What Is Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig?
For starters, it’s a game that’s been kept secret for months by Stonemaier games! More specifically, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a competitive tile-laying game that challenges players to work with partners to build castles that score points. Players are awarded points for their lowest scoring castle and the best score wins. The game, designed by Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley (Between Two Cities, Remnants (read our review), Homebrewers), is intended for 3-7 players, aged 10 and up and plays in 45-60 minutes.
No, it is not April Fool’s Day; this is a real game. It’s a mashup combining the core mechanics of Between Two Cities (read our review) from Stonemaier Games with those from Bézier Games’ The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, which is one of the favorite games of Stonemaier’s Jamey Stegmaier.
Hold on, What’s a Mashup?
The idea of a mashup relates largely to music where an artist or producer might combine two or more existing songs. The first acknowledged instance of this is in 1956, with Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman’s interjections on The Flying Saucer, which used a technique they called a ‘break-in.’ If you spent any time listening to Dr. Demento, you’re likely familiar with this type of recording. A few years later, a composer named James Tenney manipulated Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes in a piece he called Collage #1. It was the first of a style that would be later known as plunderphonics.
These early recordings paved the way for the pioneering sampling heard first in rap and hip-hop and, now, other genres of music. These days, mashups have become ubiquitous. While the popularity of EDM and DJ culture has led to a seemingly endless catalog of mashed-up songs and albums (some better than others), mashups have jumped genres, a phenomenon tied to the widespread availability of digital audio tools. Predictably, this leads to a lot of chaff, but all of these sonic Dr. Frankensteins have shown they still have a sense of humor, like Messrs. Buchanan and Goodman, when they point out that country music does, sometimes, sound exactly like other country songs or just having some good Internet fun. (Yes, I went there.)
Today, mashups are everywhere. The term can apply to a mobile app that combines technologies like pairing Google maps with, say, Nintendo Classic inventories. With YouTubeDoubler (and later, Crossfade.io), the convergence of audio and video gave rise to some impressive and funny mashups. Your kids’ school likely has a mashup of social media streams (Pinstagram, anyone?) and, now, we’re starting to see them in boardgames.
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig Components
In the box, you’ll find:
- 147 regular room tiles
- 48 specialty room tiles
- 7 throne room tiles
- 28 royal attendants
- 20 bonus cards
- 7 castle tokens
- 7 player aids
- 1 pad of double-sided scoring sheets
- 1 custom game insert
Each tile has a unique piece of art and a room name. Some of them are rooms you would expect in a castle (Servant’s Quarters, Scullery, Terrace) and some have a bit of humor to them (Dead End, Escape Room, Sauerkraut Room). Spend some time with the tiles and you’ll realize they had a great time designing them. There’s even one called Between Two Rooms and if you squint hard enough on the Game Storage tile, you might be able to recognize some popular titles. Additionally, each tile gets a tile type in its upper left hand corner (one of eight types) and a wall covering icon in its upper right (one of four types). Finally, some scoring shorthand is at the bottom of each tile.
The throne tiles are double width and, although double-sided, have the same information on both sides; they also feature the quite mad king. All of the specialty tiles are the same size as the normal tiles, but are double-sided (normal tiles have a royal pattern on their backs), making it very easy to sort out the specialty tiles when packing the game away. The royal attendant tiles are small, about the size of a postage stamp, but their scoring information is the same size as the normal tiles, so it’s easy enough to read.
The player aids are large, about the size of tarot cards, and have all the information you need to know to play. The castle tokens are patterned as the silhouette reliefs of real castles. Naturally, the quality of the components is very high, as we have come to expect from a Stonemaier game. The tile cardboard is thick and the art that adorn them is outstanding. (I almost wish they were larger so I could see the finer details!) The rulebook, which we seldom mention, is almost luxurious, featuring thoughtful rules printed on heavy paper with a linen finish that is effortlessly cool and is presented in a full size booklet.
The discussion about the game’s components isn’t complete until talking about the amazing two insert trays, designed by Game Trayz‘s Noah Adelman. With Stegmaier’s guidance, Adelman created a tray that makes every game of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig simple to setup. The larger, red tray was constructed to hold sets of exactly nine tiles, the precise number needed to start each round. The smaller, yellow tray holds specialty tiles, royal attendants, and bonus cards. Game Trayz’s precise manufacturing includes tray covers that will always hold the many tiles of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig in place, meaning every time you open the box, everything will be perfectly in place.
How to Play Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Setup is simple, thanks to the awesome inserts. Each player gets one of the stacks of nine tiles from the red tray, along with a player aid to remind them of rules, scoring, and bonuses. Additionally, a random throne room tile should be placed between each pair of players, along with a wooden token, which is used to identify each unique castle. Make sure the two trays are placed in the center of the table, accessible to everyone, and you’re ready to go!
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig takes place over just two rounds. On each turn, you select two tiles from your hand of tiles. One will be played to the castle on your left, the other to the castle on your right. Once everyone has made their choices, you discuss your choices and where the tiles should be placed with your castle-building partners on each side of you. After placing your tiles, you pass your hand of tiles to the player on your left (to the right in the second round) and the actions are repeated until there is a single tile waiting to be passed. This tile is discarded from the game.
That’s it! Simple, right?
Well, there are some more rules, as it turns out. All tiles are what the architects call a “front elevation” view, that is, how the castle might look from the fortress’s curtain wall if the castle’s façade were taken away. Your tiles may extend as wide or as tall as you would like, with some provisions. The throne room tile designates the ground floor, which must be respected. Only corridors or downstair tiles may be placed beneath the ground level. The corridor may also go above ground level and all tiles must also be above ground. Tiles must be placed adjacent to an existing tile and any tile placed above ground level must have a tile beneath it to support it. Closing out the rules, no tiles may be placed above the tiles with an outdoor setting, which have a blue border to remind you, and once a tile has been placed, it may not be moved.
How to Score
As in Castles of Mad King Ludwig, there are seven main room types: food, living, utility, outdoor, sleeping, corridor, and downstairs. (Additionally, there are specialty rooms, but they are treated a bit differently.) Each room type scores in a different way. Food rooms award points based on types of rooms that are directly above, below, adjacent to, or combination of these. For instance, a food room might award points for having two sleeping rooms directly above it, utility rooms beneath it, or corridors that are to its left and right (or above and below). Each food room has a maximum score of four points.
Living rooms consider the eight tiles that can surround it and award one point for its specified room type that is in the living room’s orbit. (In all scoring instances that involve surrounding tiles, the double-wide throne room only counts as a single tile.) Each living room tile can score a maximum of eight points. Utility rooms score points for adjacent (and chained) room types. For example, a utility room might want to be next to living rooms. It has one to the right and then another living room to the left. Above the living room to the left, there is another living room above it and yet another to that tile’s left. That utility will score one for the file to its right, plus three more for the chained tiles on its left, for a total of four. there’s no maximum score for utility tiles. (As another example, see image, above.)
Outdoor tiles are pretty easy going. They simply want a certain room type in the castle and grant a point for each one, anywhere in the castle. There’s no maximum points here either, but outdoor tiles are blue bordered (as are the specialty tiles) and, as such, may not have any tiles placed above them. As the king slumbers in his sleeping room tile, he dreams of the castle you’re building. Because the king wants diversity in tiles, he will award four points per sleeping room tile if your castle has all six other main room types within its walls. It doesn’t matter where they are placed, but if you fall short in your room type collection, each sleeping room is worth only a single point.
You may recall that most tiles have an icon in their upper right corners, which specifies a wall hanging type. The corridor specifies one of these wall hangings and gives a point for each in the eight tiles surrounding it, for a maximum of eight points. There are four types of wall hangings. There are the downstairs rooms. Being beneath ground, they are only concerned with what is above them and give points for room types directly above them, scoring one point for each specified room type anywhere directly above that basement tile. There is no maximum.
Lastly, comes the throne room. Each castle gets one to start the game and each will show two room types and two positions (relative to the throne room) where it wants those tiles. The throne room will spin off two points for each of these you fulfill for a maximum of four points.
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is GeekDad Approved!
When providing connections to all entrances of a room in Castles of Mad King Ludwig, a player would get a bonus and a similar effect happens here. When a castle gets a third tile placed of a particular room type, a bonus is immediately granted. This is a one-time bonus and these are listed below. If a team places a fifth tile of a particular type, another bonus is given in the form of the placement of a specialty tile. No bonus is given after that.
First, an explanation of the individual room type bonuses. Upon placement of the third food room, players draw five regular room tiles from the supply. They choose one, place it, and discard the other four. (Bonuses may be chained.) In the case of living rooms, players may place a royal attendant in their throne rooms. Royal attendants score points at the end of the game for accrued wall hanging icons throughout your castle. For example, a painter counts paintings on all placed tiles in the castle.
Utility rooms allow players to draw three bonus cards and keep one. Bonus cards work similarly to public and private goal cards in Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Outdoor rooms let players place a fountain tile, which is a specialty tile and worth five points. A blue-bordered tower is the bonus when placing a third sleeping room. It is placed anywhere in the tower and awards a point for every room directly beneath it.
When the third corridor is placed, players may place a grand foyer anywhere in their castle. The grand foyer awards one point for each tile that surrounds it. True to its predecessor, when the third downstairs tile is placed, any other bonus may be taken.
End of Game
When the final tile has been placed, scoring commences. Each player takes a sheet and scores the castle to their left. Each player will have two scores, the castle on the left and the one to their right. The higher score is disregarded and each player’s score is of their lower scoring castle. From those scores, the highest score wins.
Tiles should be shuffled before being placed back in stacks of nine in the trays. Make sure to separate the specialty tiles to the smaller tray.
It should be noted that there is a two player variant, similar to the variant in Between Two Cities.
Why You Should Play Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig
How often are you surprised by a game announcement these days? Heck, how often are you surprised by any announcement? In an age of leaks coordinated by public relations agencies and preview trailers that offer a glimpse of upcoming preview trailers, probably not very often. But the surprise of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is only part of the excitement. The honest truth is that it’s a really good game — in fact, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is measurably better than the games it draws from.
To be clear, both Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig are very good games, but both have room for improvements. In the former, the art wasn’t great, which was my chief complaint when reviewing the original game. The scoring board was an OK solution, but required an additional token and didn’t allow for much post-game autopsy. It’s also a fairly light game that feels over when you’re just getting in a groove. The latter, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, takes a while to setup and the auction aspect of the game can lead to awkward moments of pause that kill the game’s momentum.
I feel like Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig remedies all these issues and is a fantastic game, to boot. The art, by Agnieszka Dqbrowiecka, Laura Bevon (Ceylon, Between Two Cities: Capitals (read our review), The King’s Guild), and Bartłomiej Kordowski (Dream Home, Spy Club, Symphony) is magnificent and makes each castle feel like a living, breathing structure. This game’s (double-sided) scoring pad allows players to go back and learn where they scored points so that they can improve (or continue to dominate) in future games. As mentioned, the Game Trayz make setup so easy, you can be playing within seconds after opening the box — providing players know the rules, of course. Here, the tile-drafting is a far better solution to Castles of Mad King Ludwig’s auction system. While it does shift some strategy because of the luck of tiles drawn and passed, the game plays more quickly, in my opinion. A player’s approach requires a minor step up, as there are many more ways to score, which results in a doubling of the estimated playtime over Between Two Cities, despite gameplay being shortened from three rounds to two.
Of course, there are more reasons why I love Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. One of my biggest reasons for enjoying Between Two Cities was the cooperative competition that led to some really great moments of player interaction. Because players get the lower score of their two cities, they must work hard on building each. Between Two Castles carries those moments over and builds on them a bit, with more ways to score and fewer restrictions on how to build. Not only that, it’s a game that plays well at 3 and only a bit better at 4-7.
I really appreciate the mashup that feels like a true meld of games, rather than pasting a theme of one game on another game. I asked Stonemaier’s Jamey Stegmaier about how the idea came about. He said “After the release of Between Two Cities, game designers Ben Rosset and Matthew O’Malley asked me what I thought about them making another Between Two game. I was intrigued as long as it brought something new and fresh, while still creating the unique feel of partnership and collaboration in a competitive game. We brainstormed a few different themes, and I mentioned that I love castles.
“A year or so later after trying several themes and versions of new Between Two games, Ben was at Geekway to the West, and he said he had some news to share,” Stegmaier continued. “Apparently local playtesting for a castles-themed game had been going quite well. But, Ben told me that many of the mechanisms were heavily inspired by Castles of Mad King Ludwig, so he was worried about how Bézier Games would feel about that. It was then that I told Ben that Castles of Mad King Ludwig is one of my absolute favorite games.”
Stegmaier tells a great story because we seldom hear about the genesis of games and how they evolve in development. What’s more, because this game’s birth involves the crossroads of two popular games, it’s even more fascinating. Still, knowing how licensing can often throw a wrench in many great projects, I wanted to know what happened next. Stegmaier recalls “I wondered aloud, ‘Instead of making Between Two Castles, what if we collaborated with Bézier to make Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig?’
“Ben knew Ted [Alspach, president of Bézier Games], so he made the initial contact and showed the game to Ted at Origins [Game Fair] in 2017,” Stegmaier remembered. “I also played it around that time to make sure it was a game I wanted to publish, and indeed that was the case … it captured everything I love about each of the two games. We worked out a deal with Bézier Games that amounted to a licensing deal — Stonemaier Games is the publisher with full responsibilities for developing, blind playtesting, art, graphic design, production, marketing, distribution, localization, etc. It’s been a fruitful collaboration, and I can’t wait for people to finally play the finished version of the game.”
Sometimes things are just better when they get mixed up with something (or someone) else. Peanut butter and chocolate, hamburger and fries, Han and Chewie, Jake and Elwood, mac and cheese, Batman and Robin … and Between Two Cities and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a complete game that ratchets the challenge up enough to become more interesting and more enjoyable.
If you’re a fan of Between Two Cities or Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you’ll find loads of fun in Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I’ve thought quite a bit about this game, whether it ends up being more Between Two Cities or Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and there are really strong arguments for both, making me think it’s a nearly perfect combination.
All I know is that, selfishly, I’m glad that the game has finally been revealed. I’ve had to be very careful about who I played with, asking them to keep quiet about the game and help keep Stonemaier’s secret. I can’t wait to share it with more of my gaming friends and (even more importantly) getting even more plays in!
The retail release for Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is October 19. It will be available at your FLGS ($45 MSRP) or from Stonemaier Games. If you’re a Stonemaier Champion, you can order and receive the game in mid-September.
To subscribe to GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.