You have to give Bézier Games and designer Ted Alspach credit for them giving Castles of Mad King Ludwig such a memorable title, but it’s actually an incredibly accurate one. This is a tile-laying game in which players are each attempting to build an extravagant castle that will impress King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 19th century. Ludwig, however, is a bit mad, because he doesn’t care how practical the castle is – instead, he has specific needs that each player will attempt to meet when constructing their own chateau. Perhaps he wants lots of rooms for entertaining, or maybe he wants lots of dungeons (this will change, from game to game).
Each player starts with some cash and their own foyer tile with entrances leading out of it. You’re looking down at the rooms from a bird’s eye view, like building blueprints. Players take it in turns each round to be the Master Builder. They will draw cards that show which of the various shapes of room are available to build this round, and then the Master Builder reveals said rooms (they are all different types of room too, as well as shape), before deciding the price that each room will cost to construct.
Then other players can decide if they want to ‘pay’ the Master Builder to acquire certain rooms for their own castle. Once all players have chosen whether to buy a room, the Master Builder can then pay the bank the appropriate cost to purchase one of the remaining rooms, too. It’s all about deciding prices for rooms so you’re not giving anyone a bargain, but not to price rooms too expensive or no one will pay you, the Master Builder, to acquire them! You’ll also want to somehow guarantee the room you want is still up for grabs, and at a price you can afford…
Rooms have to line up next to previously built doorways. As well as earning points just for placing a tile, players also score for completing any room or corridor (a room at the end of each exit); there are combos (or penalties) for placing room types next to each other; players start with secret personal scoring targets; and there are public, shared scoring targets.
As well as the player interaction, part of the fun that comes with Castles of Mad King Ludwig is seeing the wacky, weird and wonderful castles that you’ll build each time you play. Rooms are named and colour coordinated, meaning you’ll get a real kick out of seeing your final masterpiece. The game ends once the deck of building cards runs out, so everyone’s going to have quite a creative castle by the finale!
If you love Castles of Mad King Ludwig, then perhaps you’ll also enjoy The Palace of Mad King Ludwig, also by Ted Alspach and Bézier Games (another tile-laying, palace-building game), or perhaps the likes of Isle of Skye (again with the I-price-you-pay mechanism, but on a smaller, quicker scale).
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 90 Minutes
The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, released in 2014 by designer Ted Alspach, asks players to build one of King Ludwig’s castles, room by room.
King Ludwig II of Bavaria was indeed a real person, and while he was not necessarily mad, he was mad about castles. During his 22-year reign, he built a series of castles including Castle Neuschwanstein. This fantasy castle was the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at two Disneyland theme parks.
In 2012, Alspach released his acclaimed Suburbia of which Castles of Mad King Ludwig is considered by some the spiritual successor. While they do share some similar mechanisms, they are different games in their own right.
Building Your Castles
Each round, one of the players will be the Master Builder, who arranges the available rooms for purchase and determine their prices. The other players then get the chance to either buy a room or a hallway/staircase to connect rooms together and pay the cost to the Master Builder. Then, at the end of the round, the Master Builder moves to the next player, giving them the opportunity to earn money and chose the prices of buildings.
When players buy rooms, they add them immediately to their castles, scoring immediate points and possibly gaining/losing extra points for rooms adjacent to it. While some rooms work well beside each other, two bedrooms, for example, a bedroom next to a workshop does not. This poor match of rooms can be done, but points will be lost and no-one will be getting any sleep with all that hammering!
Each room has a set number of exits leading from it. By joining all of these exits to other rooms, players will gain a bonus action depending on the type of room. A food room, for example, bestows the completing player an additional turn; the outdoor room gains money on completion; while the utility room gains a bonus card. Rooms cannot be completed by blocking a door, so room placement is important.
Each game has a set number of favour tiles – it seems King Ludwig could be a little demanding – that can gain player’s end game points. And there are also bonus cards that players both start with and gain during the game. These are secret objectives that can be worked towards to gain more end game points. Of course, the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
There are three main components in Castles of Mad King Ludwig; the cards, the room tiles and the money. To be honest, the quality of these components is a slight letdown. The cards are small, which is annoying for large handed people such as myself. Based on the first printing, the cardboard quality of the rooms and money is not the best. While not bad, they could be better.
Like the components, the artwork is good, although not great. It has a cartoony style which takes away from the theme a little. This art style makes the castles look less like Bavarian castles and more Disney. Again not a big thing, but for me it took away from the feel of the game.
Where the components and artwork let the game down a little, the gameplay makes up for it in such a way that you forget about those small issues. The Master Builder gets to set the price of rooms. This forces the other players to pay him more for the rooms they want. This makes for some interesting decisions on both sides:
‘I know he wants this room, so I will make him pay more, but not too much, because if he doesn’t buy it, I won’t get the money."
The adjacency rules and room completion bonuses give players other decisions to make... "I may lose points putting this next to that room, but it completes it and gives me a bonus action..."
Like its predecessor, Suburbia, Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a spreadsheet game. This means having a spreadsheet to monitor points would be invaluable. By placing a room, not only must adjacency be factored in, but it might cause extra points because of other rooms that were placed earlier in the game.
That isn't a bad thing, but for those not so good at maths, it can be a little more stressful.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig - Overall Thoughts
Castles of Mad King Ludwig is fun, mid-weight, euro style game about the economics of building a fantasy castle. It's easy to pick up and it can be a fun puzzle to add rooms in just the right way. How the Master Builder sets room prices adds player interaction, in a 'take that' fashion without the meanness. I would highly recommend it.