CHENNAI: King Ludwig II of Bavaria is perhaps best known for his lavish architectural projects, including but not limited to Neuschwanstein Castle (aka the Disney castle). In fact, he was so excessively extravagant in this respect that many considered him insane. And so, in Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you and your friends play the role of the architects tasked with fulfilling the King’s...eccentric wishes.
As far as thematic justification goes, that’s quite the set-up for a game and Castles of Mad King Ludwig runs with it. Each player will build their own individual castle out of rooms of various shapes and sizes, and the final result is usually more than a little mad. You see, you’re putting these rooms together in various configurations that will score you the most points (or, if you’ve built yourself into a corner, anywhere the damn things will fit!) with only the merest hat-tip in the direction of logic. Would you like to have a bowling alley next to the kitchen? Sure, go ahead! Or how about a bottomless pit next to the bedroom? There’s no way that could end badly!
So many games have you doing actions or making moves that don’t really make sense when you consider them from a thematic point of view, and it is one of this game’s strongest points that it’s managed to incorporate that sense of dissonance into its theme and justify it in one fell swoop. Of course, your castles don’t make sense — you’re building them for the Mad King, aren’t you? As wonderful as the theme is, there’s substance to Castles of Mad King Ludwig as well — it incorporates one of the best auction/market mechanisms I’ve seen in a game. Every round, one player will be the Master Builder, which means that they get to set the prices of all the rooms that are on offer that round. Once they set the prices, the next player has the option to buy any of the rooms, followed by the next player and so on until the Master Builder is the last one who gets to buy a room.
Now, by itself, that would be interesting enough but there’s an extra twist — players who buy rooms have to pay the Master Builder, while the Master Builder has to pay the bank if he/she buys a room. And that creates a phenomenal puzzle at every turn — if you price rooms too low, your opponents will leap at a bargain; but if you make all the rooms expensive, chances are that your opponents won’t buy anything which effectively loses you money. How much is that room worth to your opponents or to yourself? This judgement of value is a mental tightrope that you’ll be walking every round, and it leads to making fascinating choices all the time.
There’s really nothing to dislike about Castles of Mad King Ludwig. It could potentially go on longer than you’d like, especially if you play with people who try to math out every decision/ramification, but that’s really it.
This is a wonderful game, and it’s impossible to overestimate the sheer joy of managing to snag the perfect room for your castle that slots in perfectly and creates a cascading combo chain — especially if it doesn’t quite make sense!