The White Castle
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The White Castle

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The heron flies over the Himeji sky while the Daimio, from the top of the castle, watches his servants move. Gardeners tend the pond, where the koi carp live, warriors stand guard on the walls, and courtiers crowd the gates, pining for an audience that brings them closer to the innermost circles of the court. When night falls, the lanterns are lit and the workers return to their cla…
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Awards

Dice Tower

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • The dice drafting mechanism
  • Variable action spots
  • A meaty Euro experience in a short timeframe

Might Not Like

  • Can be tight on resources
  • Careful planning needed
  • Warrior/Courtier combo needed for end game scoring.
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Description

The heron flies over the Himeji sky while the Daimio, from the top of the castle, watches his servants move. Gardeners tend the pond, where the koi carp live, warriors stand guard on the walls, and courtiers crowd the gates, pining for an audience that brings them closer to the innermost circles of the court. When night falls, the lanterns are lit and the workers return to their clan.

In The White Castle, players will control one of these clans in order to score more victory points than the rest. To do so, they must amass influence in the court, manage resources boldly, and place their workers in the right place at the right time. The authors are Sheila Santos and Israel Cendrero, the duo known as Llama Dice who also designed the successful The Red Cathedral with Devir. In this case, we leave the Moscow of Ivan the Terrible behind to explore the most imposing fortress in modern Japan, Himeji Castle, where the banner of the Sakai clan flies under the orders of Daimio Sakai Tadakiyo.

The White Castle is a Euro type game with mechanics of resource management, worker placement and dice placement to carry out actions. During the game, over three rounds, players will send members of their clan to tend the gardens, defend the castle or progress up the social ladder of the nobility. At the end of the match, these will award players victory points in a variety of ways.

The central panel shows Himeji Castle in all its splendor, divided into several zones. The largest is inside the castle, with the Room of the Thousand Carpets, where the courtiers must ascend socially until they reach the circle closest to the Daimio to enjoy his favor. There is also the pond and the gardens, patiently tended by the gardeners where everyone can relax and contemplate its beauty without restriction. Another important area is the wall and the outside of the castle, where the warriors patrol and stand guard. Finally, we find the area of the three bridges, where the three types of dice that can be used to carry out actions are accumulated, and the personal domain of each player, where they will keep track of their resources and where they will have the reserve of workers.

With accessible rules and a very careful setting, The White Castle is a very versatile title that will fit in with different gaming groups. As is tradition with Llama Dice titles, its sleek and simple design belies a great deal of strategic depth within the grasp of players.

Players - 1-4.
Playtime 80 mins
Age 12+

The White Castle

The White Castle is a one to four-player, dice drafting/dice placement game from Isra C. and Shei S. (the same designers as The Red Cathedral) and published by Devir Games (who also published The Red Cathedral).

The White Castle is set in modern Japan and Himeji Castle, where the banner of the Sakai clan is flying under the orders of the Daimo Saka Tadakiyo. Himeji Castle is a splendid structure with several inner zones. The largest zone is the Room of the Thousand Carpets, a place where the courtiers gather to mingle and ascend the social ladder to reach the circle closest to the Daimio and enjoy his favour. The grounds of the castle also has various ponds and gardens attended by gardeners as well as guard patrols on the castle walls.

In The White Castle, players will be drafting dice from one of three coloured bridges and using these dice to perform various actions.The colour of the dice and the location you place it will determine the action you perform and as the game progresses some of these actions spaces may change. Each dice placement spot will contain a randomised coloured token and depending on the die you place, the coloured tokens seeded as part of setup and the card present, will determine the number of actions and the type of action you can perform. Each of the dice placement spots has a pip value and depending on the value of the die you place will determine if you have to pay coins or gain coins. Actions include gaining resources and performing various actions to send gardeners to the gardens, warriors to train and defend the castle and courtiers to progress up the social ladder of the nobility. You may also gain daimio seals, money, resources or Heron symbols (used for determining turn order)

There is also the ability to “stack” dice on top of other player’s dice with possibly paying a cost (the stacking is only a 3 and 4 player game). Each player also has their own personal player board which has spots to place dice, in addition to the main board. These spaces typically give you resources (quantity depending on how many of a certain warrior/garender/courtier you have placed) as well as activating your own personal action card.

The game lasts three rounds and each round ends when there are only three dice left on the bridges. You will get to place nine dice over the course of the game. Points are awarded from a variety of places such as remaining resources, your advancement on the passage of time track, clan members in the castle, the training yards and the gardens. The player with the most points is the winner.

The White Castle Meeples

Final Thoughts

The Red Cathedral was a huge success back in 2020 and was rated very highly by me. When I heard about The White Castle, I was, of course, very excited to try it out. With the same design duo and publisher I was confident they were going to produce something special. But did my confidence pay out or was it misplaced? Lets find out.

Well let us not beat around the bush here. The White Castle is truly excellent. There are so many interesting and tough choices to be made. The dice drafting mechanism only can make for some tough choices and I really like how they have implemented it here. The dice are ordered from lowest to highest, left to right along cardboard bridges. If you take the lowest (and often inferior) of the die you usually end up having to pay coins to place the die. However, you do get to a Lantern action. This will give you an additional bonus/reward depending on how many cards you have laid down in that area. The reverse of this is that the higher number (on the right of the bridge) does not give you the lantern bonus but could give you a nice money income. It makes balancing these things a core part of the game which I really enjoy.

The actions themselves are simple enough to understand but can have great repercussions for your game plan. The Gardeners, for example, are played at the foot of either side of the bridges and, at the end of the round, if there is a die on the side of the bridge where you have a Gardener, you can perform the action on the tile. This means you can draft die to restrict what the actions your opponents can trigger. It adds a layer of interaction which is much more than simply “I take your stuff”.

Adding Warriors to the training grounds and advancing your courtiers is an essential part of the end game scoring and I feel that if you do not do this, in some part, you are going to have a hard time winning. Maybe a slight knock on the game for some. At the end game you score points based on the number of warriors and which training ground they are in multiplied by the number of courtiers in the castle. This scoring can give some big points so getting in on this action is essential.

Variability is pretty high throughout the game. Each action spot will have an action card which are replaced throughout the game as you advance your Courtiers. Each action spot will have two or three coloured die tokens. Each game these spots will be randomised providing a very different game each time. You will, in essence, be doing very similar things but the way you do these things will be different. I love the variability, observing the game boards at the start of the game, working out a strategy is something that I really enjoy.

Overall, I think The White Castle is a fantastic gaming experience and hopefully the above will pique your interest. There is so much more to The White Castle that I have not covered, like Daimio seals, how the action spots change, how your own personal domain board changes. There is a lot to the game but yet it feels simple enough to get to grips with. There is a lot to think about and do, yet it doesn’t really suffer from AP. It feels like a meaty, complex Euro game, yet it plays in a very quick time. I am very pleased with the overall game design and decision space and I am hungry for more. I want to show this game to anyone and everyone and it comes highly recommended from me.

Editors note: This blog was originally published on October 10th 2023. Updated on 26th June 2024 to improve the information available.

The White Castle is a Euro worker placement game from the same design team as the popular Red Cathedral – Sheila Santos and Israel Cendrero. Set in 18th Century Japan in Himeji Castle (the most famous and visited in Japan), this game peeked my interest on several level. Small box – check; Dedicated solo mode built in and not as an afterthought – check; Samurai theme – double check!

It’s been a consistent top 10 rated game on the hotness charts since it’s Essen release in 2023. If you are a solo player and love worker resource/management games is The White Castle the game for you?

Content

The first question to address is its a pretty small box – think Garphill games size, but don’t let that fool you. Like the aforementioned publisher it’s crammed full of content which seems to grow once the boards are punched and the bridges put together (more on those later). Board Game Geek (BGG), has whole discussion threads relating to fitting it all back in and the lack of a contents list in the rule book – replaced with a QRR code to scan.

Wooden meeples are chunky and some of the additional wood tokens along with the wonderful fish used to mark which round you are on are screen printed. Coins and the bridges used to hold the dice are heavy duty card and well designed. Game cards have a lovely finish to them, so much so that I’ve opted not to sleeve them.

Gameplay

The game lasts three rounds which is pretty short and each round is only three moves each. A more detailed description of gameplay can be found in the excellent review by Matthew Thomasson on the Zatu blog page.

The solo mode named as the Tokugawa Clan’s visit, covers four of the rules booklet twenty pages. Setup along with differences with the multiplayer game are clearly explained and illustrated using photos and text. The AI opponent uses a deck of nine double sided cards – three for each of the die colours to generate its actions. One side shows the die colour, its position on the bridge and placement, whilst the other side shows the two actions it takes.

There are some issues with the solo mode as published which makes the game very difficult to beat. However, a revised (unofficial), solo mode has been published on BGG called the Gingkokowa Clan which has balanced out the gameplay issues and advantages the AI has.

Final Thoughts & Replayability

The White Castle on face value appears to be a really short game (just nine moves each) and on the first couple of plays you often feel you’ve just got your engine building going when the last round ends. This is part of the genius of the game and finding those positions on the board to place your dice which then generates a chain reaction and multiple meeple placements is the key. There is a certain amount of analysis paralysis, but I’ve found that I can comfortably finish a game in under 90 minutes.

AI placement and actions are quick and easy to understand with not much time spent “game managing”. In my opinion the BGG revised AI rules make the solo game a lot more competitive and enjoyable, but if you prefer a tougher challenge then the rules as published are fine.

The White Castle is a beautiful looking game with well designed components and with a theme that has not seen many games published. It’s certainly one that I’ll be playing regularly this year and should be on your solo games shelf.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • The dice drafting mechanism
  • Variable action spots
  • A meaty Euro experience in a short timeframe

Might not like

  • Can be tight on resources
  • Careful planning needed
  • Warrior/Courtier combo needed for end game scoring.