Dragon Castle is a game freely inspired by Mahjong Solitaire. During your turn, you take a pair of identical tiles from the central "castle" (known as the Dragon Castle) and place them on your own realm board to build your own castle. From time to time, you may sacrifice these tiles to acquire shrines in their place.
Every time you create a set of tiles of the same kind, you "consolidate" them, i.e. flip them face down to score points. When you consolidate a set, you may also build shrines on top of the consolidated tiles: Shrines allow you to score more points, but they also limit your building options. You may also take advantage of the available spirit card and its game-changing powers...but this will come at a cost! Finally, don't forget to check the dragon card in play, and to follow the building requirements to score bonus points.
When the Dragon Castle has been reduced to only one floor, the end of the game is triggered. After one final round, the player with the most points is the lord of the new Dragon Castle…and the winner of the game!
Mahjong is a traditional Chinese Rummy type game played with tiles instead of cards. If you’ve grown up with computer and video games then you’ll probably know it instead as a tile-matching solitaire game that uses traditional Mahjong tiles but otherwise bears little resemblance to the original game.
Why am I discussing Mahjong? Well, it’s because Dragon Castle is played with Mahjong tiles and much of its gameplay mirrors that in the mainly solitaire tile-matching computer game.
Dragon Castle - The Game
As in the computer game, tiles that have at least one free long edge are taken from a randomly constructed pyramid in precisely matching pairs. These are placed on the player’s individual board (castle). The player scores for them only when they form a group of four or more orthogonality connected tiles of a similar type.
Alternatively, players can remove a single tile from the uppermost row of the main board (scoring one point) or can take a single tile and a shrine. The shrines can be placed out on top of the scoring tile groupings on the player’s individual board, where they will contribute to end-game scoring.
Dragon Castle, published by Horrible Games, owes much of its appeal to the chunky Mahjong tiles that come with the game. They give play a satisfyingly tactile feel. I normally prefer scoring tokens to a joggable scoring track but the design of the cardboard scoring tokens in Dragon Castle are just a bit of a letdown in comparison with the impressively high quality of all the other components.
Dragon Castle plays from 2–4 players. You can expect turns to be taken quickly so that, even with four, this is not a game where you’ll be waiting more than a moment for your next turn to come around. That said, this is an abstract strategy game that works especially well with two players. Unlike many other abstract strategy games, there is relatively little ‘take that’ player interaction; players are likely, in the main, to be focused on developing their own score rather than hindering or attacking their opponents.
The exception is in the mechanic the game uses for enabling players to hasten the game end. If you’re confident you are ahead, you can, as your action, take game end tokens that score you just two points at the end of the game but which can deny opponents the time to catch up. In the main though, this mechanic is welcome because it helps to stop games from going on too long.
Dragon Castle is every bit as addictive as the computer game to which it owes its genesis. It’s quick to learn and it’s a game you’ll be returning to time and again. And, if you feel in need of change, the game comes with considerable variety built in.
The rule book offers several alternative layouts for the initial tile set-up and the game includes rules and cards that introduce the option to play using special powers and additional ways of scoring.
Surprisingly, there's no official solitaire option offered in the rule book but you can of course use Castle Dragon to set-up and play a physical (analogue) version of the computer game.