Board Game Review

Renovating and Expanding Your Castle (Secrets and Soirées Expansions Review)

This copy was sent to us for an unbiased review by Stonemaier Games. We are not paid for any content produced.

When buying a house, you’ve got to consider every eventuality. Will you host a dinner party? Best look for a dining room. Maybe you’ll entertain in the garden? Look for lots of land. Want to confuse and trap intruders? A hall of mirrors will do the trick. Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig by Stonemaier Games is a game of just that. But it was limited in its player count and I found its almost semi cooperative approach tricky to work with. And, unlike many Stonemaier titles, there was no solo mode. Well, as I write these words the world is being righted! The Secrets and Soirées expansion for this insane ruler’s game fixes all these, and more! It expands the game to 1-8 players and includes solo and head to head play modes, among other things!

What’s New?

The Secrets and Soirées expansion includes new rule sets for alternate play, two new room types and a new bonus room type – the Ballroom. Not only that, it also includes some extra regular rooms with scoring linked to the new additions. It also includes tokens with all room symbols on them for ease when using the Secret room tiles.

New Room Types

The two new room types are Activity rooms and Secret rooms, labelled with a ukulele and an arrow, respectively.

Activity rooms are oriented around activities that may take place in the castle. These score for each orthogonally adjacent room around them, regardless of type. However, they each list one room type that they do not want around them, orthogonally or diagonally. Placing one of these tiles around the respective Activity tile will cause it to score only one point. Secret rooms duplicate the room their arrow is adjacently pointing to. This includes for the purpose of gaining bonuses and in scoring values. Players should place the associated token of the imitated tile on the tile to make scoring and checking for earned bonuses easier.

The new Ballroom bonus tiles are earned through placing three Activity rooms. These score points based on adjacent castle values and are placed into a castle blank side up. When earned, the player draws three and secretly places one into the associated castle. This then scores a point for each of a single room type in both adjacent castles. Keeping these secret prevents neighbouring castles from reducing their numbers to prevent scoring.

New Play Types

The first introduced game mode added to the Secrets and Soirées expansion is The Mad King’s Demand, enabling head to head mode. This is a purely competitive mode and allows players to own their own castle to build. The game is played with the normal rules enacted, with the difference being that they choose a tile from their stack for their castle, then one for the opponent’s castle. The game still runs across 18 tiles being placed in each castle and all bonuses are still available for players. This mode can be extended to more players too, making for a much more competitive experience.

The second is a solitaire mode driven by an automa. This enables players to play the game alone, competing against two artificial players who are driven by drawn cards and tiles. The final one is a solo mode where the player plays against a single automa. In this mode, the automa cards are used by the AI. The player scores as normal but the AI scores based on a difficulty bonus and tiles in specific columns. These are brand new addition to the game as there was previously no element of solo play available.

How It Handles

The Secrets and Soirées expansion is so incredibly welcomed to the Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig game system. There was nothing wrong with how Lud’s original rendition played, but it was limited with player count. This removes that issue entirely and opens up many options with ease! It adds to the game without taking away or increasing play time, and makes for an indisputably fun addition to the game!

Them Renovations, Though…

The new room tiles don’t complicate the game any further, they just give more option. It’s weird. Usually when you add content to a game it dilutes other elements or becomes the prominent focus for the game. They’d usually overshadow everything and take centre stage… but these don’t. At all. They integrate in and that’s that. No mess, no fuss.

So Much Room For Activities!!!

The Activity rooms have a big emphasis on their placement within a castle and can very quickly limit options. They score well when surrounded, but poorly through a singular tile placement. It makes the structure of your castle matter that little bit more, and also makes it more tactically viable to spoil a castle intentionally. Taking a room’s value from four to one may net you the win, particularly when remembering you score for the lower of your adjacent castles!

These aren’t as impressive as the Secrets rooms for their use, but hold their own as a tile that integrates without issues arising. Where they do shine is with their bonus rooms, the Ballroom. Having somewhat of a secret objective element is welcomed heavily in this game. Knowing you can get the edge on a particular castle because of someone else’s need to collect sets will give you big bonuses… just don’t score so high it bites you on the bottom!

Shhhhhhh…..

Secret room tiles are the real star of the show for this expansion. On their own, they score nothing and gain no bonuses. When connected to another room, however, they duplicate every aspect of it. Its type, scoring value and crest. Everything. This means they count towards other tile scoring values as that tile, too!

Of course, keeping track of every Secret room you have will get messy over time. Therefore, players should place the associated tokens on the Secret tile to remind the player of its new type. You’d be surprised how tricky it is to track it all down during end game scoring and when checking for bonuses… it’s possible, but the tokens are there for ease.

Just The Two Of Us…

Although the The Mad King’s Demand play mode can be played at any play count above two, I think it works best at two! After all, it is the play mode introduced to enable a duo play! For me, it’s the crowning achievement of the expansion that means we can play this, one of our favourite games, whenever we want.

I’ll start with the issue I have with this mode. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s superb… but it’s important to see fault in what you love. It’s take that. Pure and simple aggressive play. You no longer work with someone, you work against them. And because of that, you need to do everything in your power to spite them and buff you. Whether that’s through gaining a Ballroom and pushing specific room types to bolster your score, or giving them awkward tiles to spoil chains or other scoring elements. You’ve got to be aware of your opposition’s castle layout and know how to ruin their game. It’s a much more vicious feel to the tactics that I enjoy, but I know full well some won’t. It’s just too different from the core play style.

Now onto why I love it. Well, the big thing is that it opens up two player gameplay. 3-7 players is easy at a games night, but when we want a night in and some head to head games, it was a shame that Betwen Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig wasn’t as easy to get out. Ludwig is such a third wheel and it doesn’t flow as nicely when fabricating that third player. What’s more is that some folk don’t like cooperation, nor do they enjoy not owning something that enables them to win. It’s strange in a game to not be able to see whether you’ll win or not as an outright basis for your efforts. That shock is removed and you can see how well you’ve done based on your castle. You alone triumph and cash in on your genius room feng shui. It just suits better for me!

Not Ridin’ Solo… Not Today…

The solo modes for this game work. One works well, the other just works. For me who is just beginning their long journey into solo gaming, this is the first time I’ve been hit with a solo mode I don’t enjoy. The one I didn’t enjoy is the Automa rule set. It’s not that it’s bad or isn’t engaging… it was just a lot for a game that’s light on the surface. Tile set up, card knowledge and different scoring makes for a mode that I personally found too much. I may just not very rehearsed at solo games!

The one Secrets and Soirées expansion solitaire mode that I did enjoy is the Introvert variant. This is just using one deck, several stacks and one opponent. There’s a lot more scope to manipulate the automa in this mode too, to it makes it more tactical and, I found, much more enjoyable to play. There’s substance in the victory and you can see what you could have done to win. It just works!

Final Thoughts

The Secrets and Soirees expansion is a welcomed addition that doesn’t come with extra mess, fuss or stress. You add it to the core game and you’re done – easy! What’s more is that when you use it in game, it adds much more content and fun without extending game time! The new room tiles work superbly and open up new tactical opportunities and scope to get creative in earning points! The solo modes are a welcomed addition, but don’t stand as high on my list as the potential to play with two players! For me, a must have inclusion to an already great game.