You are a world-famous architect, known throughout the land for your stunning designs and beautiful constructions. And you've just been given the assignment of a lifetime. King Ludwig requires you to construct multiple castles in his realm! A tall order, but you won't be working alone. For each castle, you'll be designing with a fellow master-builder. But can you make a cohesive castle that doesn't run the risk of spiraling out of control? Can you and your partner-builders work together in harmony? And just where, exactly, are you going to put that vineyard the King's requested? These are the questions asked of you in Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a tile-laying semi-cooperative game published by Stonemaier Games with Bézier Games.
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, is a tile placement and drafting game for three to seven players (with a two-player variant at the back of the rulebook), and is a reimplementation of two different games: Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. In Between Two Castles, players draft tiles and place them on the table to build two different castles: one on their left, and one on their right. To build these castles, they'll also be collaborating with the players directly to their left and right, respectively. Each tile in a castle scores in a unique way, and at the end of the game the scores for each castle are tallied to determine a winner (more on that later).
To start, each player chooses two tiles from a stack of nine and sets the rest aside. They then assign those two tiles, one at a time, to their castles. After that, the stack of leftover tiles are passed to the left, and the process starts again until one tile is left and discarded. Round two sees the same structure, but tiles are passed in the opposite direction. And at the end of the second round points are tallied.
Each tile represents a room in the castle, and are broken up into seven different types of rooms: Food, Living, Utility, Outdoor, Sleeping, Corridor, and Downstairs. A single starting tile sets the ground floor, and only certain types of rooms can be placed beneath that starting tile. Players score points on their tiles based (usually) on the other tiles around them. For instance, a "Food" tile may score two points for each "Utility" room placed directly above and below it. While a "Sleeping" tile is worth a set amount of points if your castle contains one of each type of room at the end of the game.
To really understand where the complexity comes from with this game, I need to take a moment to explain how the final points are scored. As mentioned above, each castle is scored individually. So you, as a player, will have a score for the castle you helped construct on your left, and the castle you helped construct on your right. Your final score, as a player, is the lower of the two castles. After everyone has determined their player score, the player with the highest score wins. This creates an interesting and necessary tension in the game. Because if your player score was the highest castle score you achieved, you would simply focus all your attention on one castle, leaving the other an inefficient and haphazard mess. But because you know your score will be the lowest of the two castles, you need to try to create to equally high-scoring castles (not always an easy feat).
The scoring at the end of the game itself is a bit of a process, as you move tile by tile counting the individual score of each tile. It can be a somewhat lengthy process, but thankfully the game comes with a stack of full-color scoring sheets, which clearly offer a roadmap to scoring your castle.
Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the game is the artwork. It would have been very easy to churn out duplicate art for the varying tiles, but each of the game's 147 room tiles are unique, and completely illustrated. Full of subtle jokes and artwork that invites you deeper into your castle, these tiles look nice as a stack, and are even nicer when inspected up close.
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig also comes with two custom GameTrayz which are designed to perfectly fit inside the box, hold all the hundreds of tiles and small tokens, and lift out and lay right on the table for easy access. It's a game-changer, and makes setup and teardown easier than it has any right to be.
The Bottom Line
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig scratches my brain in a very strange way. The idea of working with a partner to build this castle, and keeping track of where our points are headed in both directions, at times felt a little daunting or overwhelming — especially on our first play through. But with each successive game played, I found myself more and more familiar with how the game wants to be played, and how best to work with both of my "teammates." Our scores reflected this, too, as the collective scores of all players rose steeply from play to play.
In this way, Between Two Castles offers a replay value deeper than simply answering the question "will I discover new things when I next play this game?" It challenges the player to think on their feet, find a working balance with their teammates, and ultimately attempt to make the best castles they can with fun and often humorous configurations of rooms. And really, you're a master builder, what do you care if a pit of despair is right under the children's sleeping quarters?
Get This Game If...
- You're already a fan of either Between Two Cities or Castles of Mad King Ludwig
- You're looking for an innovative new approach to tile laying games
- You want to work together with other players (but deep down you know you just want to win alone)
Avoid This Game If...
- You're looking for either a fully cooperative or fully competitive game
- You don't enjoy the process of tallying winding scores at the end of a game
The copy of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig used in this review was provided by Stonemaier Games.