Friday, October 23, 2015

Insanity By Design - "Castles Of Mad King Ludwig"

I was first introduced to Castles of Mad King Ludwig during the last DaveCon. For my introductory thoughts about the game you click on the link right hur.

So impressed was I by the game that I decided to buy it. This happened just days before an harmonic convergence of sorts: after months of waiting patiently I finally found myself not scheduled to work on the evening of Wednesday October the 19'th and, even better, it was my turn to pick a game. Guess what I picked.



After placing a cavernous Vestibule just off of his Foyer for a single point, Andrew quickly attached two external locations: a Terrace Gardens and the Coach House for eight more points. After tacking on a one-point Kitchen and earning a re-score Completion Bonus he finally added a set of Stairs so that he could take placing some subterranean options. To this he added a one-point Armory, which he quickly closed off with a second set of steps leading back up to the main floor.

Around this time Andrew confessed that he was pretty confused by the iconography on the Room tiles. He thought that the Room type was represented by the graphic in the middle of the tile instead of the small symbol in the lower right hand corner or, for that matter, the dominant color on the tile itself. For the record I did explain this but Dean just so happened to be playing the Mad Max video game in the same room so Andrew was all "SQUIRREL!!!"   

But that's the thing about Andrew: even when he makes a few miss-steps at the start of a game, he's quick to recognize this and make an effective course correction. Even though the only points he'd scored thus far were from the face value of his Rooms, he quickly turned things around and ended up being a major contender in the game.

Plus, I don't know how conscious or deliberate this was, but two of the Rooms he placed just so happened to dove-tail perfectly with the King's Favor requests for Living and Food Rooms.

Seriously, he's like some sort of board-gaming savant.

Chad also seemed a slightly disoriented at the beginning of the game but for an entirely different reason. After adding a Sauna, a Tasso Room and a Broom Closet to his west wing for a total of seven points and an outdoor Stables and Food Prep Room to the East for another six, John and I began to warn him about the dangers of painting himself into a corner. Indeed, at this stage he only had two doorways left to expand from!

Eventually he took our advice, tacking on a a set of stairs leading to the basement and a long-ass Hallway which culminated in a one-point Meat Locker.

Maybe this was his strategy all along since closing off four Rooms in quick succession gave him several Completion Rewards, which included picking up two new Bonus Cards, stacking the Room Card pile with a couple of custom picks and nabbing an extra Room purchase.

Like Andrew, his Room adjacency scoring was kinda low. Sorry but placing a Food Prep Room next to your Stables is just plain gross. Remind me never to eat at Chad's place. Horse steak tartar, anyone?   

As for me, I really wish that I'd taken a moment to re-read my first play through of the game, particularly this little chestnut:

"Even though I exploited all three of my initial Bonus Cards reasonably well, I...dropped the ball regarding the Room Completion Awards and zeroing in on those valuable King's Favor rewards."

As a result, my second play through reminds me of that classic adage: "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." Ergo, I pretty much ended up making the exact same mistakes this time around.

Actually, I'm being a bit harsh on myself. I did manage to generate a lot of recurring points between adjacent and completed Rooms. As for the King's Favor tiles, wellll...let's just say that went a tad rogue.   

For starters I tacked on a Gallery of Mirrors to the west for three points and then added a downstairs passage for an additional two. This ended, as all things eventually do, with The Hole which gave me three more points and the chance to install a free bonus Hallway to my whimsical east wing.

I added a Sitting Room to this new pathway for four points, a Queen's Bedroom to the south for three more (with a bonus point coming courtesy of The Hole) and an adjacent Dirt Room for two more.

Sealing off these last two chambers earned me a couple of Completion Rewards, so I plopped two 350-square foot tiles on top of the Room deck and bought a second set of stairs leading down. This got me a two-point adjacency bonus as well as yet another freakin' turn. Looking to keep my underground options open I constructed another staircase leading down and then built the Knight Room which matched perfectly with the Queen's Bedroom.

Sure, I was linking a lot of Stairs and chambers together for points but only two of the Rooms I'd placed so far addressed the King's Favor. I know that I have a problem with authority figures, but does this have to apply to board games as well? *sigh*    

Having played Castles of Mad King Ludwig several times before, John kept a laser-like focus on his goals. He tacked a Green House onto his Foyer for four points which he soon closed off with a Lilac Cabinet for an additional five. Sealing off the Green House was great since it have him a $10,000.00 "closing bonus". Noice.

Unlike Andrew, John gave himself the option to build underground right away. He added a set of steps leading downstairs which culminated in a Secret Lair for one point. Since this completed his Staircase, he built an extended Hallway just off of the Lilac Cabinet in the East Wing.

John then dropped a Bottomless Pit right in next to his Secret Lair for three points, nabbing one bonus thanks to his Green House. Since this sealed off two Downstairs Rooms at once, it gave John the freedom to execute any bonus action he wanted. He opted for another room purchase, which turned out to be a two-point Larder. This was later capped off with the introduction of a Laundry Room next door, which, once again, polished off two chambers in one play. This also tapped back into his Secret Lair for two more bonus points!

This earned John yet another extra turn, which he used to slot a Nap Room right in next to his Lilac Cabinet. With that room completed he re-scored the same nook for another five points! Polishing off the Laundry Room also gave him an opportunity to pick up a brand new secret Bonus Card.

He finished up this impressive first half by finishing off his Nap Room with an adjacent Focus Room for five more points, which, in turn, let him seed the Room Deck with several developments of his choosing.

So, not only did John generate a metric shit-ton of in-game points, he also picked up a slew of Completion Bonuses, all the while keeping the Living Room and Square Room King's Favor requirements firmly in mind. 

As the game's main objectives started to sink in, Andrew's efforts continued to improve. He earned a staggering seven points for completing work on his Foyer with an Audience Room. This, in turn,  gave him a free Hallway which he placed next to the Terrace Gardens. This didn't accomplish much until he added the West Tapestry Room up north for two points, closing off the Terrace Gardens and scoring a valuable $10,000.00 cash bonus. Later he added a Salon right next door, giving him a three-point placement reward and keeping him in close contention for the Living Room King's Favor.

Andrew picked up yet another $10,000.00 windfall when he completed his Coach House with an adjacent Hallway. This fueled the purchase of a Dressing Room which polished off his two-point west-wing Kitchen, giving him a pair of adjacency bonus points plus a free freakin' turn! After buying and placing a Choo-Choo Train Room for five points, Andrew completed a respectable come-back by swiping a Servants Quarters away from me, which he placed across the hall from the Train Room. This nabbed him four placement points plus an additional two for being next to a Hallway. 

Overall, a pretty impressive effort. By the time the game was over he had three Living Rooms plus a slew of Large Rooms which directly addressed two of the King's Favors. 

Meanwhile, Chad was in full rebound mode. After killing off any possibility of expanding his castle out west, he had to rely on his eastern corridors to fuel new growth. He started by delving underground, placing a Mold Room for two Points and earning a permanent perk for every future Food Room placed in his Castle. This also sealed off a flight of steps, giving him the privilege of placing another Hallway just off of the first corridor.

Chad then dropped a Nine Pin bowling Alley right next to this for a respectable five points. Speaking from experience, this thing can be annoying to complete, but Chad did it by installing a Sewing Room next door, claiming five bonus Veeps in the process. Even more impressive: he cleanly avoided any negative adjacency penalties in the process.

Taking note of how well John was daisy-chaining Completion Rewards together, Chad dropped a series of smaller square rooms into the north wing of his mansion. He then sealed up his Meat Locker (not code for something, by he way) by tacking on a four-point Study next door. This earned Chad a bonus turn, which he used to install a Pantry for two more points. On his very next turn he built a one-point Cloak Room next door, completing a tidy little two-for-one. This allowed him to snag another Bonus Card as a well as second turn.

This extra purchase came in the form of the East Tapestry Chamber placed just off of the Study. Not only did this net him three placement Veeps he also managed to wring a three-point adjacency bonus out of it.

This completed a pretty friggin' impressive comeback for Chad. After cutting off just about every possible avenue for expansion and failing to generate many in-game points, he'd been trailing for most of the game. But by cherry-picking a slew of mysterious and maddening Bonus Cards and paying close attention to the King's Favors it looked like he still might be a contender. 

As for me, I couldn't help but feel as if my early lead was slipping away. Even though I kept getting some decently-consistent in-game points, I completely lost focus of the King's Favors.

I continued to delve deep underground, adding a Fungus Room just off of the Knight Room for three points. Having completed a second underground chamber, I took a bonus action, building a Guest Bedroom off the Foyer for more three points. This finally completed my starting space so I installed a below-ground corridor which I later capped off with a sexy, swingin' Venus Grotto. Even though this ridiculous thing was only worth a single point, it did give me one additional point for every Hall and Stairs I had on my Castle, which, as the time, was four.

An a subsequent turn I added the Great Hall to the Gallery of Mirrors for three points, one for the Hall and two for the Gallery's adjacency bonus. Sealing this thing up also gave me the privilege of re-scoring the same chamber once again. Not too shabby!

Still, I couldn't help but feel as if I'd lost focus towards the end of the game. My final two moves were unremarkable: adding the Upper Hall didn't accomplish much and the Billiards Room was just worth a straight-up four points.

Since I hadn't been actively gunning for the Kings Favor's, I silently hoped that my in-game points and my secret objective Bonus Cards would be enough to carry me through to victory.

John, on the other hand, continued to be right on-point. Keeping the Square Room Favor locked in his gun-sights, John tacked on the appropriately-named Focus Room for five more points, sealing off the adjoining Nap Room and giving him the ability to stack the Room deck with some last-minute choice picks.

Just off of this chamber he added a Buttery which was later sealed off by a massive Forum for six points. This imposed a slight adjacency penalty, but John just went for it, knowing full well that he was in a desperate race with Andrew over the Large Room King's Favor.

Just before we drew the last few Room Cards John snuck in two more savvy maneuvers. He added the Berchta Room for three points and then closed off the Forum with an adjoining four-point Parlor,  earning him a five Victory Point completion bonus in the process.

By the time the game ended, John had a dog in just about every race. He was a contender for Living Rooms, Square Rooms, Food Rooms and Large Rooms. But all that was left now was to tally up the final points and determine the victor.   



Chad...44 Points
John...60 Points
Andrew...62 Points
Me...62 Points



Chad (2)...1 Point
Me (2)...1 Point
John (3)...6 Points
Andrew (3)...6 Points


Me (0)...0 Points
Andrew (1)...2 Points
John (2)...4 Points
Chad (3)...8 Points


Me (0)...0 Points
Andrew (1)...2 Points
Chad (4)...6 Points
John (4)...6 Points


Chad (3)...1 point
John (3)...1 Point 
Me (4)...4 Points
Andrew (9)... 8 Points


John (0)...0 Points
Chad (1)...2 Points
Andrew (2)...4 Points
Me (3)...6 Points 



Two Points per 200 Square Foot Room (1): 2 Points
Three Points per 400 Square Foot Room (1): 3 Points


Three Points per Food Room (3): 9 Points
Two Points per 150 Square Foot Room (1): 2 Points
Two Points per Downstairs Room (1): 2 Points
Two Points per 300 Square Foot Room (2): 4 Points
Seven Points for All Eight Room Types: 7 Points


One Point per 5000 Coin (3): 3 Points
Two Points per Living Rooms (2): 4 Points
Three Points per 350 square foot Rooms (3): 9 Points


One Point Per Round Room (6)...6 Points
Three Points Per 600 square foot Room (0)...0 Points
Two Points Per Utility Room (2)...4 Points
Two Points Per 100 Square Foot Room (4)...8 Points


John...0 Points
Chad...0 Points
Me...1 Point
Andrew...2 Points



Winner: John! 


  • You'd be forgiven for thinking that Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a solitaire game that you just so happen to play with two to three other people...but you'd be wrong. You really need to pay attention to what your rivals are doing and set the Room values accordingly. When you're the Master Builder, always remember that people will be paying you for their improvements but the downside is that you'll be buying last. As such, you really need to price what you want high enough to deter everyone else but no so high that it completely drains your own coffers. You also don't want to give any cheap and easy points away to your opponents. This simple, elegant, economic heart of the game holds a vast amount of appeal for me.
  • Between the King's Favors, the random Rooms and your Bonus Cards, there are a slew of strategic variables to contend with on every turn. And the really amazing thing is that these variables change radically from game to game, so even veteran players are challenged every time out. 
  • I love how you get punished for self-indulgence. After all, the game's called Castles of Mad King Ludwig, not Castles of Your Self-Entitled Ass. Sure, you can deliver a stellar, points-soaked, in-game performance but unless you play attention to the King's Favors, you're gonna get your ass handed to you.
  • The Bonus Cards alone offer a ridiculous amount of options to pursue. Even though you start the game with only two of them, you can pick up more via clever tile placement and customize your strategy as you go. Plus: if you pick up a Bonus Card that works in tandem with one of the King's Favors then...BAM! Double impact!       
  • There's just something inherently satisfying about putting together these tiny, little make-pretend castles. It might not earn me the win but I always enjoy putting interesting layouts together and scoring big points with thematic and logical adjacencies. 
  • For such a deep, Euro-style tile-laying game, there are only six pages of rules. At it's heart, the game play is extremely straightforward. I had everyone up and playing within a few short minutes.
  • It's also a relatively quick game. Our game started casually around 7:30 pm and we were done by 9. After several plays I'm confident that you could probably get the play time down to about an hour or so. 
  • The tiles are whimsical, colorful and made of reasonably-good cardboard stock. Thanks to the Contract, Room and Corridor Boards, every component has a home when it's not in play. Bonus points: that Master Builder token to toadly bad-ass. 
  • Actually the rule book is a bit too short. Case in point: the manual lists every possible way you can get points whenever a new Room is placed, but some illustrated examples would have been super-helpful in locking all of this down. 
  • The tiles are nice and all, but I kinda wish they'd gone with hand drawn art instead of the generic, PhotoShopped graphics that we ended up with. When you consider the game's steep price tag (my retail copy was $79.99), it should have been prettier then Cobie Smulders. Yes, we all know that's impossible, but it's good to have lofty goals. Just look at Ludwig's real-life architects. 
  • I highly recommend that everyone reads the rules before sitting down to play your first game. Reason being: it's super-easy to miss sources for points so the more people who are familiar with the rules, the better chance you'll catch any oversights. I also suggest that go around the table and audit everyone's score from turn to turn. Not only will this cut down on errors, everyone will learn from these examples.  

I absolutely adore this game, to the point where I want to become King Ludwig wealthy and play it twenty-four, seven with a constant revolving conveyor belt of willing participants. Between the charming theme, the stunning level of strategic diversity and the quick, speedy game play, I really think this one is a great addition to anyone's game library.

I give Castles of Mad King Ludwig five pips outta six with a tilt waaaaay up towards those fairy-tale turrets! 

Have you ever wanted to build a house with a "Flute" Room, a "Train" Room, a "Meat Locker", a Dungeon, an "Oratory", a Last Tango In Paris Buttery, and rooms called the "Pink Cabinet" and "The Hole" all placed next to your super-secret sex Grotto? Then click on the following image to learn more about Castles of Mad King Ludwig and make sure this blog keeps bringin' the cray-cray.

1 comment:

  1. By "John played several times" he really means just one. Just sayin' ;)