One of the first hobby games I tried was Carcassonne. I was enamoured with the gameplay, creating a layout with friends and vying for points. It’s inspired many games since, and Castles of Caladale is certainly one of them. In your own play space, you’ll be creating a fantastic new castle out of the ruins, competing against other players for the parts of buildings that were scattered by a terrible spell of ancient power. Grab as many of those nice tiles as you can, and dive in with me.
In the standard game mode, each player starts with just their grassy base to build on, one gate tile (with either one or two of the 3 building types) and a friendly little character standing in the doorway of that (a Wizard, Wizard’s Apprentice, Gnome, or Fairy). A randomized grid of tiles is then placed on a mat in the center of the table, and players will select from these on each turn to add to their ever-growing castle. You can end up with all three building types – Tudor, stone or wood – in your castle, but they all must touch a like type when they’re placed. If you wish you’d placed it elsewhere a few turns later, well – you can move it! Unlike other tile laying, structure/map-creating games, Castles lets you rearrange things as much as you’d like throughout the game, giving you a lot more flexibility as you go – you can even claim a tile and not place it until you’ve found a good spot for it.
Mind blown, right? Really, the only restrictions on placing tiles are making sure you leave your starting tile in an upright position, and any tower-top tiles are placed upright too. Otherwise you can have a pretty fancy sprawling castle with tree branches sticking out of the side and a nice Tudor spot coming off a stone base. While the building parts are fun and carefree, by the end of the game you want to have finished castles so try not to expand beyond your wildest dreams. If you really need it, there’s a ‘wild tile’ that each player gets which can be used to fill a tricky spot, but you’ll sacrifice a point for using it. With the right amount of rearranging, you might be able to get away with not using it – but being such a small penalty, it could be worth tucking it in there to finish something up.
I think there’s something about having played a lot of tile-laying games that makes me hesitant to pull things apart and find new places for them during the game. With the combination of shuffling stuff about (even on other players turns) and trying to figure out what is my best choice for the next tile to take, I slowed things down quite often in the game at regular speed. This is absolutely a personal fault though, because there’s plenty of puzzling to be had if you just want to have at it and rearrange gleefully! And I could have made more use of the “flip a tile for a point” option to just eliminate things through the game/rearrangement without losing out too much. If you want something a little more snappy, there is also a speed variant to the game to avoid slow folks like me.
In this speed mode, each player has a stack of their own tiles (number depending on amount of players) to use to build a castle. A central supply of tiles will be placed out for players to swap less desirable tiles with to tighten up their construction. There is no timer on this part of the game other than players really racing each other to complete a castle. When one person is satisfied with their creation, a 30 second timer is flipped for everyone else to finish up. Again, wild tiles can be used but other tiles can’t be flipped for points which adds a little more pressure to finish things up – and perhaps to just get things done rather than making everything perfect (oh, am I talking from personal experience?). Scoring shakes out the same way for both variants – points for every tile in the structure, bonus points for each flag/tower and complete castle, and negatives for any unfinished type of building within the castle. That one dang tile you needed, right?
On top of this all, there is a solo version that plays out without the rearrangement rule, if you want a nice challenge. Whatever version you play, it’s a good puzzle with (fairly light) player interaction in the multiplayer versions. The tile art is adorable, with a feel straight out of an illustrated fairy tale – I love the little details like fireworks, dragons, cobwebs, squirrels and the like that you can spot on each of them, it’s a gorgeous attention to detail. The components are nice and sturdy which is always refreshing in a primarily cardboard-pieces game, especially for a speed version, you don’t want to crush anything. Not to mention the sweet tale of Caladale that you can find at the end of this rulebook.
Castles sits somewhere between a HABA family game, or even Kids of Carcassonne, and a regular entry-level strategy game, weight-wise. And it plays swiftly even with slowpokes like me. I’d certainly recommend giving this a try for a family game day, but personally don’t know it’s something I’ll get to the table as much as I lean toward more advanced tile-placement with some resource management thrown in. But for a delightful fantasy puzzle where you get to build on your own terms rather than a shared map, it’s certainly got staying power. I’m pretty tempted to see if I can solo game this little thing and make a really mega-castle, though. For the majesty of Caladale!
Castles of Caladale is designed by David Wilkinson with art by Erin Koehler. The game plays 1 – 4 players in approximately 30 minutes.Thanks to Renegade Games for whisking us off to the Kingdom of Caladale with a review copy of the game.