Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Paris & Amsterdam, Books and (small) Board Games

Well having already mostly forgotten what work is (despite only being off 5 days so far), we're now off on holiday in the morning. First stop is Paris, then onto Amsterdam on Sunday. I think it is going to be board game-light week due to luggage constraints, though I am managing to squeeze a few small games into my bag.

Parade - A classic small card game. There's a parade of cards on the table 0 to 10 in various different colours (5 maybe?). You've got to put down a card each turn on the end of the card, but depending on what card you place you may be forced to pick up cards. The aim is not to pick up cards, but if you do, try to get the most cards in a colour to only score 1 point per card rather than the face value.

Province - This is a micro game which I kickstarted a couple of years ago. Only played once and can't really remember much at all about it, but it is tiny, so in it goes!

Fungi - A really nice card game about mushrooms for 2 players. Lovely to play, helps if you like mushrooms (or at least don't feel sick at the sight of them like some people I know).

Lost Legagy: Starship - Only played once or twice, is really small and comes in its own bag. Not supposed to be as good with two players, but we'll give it a go.

No theming there alas. I suppose I could have bought 'The Merchants of Amsterdam' (BGG rank 1021), Hotel Amsterdam (7754), The Chaps From Amsterdam (with an average rating of 3.2, probably not worth the excess baggage charge), or even 'Amsterdam' from 1973. As for Paris, there's 'Paris Connection' (rank 1014), Paris Paris (rank 2067) or Drive on Paris (rank 3365). If anyone's played any of these, let me know what they're like! As it is I'll stick to small games that fit in the bag!

As to books though, I have gone for a bit of a theme. The last book I read was a light military SF novel which was enjoyable enough, but I wanted something with a bit more substance next. So I've gone for some non-fiction history/travel books linking in to where I'm going.

First up is 'Parisians' by Graham Robb. The author has written a number of other non-fiction books, most notably 'The Discovery of France' is a book all about the French - the place, the people, the customs and lots of interesting stories. That book excluded Paris however, perhaps because he always intended this follow up book.

Parisians are a series of twenty stories (or vignettes to use a word of French origin) about famous Parisians, to narrate the story of Paris. The first story is from just before the French Revolution and continue up until recent times. Some of the stories are of famous Parisians you've actually heard of, some little known historical figures that deserve a bigger place in history. I've actually started this one, and it is already fascinating.

I've had mixed feelings about Bill Bryson in the past, there's some books that I've started but never really got into. I think the problem is that his books are a mix of informative and comic, and for me there's an ideal balance which is not always met. I don't mind erring more on the informative side, after all I enjoy reading straight travelogues too, but if the balance tips too much towards the funny at the expense of the information imparted he tends to lose me. I don't really like books that are funny but empty.

I recently read 'Down Under' though, his book on Australia, and thought it was fantastic. I learned a lot and laughed a lot throughout. So I am going to give 'Neither Here Nor There', an account of his travels through Europe ,a go. He stops in both Paris and Amsterdam (along with a lot of other places), so that fits in well with my holiday.

Finally, a history of Amsterdam. I had a choice of this book by Russell Shorto, and one by Dutch writer Geert  Mak. I opted for 'Amsterdam' by Russell Shorto, partly based on the sample first chapters I read (though both were very promising), but also because Shorto wrote one of my favourite history books, 'The Island at the Center of the World' about the early history of New York (when it was a Dutch colony known as New Amsterdam).

Amsterdam has a short but fascinating history. It is less than a thousand years old, but only several centuries after its founding was, for a while in the late 17th century, the most prominent and successful of European cities. I know relatively little about it however, so I am looking forward to learning more.

So that's what I'm taking with me. The trip isn't really about board gaming or reading of course, there won't be that much time for either. But hopefully after a long day's sightseeing there will be time to relax with a game and a book - and maybe a glass or two of wine in Paris, and a few beers in Amsterdam...

Monday, 24 August 2015

So Just Who Was Mad King Ludwig?

Following on from my review of the board game 'Castles of Mad King Ludwig' yesterday, today I'm going to have a bit of a delve into the theme and a bit of history to find out just who Mad King Ludwig was, and whether he really was mad.

Who Was Mad King Ludwig?

The eponymous mad king was in fact Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, sometimes known to history as the Swan King or the Fairy Tale King. He succeeded to the throne when he was only 18, after the death of his father (as an interesting aside for board gamers, as a young man his aide-de-camp and close personal friend was Prince Paul, a member of Bavaria's wealthy Thurn Und Taxis family. But that is for another time).

When Ludwig ascended the throne in 1864, he really wasn't ready for high office and simply wasn't interested in politics or affairs of state, much preferring his passions for art, architecture and music. He was a longtime friend and patron of Richard Wagner, the famous composer most known for his epic Ring Cycle. It is thought by many that without the support of Ludwig, Wagner would never have been the success he was.

Before we get on to Castles, a brief history lesson. At the time Ludwig became king, Bavaria was a separate independent kingdom, but not for long. Bavaria became embroiled in the Austro-Prussian war in 1866, unfortunately picking the wrong side. Bavaria sided with Austria, but when they were defeated, Bavaria had to sign a mutual defence treaty with Prussia which effectively meant Bavaria was under Prussian control. In 1870 after another war (the Franco-Prussian war), Bismark set about completing the unification of Germany. He gave certain financial inducements for King Ludwig to sign the Kaiserbrief, a letter endorsing the creation of the German Empire. Bavaria thus became a part of the German Empire which, while Bavaria was left with a certain degree of autonomy, left Ludwig free to pursue his favourite hobby - building Castles!


The most famous of Ludwig's Castles was Schloss Neuschwanstein, a Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hilltop, overlooking Ludwig's childhood home of Hohenschwangau. 

Like Ludwig's other projects, Neuschwanstein was paid for from his personal fortune (as well as a few loans!), and Ludwig oversaw every little detail of the design and construction. It was built to be decorative rather than functional and was inspired by the works of Ludwig's friend Richard Wagner. It was supposed to have more than 200 rooms, but only 15 of them were ever finished, including the 'Hall of the Singers', The Throne Hall. The Bedroom and the Study Room.

Since Ludwig's death, the castle has been an extremely popular tourist attraction, with over 60 million people having visited it to date. It was also the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof is the smallest of Ludwig's castles, and is the only one he lived to see finished. It took as its inspiration Versailles, the Palace of the French Sun King, Louis IVX (who Ludwig idolized). There were only four rooms of any significance: The Hall of Mirrors, The East and West Tapestry Chambers and the Audience Room (in which Ludwig never had an audience).


Herrenchiemsee was a Benedictine abbey which was created in the year 765. It was eventually purchased by Ludwig and turned into a royal residence known as the Old Palace. Not content with that though, Ludwig also built Herrenchiemsee Palace, which became known as the New Palace. It was never finished, but it took inspiration from, and was a partial replica of, the Palace of Versailles in France.

Ludwig's Death

Despite the fact he never used public funds for any of his building projects, Ludwig was extremely unpopular with his ministers, perhaps because he wasn't interested in governing, or because he was in a lot of debt after borrowing money from many of the royal families of Europe. His ministers sought to depose him, and did so by accumulating evidence that he was in fact insane and not fit to rule. The conspirators then approached Bismark with their 'findings' which he likened to "rakings from the King's waste-paper baskets and cupboards", but didn't actually do anything to stop them.

Only three days after he was deposed, Ludwig was out taking a walk in the grounds of Berg Castle where he had been taken, with a Doctor Gudden (one of the doctors who declared him insane). Neither of them were seen alive again, and their bodies were later found in a lake in the grounds). The doctor showed signs he had been strangled but there was nothing to suggest how Ludwig died. The mystery of Ludwig's death has not been solved to this day.

So Was King Ludwig really mad?

At the fact the time, no one really refuted Ludwig's insanity, but since them historians have considered the case in more detail and many have concluded that the evidence was largely fabricated. The records of the case were even studied by psychiatrists, and findings published in the journal 'History of Psychiatry' concluded he wasn't insane, only eccentric.

How Closely Has the Game Stuck to the Theme?

The game doesn't really have anything much to do with Ludwig himself, but in one sense it has stuck closely to the theme. The artwork on the box is of (or closely resembles) Ludwig's masterpiece, Neuschwanstein. The rambling nature and strange configuration of rooms which players end up creating in the game somehow fits well with the eccentricity of Ludwig as well.

The game sticks closely to the theme in the type of rooms which are in Ludwig's castles, or would have been if he had been able to finish them. In particular there are some specific rooms featured in the game which are taken directly from Ludwig's Castles, including the Tapestry Rooms, the Audience Chamber and the Singer's Chamber.

Overall, a great theme for a great game.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Castles of Mad King Ludwig review

Today I'm going to review one of my favourite games at the moment, 'The Castles of Mad King Ludwig'. First some details.

Publisher: Bezier Games
Designer: Ted Alspach
Age: 10+
Number of players: 1-4
BGG rank: 52
Length: 1-2 hours (two player can be played in an hour)
Difficulty: Easy-medium

What's it all about?

The game is all about designing your own crazy castle. You start off with an octagonal entrance foyer, and from there you buy rooms, corridors and stairs to add on to your castle. You are seeking to beat your fellow players to some shared goals, as well as working towards your own secret goals, both of which earn you victory points. You also earn victory points whenever you put down rooms.

How Do You Play?

Game Board - The Master Builder Chooses the cost of available rooms

Every round, each player gets the opportunity to buy a room and add it to their castle (or take money if they prefer). One of the neat things about the game is that each round, a different player gets to be the Master Builder, and set the price of the rooms available to buy. When the other players buy a room, they pay the Master Builder, thus earning him or her an income. The Master Builder still has to pay if they buy a room, but they pay the bank. So the Master Builder has to weigh up how to price the different rooms. They might want to make a room they really want cheap, but not too cheap that other players buy it first (they have to buy last after all other players have gone).

Here's a close up of one of the rooms

Players usually only to buy one room per round, which must be placed immediately, and a room cannot be changed once it is placed (fairly obviously, rooms aren't usually portable!). Each room scores a certain number of points when played, plus additional points are scored depending on the rooms adjacent to it. This usually fits in well with the theme, so that the Master Bedroom will score negative points if it is situated next to the Singer's chamber or the Lute room for instance.
Here's my castle at the end of a recent game

As well as scoring points, players can earn bonus for completing a room - linking all doorways with other rooms or corridors. Different room types have different bonuses, like having another turn, getting money, earning extra victory points etc.

So What's the Verdict?

As I think I've already said, I like this game a lot. It's a really easy game to learn, but there's a lot of strategy with players having to weigh up quite a few different factors. Despite this though, play is quite quick with very little downtime in choosing what to do, even for AP players (Analysis Paralysis). I haven't played the solo variant but it is excellent with 2, 3 or 4 players. In my opinion it is just as good with 2 players as with 4, which isn't the case for a lot of games. The only slightly tricky bit is making sure you keep up with the scoring and don't miss points.

As well as actual game play, there's a lot of fun to be had with the theme, which is present throughout. Several times we've played we've had a good laugh at the unusual combination of rooms we've built in our castles, and what the inhabitants might be getting up to!

If you've played the designer's previous game, Suburbia, you might be wondering how this compares. Well I've played both, but much prefer this game. It's easier to play and a lot less confusing, as you are building your own castle rather than contributing to one joint suburbs. In Castles you really get a feeling of satisfaction with your own creation that just isn't there in Suburbia. I also think the theme is much better, as is the artwork.

Compenents - 4/5
Ease of play - 4/5
Theme - 5/5
Replayability 5/5

Overall: 5/5

A very enjoyable, light strategy game that's easy to learn with tons of replay value.

So that's my review. Tomorrow however I'm going to try something a bit different as I delve a bit into the background to the theme of the game (now available - click here). Who was Mad King Ludwig? Was her really mad? What strange, crazy castles did he build?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Top 10 'Missed Out On' Games I Need to Play

I've played several games for the first time recently, only for a board gaming friend of mine to remark 'What, you haven't played that yet?' These are games that a lot of members of my game group have played multiple times but I've either not been there or playing a different game. I realise there's quite a lot of these, so here's my top 10 'Missed Out On' games I need to play. I'm deliberately not including really new games, just games that are at least a year old.

  1. Trajan - I'm quite a fan of Stefan Feld games and have now played a few, but of his major games Trajan, ranked 38 on Board Game Geek, is a notable omission. 
  2. El Grande - This is something of a grand-daddy of modern strategy board games, dating back to 1995 from one of Germany's first professional games designers, Wolfgang Kramer (he co-designed Colosseum which is a game I really enjoy). In the game you play a Spanish lord drafting in your knights (or Caballero's as they are known in Spain) to help you control areas of the board.
  3. Claustrophobia - A decent two player dungeon crawler. I really need to get this, especially as my wife really loves dungeon crawlers (thanks to the Diablo series of computer games).
  4. Railways of the World/Steam - I'm including these both together even though they are separate games but both train games. I always used to want to build model railways as a child, now I've moved on to wanting to build railroads in games. Both games by Martin Wallace, Railways of the World is the simpler game I think.
  5. Lancaster - Given I live in Lancaster, I really should have played this game, particular as it has been a popular one that has been brought to club nights many times. Set in 1413, it's Area Control/Worker Placement and players take the role of powerful noblemen, vying to be the King's right hand man. 
  6. Euphoria - Everyone seems to talk about how this is a fantastic game, but I've not played it. It's a worker placement game where your dice are workers, and it is set in a dystopian future, but I don't know much more than that about it.
  7. Twilight Struggle - It's the number one game on Board Game Geek and has been for a while. It's a strategic two player game about the Cold War. Why have I not played this yet?
  8. Firefly: The Game - We love Firefly, and this game seems quite true to the series - travel round the galaxy, hiring crew, picking up cargo etc. Must play.
  9. Terra Mystica - This is number two on Board Game Geek, and is an epic civilisation building game in a fantasy landscape, featuring 14 different races in seven landscapes. This seems exactly my sort of game.
  10. Bora Bora - Apologies for putting two Stefan Feld games on this list, but I really do like his games and this is supposed to be one of his best. It was had the chance to get it on sale for £20 a while back, I really should have picked it up then.
What games have you missed out on playing so far?