I am a terrible multitasker. I don’t understand how people can listen to music or watch shows while working—surely they must be doing a disservice to either their work, the song, or the show. My struggles also extend to how I approach work. For instance, I will plow through a project way in advance merely to avoid having to juggle more than one project at a time. Unfortunately, in my line of work balancing multiple plates is a necessity. Given my weakness, you might think I would avoid games that require such skills. However, I have recently found myself strangely drawn to a multitasking game: Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, published by Stonemaier Games (in collaboration with Bezier Games), and designed by Ben Rosset & Matthew O’Malley (who also co-designed Between Two Cities). I find it compelling, in part, because games provide us with the prospect of improvement. What feels oppressive in the real world feels like an opportunity for growth in Between Two Castles.What I love most about Between Two Castles is that it has given me opportunities to work on a weakness of mine in a low-stakes environment.
King Ludwig II, the Mad King of Bavaria, is looking for master builders to create a magnificent castle for him. Fortunately for him, you (and 2–6 other friends) are up to the task. Between Two Castles requires players to simultaneously build two castles with two different partners: one with the player on their left and another with the player on their right. In other words, players are not only managing two different castles but two different relationships. Both castles need to be well built because the lower scoring of the two castles will be each player’s final score. The player who works best with both her or his teammates to build the two most competent castles, and most impresses the king, will win and presumably be named the official builder of the kingdom. Who doesn’t want a full time job working for a deranged monarch?
As for everyone else, something terrible probably happens to them. I’m honestly not sure—the game is light on theme aside from some hilariously-named rooms like the “Kittenry” (as cute as it sounds, this room makes me need to sneeze just thinking about it) and “The Hall of Ever Closing Walls.” In each turn, players secretly select two tiles (rooms) from a hand of tiles, and then pass the remaining tiles on for the player to their right to use in the next turn. Players then work with their two partners to place one of the two tiles they’ve selected on each of their two castles. Each tile represents a different type of room and each of those rooms score at the end of the game based on their positioning in relation to other rooms in the castle and unique scoring requirements for those rooms. For instance each Corridor room scores based on a particular type of room surrounding it and each Utility room scores based on particular types of rooms connected to it.
The game requires spacial awareness and players need to plan ahead, placing the best rooms in their castle for the highest possible score. Players also need to make the most of the tiles they pass along to their teammates for following rounds, and need to make the most of the time they have to talk to their partners during the building phase (like pointing out how they failed to choose the perfect tile that you just passed them for your joint castle). There is a lot to keep track of, and yet the rules of the game are relatively straightforward—the game can be essentially explained in its entirety by using the reference card handed to each player. In fact, my seven-year-old daughter was able to pick up the game relatively quickly and compete competently with older players. The process of working together teaches younger players how to think strategically with the help of adults, making it a great game for parents to play with their children.
What I love most about Between Two Castles is that it has given me opportunities to work on a weakness of mine in a low-stakes environment. I haven’t won many games of Between Two Castles, but the few that I have won left me feeling less anxious about everything I have to juggle and more capable of managing the stress that will inevitably ensue. Whether the game is actually making me a better multitasker is difficult to measure, but the feeling of empowerment that it leaves me with is worthy of celebration in and of itself.