Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Building a better castle

Steve Jackson Games is one of the surprisingly few game publishers who do a lot of advertising. At least, they do a lot of advertising in comic books, and since I regularly read a lot of comic books, I see their ads all the time. They ran ads for Castellan for several months prior to the game's release, with an intriguing image of a castle built out of interlocking plastic parts and the tag line "cooperate to build the castle...compete to control it."

The ads did their job perfectly, and I bought the game as soon as it was published.

Players start with a hand of four cards, each depicting a number of short walls, long walls, and/or connecting towers. For each card you play on your turn, you get that many pieces to add to the castle that is being built by both players in the center of the table. You can play as many cards as you have, but you only get one new card each turn so you have to think carefully about when and how much to play.

Over the course of the game, players build a castle out of the walls and towers. If you enclose an area, you claim it as your own and score points at the end of the game based on the number of towers connected to it. The game ends when all the pieces have been used.

One of the things I really like about board games is their physicality. I like holding the pieces in my hands and seeing them on the table, so Castellan fascinated me from the beginning, but there is also quite a bit of strategy to the game. You have to decide how many cards to play each turn, what combination of walls and towers you can get the most use out of, and how to place the pieces in order to get as much out of them as you can for yourself, while avoiding giving your opponent too much to work with. The cards you draw come from two separate decks, one with mostly walls and one with mostly towers, so you even have to think about which deck to draw from each turn.

Best of all, though, is that I have an excuse to build little plastic castles. I'm sure Lego is kicking themselves for not having thought of this game first...

Rating: 4 (out of 5) A terrific abstract strategy game, made less abstract by the wonderful wall and tower playing pieces.

Date played: December 21, 2013

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