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Game Review: ‘Castellan’

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In a new strategy game from Steve Jackson Games and by Beau Beckett, players lay pieces to construct a castle. On the one hand, that may seem cooperative as both players are fulfilling the wishes of the king to build a magnificent new defense. On the other, only one can be the Castellan, the master of the new structure, so the game is, at its core, a competition of cleverness to see who most merits the good wishes of the king.

castellan In gameplay, Castellan is similar to the old game many people played growing up with graph paper where lines were drawn one at a time with points going to the person who closes a box. Castellan comes a little differently as each box, in this case a “courtyard,” is worth points dependant upon how many towers stand along its formidable walls.

On each player’s turn, he or she is able to play as many cards from a hand as they wish, but may only draw one. Each card comes with a series of images showing towers, long walls, short walls, or bonus card draws that serve as the pieces for the Build phase of the turn. Every piece must be used, making strategy of the utmost importance as players work to enclose courtyards and avoid allowing their opponents to enclose half-built courtyards.

Once building is done, the player claims the courtyards built during his or her turn. Every courtyard is scored by the number of towers that surround it, meaning that towers may be counted on both sides of adjacent courtyards. With so many possibilities for actions, the game is deeply rooted in strategy and planning, perhaps with players holding back cards for a huge building turn or playing more responsively each round. As a bonus for strategy, each player may, once per game, construct a “double keep” that doubles the points for that courtyard, but only upon the completion of that courtyard.

Much of the fun of Castellan is in its theme of castle-building, and the blocks alone are enough to enjoy the medieval style. There is a distinct portion of the rules set aside to explain chivalry, a relic of a more civilized age. Players must be worthy of the castellanpieces title “noble” and should not “take advantage of trivial errors.” Another player who sees a forgotten or unclaimed piece must point it out to his opponent as justice dictates. This is a far cry from other games, where taking every advantage possible is only rational.

Castellan is a half-hour game for two players aged 10 and up, though clever, younger, kids who enjoy chess might dive into Castellan as well. The English-only version is printed in blue and red, while a green-and-yellow International version creatively allows for expansion of the game to three or four players. In the larger games, the strategy continues well, though the game slows, potentially giving each player much more time to plan as the enormous castle is constructed.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.