Game Reviews

Castles of Mad King Ludwig - Better than a box of frogs

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Castles of Mad King Ludwig - Better than a box of frogs

Mad King Ludwig is really mad. He's so mad that he's laid down a whole bunch of entirely nonsensical rules under which you've got to build him some castles.

How mad? Mad enough that he refuses to have the same rooms in his castle as any other nobleman in the country. Mad enough to have rooms downstairs when he doesn't even understand the concept of upstairs. Mad.

Fortunately for us, while these rules make no sense whatsoever, they do form the basis of a diverting tile-laying game.


You'll learn King Ludwig's lunatic rules over a ten-part tutorial which is less painless than it sounds and more painful than it should be.

Each turn, you purchase a tile for your castle from your stack of gold. It'll be worth some points, plus some extra points depending on what sorts of rooms you do (or don't) build next to it.

Building a Meat Locker next to the garden is good. Building an Oratory next to the stairs is not.

Don't ask me - I don't make the rules. And the guy that does is mad, remember?

Anyway, there's all sort of other crazy stuff to mix things up. Secret cards that give you bonuses for building certain types of rules help keep a little tension in the game.

The ability to sometimes decide how much each room will cost the other players, which injects a little interaction. Inducements for making sensible building decisions such as actually finishing rooms add a little bit of realism.

To make all this work, the tiles are crammed with tiny text and icons. So while this is, in theory, iPhone compatible, owners will struggle to play it on a phone sized device.

A certain kind of tabletop gamer will be frothing at the mouth at the prospect of all this already. Everyone else might well wonder where the actual fun comes in pulling and throwing down tiles according to an arcane set of rules.

Perhaps only a madman could see it.


Fortunately, this is title from Bezier games, the minds behind previous tabletop to mobile adaptation Suburbia. And it's learned an interesting and unintuitive lesson from that app - gamers don't like each other very much.

Wait, that came out wrong. Everyone that plays tabletop adaptations will tell you that online multiplayer is the core of the experience.

Suburbia was unusual because it had a worthwhile solitaire game where players figured out puzzles based on the game rules.

And here's the thing - Bezier noticed that people spent more time playing it solo than they did playing it multiplayer. So here, the solo mode is the meat of the experience. There's pass and play, but no online mode at all.

It's a decision of minor genius. Tile-laying games like this aren't all that interesting over the internet because there's little interaction.

They're more like solitaire puzzles already. So by focussing on that aspect and using the inherent flexibility offered by the digital world, Bezier has made something that's better, more varied and more convenient, than the physical game.


As you progress along the Rhine in the hope that your increasingly complex castles will impress the mad King himself, you'll experience some brilliantly imaginative twists on the original rules.

Sometimes you're playing against the AI, sometimes against a challenge like minimum points or total room size. Sometimes you have a free choice of tiles, sometimes they're limited. Sometimes you're building on a big plot of land, sometimes one of crazy shape.

Working through each one, success or failure, enhances your understanding on the game's depth. The way its byzantine mechanisms lock together into an increasingly interesting whole.

It's something the developer clearly understood, since the AI opponents you'll encounter are entirely capable of taking a neophyte player apart. Or at least their castle.

To be honest, the game would still have been better with an online multiplayer option. To acknowledge that solo is also important doesn't diminish the way playing against real people extends the shelf life of the game.

But for now, it's a satisfying thing to tackle in bit-sized pieces. And perhaps play with your friends when the campaign is done.

Maybe King Ludwig wasn't quite as mad as he seemed after all.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig - Better than a box of frogs

Focussing on solo mode is odd for a tabletop adaptation, but an excellent series of puzzles and tough AI opposition makes up for it
Matt Thrower
Matt Thrower
Matt is a freelance arranger of words concerning boardgames and video games. He's appeared on IGN, PC Gamer, Gamezebo, and others.