Review: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

I’ve talk about Castles of Mad King Ludwig before; before I went to Essen, after I went to Essen and possibly several other times as well, but I haven’t formally given my thoughts on the game itself.

The theme behind Castles of Mad King Ludwig is one of my favorite parts of the game. First off, you are building castles which is cool in and of itself. Then you also are building a castle for King Ludwig II of Bavaria and he was rumored to be a wee bit off in the head. Technically he was declared insane, but some view that as more of a political move from his adversaries than the truth. Regardless of that, he was known for having very interesting castles and palaces with some rooms being inspired by the operas of Wagner. He even built a miniature Versailles as a tribute to Louis XIV. While his insanity has been refuted, his building were nonetheless very interesting and the theme is carried out very well in the game.

courtesy of Wikipedia
courtesy of Wikipedia

Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game for 1-4 players and, at heart, is a tile laying game…with a twist and oh what a fun twist it is. Each player is building their own castle and buying rooms in an auction. Similar to other tile laying games you are placing tiles (rooms) to expand the castle you are building. Each room is a specific type of room and gives you points for building it as well as possibly providing points for neighboring rooms as well.

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In this game the King wants a large total area of food rooms, a large number of small rooms an utility rooms. Picture courtesy of BGG.

 

Each turn there is one Master Builder and it is their job to determine how much money that room will sell for. There are several factors that way into the decision. The Master Builder must consider the King’s Favors which might determine that food rooms, outdoor rooms and small rooms are desired by the king while also considering what their own secret bonuses that the King has told them personally. Then they have to look at the amount of money each player has, what types of rooms they are buying, etc. Once they place the rooms at the determined price the other players get a choice to buy a room/staircase/hallway or just take 5,000 Marks. The really interesting part is that whatever is purchased that money goes to the Master Builder of that round so you have to price the buildings expensive enough, but not too expensive. You want them to buy a room, but not get one for too cheap. The money the Master Builder receives during that round is the money they have (unless they choose to take 5,000 on a future turn) until every other player has had a chance to be the Master builder as well.

Play continues until there are no more cards left in the room deck (11 cards per player representing the different size rooms available). During play, however there is one more major aspect that I would hate to neglect. That is, when a room is completed (every doorway is connected to a doorway of a different room) that player gets a bonus. Each type of room gives a different bonus. The food rooms give you an extra turn, outdoor rooms give you 10,000 Marks, Utility rooms give you an extra bonus card, etc.

One of the highlights of the game for most people is admiring (or laughing at) their castle. Sometimes you get some crazy castles with a “butter room,” Venus Grotto,” and “bottomless pit” and sometimes you get a castle that people would actually consider building. Regardless, admiring your castle at the end is almost a must in this game.

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This is technically possible, but I’ve never seen a castle end up this perfect. – Picture courtesy of BGG and Ted Alsbach

 

What’s Good?

  • I love the auction mechanic in this game. The idea that you have to set the prices and then whatever money you get, is what you have until your next turn as Master Builder (unless you take a turn to only collect money) is great. This can cause a problem with AP prone people, but it is still so much fun!
  • The names of the rooms is always fun to read out loud as you build a “butter room” because after all, who doesn’t need a room dedicated purely to butter?
  • The physical castle that you build with the tiles gives the players the feeling of accomplishment that at the end of the game they have accomplished something, even if they don’t win and that is always a plus in my book.

What’s Not So Good?

  • The box insert…because there isn’t any. This game needs something to make set up and clean up faster, but if you throw everything in the box, it would take way too long.
  • It’s a little shorter than i would like. This isn’t a major concern because you can lengthen it a little by house ruling playing one or two more rounds after the room card pile is empty, but I always one to make my castle just a little bit better.

What’s The Best Part?

  • Utilizing the bonuses of completed rooms to create a chain of bonuses is one of the most satisfying moments in this game. The last time I played this game, I finished a food room which gave me an extra turn. I used that turn to buy a hallway that I in turn used to finish off a living (re-score the room) and sleeping room (place 0, 1, or 2 room tiles on the stack of cards) which allowed me to drain a stack of 150 sq. meter rooms giving me an extra 6 points in end game scoring. I can’t tell you how satisfying that was when I realize I could pull off a chain like that on the last turn of the game. It doesn’t always happen every game, but when it does, it feels oh so good!

 

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