It’s renovation time at Kilt Castle, and the various family leaders can’t agree on how the new castle should look. Uncle Leo favors the bold burgundy color that he saw on his travels in France, and cousin Frank is advocating for orange, which is all the rage these days. But you’re left questioning, What’s wrong with dirty-dishwater gray? It was good enough for your ancestors, and it’s good enough for you!
Sorting out your differences will be difficult, but you’re confident you’ll come out on top once the ducats are tallied.
How It Works
Kilt Castle is a perfect information abstract strategy game for two to four players. Players are rival Scottish family members striving to have the most influence in the castle. The player with the most coins at the end of the game wins.
To begin, each player receives ten ducats and all the castle pieces of one color. The single-color cards are placed by the designated space on the outside of the board, and the double-color cards are shuffled and placed randomly on their spaces. The game begins.
Each turn follows two steps, and both steps are mandatory. First, the active player must choose one card and move it clockwise around the board. The player can move any card, provided it follows the rules. The rules governing movement are that each row can have no more than four cards, there can be no more than five rows total, and if a new row is created, there must be at least one card in the row counterclockwise to it. If the card has two colors on it, the card is rotated so that the other color will now face the board.
Once the card is placed, each player whose symbol is shown on the card places a castle in the row where the card was moved. Beginning with the player whose color is closer to the board, the players may play in the first available empty space for free, or they may overbuild a castle that’s already part of the row, paying the current owner 1 coin per piece that’s part of that castle. If both players build on the same space, a neutral “roof” is placed on top of the castle, making this castle wild for all players.
If moving the card in the first step of the turn created an empty row, there’s a scoring phase after the castle pieces are placed. Each player finds their best string of orthogonally adjacent pieces and earns 1 coin per piece, plus 1 coin for each crest showing on those pieces.
The game ends at the end of the turn when any player places their last piece. Every player earns 1 coin for each of their castles and 1 coin for each of their crests. The player with the most coins wins.
Beautiful abstract games have been having their day in the sun recently. Azul won the Spiel des Jahres just weeks ago, Santorini is currently in the top 100 games on Board Game Geek, and one of the hottest games at this year’s Origins and Gen Con was Reef.
In the midst of these more lavish and heralded releases, Kilt Castle has slipped beneath seemingly everyone’s radar. Which is a shame, because it might be the best of the lot.
While Kilt Castle isn’t as visually stunning as Santorini or Azul, it’s also no slouch. Dennis Lohausen’s illustrations are evocative, and the production here is nothing to sneeze at. Each player has their own stackable pentagon castle pieces, the included coins and first player marker are sturdy cardboard, and the included cards have a classy linen finish.
But abstracts for me rise and fall on their gameplay. And Kilt Castle–in all senses–rises.
The game is built around a simple card-moving system: each turn players must move a card, and then the players featured on that card build in the row the card was moved to. Yet as with most of the best abstracts, the simple rules belie a clever and at times cutthroat game of one-upmanship for players to spin to their advantage.
It’s interesting to watch new players at Kilt Castle, because their tendency is to always move their own cards. Who else will move me if I don’t move myself? they think. But the more you play, the more you realize that the game is more than just about where you build; it’s about creating better opportunities for yourself than for other players.
In fact, it may be more worthwhile to move another player’s card to a useless row in order to set yourself up for success later. Or it may be worthwhile to move a card featuring other players just to force a scoring phase before another player negates your gains. Lagging behind can allow you to see more of the game before choosing where to place your limited resources, and that may give you the last word in a crucial row. Of course, if you lag behind too long, you may be ceding opportunities to your competitors.
I love the card-moving mechanism in Kilt Castle because it’s rigid enough that it focuses the players (they can’t build wherever they want whenever they want, and it more or less forces the players to use their pieces equally), yet it’s porous enough to allow for clever moves. Because each turn players must move a card, and because each turn the players shown on the card must play a castle piece, careful players can force their opponents to do their dirty work for them. Usually in a game that relies on players policing the leader, players might overlook a high-scoring rival to force another player to jump in. Either the other player does and begrudges it or they don’t and there’s a runaway leader. In Kilt Castle, if another player is doing something you don’t like, you can move cards showing another player’s color to that row, and since they have to build a piece anyway, they’d be foolish to leave the points leader alone. I like this, because it’s pretty equal opportunity: in one round, you might be forcing another player to do something they’d rather not do, but it will be your turn next time.
I think the seals on the pieces are a clever way to encourage interaction as well. Players have to consider when and whether to place their castles with seals on the board–especially their two-seal pieces–because while these will increase the points players will earn at scoring time, they also paint a big target for the other players. Is a seal safe on the first floor? What about the fourth or fifth? Players must weigh how much it’s worth it to play a seal against the likelihood it will be covered up and the pettiness of their opponents.
From what I’ve described, you can probably get a sense for the interaction in the game. While it’s not exactly nasty (or at least it needn’t be), this isn’t a game to play with players whose feelings get hurt easily. The wall of pieces you’ve painstakingly built? Another player will almost certainly dismantle it. Those pieces that you wanted to place to good effect elsewhere? Another player will almost certainly send them to game-board Siberia. There’s no way around it: the game board is small enough, and enough of the cards have two colors on them, that running into other players is inevitable.
But that’s not to say that the game isn’t fair. When another player covers your pieces, they have to pay you for them–and that payment is points! And the more dearly you’ve paid for a space, the more it will cost your opponents to cover. So while you may be sacrificing future scoring opportunities when another player undoes your work, you at least gain compensation in the form of liquid assets.
So be aware: if you prefer multiplayer solitaire, Kilt Castle is not for you. But if you can handle interaction and like games where you play the other players and have lots of room for clever machinations, this will be a winner.
I mentioned Kilt Castle alongside Azul and Santorini earlier, and I would say the level of interaction is about on par with the other two. It reminded some players who played this with me of Manhattan, which is a similar game of area control and building tall structures, although Kilt Castle is less mean and, I would say, more clever than Manhattan. I definitely prefer Kilt Castle to Santorini (especially in the three to four player space, although I don’t much care for Santorini even at two) and Manhattan; I’m torn about Azul. They’re both very simple and clever and interactive, although Kilt Castle’s interaction is more direct than Azul’s.
I like this game, and you can tell that because my least favorite thing about Kilt Castle is the size of the box. (Such a petty negative, but it’s true.) Kilt Castle comes in a standard-size square game box that it doesn’t come close to filling. And if you wanted to move the game to a smaller box, the board doesn’t fold, so you’re kind of stuck with the big box, which for this player with limited shelf space, makes me grumpy. Still, this might not be a deal breaker if you find the gameplay compelling. I do quite enjoy the gameplay, but the fact that I have to question whether I enjoy it enough to justify the big box is a bummer.
The truth is, I’ll probably mutter about it each time I bring it out, but I think I do enjoy Kilt Castle enough to keep it around, despite the large box. It’s fast, it’s simple to teach, it has compelling decisions, and it gives players a ripe arena for interaction–both in the game and in the taunts that inevitably happen. This isn’t the kind of game where you ponderously, silently plan your moves. When you do something, the other players are just as likely to either cheer or groan, either of which will please you to no end. While Kilt Castle may not be the most beautiful of the beautiful abstracts released recently, it might have the most bite. And for me, that makes it a winner.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Lion Rampant Imports for providing us with a copy of Kilt Castle for review.