Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is another co-op related game that released just as we were Kickstarting Meeples Together. It’s a sequel to Between Two Cities with many of the same mechanics, but it’s still worth a little investigation on its own.
This case study was originally published in the Meeples Together blog, which focuses exclusively on cooperative game design.
Publisher: Stonemaier Games (2018)
Cooperative Style: Competitive with Partial Partners
Play Style: Card Drafting, Tile Laying
Over several turns of play, each player drafts tiles in order to build the best castle possible — or rather, to build the best two castles possible. In Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig each player is working in cooperation with the two players to either side, and he’ll be scored based on the worst of those two castles, so there’s no shirking either responsibility!
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig basically replicates the partial partnerships of its immediate predecessor, Between Two Cities (2015). Each turn a player drafts two tiles, then must place one in each of the castles that he’s constructing with a neighbor.
Once more this mechanic is the solid foundation of the game, proving that the partial-partnership play of Between Two Cities is very replicable. One of its best features is that it avoids the partial-partnership problem found in similar games like Whitewater (2012) and Abandon Planet (2017), where one partial partner is often abandoned later in the game. Thanks to the scoring of each players’ worst castle, in Between Two Castles each player doing his best to make sure that each of his partnership-castles excels.
Between Two Castles differs from its predecessor in its placement and scoring rules. The placement is much more freeform, with no need to align with a precise square, as was the case in Between Two Cities. The scoring, in turn, is much more intricate, based largely on adjacencies and the immediacy of certain types of tiles.
The latter difference actually affects the negotiation phase of the game, when partners discuss how to use the tiles they selected for their castles. In Between Two Cities, each player typically picked a specific tile to go with a specific city, but the simplicity of the tiles meant that a player was sometimes convinced to swap them around, if his partner could convince him that it would benefit them more. That happens much less often in Between Two Castles due to the specificity of the tiles and scoring; it’s much less common for switching the two tiles to provide the same or better results.
So, though all the partnership mechanics from Between Two Cities recur in Between Two Cities, the new game also loses a bit from its social mechanics.
Expansion & Variants
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a mashup of the partnership play of Between Two Cities and the more freeform tile placement and the more intricate scoring of Castles of Mad King Ludwig (2014).
There’s actually not a lot to say about the cooperative play of Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. It’s a very different game, which will appeal to a more strategic and serious audience than its more casual predecessor, but the cooperative elements are largely the same.
If Between Two Castles offers any lessons they’re these: a solid cooperative game-design pattern can be replicated from one game to another; and minor changes in other mechanics can sometimes cause surprising ripples in such a replicated mechanic.
“After we released Between Two Cities, Ben, Matthew, and I brainstormed potential themes for a future Between Two game. I mentioned castles, and it stuck. At some point during the design process, Ben realized how well some of the mechanisms of Castles of Mad King Ludwig translated to the Between Two model, so we decided to approach Ted at Bézier Games to see if we could license the IP and work with him. Fortunately, he agreed!”
—Jamey Stegmaier, Interview, Bezier Games, http://www.werewords.com/blog/between-two-castles-of-mad-king-ludwig/
The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples