any card that is diagonally or orthogonally positioned in relation to the card in question. Therefore a card placed diagonally to a tower (in the Courtyard) is adjacent to that tower, the 3 Courtyard spaces around it and 4 Rampart locations.
The cards also feature a particular colour and this is to help remind the players of the location that a card must be played to. Orange cards are played to the Ramparts, green are placed outside the walls, blue cards are placed in towers and red cards are placed in the Courtyard. Purple is reserved for cards that have special placement rules.
This colouring system is not really necessary as each card does outline its placement rules using text at the top of each card (which is great for colour-blind players), but it does offer the game a nice splash of colour and helps players to visually assess the game state quickly.
Moving Cards - Some cards allow the movement of other cards as part of their power. When cards must be moved, they must be moved to a free location in the same area. The reason for doing this may be to get a card away from the protection of another card for example.
Sending Cards Back - During the course of play, it is possible, through the powers of the various cards, to send cards back to a player's hand based on who owns the card (which disc is present on a card). This is a critical part of the play as it slows down the opposition from reaching the goal before you.
A player can also send one of their own cards back to their hand. The reason for doing this may be to gain access to a powerful ability.
Winning the Game – The game unfolds using the above rules until one player manages to exhaust their draw deck and play the last card from their hand. But that last card played must still have its power executed. Sometimes a power may result in the player having to return another of their cards to their hand - in this situation they will not win and the game must continue.
It is rare, but possible, that the game becomes blocked - in that no more cards can be played according to placement rules. In this situation the player with the fewest cards in their hand is the winner.
So What is Castle and What Does it Offer?
Image Courtesy of Brian Schubert
At its core, Castle is a tactical game where the players must adapt to the changing game-state and make the best move available to them at any given time. This is exciting because the 'terrain' is always evolving. It is possible to plan ahead for a turn or two, but if your opponent(s) are playing well then even those short term plans are likely to change.
The game does reward players that know the abilities of the various cards as it may help you to seek out a card for a particular situation. But this does not diminish the game in any great way as it will only take 2-3 plays to become familiar with the characters that are on offer.
Castle is a game of small margins and the difference between victory and defeat can be small if players are equally matched. The game definitely has an early building period and as more cards are added to the castle, the more varied and interesting the possible plays become.
The game can also feel very different with different player counts. With 2-players only, the game is highly tactical. Both players have more knowledge of the cards that could be in their draw deck (due to having less cards in other players hands) and the threat is quite direct. With more players the game does become a little more chaotic as the threats can come from anywhere and things can change greatly between one turn and the next. Given the nature of the win condition, the leader is likely to take a bashing and unlike the 2-player game where you have to try and manufacture your own plays, the multi-player experience allows for one player to make a play in the hope that another player has the card that can finish the 'conspiracy'!
Of course what appeals to you more will come down to personal taste.
I should point out that Castle is a game that moves quickly. Player downtime is minimal with the only real slow point being the consideration of which card to play and where, but even that can be quick at times. This allows games to finish in generally a 20-40 minute time frame.
The Final Word
I think Castle is a really clever title and on the surface I like what it offers as a gaming experience. Its strength is certainly its simplicity of ruleset and the fact that it is the interplay of the cards that make the game work. In this way it does resonate with the strengths of an abstract design (especially when played with two players).
But for all that, Castle also shows its age to some degree. Back in 2000, this design would have been quite the breath of fresh air. The theme hadn't been done to death at that point and its complexity for a lighter game was probably spot on.
After one play my partner's defining comment was, 'I don't like it...it's boring'. Now I take that with a grain of salt because I don't think tactical games are really here thing. But she is a gamer that sits on the light to medium side of the spectrum and if she is saying she's bored, that implies that even she wants more things to do in a game. The takeaway from this is that a player needs to really enjoy the 'cut and thrust' of tactical games to get the most out of the experience.
But this is 2016 and the market has come a long way since then. I can see many similarities between Castle and a game like Neuroshima Hex, which is also a game where you have to adapt to the current game state and find a way to swivel out of that trap and back your opponent(s) into a corner. Another game that may fall into this category is Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends but I haven't played it yet...I only know the basic game style.
The reality is that Neuroshima Hex has so many more strings to its bow. It is a deeper experience, it has more tricks up its sleeve and the theme comes through a lot stronger. In short, Neuroshima Hex is a game for its time and meets the demands of a modern gaming audience. That doesn't mean that Castle is bad by any stretch...as it was also those things for its time...but the reality is (for me anyway) that Castle has been bettered and I have no need for both in my collection.
Of course old fans of Castle may always see it as a 'keeper' due to nostalgia. It may also be the better title for those looking for a simpler rule-set or the theme may appeal more here than the one offered by a game like Neuroshima Hex. This is the beauty of a hobby that offers such diversity...beauty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.
Till next we meet, may your soldiers man the ramparts, your knights protect your brethren and the thief be in your employ!
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There really isn't any backstory here and in keeping with lighter games of the time, the theme is really a pasted on one with characters from medieval times forming the cards.
Hey, nice review, thanks!
I hadn't heard of Castle 'til looking up info about the new version of Citadels (2016), the original game being a personal favorite.
Like Castle, Citadels is from the same designer - Bruno Faidutti - and was also published the same year (2000), which makes for a great backstory from the man himself!! http://faidutti.com/blog/?p=726 (English is after French texte)
In short, designers Serge Laget and Faidutti teamed up to create a medieval themed game, worked on it separately and ended up with two different interpretations of the game… one of which became a best-seller still going strong today.
I hope to find a copy of Castle to try it out!