Castles of Mad King Ludwig Review

Released 2014
Designer Ted Alspach
Publisher Bezier Games (Website)
Players 2-4 (Solo rules available).
Playing Time 20-30 in per player
Category Drafting
Set Collection
Tile Placement
Auction / Economy
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

With the Collector’s Edition coming to Kickstarter next week, it’s time to explore the Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

Coming up to 7 years ago, Castles of Mad King Ludwig was the anticipated game from Ted Alspach, designer of Suburbia. People expected a medieval Suburbia, but that is not what they got. Depending on your taste, you got something better.

The game has you working as builder architects for Ludwig II of Bavaria, the Fairy Tale King. More commonly known as Mad King Ludwig. How did he earn these titles? You know those fantastic castle designs at Disney? They are based on designs that Ludwig II commissioned! So while many have never heard of the King, almost everyone has seen what he is famous for.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig has remained a popular game and was an award nominee staple for two years after release. Like many board games, it can be challenging to find a copy on shelves so long after release.

Because of this, I expect Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector’s Edition to be very popular. Both for people trying to find the game, and for long time fans to get a deluxe version. But is it right for you?

What is Castles of Mad King Ludwig?

As the inspiration behind the game, Castles of Mad King Ludwig is an eclectic collection of parts that somehow work. If you look at the individual mechanics involved, players can become confused and/or overwhelmed.

What do I mean by that? Castles of Mad King Ludwig is an auction and bidding game involving set collection and puzzle tile placement. I have had someone ask if the game was like Tetris, where you had to bid on the next piece. That is not a terrible comparison.

You need a lot of room for this game. Just the common area takes half my coffee table!

OK, you are going to need to explain that a bit more.

Told you! Castles of Mad King Ludwig doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does. And it works well.

The game is played over several rounds in distinct phases. At the start of the round, several tiles are selected to be offered this round. The Master Builder (who changes each round) gets to set the price of each room.

This may seem arbitrary, but you might really need a particular room. You don’t have much money, so you are tempted to make it cheap. But the Master Builder buys last, so you could lose out on the room that you need.

On the other hand, you also don’t want to completely price out competitors likely rooms, because when the rooms are purchased that money goes to you. Only the Master Builder pays the bank in Castles of Mad King Ludwig, making for a fascinating economy setup.

Draw cards to see what rooms are available, then set your pricing. This is seriously have the game.

While this can be stressful for the Master Builder, other players eyeing off individual rooms they are hoping to snag. You never want your room at the expensive end of the scale!

Once all that is done, players place their rooms in their castle. While I am flexible on this rule with new players, it lives there once you place your tile. You cannot rearrange your castle once tiles are placed. The King isn’t that mad to pay for constant remodelling – do it right the first time!

Why is tile placement so important? Wouldn’t it only cost you some points?

Yes, you can miss out on maximising points, but you can also build yourself into a corner and miss out on abilities as well. Even then, it’s not quite that simple.

You get the highest scores by directly adjacent rooms according to scoring conditions set on the tiles. When looking at two tiles together, this is pretty simple – score according to the tiles. This gets confusing when you start building groups of rooms, where you can lose more points than you score. It’s managing these evolving scoring networks where the biggest challenge of Castles of Mad King Ludwig shines.

Then there are scoring bonus abilities. These triggers occur when you complete a room, which involves connecting doorways with adjacent tiles. This is usually a desirable outcome, but the ability to connect doors to new tiles gets harder and harder the more you build.

The Servent's Quarters are complete, but the a Stables entry is blocked, so can never be completed.

On top of all of this are changing bonus goals. At the start of each game, each player will choose some secret bonus goals, making your design seem even more outlandish to outside examination. Everything is a delicate balancing act in Castles of Mad King Ludwig!

Oh wow, that sounds like a nightmare!

It takes a game for everything to click, and then a couple more games to start developing better strategies. But if you take the first game slowly and let people see what is happening, it is pretty easy to get your head around Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

I would suggest to people teaching the game not to teach everything at once at the start of the game. Give each person a couple of objectives face up. Teach the auction and purchase mechanic, with the teacher as the Master Builder. Explain all of the tiles revealed, and why you are pricing the way you are.

Looking at this legal but badly built castle, there is too much to take in. But taken room by room...

Then, when people buy their rooms, let them go for it. The start of the game is pretty standard. This will let you do another couple of rounds this way, which is when you can start getting into the nitty-gritty rules. This allows the main flow of the game to cement itself before adding the complexity.

Learning fresh/with initial rules dump still works, but be prepared for blank faces and reexplain many rules. This is what I have found from experience. Learning this way solo as every player had me start 3-4 games before I got comfortable with the flow, and I made absolute messes of my castles initially.

That still sounds like a lot of effort.

It does. And there is effort involved, but not as much as descriptions make you think. The greatest difficulty is learning the game, and if you attack it in smaller chunks, the learning is pretty straightforward. Castles of Mad King Ludwig is actually very logical in how everything works together – it just sounds overwhelming.

So I looked up the game, and it’s out of stock in lots of places.

Yep. It’s been a pain to get in Australia for a while now. Not impossible, but most local stores I haven’t seen in stock for some time.

But on Wednesday, I talked about the Collector’s Edition Kickstarter starting next week. This is a great chance to get into Castles of Mad King Ludwig because you can get everything in one collection.

One addition that has me excited is the partnership with GameTrayz. I know feelings on GameTrayz is mixed, but for a game like this, it will make setup and teardown so much easier. Compare set organisers to my current system, and you will see what I mean.

So I have setup pretty nailed, but it takes forever to pack away

I will add the caveat for the Kickstarter that pricing is still not known. I love the idea of the Collector’s Edition. Yet, as I already have the base game and first expansion, I need to take how often I get Castles of Mad King Ludwig to the table into consideration.

But if you have been looking or are interested, if the price is right, I can promise hours of fun with layers of gameplay to explore.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Overall Thoughts

Castles of Mad King Ludwig looks like a very intimidating game, but it is a medium weight game that adapts to players beautifully.

There are a lot of mechanics in play – auctions, set collection, secret objectives, and puzzle-like tile placement. It sounds too much, especially to casual players. But if you can tackle each mechanic when required in a game, then Castles of Mad King Ludwig makes a lot of sense.

Honestly, Castles of Mad King Ludwig should be closer to a 10 in the score. It is a game I may not play often, but I will never let go of. But that intimidating learning wall puts a lot of players off more than the game style.

The upcoming Collector’s Edition Kickstarter is also a great way to get a deluxe version of the game, with every expansion – even the new ones!

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • A great introduction to many different game mechanics
  • The puzzle aspect of Castle building is a lot of fun
  • The gameplay matches the theme – lots of pieces that shouldn’t work together do

Cons

  • Learning by yourself is intimidating
  • Takes a lot more table space than you think
  • Setup/teardown time consuming

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
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