Secrets & Soirees: The expansion to Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig

The Mad King is throwing a party and has invited all his neighbours…

Secrets & Soirees review by S vs J Board Games

1-8 players
45-60 minutes

Stonemaier Games / Bezier Games

Note: Stonemaier Games sent us a copy of Secrets & Soirees so that we could write this unbiased review

Don your best dress, hide that hip flask in your handbag, it’s time for a soiree! Or do you prefer sneaking around in secret and finding hiding places to explore? Secrets & Soirees is an expansion for the marvelous Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, which we had the pleasure of reviewing a few months ago. A real unsung hero in the gaming world, the game encourages you to work together with your neighbours to build castles from tiles that you pass around between players. The expansion introduces new types of room and bonuses (involving cool hiding places and elaborate shindigs), the ability to play with 8 instead of 7 players, a variant where you can build your own castle, and some excellent solo variants to try.

What’s in the box?
-24 activity room tiles
-16 ballroom tiles
-16 secret room tiles
-21 new regular room tiles (3 of each of the 7 room types from the base game)
-1 new throne room
-48 regular room type tokens
-8 new bonus cards
-1 new castle token
-8 new player aids
-1 new scorepad
-2 promo tiles
-2 solo variants

Woah that’s a lot of expansion! What are the key additions?

Activity Rooms, Secret Rooms and Ballrooms
The Activity and Secret Rooms are new room types that are shuffled in with the tiles from the base game. Activity rooms score 1 point per adjacent room (up down left and right), but specify a room type that they cannot have in the 8 surrounding tiles. If you do place that tile type within 1 space of the activity room, you only get 1 point for it. Secret rooms are seriously funky, and really change the game. All they have on them is an arrow, which needs to point at a neighbouring room (by the end of the game I should point out, doesn’t have to immediately). It duplicates that room, as if it’s exactly the same room, including counting towards the 3 and 5 room bonuses. (this is where the regular room tokens come in handy to remind you!).

Because the Secret Rooms adopt the room type that they’re pointing at, they don’t have a 3 room bonus, but the bonus for 3 Activity Rooms is the Ballroom, which scores 1 point per room of the specified type in the two neighbouring castles! You draw three ballrooms and pick one to place in your castle, so hopefully you pick one that can get you lots of points. For example, one point for each sleeping room in the two neighbouring castles.

At first it appears as though the Activity Rooms aren’t that great, because they can only score a maximum of 4 points but can easily be worth only 1 point. However we quickly realised the main benefit is the Ballroom bonus. Because you get a choice of 3, you’re likely to get at least one that scores some big points! The one Jack and I got in our game scored 1 point per corridor in neighbouring castles, bagging us 11 points!

The Secret rooms are a lot of fun too as they can rack up some crazy points. You can have more than one Secret room pointing at the same room, and if that room scores big then happy days! Love this addition, and as always each of the tiles is unique and beautifully illustrated.

Check this bad boy out! The Secret Room “Behind the Bookcase” copies the Art Supplies Utility Room, and scores 1 point per connected activity room, which is 3. My Among the Curtains and Hidden Compartment both point at and therefore copy the Club Room, so score 1 point per Activity Room within 1 space of it. My reward for placing three Activity Rooms is a Ballroom, which scores 1 point per Garden in my two neighbours’ castles.

-2 solo variants & King’s Demand variant
The King’s Demand allows you to play the game with just your own castle, no more working with your neighbours! I wouldn’t suggest (and I don’t think the designers would either) playing this variant all the time, but it’s certainly a fun way to mix things up and increases the replayability. Instead of picking one tile for each castle on your left and right, you pick one tile for your own castle and one tile for your neighbour’s castle (try to give them the worst one possible!). I do like this variant as it changes the tactics somewhat from the original, instead trying to find bad tiles for your opponents to place. Because you’re always receiving a tile from your neighbour in addition to the one you pick yourself, you’re forced to work out the best way to place tiles that don’t fit into your plans.

The solo variants are great fun too. The main solo game involves playing with two fictional automa – Roberta von Links and Roberta von Rechts. There is a deck of automa cards which allows you to work out which tiles they place into their castle, and rules for which tiles they pick to place in the castles you share with them. Of all the Stonemaier-inspired automa rules we’ve come across, these are the simplest to understand and I learned and played a full game in less than 50 minutes. I did get battered though! I like it because although the two Automa aren’t really building a proper castle (the points are sort of arbitrary based on how many tiles of each type they have at the end), you do have some influence over what tiles are remaining for them to place, and knowing what tiles they prefer to pick you can plan your castles accordingly so your toes aren’t trodden on. It felt like a regular game and wasn’t difficult to learn.

This is what the Roburg Automa castle might look like after the game. The automa and turn order cards, pictures at the bottom, may look complicated but are actually very straightforward to learn, making play time nice and short.

Other bits
The additional regular room tiles from the base game merely include references to the new room types, so for example food rooms that require activity rooms above or below it, or gardens that give you points for each activity room. There are new bonus cards that reference activity rooms and secret rooms, and a new throne room too. There’s an 8th castle token included which allows you to play with 8 now, I think this was done because when you play with an odd number 1 person is always waiting for pairs of players to discuss their castles (I never found this to be an issue). Playing 8 won’t take any more time than playing with 7 and there are enough tiles to do it, so this is a good thing!

Finally, the player aids and scorepads have been updated to allow for the inclusion of activity rooms, secret rooms and ballrooms.

So as with every review of expansions that I do, the key questions to ask yourself…

  1. Does this game need an expansion in order for me to play it over and over?
    Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is fast becoming one of my favourite light games, and I love teaching it to new people as they always seem to enjoy it. It is already highly replayable in my opinion due to the high number of tiles and the different combinations possible, but the expansion does add even more, with the new tiles, King’s Demand variant and solo variants.
  2. Does it add unnecessary complication to the game?
    The secret rooms can be a tad fiddly to understand at first, but they aren’t very complicated and neither are the activity rooms or ballrooms. The solo variant is very easy to understand even if you’ve not played any games with automa before.
  3. Does it enhance the core gameplay enough to justify me buying it?
    Depends on the price- some expansions these days are VERY expensive but you can pick this up for well under £20 in the UK which is well worth the money in my opinion. There’s a lot of added replayability and different strategies for not very much money.

One of my criticisms of the original game was that it doesn’t really play well with 2 players (but then it wasn’t really designed for two was it?), but the King’s Demand variant does make the 2 player experience much better. Picking one tile for you and one tile for them really keeps you on your toes throughout and leads to a really tight game. It would also work well with higher player counts, but I think I’d stick with the original variant for now.

A cracking, if uncomplicated addition to an already fantastic game. If you liked the base game I think you’ll love Secrets & Soirees- enjoy!

Get this game
Check this game out on Board Game Geek

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