I'm not sure how many of these blog posts I will actually do, but I wanted to do up at least a couple posts based on the awesome games I got to try while I was at Origins 2014 a couple weeks back.
While there was an amazing amount of great gaming and I think I played more games in that one weekend than I did most of last year, these articles will be about the best of what I got to try.
I'm starting with the best of the best. Castles of Mad King Ludwig was the best new game I got to play at Origins. It's from Ted Alspach and released by Bezier Games, Inc.
My favourite game from Ted is Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig is very similar to it. Actually I could see some people even saying that it's a re-theme of Suburbia.
Note: all of the following is based on a single play of a preview copy of the game. The game was taught by one of the demo staff at Origins so I cannot talk to how well the instructions are written.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig has each player competing to make the best castle. Each player starts off with just an entrance hall and they build off of it using a wide variety of room types in a wide variety of shapes.
Each turn, one player is the master builder (not positive that was the proper term, it was something like that). They start their turn by drawing new room tiles to fill the market. Which type of tiles (aka which room shapes) are added is determined by draws from a deck of room cards. Once the market is filled, the master builder then gets to set the price on each piece. This is the most strategic part of the game.
For those who have played Suburbia: imagine that instead of just having a row of things to buy with the most expensive stuff at one end and free stuff at the other, each turn one of the players got to re-arrange this market into whatever order they wanted. Setting the price for each piece of property. That's what the master builder does each turn in Castles of Mad King Ludwig.
One of the reasons this is so strategic is that, after setting the prices, the other players then get to buy first. In addition when they buy a piece the money they spend goes to the master builder. The master builder builds last and whatever they spend goes to the bank. This makes for a very internalized player dependent economy.
When you buy a room you add it to the growing castle in front of you. What's really interesting here is the way all the pieces are shaped. I don't think I've ever played a tile game before where the tiles didn't line up in neat rows and columns. It takes a bit to get used to. As tiles are played they score. Each tile scores a basic value printed in the top right corner of the card. In addition every tile can earn bonus points for tiles placed adjacent to them. This varies widely by room but generally you get bonuses for putting a certain size, shape or colour of room next to the ones you've already placed. For example the first large hall I placed (purple) was worth 1 point, but it was worth 4 more points for every bedroom (blue) room I placed adjacent to it.
In addition to getting points for making room combos you are also trying to 'finish' rooms. You do this by attaching something to each and every exit from a room, so that every exit leads somewhere. When you do this you get a bonus based on the type of room you closed off. These bonuses ranges from getting more money, to being able to determine what room types come up next. If I remember correctly there are seven different room types each with it's own distinct bonus.
There are also a few special tiles that are always available from a central supply (technically you can run out if all of them are bought): corridors and stairs. Corridors are just long and really long straight rooms with lots of doors that seem to be mostly used to give you more room to build. Stairs are really neat: Once you build a set of stairs you can start building dungeon rooms onto your castle. These are the black rooms and for every two you complete you get to pick any one of the other rewards.
All of this stuff scores you points, which you track on a score board above the market. The cards you draw to determine which rooms to pull when filling the market work as the game timer. When they run out the game ends. Similar to Suburbia there are objectives in the game. Each player has a hidden objective and there are some public ones one the main board. A player can also get more objectives during the game by completing a specific type of room. These score points at the end of the game and are things like: "Most bedrooms", "Least circular rooms", "Biggest Dungeon" etc. You add these bonus points to the scores from the game and the player with the most points wins.
So how was castle building?
I really like Suburbia. It's one of my favourite games at the moment. I love the way that everything interacts and the way what initially feels like a multi-player solitaire game actually has a really good bit of interaction. Well Castles of Mad King Ludwig kicks that up a notch. The whole master builder sets the price and then gets paid by the other characters thing is brilliant. It's really what makes this game. It is so hard to decide how to set those prices. For Example: you know that "most circles" is a public objective so do you put the price really high in hopes that someone buys it to give you money for next turn, or do you put it really low so that someone buys that instead of that square bedroom you really want?
I found the theme of Castles of Mad King Ludwig much more engaging than city building. I love Sim City and all but I also really dig Dungeon Keeper. Building an interesting castle is just more fun than placing some parks next to an office building. Plus this game has a fantasy theme that really comes out once you start seeing some of the underground dungeon tiles.
Despite being a prototype I really liked the look of the game. The rooms are very detailed and interesting with lots of cool bits to look at. What could have just been a yellow square is instead a wine cellar filled with barrels. While I find the art in Suburbia very functional, it's not all that pretty. And while I wouldn't call this pretty, it is very much a step up.
I really don't have much negative to say about the game. It was really good. The only two problems I can see with it is that the master builder phase is very prone to Analysis Paralysis and the game takes up a lot of table space.
I can't wait for this game to come out, It was the best game I got to try at Origins 2014. I was going to pre-order right then and there after our demo, until they told us that the free shipping deal didn't apply to Canada. So as it stands I will be buying this as soon as I can get it locally. If you like Suburbia I can't see you not liking this. If you think building a fantasy castle is cooler than building a city, I think Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a no brainier. Even if you've never played or didn't like Suburbia I suggest checking this game out. It's solid.