Since the early 18th century, teams in Catalonia have competed in building towers composed of nothing but human building blocks. Building a castell (in Catalan, the word means castle) requires força, equilibri, valor, i seny or strength, balance, courage, and common sense.
In a game out today from Renegade Games, you’ll also need planning, strategy, and an agile mind to win Castell, a set collection game that relies heavily on patterns, for 2-4 players, aged 14 and up, which plays in 60-90 minutes.
There is a lot in this box. Inside, you’ll find:
- A Large game board
- 4 Player boards
- 4 Player aids
- 20 Player skill tiles (5 for each player)
- 4 Score markers
- 1 Double-sided skill wheel
- 150 Casteller tiles
- 4 Player pawns
- 28 Special action tokens (7 for each player)
- 30 Size tokens
- 8 Board skill tiles
- 14 Festical location tiles
- 32 Local performance tiles
- 40 Prize tokens
- 1 Round marker
- 1 First player marker
- 1 Very large cloth bag
The board is pretty big and has a map of Catalonia drawn somewhat abstractly on it. There are a number of icons on the different tracks to remind you of how many prize tokens to award, when to refill castellers, and how many festivals to hold, depending on the number of players. There’s a skill wheel that attaches to the lower right of the board by a plastic hub that is attached through the board and wheel. The wheel has two sides, one for normal and one for harder difficulty. Around the wheel are eight board skill tokens, which are single-sided and arched to form a circle around the wheel when placed in their spots. Their arrangement is random, but the tiles will be the same every game.
Castell is GeekDad Approved!
On the rest of the board are local performance tiles, and festival tiles, both about the same size and on nicely printed, heavy cardboard, like the rest of the game. The local performance tiles will be explained in setup, but the festival tiles show performances in action in the various cities. They are detailed and interesting, showing a castell being formed in various city centers. There are also prize tokens, of three different types, which are set aside until later in the game, and size tokens, which are numbered tokens set against mottled, pastel backgrounds.
The player boards and aids are set up similarly well. The player’s board has a mini-map on it with callouts for placing the items you win in various cities. Additionally, it has a reminder of the actions you can take, a place for your special action tokens, a reminder of end-of-game bonuses for festival participation, and a track for your skills. Each player also gets a player aid that is on heavy, coated paper and has a definitive turn summary on one side and a skills reference on the other. Each player gets seven special action tokens, which are round markers, about the size of a dime, and have a star against a field of the player’s color. Players also get a set of five skill tokens. The skills are the same for each player and the token backs are keyed to the color of the player’s pawn. The pawns are custom and depict a small number of people beginning a castell, the score trackers are simply stars, in the same color as the player pawns. The round marker is a white block.
This brings us to the bulk of the components: 150 casteller tokens. There are ten sizes and each gets its own unique background color and illustration of the person representing the size. The tokens additionally have line drawings of the other castellers who will work in concert with each and, when lined up, they mesh. What’s more, is the height of the tokens plays an important role. Once a skill is acquired, a player may be able to combine sizes along a level, the sizes which are allowed to be combined have the same height token. It’s a simple, visual reminder and is effective when building a tower.
Lastly, there are two more components. There’s the first-player token, which is a flag of Catalonia, waving in the wind, and the oversized cloth bag, which is where the casteller tokens are placed. It is truly oversized. It’s huge. In fact, it’s become a bit of a meme for people to wear it as a hat. Here’s Renegade’s Scott Gaeta modeling his game’s components:
— Renegade Game Studios (@PlayRenegade) January 29, 2018
For as much that’s in the box, you’d expect it to be a jumble of zipper bags, but Renegade has come through with an outstanding box insert. Everything has a place and it stays in place while being stored or carried to game night. However, it takes a bit of reasoning to figure out what goes where and it would have been nice to have an insert diagram in the rulebook. However, we’ve got you covered with a handy diagram:
How do you play Castell?
Going a bit out of order from the rulebook, the first step in setup should really be to apply the skill wheel to the board since this requires inserting a plastic hub from underneath the board. The skill wheel has an easy and a hard side, choose one for your difficulty. While you’re there, shuffle the board skill tiles and place them around the skill wheel.
Next, put all the casteller tiles in the mammoth bag and shake them up. Then according to a chart and the number of players, draw castellers to be placed on each of the board’s map regions. Festival location tiles have one of two backs — I and II. Separate them and then randomly assign all the I tiles to the I spots on the festival calendar. Next, do the same with those marked II. Finish this step by randomly assigning the size tokens as indicated beneath the festival calendar. (Keep in mind that not all of the board is used in a 2 or 3 player game.) Shuffle the 32 local performance tiles and randomly place 14 of them in the local performance area of the board. The leftovers go back to the box.
Players each get a player board, player aid, player pawn, scoring marker, 7 special action tokens, and 5 player skill tiles (the same for all players). All of these are placed in front of the player except for the scoring marker, which is placed on the scoring track — just above the first round marker.
The 40 prize tokens are set to the side and identify a first player. You’re ready to play.
Rounds and Turns
Castell takes place over 10 rounds. You must recruit castellers, train them in skills, and compete in festivals. Rounds have up to five elements with not every step happening in every round.
- Add new castellers — This step only occurs during the odd numbered rounds. (During the first, this is done in the setup.) A reminder is shown on the round marker track. Castellers are added according to a chart and the number of players.
- Rotate the skill wheel — The wheel is turned one space, clockwise.
- Player turns — Beginning with the player who has the first player marker, each player completes their turns.
- Festival scoring — First occurring in round three, festivals are scored.
- Round end — Pass the first player marker clockwise, advance the round marker.
On player turns, there are four actions that players can take. They aren’t required to take any of them, but they can be executed in any order and may only be taken one time a round, each. Players may:
- Move. Your first move will be from your player board to the game board. After that, on your turn, you may move from one region to an adjacent region. Regions are considered adjacent if they share a border or are connected by a dotted line.
- Recruit. You take up to 2 castellers of your choosing from the region where your pawn is located. Castellers should be moved to individual player areas.
- Train. Look at the skill wheel to determine what skill you may train in. There will either be one or two options, depending on the difficulty you are playing. In the easier difficulty, you may train in the skill of the region you are in or in the skill marked for all regions. In the advanced version, you may only train in skill assigned to your region. When you train in a skill, you move that skill to or up the skill track of your player board.
- Take a Special Action. Everyone has seven special action tokens to use over the course of ten rounds. By spending one of these tokens, a player may choose from one of these three actions: recruit one additional casteller from your region, move to an adjacent region, or build a tower that meets the requirements of one local performance. If you spend a special action token, it must be placed next to the local performance track and for the region where your pawn is located.
As players recruit and gather castellers and begin building towers, there are three basic rules that must be followed. First, each level must be made of castellers of the same size. Second, any level above another must be made up of castellers of a smaller size and fewer number of castellers than the one below it. The maximum width of any level is three castellers. Finally, you may tear down and rebuild your tower as often as you like.
As the game progresses, you will acquire and improve skills, which will allow you to ignore some of these basic rules and put you on your way to becoming Castell champion!
Skills are how a player builds bigger, wider, and taller towers. By smartly visiting regions where skills are available to train, a player may gain an advantage over other castell teams. While there are eight spaces around the skill wheel, there are only five skills to train in. One repeats and two of the spaces, Practice and Special, offer a different benefit.
The skills on the wheel are:
- Balance. This skill appears twice around the skill wheel and allows you to build a level on your tower that is the same width as the one below it. When you reach level 2 of balance training, you can build two levels that are the same width as the one below it, and so on, the more you train in balance.
- Base. With the base skill, a player is allowed to have one level with an unlimited number of castellers. All other levels must obey the maximum width rule.
- Mix. Add the mix skill to your repertoire and one of your levels may be comprised of a like-sized, but differently numbered casteller. Casteller tiles are of different heights with size being matched at 10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5, and 4 and 3.
- Strength. With beefy muscles, the strength skill lets a level support a level above that is one higher than normal. That is, a level 6 would normally only be able to support a level 5 or lower. However, with strength training, level 6 could now support level 6 castellers.
- Width. The width skill gives a tower an increase of 1 to the entire tower. So if a player is trained to 4 width, they can have a base that is 7 wide (basic rule allows 3, plus 4 for the width skill, trained at 4). Additionally, the next level could be six wide, the level after that five, and so on.
The two additional tokens around the skill wheel allow Practice and Special. Practice lets a player improve any one already owned skill to be increased by one. Special lets you take a special action without using a special action token.
You may use a special action to put on a local performance. Any performance you put on is tied to the region where your pawn is located. Look at the pair of tokens for your region on the performance track and pick one to perform.
There are two types of local performances, tower shapes, which ask a player to build a tower that is the exact shape and height as the tile, and skill exhibitions, which are a bit more complicated. Skill exhibitions tiles have two or three skills on them and a star value. A player must build a tower that utilizes all the skills on the tile and be a height equal to the star value shown.
Once a player has satisfied the requirements of a tile, they are awarded the tile, which factors in end of game scoring, and all of the special tokens that have accumulated on that region’s local performance track. These are moved to that region on the player’s player board.
Additionally, there are festivals to be scored at the end of rounds 3-10. Depending on the round and the number of players, there may be multiple festivals to score. In order to participate, a player must have a pawn in the region where the festival is taking place. Beneath each festival will be size tokens and to participate, your tower must contain castellers of the required size(s). Finally, your tower must have at least four levels.
Towers are then scored for the festival, giving a player one victory point for each level of the tower and one victory point for every casteller that matches the size requirement of the festival. Depending on the number of players participating in the festival, prize tokens are distributed. If three players are involved, prizes are awarded at 5, 3, and 1 points. If two players are involved, points are awarded at 3 and 1 points. If only a single player participated, only a single point is given.
Additionally, the player who used the most of each casteller of the size(s) requested receive the size token for that type. Lastly, if the total score for the castle is the player’s highest score at that point in the game, the player moves their scoring marker to reflect that score. For each player, the scoring track will show the their highest tower score — score tracks do not have additive scoring until the end of the game.
End of Game
When the final round is complete, players then total the rest of their scoring. The first item to be considered is each player’s best tower score. This should be marked on the scoring track. Again, even if a player participates in seven festivals, they only record their best score.
Next, players consider a chart and add victory points for scoring points in a variety of regions. Scoring in a single region adds no points, but scoring in seven regions earns 14 points. Next, any prize tokens earned during festivals are added to a player’s total.
Players then add size tokens — two points for each unique size token and one point for any duplicates. Lastly, players total the value of local performance tiles that they’ve won. As part of the local performance scoring, players get one point for every special action token they won while conducting a local performance. Most points wins.
Why You Should Play Castell
As you can tell, there’s quite a bit going on in this game and, along with the recent Kepler-3042 (read our review) and Antiplano, it’s a step up in weight from the game offerings we’ve seen from Renegade Game Studios. It’s no small undertaking and our first game took close to two hours, a time compounded by the fact that we were playing four players and one of them is deaf, which makes communication a bit slower since none of us sign well. Tack on the usual over-checking of the rule book for a first game and we subsequently carved off 40 minutes in our second game, getting close to the recommended 75 minute mark. The point being, there are many things to keep track of.
First time designer Aaron Vanderbeek offers lots of flexibility in how you go about building your towers. While there are limitations in the initial rules of building, you quickly move past those through the use of skills training. Even then, your strategy may involve evolving changes, depending on the castellers that are available, those that are in your troupe, and how you anticipate scoring points. Although the largest of the castellers are identified as sized 9 and 10, you needn’t use those at your base. You can start with any that you choose, as long as you adhere to the building rules. Still, it’s important to keep an eye on the size demands for future festivals before recruiting any additional castellers.
Choice can also be found in how you take your turn. Since actions can be executed in any order, you may find it most advantageous to train first (because you’re in a region that’s beneficial to your skill strategy), then move, then recruit to get castellers from a region that’s not where you started your turn — or some variation on that sequence. One of the challenges is in making sure your pawn ends a round in the correct region for a festival you want to participate in. I lost my first game by a slim margin because I ended up one region away from the festival I wanted to had been recruiting for over the past three rounds — without the ability to move any further. All of the work I had done recruiting ended up for naught. Actions are scarce and special action tokens should be held in reserve for the later rounds. Lesson learned.
Festivals can sometimes only grant modest rewards, but the variation of regions scored in delivers the game’s biggest point prize. You needn’t come in first everywhere to win the game. Sometimes, you may just have to participate in a lot of regions, which is a challenge in itself. Local performances play a role too. In each of the games we played, the winner had at least one local performance tile, the difference maker in the final scoring.
The castell building is the meat of the game though and recruiting and building affects every point you score. It’s slow going at first and you may get the sense that you are never going to have a sizable entry, but by the end of the game, you will likely end up with a mammoth tower — every time. We liked that building was something you could do at will, scraping and rebuilding, moving castellers around, trying to optimize the castellers you had against the skills available to you. It is a neat puzzle.
Building is a great feeling and feels similar to how the scoring works; points in this game are the result of a marathon, rather than a bunch of sprints. We liked that only the highest tower is ever scored and that on the periphery were a bunch of other ways to earn points. Having to move from region to region and festival to festival gives the game a sense of motion and travel that is almost tangible. The theme is strong in Castell, which is no small feat, given how niche these events are and how little most people know about the competition. That speaks to the strength of this game, backed up by the fact that Castell won the 2017 Cardboard Edison award, in recognition of the best unpublished board game last year.
Castell is available now from Renegade Game Studios and retails for $60.00.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.