Saturday, 27 December 2014

Bedroom Tax

When I was asked by my secret Santa what I wanted I said I'd love a game, but maybe I should curb the habit and get something else instead. What can I say? Santa insisted I get a game. Put on the spot for choices, I plumped for this new Castles of Mad King Ludwig thing and spent the run-up to Christmas worrying I was going to hate it.

But despite a minor quibble about the readability of symbols, it was fun and straightforward. Stanley and I tried it out today, and having been beaten by him at Stone Age yesterday I decided that I'd balance the scales and play a little more competitively. Joe and Sally sat this one out:

A rare moment of calm

Largely inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle and of course the King that commissioned it, the game is about competing builders trying to impress the King by building castles on an extremely ad-hoc basis: room by room in fact. There's a little of Carcassone or Alhambra in there with the placement of these buildings, but there's also a bit of economics going on too. On a given turn the starting player (which moves around) is the Master Builder, and they choose how expensive the available rooms are going to be by placing them beneath a fixed set of values, that go from 2000 to 15,000. If they have their eye on a certain room, obviously they might make that one of the cheaper ones.

But the Master Builder having decided the going rates is then last to purchase, so may - probably - end up with the most expensive rooms. On the other hand, all the other players pay the master builder for their rooms, whereas the master builder pays the bank. This system keeps things interesting, as although we didn't pay a huge amount of attention to it in a 2-player I imagine with three or four it would play a big part in the game.

If you can't or don't want to buy, you can sacrifice building to pick up 5000 money. 

Having bought a room you add it to your growing castle. Like Alhambra everything must be connected to a central starting tile (a foyer, in this game) and there are straightforward set of rules about placing. Having built the room, you score points for it!

Hard hat area

The rooms all have their own thematic function, which is not at all academic, because placement can count against you when that room is surrounded - i.e., all its exits lead somewhere. When that happens, you get a bonus. Points are a part of it, so a parlour next to a bathroom will score extra points, but putting a parlour next to a forge, for example, will hit you with a points penalties. There are other bonuses too which range from extra points or cash to having an extra turn or picking up bonus cards.

The cards can be a game-changer come the count-up, and I thought that my having eight of them, courtesy of my continuously building bedrooms, would mean I outstripped Stanley with his two. But I'd overlooked one thing: the final scoring includes seeing who won The Kings' Favour, which reward different things in different games á la Kingdom Builder. Stanley, having not presented himself with the architectural cul-de-sacs that the bedrooms lump you with, picked up twice as many points as me from the insane king (entertainment rooms and surrounded rooms), and despite my bonus-point surge, he ran out winner.

Stanley 116
Sam  113

My gripe with the game is the pieces are fiddly and you have to kind of squint at them to check what sort of room they are. But on the other hand if they were any bigger I think you'd swiftly run out of table.

Stan counts up his winnings.

I can't see Martin embracing this game because the player interaction is limited to the economics, and the building happens in isolation. But I think those of us who like a game with minimum aggression and, well, the idea of building a faintly idiotic castle, will really enjoy it. It's a very accessible game with room for strategy and tactics.