Dragon Castle Review

Released 2017
Designer Hjalmar Hach, Luca Ricci, Lorenzo Silva
Publisher Horrible Guild (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (Can use AI in digital for solo play)
Playing Time 10-15 minutes per player
Category Tile Placement
Mahjong Solitaire
Pattern Placement
Town Building
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

I used to play Mahjong when I was young. Back then, it was usually a tile-matching game. Dragon Castle takes me back to those days.

Going through some digital games to play while my games group is separated, I found Dragon Castle had a digital version. Jumping at the chance to play via Steam Remote Play Together, I bought it.

Why was I so excited? When Alpal introduced me to Dragon Castle, I ordered a copy before I left her place. So much of the gameplay and presentation just makes me happy.

So what is Dragon Castle?

Dragon Castle is a mix of quite a few games. There is the evident Mahjong Solitaire influence, with the titular Dragon Castle’s being built from Mahjong tiles. Selection is simple – grab one of the edge tiles from the highest levels. Next, you can collect an edge tile of the same symbol from anywhere around the castle.

You don’t have to select a second tile though. You can choose to destroy the tile for a point or store up a shrine for placement later. This isn’t a legacy game though – destroying a tile just takes it out of the game.

You will be collecting and placing tiles and shrines for scoring

Once you collect tiles, you then build your own new castle in a solitaire pattern placement affair. You can place tiles anywhere on your player board, except on top of tiles that are face up.

How do you turn over tiles to build higher? Have four or more of the same coloured tile touching each other orthogonally. They don’t even have to be on the same level, adding some 3D complexity to the game.

Building up your castle is strangely satisfying, especially when the tiles click together

The more tiles you can complete this way on one turn, the more points you collect. Once you have done this, you can also place a shrine on one of the tiles you just flipped over. The higher the shrine is set, the more bonus points you gain.

That doesn’t sound very interesting.

Not when explained like that it’s not. But as solitaire sounding the gameplay is, there is a surprising amount of player interaction.

Trying to make a large 8 tile collection of green tiles? Other players can start taking your tiles before you can make a match. Even worse, if you need a pair, players can choose one of them and take it from the game!

The purple Dragon tiles also allow you to place two shrines if you can make a set. Sounds great, but you have to remember there aren’t many of them!

Pleacement is the trickiest hurdle. If the bottom sword was one higher, a group of 4 would have been made

There are also optional modules you can add in the form of Dragons and Spirits. Spirits introduce random special abilities that can be used during the game. Dragons themselves add more of a strategic element. Some add more points for shrines, others offer bonuses for your building arrangement.

Both spirits and dragons are optional to add to play, but I like that you can expand the game without buying expansions down the line.

Sample of the Spirit Cards. Include as you choose!

And there is also the tiles themselves.

Just like when you play a game with metal coins or poker chips, the tactile satisfaction of the tiles themselves shouldn’t be underestimated.

The art style of the game is simple yet beautiful. Every board shares a theme, and yet is visually distinct. In fact, my biggest disappointment with Dragon Castle is the boards themselves. The cardboard used is too thin, in my opinion. Not severely so, you won’t be creasing them accidentally making them unusable without going out of your way. But thicker boards would have completed the premium feel the tiles provide.

Premium – that’s code for expensive.

That’s an understandable concern. And yes – those tile pieces couldn’t have been cheap to produce. I picked up my copy for about AUD$70, and I think it was worth every cent.

This is where Dragon Castle’s value becomes subjective. I enjoy abstract games, and the primarily ‘multi-player solitaire’ nature of the game means conversation during a round is easy.

However, you can do the same sort of gameplay with many Roll and Write games, which expensive ones are around the AUD$55 mark. You can’t deny there is a cost to so many mahjong tiles contained in the game.

I have played with much flimsier boards, but thicker ones would have been nice

Everything you get in the box though makes it hard to suggest you aren’t getting what you paid for. The question is really if it’s to expensive for the enjoyment you will get from Dragon Castle, and I can only tell you I think it’s all worth it.

Just picking up the box, you know you where the cost goes. Dragon Castle is heavy.

You mentioned a digital version?

The purchase that prompted me to finally review Dragon Castle! At the moment, there is a Steam sale where you can grab a copy for AUD$7.12. This deal ends on June 2nd. Full price is close to AUD$13. Much cheaper than the physical version!

Gameplay-wise, Dragon Castle translates well to digital. The music in the game is relaxing, and the art style is carried across as well. The tutorial is a little bit confusing – and this is coming from someone that already knows how to play.

The AI is available in different skill levels, and so far seem very well balanced. I have only played a few games on PC so far, and I haven’t braved the hard levels yet. You can also play online against other people, or locally in a pass and play style mode.

Relaxing and challenging at the same time, the digital implementation works very well

The biggest downside for me? The controls. I miss picking up a tile from the pile. Instead of dragging tiles over as I expected, you need to click on the tile once to select, then again to confirm your choice.

Once you get used to it, the flow of the game works well. It just didn’t control as intuitively as I would have liked.

There is another downside. The reason I bought Dragon Castle was to play with my group with Remote Play Together on Steam. Unfortunately, Dragon Castle doesn’t work with this feature, so if you want to play with others online you will need everyone to buy a copy.

Overall Thoughts

If you enjoy Roll and Write and/or abstract games, Dragon Castle is a game you should definitely add to your ‘To Play’ list.

Dragon Castle is easy to teach and learn, and players will have the flow down during their first game. Once you have the basics down, a game of many layers slowly unfolds before you.

While the physical game can be seen as expensive for the type of game it is, the quality of the components justifies this to me. If you are unsure, the digital version is considerable cheaper – and easier to buy!

If you are looking for a game to play while everyone is still separated, again Dragon Castle is definitely worth a look.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Simple to teach and learn
  • Beautiful art and quality components in the tiles and shrines
  • A game that can grow with you as you gain experience.

Cons

  • Can be considered expensive to buy without playing it to justify the purchase.
  • The digital tutorial isn’t the best

Until next time,

JohnHQLD