21 March 2019
And between two stools
A tile-laying game of madcap interior design, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is the strange, mutant offspring of two previous releases. One, Between Two Cities, cast players as urban planners attempting to turn small towns into bustling metropolises. The other, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, put them in the shoes of architects competing for the favour of an eccentric Bavarian monarch by building a series of ever-more-improbable extensions to his palaces.
This new release combines the semi-co-operative approach of the first with the puzzlish point-scoring of the latter – the kind of thing the kids probably call a mash-up. You’ll simultaneously build two different castles, one each in partnership with the player on your left and right, using a selection of tiles representing different rooms, chambers and corridors. As you play you’ll draft tiles two at a time, adding one to each of your evolving construction projects.
Where things get complicated is in the variety of ways in which you can score points. You’ll add different varieties of tiles over the course of the game: sleeping chambers, gardens, kitchens, workshops, rooms full of puppies and subterranean dungeons. Your score at the end of the game depends on how you arrange your tiles. Some want to be in close proximity to others of a particular type. Others want to be connected in matching rows or columns. Others still give you bonuses for having a wide variety of rooms in your castles.
It means that on each turn you’ll need to think carefully about the tiles available to draft, and which of your two palaces they might best fit into. Once you’ve chosen your tiles for the turn, you’ll still have to collaborate with your teammates to decide where exactly you should put them in your steadily growing structures. At the end of the game you’ll earn points only for your lowest-scoring castle, meaning you’ll want to balance your efforts between both as best you can.
Both parts of the puzzle – selecting the best tiles and working out where to place them – throw up plenty of interesting decisions. But so did the original games on which Between Two Castles is based and, while it blends elements of both of its predecessors together fairly seamlessly, it never quite manages to feel like more than the sum of its parts. It’s a combination of two very good games, but it doesn’t bring anything radically new to the equation to make itself great, and along the way picks up a couple of rough edges.
For one thing, while the multifaceted scoring system makes for some very interesting dilemmas, it can also mean that some players are left agonising over their choices after others have made theirs and are ready to move on. It creates a stop-start tempo, leaving the game feeling occasionally disjointed. Then there are the tiles themselves, which come with tiny icons and near-microscopic details that anyone with less-than-perfect vision will have a hard time making out.
The result is that Between Two Castles feels as though it’s stuck uneasily between two prior games, and if tile-laying puzzles are your thing, you’d do better to buy both of the original titles than this would-be heir to their throne.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig combines the semi-co-op drafting and the chewy point-scoring optimisation of its predecessors. But it doesn’t really do anything more. If you already own the original games, you probably don’t need this one. If you haven’t played them, then they’re still a better place to start.
Designer: Matthew O’Malley, Ben Rosset
Artist: Laura Bevon, Agnieszka Dabrowiecka, Bartłomiej Kordowski
Time: 45-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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