WARNING: This is a preview of Castle Dukes. I was sent a prototype version of the game, and as such, certain elements were unfinished. These details did not influence my review, as they will be modified for the final version. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.
Castle Dukes puts you in the shoes of a wealthy duke attempting to gain status and reputation by building the finest castle in the land. Through both mental fortitude and physical dexterity, you must craft a castle both inviting enough to attract foreign rulers and hardy enough to defend yourself against the mighty dragon. Prepare to give your mind - and your hands - a workout!
If that artwork doesn't get you excited to play, I don't know what will.
Rules and Setup:
Each turn, players have five Action Points to purchase Room cards and building materials; then, they spend the rest of their turn building their castles. Players attempt to earn Victory Points through certain means, either by specializing in their castle's design or by building specific castle components. Starting on the fourth turn, visitors will come to the castles and can net players additional Victory Points, and a dragon will occasionally attack and cause damage to the castles. At the end of the ninth turn, everyone adds their Victory Points up, and the player with with most points wins!
There are a lot of components (and a good chunk of preparation) with this one.
Setup for this game is not as simple as pulling out the game board and putting your token on the "Start" space. Each player takes a player board and a barbican (castle gate card) and sets the three values on the card to zero. The main game board is placed in the middle of the table, and all other components (pillars, braziers, meeples, and more) are assembled and placed around it. The foundation tiles are placed face-down, and all cards are split into their respective decks, shuffled, and placed face-down. A number of Room cards are placed face-up on the game board, one player is selected to go first and handed the First Player marker, and the game begins!
Prep work complete, table set, and gates raised - time to build some castles!
Theme and Mechanics:
It goes without saying that Castle Dukes has a medieval theme; players work to construct castles, defend against dragons, and woo visiting royalty. This theme is backed by tried-and-true game mechanics: drawing cards, resource management, and thoughtful allocation of Action Points.
Castles can take on a variety of shapes and sizes.
Perhaps the most interesting and unique aspect of this game is that it takes its major theme (building a castle) and makes it a physical challenge as well as a mental one. While you must plan the aspects of your construction (rooms, building materials, and Construction cards for additional decoration), the real challenge comes when you have to physically build your castle, carefully placing pillars on foundation tiles and balancing additional foundation tiles, rooms, and decorations on top of them. If done correctly, it can make for some impressive towers with several rooms, decorations, and eventual visitors. If rushed or done without planning, however, it can lead to disastrous results; the player takes a penalty any time a piece or pieces fall onto the game board, so caution is crucial to success.
Castles can fall from dragon attacks or just poor building production.
Components and Artwork:
There are an absurd number of components with this game, but I don't mean that to be negative. Each one serves a useful purpose, either to bolster your resources or to help keep your castles stable. These include unique building parts, a variety of colored meeples, and the castle barbicans that serve as trackers for your Comfort, Defense, and Offense ratings. While it may seem like a lot to keep track of, it all works well together in the end.
A sampling of the game's components.
The game cards also do well to relay information without being cluttered, and have some good artwork to boot. The room cards in particular are quite impressive and make the castle come to life. (Bear in mind that the visitor cards, which indicate who is interested in your castle, were added late in production, and the card on the right is not representative of the finished version.)
Cards can give you supplies, increase your castle's ratings, provide space for royalty, and even signal the dragon's approach!
Castle Dukes takes familiar concepts and overhauls them in an exciting way. Physically building castles adds a fun challenge to the game, while the resource management is easy to learn but difficult to master. The dragon attacks each game also help to keep things relatively civil, as everyone must deal with the risk of collapse together.
The most unique aspect of this game is also likely to be the most polarizing. An accidental nudge or bad dragon attack late in the game can set off a chain reaction of collapse, forcing the game to a halt as you rebuild. Thankfully, the penalties and aftermath aren't terribly bad, but they can add up over time if left unchecked. Also, as mentioned before, game prep takes some time; this isn't likely to be the go-to game for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
If you're in the market for a resource-management game with a wealth of components and a physically challenging element, then Castle Dukes is definitely one to check out!
Players Who Like:
Fans of games like Agricola and Homesteaders, or even Jenga lovers looking for a mental challenge, will find this game to be worth trying.
I am giving Castle Dukes 7 out of 10 super meeples.
On Kickstarter through March 30, 2017
Win a copy on Everything Board Games through March 21, 2017