Review – Castles by the Sea
Sandcastles made of Sand
|Jon Benjamin & Michael Xuereb
Castles by the Sea is a 1-4 player worker placement and resources management game where you play as little Studio Ghibli-inspired creatures called Shorelings who strive to have the biggest and best sand castles on the beach, scoring points each round for any deployed structures or characters. So is it a fun day at the beach, or is it just coarse and gritty reminiscent of Tatooine? Read on for the review!
Each player’s turn in Castles by the Sea (Castles hereafter) is broken up into 5 parts: Gather and reclaim, Build blocks, Place pieces, Score rewards, and Hazards. In the first part, each player will gain 3 new sand blocks to place out on the board, following the correct placement rules. Players will also reclaim a number of sand blocks depending on if and how many of their structures were destroyed since their last turn. There’s a range, but it’s basically 2 to 1; if 6-7 things are destroyed, you get 3 extra sand blocks to place. This is great because it gives players a good chance to catch up, without eliminating the penalty entirely.
Then, players will build their sand blocks out, using as many as they have (but you may keep some back, if you wish). Legal block placement sees them set in a connected group, each block touching at least one face of the last block you put down. Edges do not count. After that, players have the chance to put out any of their colored player pieces on the blocks they placed this turn, as long as it follows the placement rules on the card. Next, players will Score points in the form of Sand Dollars for each of their pieces that are out on the board, whether they placed them this round or on a previous round. Players can also score points for finishing Castle cards, but can only score 2 out of their 3 each game (the exception is solo mode, which has its own rules for Castle Cards).
Finally, the active player will finish their turn by activating the 3 Hazards; 1 of them is moved to a new unoccupied edge space, and the other 2 have a card flipped over for them. Should 1 of the 2 with new cards flipped over end up having 3 or more Alert icons (!), then that Hazard is activated. Also, at the end of the game, after the Final Round, each player will do the Activate Hazards action one last time, giving everyone a chance to kick some sand around before final scoring.
Castles does a great job of capturing that feeling of trying to build an epic sand castle while competing with wind, water, unruly dogs, babies, and other problems one might face on the sea shore. I love the art and design of the Shorelings and Hazards – it even took me a moment to realize the “Meteor” was actually just a rogue volleyball being spiked into my buildings! It’s a lot of fun trying to figure out how to best build out your mini-kingdom and keep the different dangers at bay, all while trying to set them up to affect your opponents.
There’s also a lot of replay value, as each of the 6 different player cards gives you 4 different options (4,096 possible combinations), but if that’s too many for you, the rulebook has 10 preset suggested combos to get you started out of the box. However you can pick any combo you’d like, as long as everyone has the same 6 cards in that game.
The biggest drawback to Castles is part of the gameplay – sometimes your beautiful sand sculptures and structures will get knocked down, and you’ll have to start over. But thanks to the reclaim ability, you can get some of your structures back out there on your very next turn, mitigating the loss of income from the last round. Between the smart mechanics, the great art, and the fun of building up your little sand kingdoms, I would recommend Castles to anyone looking for a fun worker placement game.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
The Bottom Line
A fun, light worker placement game down by the shore.