As Eddie Izzard once said, over here in Europe we’ve got tons of castles. So many, that we’ve all got one each. Castles have always been a mainstay of tabletop games, whether it’s defending them in Castle Panic, or making crazy ones in Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Heck, you can even Castle in Chess. Castleshire, from New Zealand publisher Cheap Sheep Games, goes down the construction route too, but in a very different way.
Calling your bluff
Yup, bluffing. Bluffing is king in Castleshire, in the same way it is in Poker, or Skull. The aim of the game is to use your builder meeples to construct the towers of a castle. Each section of a castle is represented by a space for a card, ranging in value from one to twelve, as they move left-to-right, bottom-to-top. Each player has a hand of cards, again ranging from one to twelve.
On your turn, you’ll place a card on an empty space, whack a builder on it, and proclaim “I, Adam, have constructed section eleven of this mighty edifice. It will see the birth and death of a thousand kings and queens, see nations rise and fall, and through it all, endure. Though time may seek to reduce it to sand, it will stand strong, in perpetuity”.
Except I’m lying, see. I’ve played a three there. I’m a bit of a geezer, a medieval cowboy builder. So if you don’t mind, I’ll be taking my groats, disappointing your daughter, and buggering off to Burgundy, where I understand they’re building some castles.
It’s there – right there – in those moments of “Is he telling the truth, or full of crap?” that Castleshire springs to life.
How do you annoy Lady Gaga?
Dad jokes aside, a good poker face is vital if you’re one of those players who just loves to bluff constantly in games. One of the things I love in Castleshire, which it shares with poker, is that if nobody challenges you, you never have to reveal the cards you played. You might have played your 1 card in the 12 space and gone unchallenged, so when the castle’s cards are removed and a new castle starts, you could still have a priceless twelve in your hand, and nobody would know.
I can’t tell you just how satisfyingly devious that feeling is, and it’s one of the reasons that Castleshire is a game whose level of fun is disproportionately higher when you play it with friends. With no money on the line, it’s just a case of how well you know your mates, and laughing at the banter from around the table. The basic game is decent enough, but I can see how it could get stale with repeated plays. Lucky for us then, that expansion modules are in the box, ready to go.
Speaking of the box, I’ve got to draw attention to the production of Castleshire. The version I was sent has a cloth playmat, the meeples are really nice, and the player character books are excellent. The star of the show is the box, which is styled like a big book, and has a magnetic closing. It might only be a preview copy of the game, but it’s very impressive. The little fold-out guild books which double as player mats, with cutouts for your workers, are especially awesome.
Planning permission for an extension
The included expansions are great, and I highly recommend including them once your players are familiar with the base game. The Guild Books add variable player abilities, which mix things up nicely, and by the time you add in Ally cards, using the Rest Area, and the various obstacles, it elevates it from a light social game to a gamer’s game.
I feel icky just saying something like “gamer’s game”, so I hope you appreciate it.
The point I’m trying to make is that the modular changes keep enough life fizzing in the game to keep everyone interested, without over-complicating things. It’s important, too, because game prices are going up, and getting value for money matters. There are even elements which introduce luck to the game, which are a great choice. Good bluffers are often gamblers, and pushing your luck to the point you fail is a great leveller for the rest of the table.
By the time you throw in extras to enable up to six players, and kid-friendly variants to make things easier, it’s a complete box.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first started talking to Sven from Cheap Sheep over a year ago. In my head, it was going to be a Euro. It turns out to be something very different, and it’s a really pleasant surprise. Bluffing games have near-universal appeal, and Castleshire is a fantastic example of how to do it well. The rules take a little explaining, but the design decision of a making base game and including modular expansions was a great idea. It means you can teach just about anyone, and add in other bits and pieces as you see fit.
I was sent a copy of the game which comes with the cloth playmat. The standard version uses cards for the scoretrack and castle layout, which is fine, but I think I’d prefer to be using the mat. The cards don’t move around as much, and it looks really nice on the table. That might sound superficial of me, but one of the key factors in getting non-gamers to play games with you is making the game look appealing.
The Kickstarter campaign is now over, but at the time of writing, you’ll still be able to late pledge here. With options at £24, £37, and £61 (the £37 level is the one which gives you the cloth playmat, I believe), it represents great value for money. In a world of big, expensive games that take an hour to setup, and a day to learn, Castleshire is the perfect antidote. You’ll laugh, you’ll have fun, and you’ll never trust your friends again. That’s what board games are all about.
Preview copy kindly provided by Cheap Sheep Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Designer: Till Peters
Publisher: Cheap Sheep Games
Art: Rebekah Farr, Janette Ramos, Sam Rodger
Playing time: 30-45 mins