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One of my favorite projects as a child was building a castle for all my troops to fight over. Castles have always been intriguing for me, and even though real life castles were dank, depressing, and unsanitary, they seem the pinnacle of fantasy fun. So a game called Castle just naturally sounded good to me, especially when I saw that it was co-designed by my favorite game designer, Bruno Faidutti (along with Serge Laget). It is one of Descartes Eurogames’ Blue Box series, produced in 2000. (2-5 players)
So is Castle any good? The short answer is that it is a fun multi-player game, and an excellent strategic two-player game. Let me explain in more detail...
First, an explanation of game play…
A game board is set up in the middle of the table to represent the castle. This board consists of four cardboard “walls” that are placed connecting to each other to form the castle. Each wall is divided into four spaces forming a rampart, with another space as a tower in each corner. Inside the walls, an imaginary 16 square grid forms the courtyard. Each player takes all the tokens in one of five colors, placing them in front of them. A deck of cards is shuffled, and each player is dealt two piles of cards (the amount of cards in each pile is determined by how many players are playing.) One pile forms the player’s hand, while the other forms a draw pile exclusively for that player. All the rest of the cards are shuffled, and form a common draw pile called the “Exchange”. One player takes their turn, then each player follows in a clockwise order.
On a players turn, they have two actions. There are three things a player may do, and they may do the same thing twice per turn. A player may draw a card from their deck, may play a card from their hand, or exchange a card from their hand with one in the Exchange. A player’s goal is to get rid of all the cards from their hand and deck – playing them in the castle.
There are fifty-six cards, with thirty-seven different types. Each card shows a character (ex: Ambassador, Archer, King). The card is color coded to show where it can be placed. (Yellow cards go on the ramparts, red cards in the courtyard, green cards outside the walls, blue cards in a tower, and purple cards on top of other cards) Each card may also have additional placement requirements (adjacent to the King, etc.) When a player places a character, they put one of their tokens on it. Many cards have text on them, moving other cards, or sending cards back. When a card sends another card back, it returns to the hand of the player whose token is on the card. Some cards, like the “Knight” protect other cards from being sent back. The protected character can only be moved if the card protecting it is first moved/sent back. When one player gets rids of all the cards from their hand and deck, they win the game!
Some comments on the game:
1). Components: As always, wooden discs are much more enjoyable to use over plastic ones – and there are quite a few discs in this game. The colors are nice, but I put the different colors in separate plastic bags for ease of playing. The cards in this game are extremely nice – they are square cards with rounded corners, are of good quality. They are easy to read and shuffle, and the colors that differentiate where each character should go are immensely helpful. The artwork on the cards is extremely nice with a definite fantasy feel. The only “cheap” feel of the components are the cardboard walls of the castle. The square cards fit on them well, and they don’t move around much, but I’d rather have a board. Of course, a board wouldn’t fit into the small, compact Blue Box, so it’s quite a minor quibble. Lack of a board keeps the price of the game down, and since the rest of the components are such good quality, I feel a purchaser will certainly get their money’s worth.
2). Rules: The rules are printed on four small pages, but in an easy to read format. The rules are quite simple, but many examples and possible combinations are addressed, making a FAQ unnecessary. The game is extremely easy to teach and learn. It may take a little bit for new players to get used to cards returning to their hands, but after a while, they join in with a vengeance.
3). Players: This is the only Blue Box game I would play with 2 players, and it’s one of the few games that I will gladly play both with a group of five players, or just two of us. The rules state that a two-player game is very tactical, and last longer, while a five player game is more chaotic and is shorter. This is exactly the case, and I really have a hard time deciding which game I prefer. But I think it makes the game worth getting. If I have a game that I can play with my wife, and one that I can bring out when a group of friends are over – and they are the same game – then that game is a keeper.
4). Fun Factor: The theme is certainly strong in this one, Luke. Certainly it’s just a tile placement game – but it’s a blast to play. Probably one of the more fun parts of the game is the Siege Engines vs. Soldiers. If four soldiers are placed in the same wall, they send back the Siege Engine facing that wall. If one Siege Engine faces all four walls, however, all the Soldiers on all walls are sent back. Other fun cards include the Fairy, who sends a card from inside the Castle to the outside, and the Ghost, who sends back a card that he lands on in a Tower. Each card has an interesting ability, and coupled with a fascinating picture, invokes a castle type feel.
If I had to pick only one Blue Box game to get, it would be a hard choice. However, I think in the long run my pick would gravitate towards Castle. A good two-player game that couples as a fun 5-player game is a rare find, and coupled with the inexpensive price and mostly good components, makes Castle a game worth getting. Most people I have taught this game to have enjoyed it on the spot, and want to play again. And since getting others to enjoy board gaming is a high priority of mine, Castle will see play, again and again. Bruno and Serge have produced an excellent little game here, and one that should be in your collection.