Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is one of our board game library essentials. There’s a great puzzle aspect to the game, it plays in under an hour, it’s family friendly, and it keeps analysis paralysis to a minimum. It also plays up to seven players, filling that niche when so many other games are capped at 4 or 5. For all of these reasons, when the Secrets and Soirees expansion debuted, we knew we had to have it.
The expansion offers additional room types for your castle, extra bonus cards, two new solo modes, higher player count (up to 8), and a new variant of head to head castle building where each player builds their own exclusive castle.
My personal favorite bit of the expansion is the puppy room!!! Adorable little corgis, just like we have at home.
We have played the expansion dozens of times. The first few months we had the game, we stuck to standard play, with everyone building two castles, and just focused on the fun of the new room types. These are activity rooms, secret rooms, and ballrooms. The activity rooms are thematically just that – clever little rooms themed around activities that give you points for each other room adjacent or penalize you if the listed prohibited room type is within the radius. The secret rooms are quite innovative. Each one has a little arrow printed on the tile pointing up, down, left, or right and takes on the same identity as the room indicated by the arrow, giving players a lot of flexibility based on placement in the castle. The ballrooms score points for specific room types in your neighbors’ castles. I really enjoyed these plays with the expanded room types and have not ever wanted to go back to playing with just the base game tiles again.
More recently, we’ve explored the new variants provided by the expansion. The Mad King’s Demand variant has players each build a single castle instead of managing two castle builds at once. It solves the problem of weaker players bringing a section of the entire table down in scoring and it plays so much more quickly than the regular game, so it can be a good choice for player counts larger than two. While it’s also easier and smoother in a two player game to play this way versus playing with the 3rd NPC player normally required in a two player game, I’m much less fond of using this variant with two players. I like the extra tiles to choose from when a third castle is in the mix; it helps make it a bit more challenging and feels more interactive.
The Automa solo mode is very easy to learn and it’s the most enjoyable solo game I’ve ever played because it feels like you’re actually playing against other players. I played on level 3 – normal difficulty – and won 58 to 55/55. I actually found myself wishing for longer rounds. The other solo mode (which is dubbed the Introvert variant and noted by the rulebook as technically not an Automa mode) feels less like a game against peers and more like a game of solitaire puzzling. It’s faster than the Automa solo mode and has the quirky hack of allowing you to force the NPC opponent to take a specific tile you don’t mind it having when there’s only one that meets the selection filter used to draft a tile for them. This is because, in this mode, the NPC follows an algorithm to pick between a tile you’ve marked as favored and desired for yourself and all the other tiles in demand under its selection filter that round. If there’s only one tile that meets the filter and you mark another tile you actually want, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll lose your coveted tile to the NPC. However, if you mark the tile that meets the filter as if you wanted it for yourself, it’s forced to select it. Then you can choose whatever tile you actually prefer for yourself instead. The introverted solo mode is pretty great if you like that sort of thing, but I prefer the feeling of playing against others, so I’ll stick with the Automa solo mode, or competitive play against real life opponents.
With a retail price of just $15 on the Stonemaier website, and having so much quality content in the box, the Secrets and Soirees expansion is a must-have.
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 45 minutes per game
Game type: card drafting, tile placement, set collection
Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.