You must pair up with your neighbours to build castles for Ludwig…can you build the best worst castle?
3-7 players (with a 2 player variant)
Stonemaier Games with Bezier Games
Note: We were gifted this game by Stonemaier Games for an unbiased review
What’s that you say? The best worst castle? That must be a typo…Actually it’s how you win Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, by building two castles and whoever has the best worst castle will win. Sounds confusing but it’s actually pretty simple. In fact, if you’re new to board games and want something a little bit different from the normal games that isn’t too complicated to learn, this might just be the perfect game for you.
In Between Two Castles, each player is building one castle with the person sat to their left, and another castle with the person on their right (I realise now why nobody wants to sit next to me when we play this game). Each castle will score points at the end of the game depending on the layout of its various rooms, and whoever’s lowest scoring castle has the highest score, wins the game! For example, when we played with our friends, Jack and Sam’s castle scored 72, Sam and my castle scored 67, Laura and my castle scored 51, and Jack and Laura’s castle scored 60. Therefore Sam won (smugly, I may add) because his worst castle was the best, with 67 points. Before I explain how it all works I will say that I LOVE how this game works, it’s so clever and unlike any game we’ve played before!
The King demands a castle! Several castles, it turns out. And it’s you and your fellow players’ jobs to build them, starting with a Throne Room and gradually adding to it room by room. Which rooms you pick and where you place them will determine how many points they score, so try and think ahead about what might come up later on in the game.
The game is played over two rounds. At the start of each round, every player is dealt nine room tiles. These can be living rooms, dining rooms, utility rooms, bedrooms and so on. Every player then simultaneously and secretly picks two room tiles to play that turn, one for each of their castles. Therefore each castle will grow by two rooms each turn (yours and your neighbours). The tricky thing here is you can’t discuss with your neighbour what rooms you are picking so it will be a surprise to both of you when you turn them face up! Once you’ve revealed which rooms you picked, you discuss with your neighbour where to place the room tile you picked, and the room tile they picked.
After each pair has placed both their tiles, everyone passes their seven remaining tiles to the person to their left, and the next turn begins. Do this until everyone only has one room tile left, then begin the second round.
Every room type has a way of scoring, for example food rooms score points for having specific room types above or below them (e.g. 2 points for each bedroom directly above or below) and living rooms score points for having specific room types in any of the eight spaces surrounding it (e.g. 1 point for every utility room surrounding). So while you are placing your rooms have these in mind, not just for the tiles you picked but for what tiles may come up later!
Once you have three of the same room type in your castle (e.g. three utility rooms) you can claim the matching bonus. These are key if you are going to win the game! The bonus you get varies for each room type, but as an example if you place three bedrooms you then also get to place a tower on top of your castle, which scores 1 point for each room directly beneath it (so try and save this bonus until you have a really tall tower!). You get another bonus if you place five of the same room type, but in this case you just pick whichever bonus you want. Try and get at least three or four bonuses throughout the game for each castle, as this will mount your score up!
After two rounds are finished you move on to scoring. Thankfully for such a massive scoring process they provide fantastic sheets which really simplify it. In the rulebook it says everyone should score one of their two castles to minimise adding time but we actually found it easier (and more tense) working our way around them as a group, but fully understand if you were playing with seven players that’d take ages!
So what do we think of this game? The first time we played it, it was just the two of us so we needed to play with the two player variant (it involves you each building a castle with ‘Ludwig’, plus your shared one), and we weren’t really sure that worked because if you didn’t think you were going to win you could just sabotage your shared castle to ensure Ludwig won instead of your opponent. But when we played as a four we absolutely loved it.
It was so easy to explain, especially as the pick-and-pass mechanism is so well known now, that we were playing in no time whatsoever and it only took 45 minutes to play a four player game, including scoring. The rulebook is very clear and concise and the player aids are really useful for reminding players how each room scores, and their bonuses.
If you’ve read any of my other reviews you’ll know by now I’m a sucker for nice artwork, and it definitely ticks that box (although admittedly it’s not as pretty as other SM games such as Scythe, Tapestry etc. that would be impossible!), the illustrations on the box are lovely, and all the rooms are vibrantly coloured and imaginative (they had to be, there are SO many room tiles!).
I love the gameplay, especially as it is so different from other games, you have no choice but to actively collaborate with your neighbours, while hoping that their efforts on their other castles are not as good, you want them to bring the best rooms to your castle! So in that sense it’s not very cut throat because all your discussions are genuinely constructive (until your castle only scores 40 points and you’re all like “come on Sam why didn’t you even try!?), which I really enjoyed.
We’ve always liked pick and pass games (if you’ve not come across the term before, it literally means having a hand of cards/tiles, picking one/several, then passing the rest to a neighbour). Sushi Go Party was our first intro to the mechanism and we instantly loved it, because it feels less luck based as everyone has the same chance of success unlike when you get dealt a hand of cards and that’s your lot. But most importantly it works so well because there’s very little down time involved. Everyone is picking the tiles simultaneously and then placing them simultaneously, it’s only if you’ve placed yours and are waiting for the other pairs to finish that you’re ever waiting around. I suppose there’d always be an odd one out if you were playing with 3, 5 or 7 players but even then you won’t be waiting long.
Have I got anything bad to say about it? Not really, only that the two player variant didn’t set our world alight, but then pick and pass games never were really designed for two players. So if you have a regular gaming group of 3 or more, and you are looking for a light-ish game to start or finish the night on, look no further as this was a delight to play. But if you’re someone who only usually plays with one other person, then I wouldn’t buy it for the two player variant.
Loved it, and you’ll love it too!
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