Castles of Caladale
Castles of Caladale is a simple tile-laying game with a twist. Players are building their own castles, but can rearrange them at any time during the game.
Designer: David Wilkinson
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Category: Family Game / Tile-Laying
Player Count: 2-4
Price: $30.00 MSRP
In my writing on board games, I have long campaigned for the importance of games with simple, clean rules. Gamers often misunderstand just how difficult board games can be. You might think Ticket to Ride is child’s play, but I’ve seen as many as ten different rule mistakes come up in the game. I pay special attention to the German Game of the Year, the Spiel des Jahres, because of its focus on accessible games.
And if I could ever peg a game as a candidate for the Spiel des Jahres, Castles of Caladale would be it. In this tile-laying game, you are simply taking a new tile to add to your castle each turn from a slate of nine choices. Putting the tile into your castle to help it grow is both easier and harder than usual: you are allowed to rearrange your entire castle at any time! This freedom comes across as “easy mode” compared to tougher rules for other tile-layers. So does Castles of Caladale still have enough meat to it to be interesting? Let’s find out!
There are magical creatures: fairies, dragons, gnomes, and so on. Otherwise, players are simply taking castle pieces and trying to make them fit into their personal castle. If you don’t mind fantasy elements, there’s nothing offensive here.
There are two seemingly mundane tasks necessary for a new board game, and obsessive board gamers like myself find strange pleasure in them. Those are punching out pieces and reading the rulebook. My preference is strongly for the latter, so I went straight for it as soon as I opened Castles of Caladale, I was shocked by what I read!
In Caladale, players simply take a tile among nine choices on a turn. They either flip it over for a permanent 1 point, or try to fit into their castle to earn more than one point. Castles can be rearranged completely at any given time, which is the unique selling point of Caladale. This means you can squeeze tiles in much later than when you first grabbed them, for example. And it’s a good thing because player scores are almost entirely based on how many tiles they fit into their castle. The castle also needs to be closed; you get two points for doing so, and if you don’t close it off, you lose two points for each exposed edge! Everyone has a wild tile that can help with this once per game, but it costs one point to use, and avoiding its use acts as a tiebreaker. Other than that, players can also earn points for tower tops that have flags on them—the only tiles, besides the front gate, that cannot be rotated.
Most of the strategy in Caladale, then, comes from trying to maximize the size of your castle. There’s some complexity to this because the longest set of rules in the game is by far the section on how tiles can be placed. There are some real oddities: tiles can extend the castle out diagonally only if two adjacent halves are sky; tiles with sky on the bottom can form “bridges” only if both adjacent sides are supported, and so on. Even with expert gamers, we had a few irksome moments of, “Nope, you can’t do that” as players tried to squeeze in every last piece. While I generally understand the reasons for these rules, I can’t help but feel it’s the wrong kind of complexity.
What I mean is that the game is lacking in complexity where I wanted it, which was in the scoring. All of our games have been incredibly close, largely because there’s nothing to “go for” besides making your castle really big, as well as flags. There are lots of cool features on the artwork, like different building material, fireworks, birds, and trees. I would have liked to have seen some unique scoring opportunities using these—like majorities, connections, or set collection—beyond simply having flags for extra points. It would make the decisions for which tile to take more interesting, and separate the scores some more. It would add a layer of decision-making without adding a lot more rules. (In fact, I hope to see some official variants like this!) I don’t mind close games—it keeps everyone involved—but it’s been within one or two points every time, which kind of feels like a crapshoot.
With that gripe out of the way, let me take a moment to truly sing the praises of Castles of Caladale, as this game has a lot going for it. Apart from a few bothersome moments with placement rules, this is an incredibly accessible game. It’s also fairly non-confrontational, other than occasionally trying to steal a tile your opponents might want. The freedom of rearranging your castle means you’re always engaged with the game, even if not always with your opponents.
After I finished the rulebook, I punched those tiles out, and was quite impressed. This game has a great aesthetic that feels appropriate for younger ages without looking unattractive for adults. It’s a game where you want to take a picture afterwards of the great castles you’ve created. The box felt a little flimsy, but the aggressive price point ($30 MSRP) more than makes up for it. I also love how much attention was given for adjustment for player count; the game is equally smooth with 2, 3, and 4 players.
Smooth is a great way to define Castles of Caladale. The gameplay is easygoing and relaxing, yet engaging throughout. This is also a game you really could teach just about anyone, much like Codenames, Las Vegas, or Qwixx. It would also be a great game to get 8 to 10-year-olds into board gaming, with the strong aesthetic appeal and the mild interaction (to keep sibling rivalries out of it). It’s a fun game to play that lends itself to chit chat and catching up while you play, not one that subsumes all conversation with its demand for attention. I’m eager to play it again, but even more eager to see an expansion with some advanced scoring and gameplay additions.
Thank you to Renegade Game Studios for providing a review copy of Castles of Caladale.
+ Extremely simple to learn and teach
+ Clever adjustments for player-count
+ Great components
- Could use more advanced scoring rules / strategy
- Placement rules can be burdensome
- Box feels a little flimsy