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A family strategy game for 2-4 castle builders illustrated by Dennis Lohausen

Just why this game is called KILT CASTLE I have no idea. It has no Scottish theme apart from that name, it's not even designed or illustrated by a Scot and the company publishing it, Zoch zum Spielen, is German, and there isn't a kilt in sight (apart from one rather grumpy looking Scot illustrated in the rules book), so where does the Scottishness come from? There's not even a mention of Nessie, Rob Roy, William Wallace or Alli McCoist, no deep-fried Mars Bars and no Quails or Haggis to hunt. In fact it's about as Scottish as scotch-eggs! However, I did have to giggle when I noticed the flags used on the box to signify the languages the rules are in: German; French; Italian; and yes you've guessed it, Scotland!

The castles in question are not Scottish in design, being pentagonal shaped plastic pieces which count as floors that stack together to make towers. If you can build enough of your own colour topped towers they could be said to represent a sprawling castle (if you have a good imagination that is).

The game board is 22 squares of grassland onto (or into) which the towers are built. The tower pieces are in four colours, one colour per player, with 3 stickers per colour (2 x 2 and 1 x 1 value) to give an extra bonus if those towers with them are played well. There are 10 building cards that show either single or double colours which begin the game laid in rows of 4, 3, 2 and 1 against the marked edge and one corner of the board. The gameplay is so simple and yet it works extremely well and also creates food for thought every round, in short it's a delight.

On your turn you select a card, any card, from a row, any row, and move it clockwise round the board, cards may never be moved anti-clockwise or backwards. When you place the card you have to either begin a new row or add it to an existing row, remembering that no row may ever contain more than 4 cards and that there may not be more than 5 rows; also you may not move a card to form a single-card row that is not next to another row. You may move cards to create a gap, a row empty of cards, although the rules clearly state that empty spaces do not count as card rows, but then mention a card-less row which one could take to mean that an empty row is either one of the 5 rows allowed or it isn't a row at all.

When a card is moved and it does create a gap a Ducat or Cash day occurs and players count up their largest contiguous showing tower pieces, ie those on the top of each tower that are adjacent to each other and score money accordingly. Never count the height or the number of floors in a tower, just the number of towers augmented by any showing the one or two symbols of your clan (on the stickers). During play two roofs are added to the towers and these count towards linking towers (they count as whatever colour or colours of towers necessary during count up) and also give 1 Ducat per roof to each player who uses a roof in their count up. Placing a card against the board allows the players to place a floor in the row that streams directly off of it. This can be placed on top of another tower or in an empty space thus creating a new tower. When you move a dual colour card - they are coloured differently at each end - you have to turn it so that the colour that was showing away from the board is now placed closest to the board. Also when these cards are placed the player whose colour shows nearest the board places their tower floor first.

Günter Burkhardt's game designs are always unusual and although in the early days I wasn't so keen on some of them I have to say that of recent years he has authored some of the better and more playable games to come out of the European game scene. This is most definitely one of his easiest and best to play.

When scoring (counting up for Ducats and at the end of the game) you have to take a bird's eye view of the board and only count the top floor of each tower. The number of floors never counts towards scoring but it does count when you are placing a new floor on top of a tower - you have to pay the current owner (the player whose colour floor is on top) the number of Ducats equal to the number of floors in the tower. So if you are putting the fourth floor onto a tower with a red floor on top you pay the Red player 3 Ducats.

This is one of those games where you always have several options open to you but where not all of them will be advantageous to you every time. Sometimes it is a good idea to play another players colour card to force them to build so that you can then build on top of them, but if you are not careful it is easy to find the game ending (when one player has no floors left to play) and you still have several floors in your supply. It is a case of needing to get your pieces onto the board but at opportunities where they will count for you. Having an idea how much money the other players has also helps as you know when they are likely to have to create a Ducat Day, thus saving you from possibly wasting a turn doing so yourself. 

The First player token does move round after each turn and being the last player can be of an advantage if the cards and locations available fall nicely for you, but generally there is no real advantage going last. Going first can be a disadvantage as you will be the first to place a floor and it is likely that this tile will gain you nothing at all during the game except the 1 Ducat paid for building atop of it. However, going first hasn't prevented that player winning some of the games we have played, in fact we have proven that you can win no matter what position you begin in and that's always a good bonus for any family game. Also we have yet to formulate any type of winning strategy, mainly because of the chaotic play of some of our players, basically not doing what is expected of them.

KILT CASTLE is a clever tile placement game that has lots of playability, plays reasonably quickly at 30-40 minutes, and can be learned or taught very quickly. No hidden or difficult to comprehend rules, a fairly comprehensive and clear rulesbook, though gamers should read through it at least twice because it is easy to think you know what you are allowed to do from your gaming experiences and that can lead to players not playing the rules as they are written but more as they are perceived they should have been written - we did it to begin with and only realised halfway through our first game.

The only thing we found not particularly clear has to do with the placing of the card you move. The rules state that "there has to be (at least) one card in the neighbouring space" but doesn't say if that neighbouring space is in front of or behind the card you are placing. You only have to move a card at least one space forward, not to the beginning of the rows, thus if there is an empty space between two rows you can move a card into it. If this is true then it is also possible, within the rules but against the spirit, to move a card all the way round the table to butt up against or land on the last row or even beyond the last row, thus effectively moving the card legally backwards  although moving a card anti clockwise is against the rules. If this is the case and you can move a card around the entire board then there is nothing that says you cannot move a card forward to the position it vacated. Obviously we have misinterpreted the rules or they haven't been as clear on this point as they are in all other points, but as we decided it was against the spirit of the game we only allow cards to be moved forward and then no further than to the front Row, or creating a new front row.

Overall this is a cracking good game, lots of fun and frustration. It has taken a well worn idea - topping towers - and redesigned it into a different and well playable format. Online from around £25.00 this is a very good value game.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015