Between Two Castles of Mad Kind Ludwig by Stonemaier Games in collaboration with Bezier Games
Players: 3 or 7
Playtime: 45 to 60
Perfect for: Players who enjoy strategic tile-laying mechanics and intricate scoring
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game of clever construction, at the crossroads of collaboration and competition. Before we get into how the game is played, here’s a little more about the theme and story for context, as per the publisher, Stonemair Games, who developed the title in conjunction with Bezier Games:
The king demands a castle! You are a world-renowned master builder who has been asked by the Mad King Ludwig to help design his castles. Projects of such significance require the expertise of more than one person, so for each assignment you are paired with another master builder to execute your grandiose plans. Will your planning and collaborative skills be enough to design the most impressive castles in the world?
In Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig players serve on two teams of two, working the person to their left and the person to their right (hence the need for a minimum of three players). The goal is to create two castles each with the highest point value possible, for at the end of the game the player will only keep the score of the lowest castle they worked on of the two.
The game begins with each player taking a set of nine tiles and choosing two they wish to play, one for each castle on either side of them. Simultaneously, all players reveal their two tiles and then collaborate on placement. The location of tiles is strategic, as their placement will dictate end-game scoring. For example, a purple tile might get a bonus for every green tile it touches, and blue tiles score higher if a tile of every color has been used in the castle. Once the initial tiles have been placed, the remaining stacks are passed to the next player. Once all tiles (but one) are played, the round ends, and after two rounds the game concludes and castles scored.
What works in Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is the very simple mechanic and the excellent storage design. Jumping into gameplay takes almost no time at all, even for first time players, given the straightforward concept of play and pass. In early rounds, choices might seem obvious about which tiles to choose. As the castles build, however, tough decisions will need to be made in order to maximize value in a limited number of turns. As players get more experienced, strategies are likely to evolve by becoming more complex including going for bigger potential bonuses that take more turns to execute. And thanks to trays that keep all the components incredibly well-organized and counted, setup and clean-up are extremely quick meaning replays are likely to happen often.
While Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is easy to pick up and play with decent strategic depth, scoring is a little cumbersome and the artwork is both a blessing and curse. With so many variables associated with each tile (color, position, type, etc.), assessing the point values takes a bit more time, energy, and concentration than it feels like it should (although it gets faster after a few attempts). This is slightly compounded by tiny fonts and icons on the already small tiles which signal how scoring should be counted. This was likely due to the design team crafting some beautiful artwork for the tiles that they didn’t want obscured, but it does take a bit of peering, squinting, and double-checking to ensure they are being interpreted correctly for placement purposes.
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is essentially a new version of Between Two Cities that leverages the scoring paradigm of The Castles of Mad King Ludwig. It has a nice, light rule set that will be welcoming to new gamers but also strategically challenging enough for seasoned players.
Recommended if you like: Between Two Cities, Sushi Go, 7 Wonders