Game Design & Illustrations: Erik Scheele Published by: Game Brewer
This is a resource management strategy game for 2-4 players, aged 9 years and upwards.
From a regular games players viewpoint there are a few minor things that niggle; the first of these being the game box design. The illustration on the front is good but it being placed onto a deep, dark, red background it doesn't catch the eye or give the appearance of a game you would be drawn to, thus making it a game you really need to either play or see being played to invoke your interest.
Second point: On some of the Angel Cards there is an 'infinity' sign but there is no mention of this in the rules book; there are also icons on some of the cards that are not mentioned in the rules - however they do appear on other cards so as to affect the scoring.
Then there is the note under the Combat Phase which states "...by means of the "Dinghuis", Angel Cards or special rules ..." What is a (or 'the') "Dinghuis" ?
Under regular lighting the counters for Stone and Wood appear to be the same colour (one is actually slightly lighter than the other) and even though they are different shapes, one is a Pentagon, the other is a Rhombus (a Square on its edge), it is very easy to mistake them during play.
Buying (paying for) Military units and Buildings/Fortifications. The rules say "...pay its price." but do not actually state what the price is or how to determine it. This is me being rather picky I'm afraid for as a regular games player I looked at the cards to be bought and decided that the price to pay is the resources shown along the bottom of the card. New players to this type of game can be forgiven for being confused though as other cards have resources shown in the bottom section and these are resources gained not spent.
Okay, that's the mini-moans taken care of, so what about the actual game?
After saying all that above you may well think that I am unimpressed with CASTELLUM MAASTRICHT and that really isn't the case. In fact this is a surprisingly good, clever and very enjoyable strategy game.
You can virtually play your first game by reading each phase in the rules booklet and doing as it says, actual knowledge of the complete game isn't required but it does help, especially knowing the end game distribution of VPs.
The game is played over four years, 1579, 1632, 1673, and 1794, each year the attacking force getting stronger, and each year being played over four Phases; Building, Siege, Angel and Combat.
The idea of the game is that the players are defending the City of Maastricht against the siege-forces of the Spanish, then the Dutch and finally by the French (twice). While doing this, the players are also in a sort of conflict with each other as to who can defend the City the best and thus score the most Victory points (shown on the attackers cards by stars). Players 'attack' each other by playing enemy (attackers) cards onto their fortifications in an attempt to defeat the strength value of their Fortifications and/or Troops/Cannon.
Players begin with one fortification card valued at 1 strength which they place under one of the spaces on their side of the board (by colour) to form their first column. In the first year they have two meeples that are placed onto the board to gain resources of one sort or another, the number and type collected depends on the illustration on the board where the meeples are placed. In the first year players have two meeples to place and can have two columns but do not need to as there is no penalty for not defending a column except that you will not gain an enemy card to count towards your final total when Victory Points are totalled.
There are three other meeples for each player, these stand on the edge of the board on the next possible columns. Once the first year is completed and the bonuses handed out - the mechanism for bonuses is a simple but effective set of cards that are flipped over, one per year, and placed so that each of the edges faces the players - whatever is shown on the Bonus card in the edge facing you is what you get - the player who defeated the most enemies that turn (or the first player if tied) determines which alignment the Bonus card lies in - there is a clean-up phase.
Each year new sets of Military Units and Buildings become available for the players to buy and any left from the previous year are discarded. Players also begin with 2 enemy military cards in the first year which they use by playing one at a time in turn order onto either one of their own or one of an opponent's columns. The second year means there will be three columns per player and thus everyone gets three enemy cards, and so on up to the 4th year when everyone gets 5 enemy cards (and the back-stabbing which up until now has been nothing more than a gentle prodding becomes viciously delicious).
We like the idea that you first build your fortifications, then you get the opportunity to place military units on them for added protection, then the enemy siege begins and finally you get to play Angel cards and any bonus defences gained that year (nothing except your fortifications and military units remain in play per year) so that you have the chance to defeat (strength equal or greater) the siegers with what can be thought of as reinforcements, though these are only temporary. The Angel cards either have a bonus strength to add as explained above or they can be used for their special effect segment - when and where to use these cards can be the difference between Victory and Defeat so they should be used thoughtfully.
You can hold up to 3 unused Angel cards in your hand, but this is where the 'infinity' symbol confuses. We decided unanimously that cards with this symbol can be played as usual, but instead of being discarded they are taken back into your hand to be used again next year if you want to; if this is not the case then we can see no other reason for the infinity icon.
The game is reset every year and the enemy units get stronger ever year, and the strategies change along with each reset.
The final scoring should be read and understood before playing as there are VPs given for a number of different cards, icons, specials etc that you can collect annually - knowing what gives extra VPs may help you in your choice of cards to buy.
CASTELLUM MAASTRICHT is available from games stores and online with a retail price fluctuating roughly between £23.00 - £29.00. Obviously the least expensive the better but either of these prices or anywhere inbetween is still good value for the playability and entertainment it provides. A truly underestimated game that takes a little while, especially for your first game, to get past it seeming a bit pedestrian. Once the game 'clicks' into place in your thoughts it blossoms into an elegant, nicely produced (exception box colour) and well illustrated game. Nice game, nice price.