Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a fun, moderate difficulty tile placement game for 1-4 players with the objective to build the best castle according to the whims of the Mad King Ludwig.
Players will do this by purchasing different room tiles with a varied amount of points and stipulations regarding what other rooms they can be placed next to. Sleeping rooms don’t like to be next to rooms where loud work is going on, living rooms like to be near majestic views of the estate, etc. At the end of the game the player that has placed the room tiles in the most efficient manner of a variety that the King prefers and thus gains the most points is the victor and Master Builder of Bavaria.
There are a few interesting mechanics at work in this game. The tile laying aspect that goes into your room placement is reminiscent of games like Carcassone where tile placement is very important to maximize the amount of points you will receive. Placing rooms next to beneficial rooms, for instance, a dining room next to a kitchen will gain you extra points. Whereas placing rooms in a poor layout, like having a bowling alley next to a bedroom will yield negative points. The locations of your doorways also play a pivotal role in room placement since there are incredible bonuses for having each doorway match up with another providing good flow through the castle. This mechanic works great for rewarding strategic thought and creative planning.
The second major mechanic utilizes an auction type system for gaining new rooms. Each turn a player will take on the role of “Master Builder,” whose job is to assign values to the new rooms that become available each turn. This adds another deeper level of strategy since the Master Builder gets paid based on what people spend on these rooms. This provides a dilemma to the builder to decide how much to charge other players for rooms that they want so that they will pay the maximum value and earn the builder more money, while also valuing the rooms the builder wants to purchase low enough to be a good deal without other players scooping it up.
Finally there are many ways to earn bonus points in this game. Kings favor tokens are random room types (i.e. living rooms, work rooms, gardens, and kitchens), room sizes (large, circular, small), or myriad other whims that the King publicly desires to have in his castle. The player that fills the largest amount of these requirements can earn a sizeable amount of points. Also bonus cards work the same way but are used as secret personal goals to build certain rooms for additional points.
The components in this game are on good thick cardboard that doesn’t have a lot of bend, which is good because players will be picking them up and manipulating them a lot. The artwork is a little bland and it can be hard to see all of the fine details that make each room unique. Mostly you will be paying attention to the type of room and the requirements therein.
The game also looks pretty gray and monochrome when you first set it up which isn’t too pleasing at the start of the game. Luckily as the game goes on and players start to build their castles more and more bland gray pieces will get flipped over to create these colorful zany works of architecture that are really fun to create.
The game works extremely well with 2-4 players. I recommend playing with 4 as much as possible since you get access to the maximum amount of room tiles that way. The game balances itself by limiting the amount of room tiles by the amount of players so if you want to have the feeling of making a large elaborate castle, play with more people. It is for this reason that I did not enjoy the solitaire variant. The turn constraint along with not having a large variety of rooms to work with left me feeling more like a had built a goofy, terribly organized little cottage for a mad hermit than a majestic castle for a King driven crazy with power.
I strongly suggest trying out this game. The wide variety of tiles and different objectives means you will likely never play the same game twice. The Master Builder mechanic adds a great layer of strategy that will lead you to question the motives and shrewdness of your fellow players and the bonus cards will always leave you with the feeling that your place in the lead is never quite secure, making every turn feel tense and important. If you like games like Carcassone, Suburbia (By the same designer, Ted Alspach), or Keyflower this game will satisfy your tile laying needs. It plays quickly in about an hour and is tons of fun!