Mad King Ludwig is famous for three things: being mad, his eccentricity and his many, many castles. So many castles. Some may say too many. I mean, every man is entitled to his own castle, but Ludwig may have been a little too entitled. He produced around five fantastical castles and many, many smaller buildings fit for a king. Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig by Stonemaier Games allows you to create some wild castles of your own, based on his own architecture. It’s a tile laying game for 3-7 players with a two player variant that takes around 45 minutes to play. This review will focus on the two player variant.
This game was kindly sent to us for an unbiased review by Stonemaier games. We have not been paid for any media produced and all opinions are our own.
To set up, you need to first mix the base tiles. These can be identified by their many coloured backgrounds indicating their types. There are three unique tile sets that aren’t mixed in, and are instead earned through other means. Once all tiles are mixed and organised appropriately, players draw 9 tiles each. Then castle tokens are placed between players along with throne room tiles. The game is then ready to play.
The obscure thing with this game is the lack of ownership. No one owns any one castle, but instead influences the score of the two castles adjacent to them. In essence, players may work together to build one castle by filling it with appropriate room tiles to best help it score. Players score points based on the lowest scoring castle surrounding them. They need to cooperate with whomever is seated next to them in order to best produce the castles, whilst being mindful of ensuring no one castle scores too much more than the other.
Taking a Turn
In Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, players simultaneously choose two tiles to distribute to their adjacent castles. Then, players work with whomever is linked to that castle to place tiles accordingly to boost the castle’s score. Each tile type scores based on its own criteria, and these are broken up further by the other tiles in your castle.
- Food rooms score for specific tiles orthogonal above or next to them
- Living rooms score for being surrounded by specific room types.
- Utility rooms score for traceable routes through specific rooms types adjacent to them.
- Outdoor rooms score for each of a specific room anywhere in the castle.
- Sleeping rooms score highly of you have every other type in your castle, or low of you don’t.
- Corridors score for surrounding tiles with a specific brand in their corner.
- Downstairs rooms score for specific room types above/below them.
Having three of one room type in the castle gives it a bonus. These are specific to the rooms’ type but are beneficial nonetheless. These may be bonus cards, extra tile draws or unique room types. These unique room types (fountains, towers and grand foyers) score in much simpler ways, but are easy to do well with.
Once players have placed a tile in each surrounding castle, hands of tiles are rotated to the left. Once 8 tiles have been placed, players draw another 9 tiles and begin rotating hands to the right. After all tiles have been placed, the game is over and scoring can occur. Players calculate the scores for both their adjacent castles that they are between and take the score of the lowest scoring castle. Then, whoever has the highest score, wins!
Two Player Variant
Due to current circumstances, all of our games have been at two player. We therefore feel the need to explain the gameplay for this mode. You set the game up for three players, with three castles. Both players sit between two castles, and the third space is held by Ludwig. Players take turns to play on behalf of Ludwig. They choose two random tiles from Ludwig’s current stack and choose which tiles go where. This mode opens up some scope for take that, as you are often choosing tiles for a castle you’ll never be impacted by. Other than that change, the game runs it’s normal routine. Be warned though, Ludwig can and will win!
How It Handles
My experience with Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig has been a rollercoaster of both understanding and enjoyment. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a lovely game that we have enjoyed very much… But we feel we must tell of the highs and lows with this one to ensure you can figure out whether this game is for you!
The World is NOT Your Oyster
Initially with this game, we struggled to grasp the concept. It’s hard to understand that you don’t own either castle you’re next to. Neither. No ownership whatsoever. You’ll benefit from the points of the lower scoring one, yeah, but you never hold that castle as your own. It’s a really weird concept. In board games, we’re used to having things that we improve and then benefiting from them. Or owning things and utilising them to our own ends. Here, you don’t own the castles you improve. You just maybe benefit from one. And even then, you may end up sharing that, too. You’d think we’d have cottoned on to that pretty quickly, what with the game being called Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, but it’s unique and new to us.
At two player, this ignorance was amplified by needing to fabricate another player each time. We had several conversations as we clarified rules where I’m adamant invisible Lud sat awkwardly as we went in circles. “First I’m Ludwig, then you… and Ludwig’s castles are these. Well not HIS, but his scorers. Yes the same as ours. No, you can’t have the red one. You wouldn’t have it anyway. Because we share. I don’t know why there isn’t a gold castle!” And so on. It was entirely new to us, and a few of our initial games had us scratching our heads as we tried to establish which castle benefited from which tiles, and what sort of score the whole thing was averaging at. There was a lot to account for at two players whilst learning the game. It shocked us!
Despite our ignorance, we eventually grasped the concept and read the games name a few times. (We found that helped.) From then, it became a battle of the minds that was, again, very new to us but also incredibly welcomed! You’re working with your opponents to build the castles, but want the castle to score a high score for you and a low score for them. All at the same time balancing out your castles so you’re more likely to win. It’s hard to put into words the level of thinking and consideration needed for a single tile placement without it sounding daunting… but it wasn’t. The only tricky element was the “cooperation”, and that only led to superb player interaction!
Every Room Has An En Suite!
From stack to stack, you’d be able to identify which tile you’d want for each and how it would compliment the castle’s existing tiles. The tiles’ placement was also quite easy to choose as it would need to compliment the rooms already present. Again, sounds complex, but isn’t. You can see which locations are appropriate and which aren’t, and how they’ll impact the existing tiles. Of course, this was my experience after a few games of thinking I ruled all the kingdoms, so take the ease of tile choice and placement with a pinch of salt. I’d had plenty of experience getting it wrong before it was easy to get it right. But at no point did the decisions ever feel complicated and overly convoluted!
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig has a lovely in built system to allow scoring tiles to compliment one another. Not all tiles require adjacent scorers, and not all look for the same type. It’s a well thought out system that’s surprisingly rigorous and makes sense. My personal favourite are the hall tiles (exciting, I know). These don’t look for adjacent tile types, but instead specific brands on tiles. I’ve managed whopping great scores and had a few that enabled me to trigger hall tiles off of hall tiles, tying it into a utility room’s scoring trigger and a garden tile’s condition too. It all fell beautifully into place…. but that’s not ideal in this game! As an exercise, however, it showed how easily these tiles can boost the score of one another. Though I lost that game.
Sharing, But Not As We Know It
By the end of the game, everyone will have made some wild architectural advances. The castles around you are what you’re interested in, though. The scores of these monoliths will be what determines your final score. But also what could determine your neighbours scores, too. And that’s a strange concept for a competitive board game. You want your lowest scoring castle to be the highest scoring of everyone else’s lowest scorer. Which could mean you share a victory. With that, you’ve also got to ensure your cooperators aren’t able to sky rocket the score of any castles you own. It’s a bit of a balancing act on the whole, but there’s scope for discussion and whatnot. And, realistically, they’ll want to score well on both their castles too… so there shouldn’t be need to screw someone else over.
At two players, the decision making process is pretty swift. You’ve only really got to negotiate on one castle, as you place Ludwig’s tile on his behalf. He doesn’t complain or really get to play, he just lets you crack on. But one of those tiles may be chosen by someone who isn’t going to benefit from it. It’s more often than not the leftovers from their choice. But that’s balanced out by you being able to do the same for them too when you’re sitting on Ludwig’s lap and playing his part. All the while you’re still smiling amicably at them whilst deciding how you’ll decorate your shared castle.
Again, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is weird – you choose tiles for your adjoining castles and, at two players, the third castle that doesn’t matter to you. It seems chaotic, but it worked as we still had control over where the tile went. However I feel this chaos, caused by the lack of a decisive third wheel, would be negated in the usual variant of the game. At two, you don’t care for the castle you won’t interact with so just give it any old rubbish. But add a third person and they’ll nurture and love that castle as if it were there own. (But remember, they don’t own it!)
Mad, But Stylish!
There’s a lovely aesthetic to this game. It’s truly regal in every aspect of every element. The tiles, at a distance, can easily be identified as rooms you may find in any castle. It’s gorgeous with lashings of strong bold colours throughout. And then you take a closer look to see the madness through the style. From the cat room to the hall of mirrors, every tile tells a story of how mad the king was seen to be. Sure, everyone needs a room specifically for statues or pillows, but only those of Ludwig’s standing can actually have one. These tiles give every castle a charm and a lovely number of quirks, with a heavily royal continuousness across all the tiles. No matter the shape produced, the finished product always looks divine!
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game designed for large groups that works superbly at two. It’s a struggle to get your head around initially, but when you’re there you’re fine. The game is superbly fun to play and utilised competitive / cooperative mechanics nicely. It’s wonderful and pushes players to consider how there choices early on will aid or hurt their chances of winning. What’s more is how the game takes the same time to play regardless to player count as everything is simultaneously done.
We thoroughly enjoyed Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig at two players and are really excited to try this at more. It worked wonderfully once we knew how to effectively wear Ludwig’s shoes. It works well and is tremendously engaging both mechanically and aesthetically. Though it has made me feel every house needs a blanket room! Wonderful stuff!