Build Your Own Castle: A Preview of Castle Dukes

Castle Dukes

Build the toughest castle in the land, or perhaps the most comfortable. Fighting off a dragon, playing host to kings, and hoping the walls don’t tumble in, are what this 3D castle building board game on Kickstarter will be offering.

Gameplay

Each player starts the game with a player board and dials to keep track of their castle’s Defense, Offense, and Comfort. On your board are spaces for three castle towers.

Every round, players have five Coins which they use during the Room and Building phase. In the center of the table are several Room cards which you can choose from during the Room phase. The longer a card has been on the table, the fewer Coins it costs. The more expensive rooms, however, come with bonus serfs, coffers, or tables, which can be placed in your castle and score you points. After the Room phase, more Room cards are drawn to replace those just taken.

Each Room card will add to your castle’s Defense, Offense, and/or Comfort once you’ve officially built it, and several will have spaces for guests. Some Rooms also need to be placed on the first two floors, while others need to be placed on the third floor or higher.

During the Building phase, you may use whatever Coins you have remaining to draw a Floor tile, take a pair of pillars, or draw a Construction card.

Whenever you gain an item it is placed in your inventory. You may never have more than three of the same type of item.

After you are finished using your Coins, you can place things from your inventory onto your castle. You castle is made up of three towers, with a Floor tile used for each floor. Any cobblestone markings on a Floor tile means there needs to be at least one pillar on that cobblestone, but other than that, players may choose how many pillars to use when building. As you build up your castle, you can always go back and add things to lower floors, though this can be tricky and if things topple onto your player board, you must take a score penalty. However, the only way to change the location of an item is to do so after it falls over, so players are allowed to take a score penalty just to shift items in their castles.

Castle Dukes components

Different Floor tiles also have various number of spaces to build Rooms in. Whenever you place a Room, you immediately turn your dials to show your castle’s current stats.

Players can also use a Floor tile to build a bridge between two of their castle towers, or cap a roof over one of the towers. This is when Construction cards come into play, as they give you items that you can place on bridges and roofs to strengthen your castle.

After the Building phase, if it is turn four or later, there is a Guest phase. A die is rolled to determine if a princess, king, or knight has come to call. Each guest has a different preference. Princesses, for instance, prefer comfort. If you have the most comfortable castle, and an empty Room that can house a princess, she will come to your castle. If playing with three or more players, there will be two guests each turn.

On various turns during the Guest phase, a dragon can appear. The dragon is guaranteed to come twice during the game with a chance of coming a third time during the final round. When the dragon comes, it attacks each player. You can use either your castle’s Offense score or its Defense score to calculate how much damage you receive. If you have a princess staying in your castle, you can sacrifice her to remove one point of damage. For each point of damage you must draw a token which states what kind of damage you receive. This can include removing a Room from your castle, or even a whole Floor tile and everything on it.

After nine turns, players calculate how many victory points they have based on things such as who has the most comfortable castle, how many serfs are in your castle, or who has the tallest tower.

Review

Castle Dukes is a really unique blend of dexterity and strategy. Playing it feels like you are playing Alhambra meets Jenga. In order to win you need to make good, tactical decisions about how to spend your coins and which rooms to place in your castle, but you also need to build a castle that will stay standing. The suspense as you try to slip another pillar in between Floor tiles is as much fun as calculating which room is your best choice.

There are, however, a handful of rules to remember, and the game takes at least an hour to play. This may make it an imperfect fit for game groups looking for something quick and easy. But if you are up for a game with a bit more heft, Castle Dukes has a lot to offer.

Fans of strategy will enjoy that there is no secret information. Every player knows exactly what value each castle’s stats are at, and this allows you to adjust your strategy according to an opponent’s castle. At the same time the guest die, the dragon attacks, and the Construction deck, add a nice spice of randomness.

The artwork on the Room cards is really nice — while playing the game, we were constantly looking forward to what new Rooms we would discover in the deck. In fact, we really got into building our castle, choosing where to place the Rooms, and trying to build up higher and higher.

Castle Dukes is probably, strictly speaking, a step or two past the ‘casual game’ line, but it is still well worth checking out on Kickstarter. Building your very own castle is just so much fun and the game felt truly unique.

Pros: You get to build your own castle! Unique blend of dexterity and strategy

Cons: Several rules to remember. Game takes about 1 hour so watch out!

Disclosure: this preview is based on our evaluation of an unpublished prototype of the game, which is subject to change prior to publication. While a modest payment was received to expedite the review process, our thoughts and opinions expressed here are honest and accurate.