Welcome to the Castle!
In Castles of Mad King Ludwig players each assemble their own castle from a set of room tiles that they will buy and add to their castle throughout the game. Much like real builders throughout history, most of them will run out of money and leave half the rooms uncompleted. Fortunately, on this occasion, there is a dungeon that they can be thrown into if they fail to achieve the required standards…
Almost everyone I know who has played this game has enjoyed the theming, and a few of them have spent a long time after the game has finished arranging the rooms into their ideal castle. As with many well-themed games, when I play Castles of Mad King Ludwig I forget to eat or go to the toilet for a few hours, perhaps while trying to arrange my cheese room and meat locker so that they can both adjoin the vestibule. Eventually one has to return to reality of course, and depending on how many bathrooms there are in the house possibly race the other players up the stairs as everyone remembers their bodily needs at the same time. In the meantime however, the game world has plenty to keep you occupied. There are food rooms for the hungry, nap rooms for the sleepy, the fencing room and ninepin alley for those in need of exercise, and for the amorously inclined there is of course the subterranean splendour of the Venus grotto (or even, for those with more specialist tastes, the dungeon).
For me however, the strategic complexity of a game tends to weigh more heavily than the theming, and until I actually played this game I had not been expecting very much. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised – there is really quite a lot going on in the game, including an unusual auction mechanic in which one player arranges the available rooms into a set of price slots and the other players then choose which (if any) to buy, giving the money to the player who did the arranging. This produces an interesting balancing act in which one wants to get as much money as possible from one’s opponents while still not really giving them what they want, and I whole-heartedly recommend the game as a training exercise for rail franchise executives.
My tower is taller than yours…
So, now that we have got a feel for the castle it is time to head to the strategy room for some serious planning. How do we make our castle bigger and better than anybody else’s? Here are a few pointers…
Go Big! Try to get the bigger rooms and the corresponding personal goals – they are generally worth more points, count more towards the “most area” goals (as well as scoring you more for personal goals) and often won’t cost you much more than their smaller counterparts.
Don’t pay to go down. Downstairs rooms are often not worth a lot more than upstairs rooms, you only get a reward for every two that you complete and you have to go to the effort of building stairs to get to them. That said, if only one player has stairs they can get downstairs rooms at very good prices and will likely win. Ideally in a multiplayer game you can sit back and let your opponents keep each other in check, but if this doesn’t happen (or in a two player game) you can finish your foyer quickly and place a free stairs, rather than having to waste a turn building them. Another good option is to keep an uncompleted food room – this doesn’t commit you to going downstairs but allows you to jump in and snap up any downstairs bargains that come along if you want to (build the stairs so that they complete the food room, then you’ll get another turn to buy the downstairs room). Just having this ready can force your opponents not to price downstairs rooms too cheaply, even if you never actually use it.
Spread yourself. Unless you are playing with the moat expansion it is generally a good idea to spread out as much as possible, to avoid clogging up your castle and being unable to place rooms where you want to. One exception to this is that sticking lots of identical small rooms together in a dense block (thus closing more than one doorway at a time) can be a powerful strategy, but it is also high-risk as you can’t guarantee that rooms with the right shapes and connections will come up.
Do a big purple one. Big purple rooms with three or four points per connection can be extremely lucrative, especially if you re-score them.
Doorways matter. Pay attention to how many doorways there are on the rooms you buy – completion rewards are very important, and the fewer doorways the rooms you buy have the easier it is to complete them. On the other hand, rooms with lots of doors can be a good choice on the first few turns, when it is important not to close up your castle too much.
Chain stairs. Don’t forget that when you complete a stairs you get a free hallway or stairs, and that stairs are much easier to complete than hallways! If there are any points available to you for stairs/corridor type rooms try to exploit this to get lots of superfluous stairs into your castle. They won’t be worth many points, but if you play it right you can get them more or less for free.
Get back to work! Instead of buying a room players have the option of taking 5,000 coins from the bank (“taking five”). This is very inefficient and in multiplayer you shouldn’t generally do it if you have any other choice. Try to get hold of a two-door garden if you need money instead. In two player games it can be worth taking five when your opponent is the master builder – particularly if you can annul their turn as master builder by not paying them and leaving them too poor to buy anything themselves.
Players who enjoy Castles of Mad King Ludwig but want something a bit more appropriate to the times should try its counterpart by the same designer, Suburbia. While the mechanics are quite similar in some ways, the themes are in sharp contrast. Castles is flamboyant and extravagant, but Suburbia’s theming is delightfully cynical. In Castles you can build fountains, the great hall, a train room and (my favourite tile) the hedge maze. In Suburbia you can build parking lots, office buildings, heavy factories and (my favourite tile) the landfill site. In Castles your aim is to grant the resident their every wish, while in Suburbia the way to win is to frighten your citizens away early on, ignore them for as long as possible, and eventually lure them back at the very end of the game with a few cheap PR stunts. People who can master both of these games should probably consider a career in politics.