Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig Review

Stonemaier Games - Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Avid readers of this blog and listeners of our podcast will be aware that I have a bit of a soft spot for all things Stonemaier. Despite this, I raised a quizzical eyebrow when I saw the teasers for Between Two Castles of Mad king Ludwig, which incidentally sounds like more of a mashup of a few reality TV shows. All we need now is to Strictly Get me out of a Jungle on Ice and we’d have the set. 

My suspicion was first raised when the combination of two apparent lighter games were smashed together to form this hybrid. I have both Between Two Cities (of course) and Castles of Mad King Ludwig and they’re about as similar as cheese on toast and sherry trifle. That’s not to say either is bad; I rather enjoy them, so the thought of a mash-up seemed both interesting and blasphemous at the same time. I will admit I was rather dismissive of Between Two Castles when I first heard about it and simply remarked “it’s just a reskin of Between Two Cities”. Turns out I was mostly right.

Mostly.

Between Two Castles - Stonemaier - Bonus Cards

Thing is, the influence of Mad King Ludwig changes Between Two Cities quite considerably. In the latter, you’re working with your player neighbours to build up cities according to scoring systems unique to each type (e.g. Parks, Residential, Industrial etc.) a little like Sim City lite. Highest lowest score wins. In Castles, you’re building a castle according to a market full of rooms where you’re trying to out-think your opponents and tip the game in your favour by fixing that market. Scoring in the game actually follows a similar idea to Cities where you place rooms according to neighbouring rooms which can bag you the big bonuses. And this is where we find our overlap.

Steve summed up Between Two Castles the best: It’s got the game-play of Between Two Cities with the scoring mechanism of Castles of Mad King Ludwig. And he’s right. Thankfully, it’s not that simple or this review would have to end here. There is of course the Stonemaier TwistTM, which gives it the edge.

Between Two Castles - Stonemaier - Castle Tiles

Whilst you draft tiles with your neighbours (clockwise then anticlockwise) and place them according to the room type, there’s additional things to look out for and the theme is linked with the mechanics here very well; for we do love a good link between the two here at Polyhedron Collider. It’s almost like Jamey listens to us and takes this stuff on board.

You can’t run a castle without staff, so after placing certain combinations of tiles, you’re entitled to add attendants to the main throne room which provide a bonus. On top of that, given certain combinations you can choose an objective which will give you a points benefit at the end if you achieve its conditions. Furthermore, you can add recreational rooms which again give you more points if used well. Explaining the rules is quite complicated as there are lots of scoring methods to remember, but it all feels very familiar to anyone (like me) who’s played both. At the same time, it takes some getting used to.

Between Two Castles - Stonemaier - Game Tray

Steve and I were about three quarters of the way through our first game before we both suddenly exclaimed “yep, I get this now”. Only to realise far too late that our castle was definitely not going to win. Naturally, we both wanted to play again, which is the sign the game is on to a winner. The competition between players is very enjoyable and there’s a part of your brain that wants to both do well and screw your opponents over at the same time. Tactical use of the tiles is key and the driver of the fun. On top of that, the insert is used as the centrepiece of the game from which the players draw their tiles, so set up and draw down are really easy. 

One thing I will say though is that whilst functional, it’s not as effective with fewer players; more is definitely better and I’d say you shouldn’t play it with fewer than four or five. The negotiation and discussions can isolate players which is less of an issue with a higher count as there’s usually something to talk about with someone. With only three, that gets very mandraulic and less enjoyable as when two players are talking, the other literally has nothing else to do.

Scoring is much easier than in Cities as well; the handy provided sheet is much simpler and makes doing hard sums a breeze and allows players to keep track of what's been scored and what hasn't. 

Between Two Castles - Stonemaier - Player Tokens

So I will eat my hat and happily say that I’m Strictly Between Two Celebrity Castles of Dancing Mad King Ludwig on Ice has a lot more going on than I thought it would have. A straightforward game to play, but one that requires a lot of thinking before it comes naturally. It’s also made me want to play the games it draws on too, so I hope it’s proud of itself. 

Pass me the custard, this humble pie is quite dry.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher. 

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