Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Castle Dukes’

Castle Dukes by Medieval Lords. Image by Rob Huddleston

Castle Dukes is a new strategy/dexterity game from Singapore-based game company Medieval Lords.

At a glance: In Castle Dukes, 1-4 players take on the roles of medieval dukes trying to build the most impressive castles, not only to attract royal guests but also defend against a rampaging dragon. The game launches on Kickstarter today. A pledge of 85sgd (Singapore dollars–about $59 as of today) will get you copy of the game.

Note: I was sent a prototype of the game for review purposes, but the opinions are my own. Also note that all images in this post are of that prototype, so the finished game may look different from what is shown here.

New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.

Components:

  • 1 game board
  • 4 player boards
  • 4 3D castle barbicans
  • 1 first player marker
  • 1 drawbag
  • 50 foundation tiles
  • 80 pillars
  • 50 room cards
  • 20 construction cards
  • 20 braziers
  • 10 tables
  • 20 boiling cauldrons
  • 20 ballistae
  • 20 dragon damage chits
  • 15 battlements
  • 30 serf meeples
  • 20 knight meeples
  • 20 princess meeples
  • 20 king meeples
  • 20 coffer cubes
  • 12 guest cards
Just a few of the many components in Castle Duke. . Image by Rob Huddleston

The prototype I was sent was impressively well designed. There are multiple 3D elements in the game, all of which were sturdy enough to be playable. And the meeples and pillar pieces were actually wood, rather than 3D printed as I often see. Given the care that was shown in the creation of the prototype, I can only assume that the actual game will be gorgeous.

How to play:

To set up the game, each player takes a player mat and a castle barbican. They’re all identical so you don’t need to worry about colors of any of that. The game board is placed in the middle of the table. All three decks of cards are shuffled. The construction deck and guest deck are put face down near the board. The room deck has the first six cards drawn and placed face up near the board, while the rest of the deck is placed face down on the table. All of the rest of the pieces are sorted by type in put in piles around the game board.

The barbican, showing the spinners for tracking stats. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The first player takes the first player marker. The second player–the player to the left of the first player–is given one free action point with which to buy either a first foundation tile or pair of pillars. The second player is given two points, and the third player three points. Then, the game begins.

The game is played over nine turns. The first three turns have two phases: a room phase and a build phase. The remaining six turns complete those two phases, and add a third, guest phase.

In the room phase, each player is given the opportunity to buy one or more of the face-up rooms on the board. Here, the game follows a familiar mechanic: the rooms cost varying amounts depending on their position on the board, with the bottom room costing 1 point, the second 2 points, the third and fourth 3 points each, the fifth 4 points, and the sixth 5 points. As you only have 5 points to spend per turn, and some of that you need for the building phase, you have to strategize: do you spend all of your points on that really great room in the top space, or hold off until it becomes cheaper in subsequent rounds, but knowing that waiting means another player might grab it first?

All but the cheapest room also come with a bonus of a coffer, a table, or a serf. These are extra items you add to your castle which count as points at the end of the game, but mostly serve as fodder when the dragon attacks.

Get the GeekDad Books!

   

Each room allows a certain combination of visitors, but also might provide defense points, offense points, and comfort points. All three of these totals are tracked by spinners on the barbican, so both you and your opponents can see your totals at any point.

The start of my tower. Image by Rob Huddleston

 

Once all players have had the choice to buy rooms (passing is allowed), you move to the build phase. Here, you can spend whatever remaining points you have on foundation tiles or pillars or, later in the game, construction cards. This phase doesn’t occur in turn order, so everyone is allowed to do stuff at once. However, you cannot spend any more points once you start building, so you need to grab whatever you’re going to grab first.

The actual building is where the dexterity component comes in to play. I should mention here that you do want to make sure you play this game on a big table–there are a lot of pieces to put out–and on a very stable one.

The player boards have three spots on them on which you can build towers. You start with a foundation tile, then add as many pillars as you feel you need. Then, you place another foundation tile on top of that, and so forth, building up the tower as high as you dare.

I’m not sure this will be entirely stable. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Image by Rob Huddleston

The foundation tiles have spots for mandatory pillars, which can often make building challenging if you decided to only place pillars on two corners but now have another level that requires pillars be placed where no support exists below. Some of them have spots for rooms, where you’ll put the room cards you have purchased in this or earlier rounds. And many have bridge ends, which are dark triangles on the edges of the rooms. With these, you can in theory create bridges between your front two towers. These bridges can then become spaces for more defensive items. In our game, none of us tried to create any towers, but it certainly looks like a fun part of the game.

Should you knock down the tower, you are supposed to get a penalty token, which subtracts victory points at the end of the game. These tokens weren’t included in the prototype, but it didn’t end up mattering, really. My son managed to have his tower collapse so many times that he would have had a negative point total, and I won by a large enough margin that it didn’t come into play regardless.

Once the build phase is complete, if you’re still in the first three turns, you move the turn marker on the board, shift any remaining rooms to the bottom of the row and add new ones, pass the first player marker, and repeat.

Starting on turn four, though, you add an additional phase. After the rooms are purchased and the towers built, you draw the top card off the visitor deck. This displays two icons for the three types of visitors: the king, the princess, and the knight. In a two-player game, you only use the bigger icon, while in a three- or four-player game, you use both. At this point, you look at the totals for defense, offense, and comfort. Whichever player has the highest total for defense gets a king. The player with the highest offense total gets a knight, and the highest comfort total gets a princess. If there are ties, the guest doesn’t stay anywhere. So, while choosing your rooms, you need to see what other players are doing and try to stay ahead of them in one or more of those categories. The other wrinkle, though, is that you need to have rooms available for the guest, so if you have the highest defense total but no room that allows a king, he won’t come to your castle.

Remember that one time, when the King visited? Image by Rob Huddleston

Each visitor is worth victory points at the end of the game. The knight also further increases your offense total, and the princess can be sacrificed to reduce damage. Both of these come in to play with the dragon attack.

On the fourth, seventh, and ninth turns, you look at the guest card. If there’s a flame icon on it, the dragon attacks. If not, the dragon will attack on the next turn for the fourth and seventh rounds, and you just get lucky if there’s no flame on the ninth round.

The dragon attack is totally abstract but worked well. Each player looks at their defense and offense totals and chooses whichever is higher. Then, in turn order, they draw five damage chits from the bag. Based on whichever stat they’re using, they will resolve one, two, three or four of the damage chits. These require that you lose pillars, comforts in your castle like coffers and tables, guests, rooms, or even foundation tiles. If you aren’t careful and haven’t built up your offense or defense or provided lots of fodder, you can see some pretty serious damage done to your castle.

After the guest phase, you reset things again and continue playing until you complete the final round. At that point, you add up everyone’s score and determine the winner.

Verdict:

Who needs straight lines, anyway? Image by Rob Huddleston

We really enjoyed this game. It has a lot of strategy in deciding what pieces to buy when, and the physical component to trying to build up your castle was a lot of fun as well. I had the tallest tower, at five floors (which, unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of), but my wife’s four-story tower was the really amazing one, considering that it was leaning further and further the more she build it, and yet it never managed to collapse. As I mentioned above, this is one of the best designed prototypes I’ve seen, and I can’t wait to see the finished product. We’re definitely backing this game, and I’d recommend that you do as well.

Rob is a geek with a 15-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. He teaches web and graphic design at the college level, watches a ridiculous number of movies, plays as many board games as he can, and loves the history of the technological age almost as much as he loves Firefly.